Friday, August 31, 2007

You Should Have Known Better

"But he made it clear, he couldn't stay
No harbor was his home."

After all of the years of pain and torment, did you honestly expect this would be easy?

Sure, I said that if we didn't win two of three against the Yankees, I would be pretty disappointed. So imagine how I'm feeling after we got swept at the "Boogie Down?" In any event, I'm extremely down, but at the same time, completely unsurprised that something like this happened. I hate to say it, but there's a reason the Yanks won 26 championships (by the way, if you ever happen to forget that number, pick an argument with a Yankees's bound to come up in the conversation). When it seems like all hope is lost, they seem to find something left in the bottom of their tank to will them back into contention. So, with the Stripes five games back, it's officially time to man-up for the Sox. Manny is going to be out for two weeks, the offense is really going to have to step it up.

So with a month left in the season, here's a breakdown of what is coming up for the Sox:

8/31-9/2: BAL
9/3-9/5: TOR
9/6-9/9: @ BAL
9/10-9/12: TB
9/14-9/16: NYY
9/17-9/19: @ TOR
9/21-9/23: @ TB
9/25-9/26: OAK
9/27-9/30: MIN

Right now, in comparison to the first half, it seems that the Sox have definitely come back to Earth, which again, is something that, although you don't want to see, you should have been expecting given the past history of this team. These next two weeks are critical for the Sox. With two series against the O's, and Toronto and Tampa at home, the Sox need to set the bar high on how they do here. A reasonable goal is to simply win each series. They have dominated play against all three teams this year, and even though one of their best run producers will be sidelined, they should have just enough offense and pitching to be able to get by. I know it's tough to say the words "to get by" in September, especially since a playoff spot is not set in stone, but right now, it seems like the Sox are in "survival" mode. While all of Red Sox Nation has their collective eyes set on the magic number (24 if you're scoring at home...that's the number of Red Sox wins combined with Yankee losses that need to occur for the Sox to win the East), these next two weeks will give everyone a definitive answer as to how far the Sox can go this year. Remember how everyone thought that with Schill, Becks, and Dice, we had a rotation that could dominate a short series? Well, they all got losses in the Yanks series, and while they did not have their best stuff, a lot of the blame should be put on the offense, who were no-hit in each of the final two games of the series through five innings, meaning that a great deal of unnecessary pressure was put on the starters to make every pitch count. When you try to aim a ball as a pitcher, because of the fact that one run could be the difference in the game, usually, the results are horrible. After the White Sox series, when they scored 10+ runs in four straight for the first time in franchise history, and only the fourth occurance in baseball history, it was thought that the offense had finally come back. What was lost in the shuffle was the fact that the pitching staff allowed only seven runs in the entire series. With offense inevitably comes pitching. While the staff has been outstanding this year (only team with three guys at 14+ wins), you cannot simply sit back and expect the staff to bail them out of every single jam they get into. Despite everything that happened, I find myself thinking that the Yankees are only capable of really getting up for one So, I am tempted to think that there will be a slight let down in the coming days. This is when it really counts. The bats went silent, and the pitching wasn't all that great, but now, the focus needs to be there while we play the "lesser" opponents. I can see it all coming unraveled if the Sox are unable to provide some kind of consistency in terms of offense. I believe that, over the long haul, the pitching will be there, but it's the offense, much like it has been all year, that needs to really step it up over the next month.

Last night, I witnessed a game that shouldn't have deserved a winner. The Steelers won 19-3 over the Panthers, but the game was actually much closer than the score would indicate. Let me say something right now. If you are a fan of either of these two teams, you are in store for a long, long year. First, let me start with Pittsburgh. Their problems once again will come from the guy under center...Big Ben...the "savior." Look, the guy certainly has talent, but just not enough to be considered a top-ten...even top-twenty quarterback in this league. What you saw in 2004 and 2005 actually didn't surprise me at all. Guys like Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox led the Steelers to the championship game in the last decade, so you know that if it all clicks, all you need is a guy who wouldn't f...I mean, mess it up. It seemed like Roethlisberger would attempt like 10-15 attempts a game in those days. Take a look at the amount of attempts for the first three years of Ben's career:

2004: 295 Over 14 Games (21.07 attempts/game)

2005: 268 Over 12 Games (22.33)

2006: 469 Over 15 Games (31.37)

Putting the game in this guy's hands alone obviously did not do the trick, and despite throwing almost 200 more attempts in '06 compared to his first two years, he only threw for one more touchdown. His INT's went from 11 to 9 to 23. What the Steelers have always depended on was a sound running game, an aggressive defense, and a QB who doesn't make mistakes. It's tough enough for Mike Tomlin already, considering that he's only the third coach for this team over the last three plus decades, plus now, he has to totally revamp the offense so that his defense, which is all of a sudden without playmaker Joey Porter, who scooted on down to Miami, does not have to be everything for this team. The truth of the matter is that Willie Parker, while outstanding, definitely needs that "change of pace" runner behind him, like he had in the Super Bowl run with The Bus. The Steelers need that bruiser to soften up the line so the shifty Parker can wear out opponents on the outside. Parker dealt out and received a considerable amount of punishment last year (when a bunch of your friends are Steeler fans, it's helpful to notice how they do for a topic of conversation). Parker gained close to 1,500 yards, but carried the ball 82 more times than he did in '05, which ranked him fifth in the NFL, behind two established backs (LT, Rudi Johnson) and two power guys (LJ, Steven Jackson). Parker fits neither of those classifications, so you have to wonder what that will do to his production this season. Again, the Steelers neglected to get him any kind of counterpart, sticking with Najeh Davenport and Verron Haynes (easily my favorite Steeler...if it's third and long, you can bet Haynes is split out beside the QB in the's like clockwork). So Parker will once again be asked to carry (pun intended) the offense once again by himself. What I do look for is a pretty good season from Santonio Holmes, who will be entering his second year from Ohio St. Hines Ward is pretty steady, and Heath Miller gets the job done over the middle, but the Steelers' success will all depend on what they do on first and second downs. If they get themselves into too many third and longs, this team will be right back to where they were last year, which was a .500 team at best. The defense is there, but they will definitely miss Porter. They drafted a replacement in Lawrence Timmons, who was moving very well off the snap, but there's no telling what kind of impact he will have in his first season. Again, I think that Ben cannot handle being "the guy," and he needs something or someone to take the heat off of him. The offseason came and went without Pittsburgh really getting anyone to add onto their offensive scheme, so basically, it will be much of the same offense as was seen last year.

The Panthers again looked dreadful. The same problems they had against the Pats resurfaced against the Steelers. They simply have no answer for stopping the run. Gary Russell (who looked brilliant, and could definitely contend for some PT with Pittsburgh this fact, there stands the chance he could become that change of pace guy they need) and Haynes ran wild on them, combining for 109 yards on 34 carries. Because the Steelers put absolutely no emphasis on their air attack (16 attempts for the game), their secondary was unchallenged for most of the night. Jake did not play at all in the game, as David Carr was designated as the starter. Carr did not do a lot in terms of trying to make himself seem as the more "attractive" option at QB, going 8 of 12 for 85 yards, including one pick. Their QB situation is going to be interesting as the season plays out. Personally, I don't think they have the line to be able to protect either of them. While Carr is probably used to winding up on his back, it's going to be interesting to see how Delhomme fares in the early portion of the season. Their first three games, St. Louis, Houston, and Atlanta, feature pretty stout front sevens, but not a lot of depth in their collective secondaries, so I would imagine Jake throwing 35-40 times in each of his first three games. Dwayne Jarrett will be their #2 receiver it seems. His frame is perfect for the NFL. He's not the fastest, but he's definitely a "possession" receiver. A guy who can go up and get the ball, or go over the middle and take a hit. His progress will also be interesting, especially when you consider that the guy who is throwing to him may alter from week to week. Again, in all seriousness, the only way to realistically believe that Carolina has a shot at making the playoffs is because the NFC is simply a weak conference, and that their division features two teams, Tampa and Atlanta, who, as of right now, seem like sitting ducks. Then again, the Panthers aren't looking like spring chickens themselves.

Number of Roethlisberger jokes before the Tyrone Carter pick six: 0

Number of Roethlisberger jokes after the Tyrone Carter pick six: 26, most of them dealing with his accident, with the others calling into question his abilities as a football player

Ok, I'll try and wrap this up before Joba Chamberlain throws a pitch at my head. In a recent Jim Caple article, entitled "Shut Up, Red Sox Nation," Caple talks about how Red Sox fans have become the most obnoxious in all of sports. Now while I don't really like taking shots at fellow columninsts (just try and pretend that I'm somewhat legitamate for right now), sometimes, I will read something, and start cursing uncontrollably at my computer. This was one of those moments. Now while it is known that, in the post-World Series win era, a large number of newbies have sprung up in the Nation, and it has annoyed a great number of hardcore fans, myself included, because they are the ones that get into Fenway, wear the newest fashions what-have-yous with the Sox on them, etc., etc., etc. The point is this: While this may be obnoxious to me because I've been a Sox fan since my inception into this world, and experienced a world of pain and hurt that shouldn't be put on any human being, does that mean it's obnoxious to the rest of the world? Hey, if they want to wear Sox apparel, let 'em, but to say that that's "obnoxious" is kind of overdoing a bit I think. Caple describes Red Sox Nation as "spoiled" and goes onto compare Sox fans with Cowboys fans, saying, basically, that Sox fans have the gaul to call themselves "Red Sox Nation" much like the Cowboys fans declared the franchise "America's Team." Ok, why don't we ease off of the gas a little while driving down the pretentiousness highway shall we? So is the first time in the history of sports that a team's fans have labelled themselves a "nation?" I'm pretty, I'm absolutely positive that it isn't. In fact, it's hard to find a team that doesn't have a fan base describing themselves as such, but yet, if the Sox do it, there's outrage. Caple also calls out the fans for only being there when the team wins. It was at this point that a steady stream of obscenities was coming out of my mouth. So a bunch of people got onto an already huge fan base, and now, we only care about the team when they're winning? Are you kidding me? When you peel off the "pink hats," this is the most loyal fanbase in the history of sports. It's funny how Caple says we should act like the White Sox fans, because "they had the decency to keep their celebration to themselves." Yeah, well here's the problem with all of that. See, the color of the Sox is not the only difference between the two teams. The Red Sox have a mystique about them, in that they had the ability to lose at such meteoric lengths that most believed there was an uncontrollable force...a "curse," that was keeping this team from winning a championship. The reason the White Sox didn't win for 88 years is because, well, their team sucked. What else do you want me to say? I'm not saying the Red Sox have always been a first place team, but for a vast majority of their history, they were. Let's look back on the history of the Red Sox and White Sox from when their championship draughts started and ended. In 44 of those 88 years, the White Sox did not get above .500. They went to two World Series, the one in 1919, which was famously "thrown" in the Black Sox scandal, and again in 1959, when they lost to the inevitable champion L.A. Dodgers in six games, none of it transpiring with anything noteworthy happening. I mean, the Dodgers had Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax...even Don Zimmer! How are they going to lose? Now, let's look at the Red Sox and their 86 year streak. The Red Sox failed to get over .500 33 times in 86 years, with a huge stretch of that coming right after the 1918 World Series win. The Red Sox went to the World Series four times, losing on plays such as "Pesky's hesitation" and "The Buckner," and in 1975, when perhaps the most historic home run of all-time was hit in Game 6. Also, I should mention that the White Sox were only in the playoffs four times in between their WS wins. The Red Sox went to the postseason ten times in 86 years. The point I'm trying to make is that the Red Sox were there, they had the ring in their grasps, and then, just as victory seemed to be the next logical step, it was snatched away from them in the most horrific of fashions. With that, Red Sox fans have migrated all throughout the country, and we're talking about true, loyal, honest, hard-working Sox fans. This is why we have comprised a "nation" for our fans...because we are everywhere. Do you think twenty years ago there would be a Boston bar down the street from my house in Charlotte? Then, his final line references us becoming Yankee fans. Well, the second all of us become brain-dead and clueless about our team, and have nothing else to say but "got rings?," maybe you'll have something.

Alright, had to work out some of the frustration there. Take care now. Peace.


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