Monday, September 17, 2007

We Kept The Lens Cap On This Time

"And she ain't got no trust in you."

What a week to be from New England.

So the Sox were a let down again, losing two of three at home, and the two losses were absolute gut-wrenchers. On Friday, they blew a seemingly insurmountable five run lead, especially considering Okajima and Papelbon were brought on to "close out the game." Well, they did anything but that. Okajima has been in a bit of a rut since the All-Star break. His ERA has gone from 0.79 to 2.28 over that stretch. To me, I think it has to do with two things. First, for his first year, he has been overused. He's appeared in 64 games. Now that's not an all-time record by any means, but it seems that Francona has thrown Okie into games when he wasn't really needed. The guy went from a lefty specialist to the eighth inning man in a pretty quick span. Plus, as with anyone, once you get a scouting report on a guy, he becomes a little less effective. Dice is obviously going through the exact same thing. It's late in the season, and in addition, you have other guys in the 'pen who can fill those innings. The leash on Gagne has been way too short. Yes, he blew some games at the start, but there's no way that he is going to be like that every time out. He's allowed one run in his last seven outings. This was the whole reason the Sox traded for him: To take the pressure off both Okie and Papelbon. In addition to Gagne, you have Buchholz, Tavarez, Delcarmen, and Bryan Corey, who hasn't allowed a run in the four innings he's pitched. So, perhaps a break is what the guy needs, or whatever the case may be, hopefully it is fixable before October.

Then on Sunday, in what was brewing up to be a classic (and it might be considered one to people outside of Red Sox Nation), Curt Schilling was absolutely cruising. Considering that Schill had only thrown around 80 pitches leading up to the 8th, and the aforementioned bullpen struggles, it was only natural to keep Schilling in the game. He had only given up a solo homer to Robinson Cano, and other than that, was in no major jams up until his breaking point. Schill had retired ten straight leading up to Minky's single. Then, everything happened pretty quick. Giambi pinch hits, then gets to second on the throw back from Ellsbury (a rare mistake there), Damon grounds out, and then boom, Jeter hits a hanging splitter over the Monster, and all of a sudden, they have a three-run defecit with two innings to go. While this wasn't as disasterous as Friday night, it seemed like the wind had been completely taken out of the team. Sure, sometimes, you get lucky and are able to bounce back, like what happened on Mother's Day against Baltimore. However, it is a rare occasion that you get lucky against the Yankees. The Sox did cut it down to a one run game with the Lowell homer (my pick to get royally screwed in the MVP balloting...I bet he ends up around seventh when he should be easily in the top three) and the Lugo RBI double. So, there was hope, but face facts. The Sox had the absolute perfect situation in the bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded with Papi up. If he gets a bloop single, or basically anything out of the infield, the game is over, especially with Jacoby on at second, but Ortiz could not produce against Rivera. The guy has had more clutch hits in the last three years than entire franchises have had in their history, but still, it was absolutely deflating to watch him pop up harmlessly to, of all people, Jeter, and then that's it. I was riding high after the Pats game (more on that later), but I have to say, a lot of the euphoric feeling was sucked away by that Sox game. It was almost like we had drifted back to the franchise that would build you up to let you down. That is not a state you want your team to be towards the end of a playoff push. People keep talking about lining up the rotation for the division series, but we still haven't wrapped up anything yet. We keep letting the Yankees hang around, and, especially after taking two of three at Fenway, they once again have hope. I'm not at my breaking point yet by any means, but there's definitely an air of concern I'm feeling.

Well, that series is over. Now, it's onto Toronto. It's tough to try and take anything positive from the past few times we've played the Yankees. Sure, things could have gone better, but think about it, things could have been a lot worse. Anyone happen to recall the five game series towards the end of the year last season (you know what...don't even attempt to remember that...too horrible to express in words)? So, yes, the lead is down from 12 1/2 to 4 1/2. Oh, by the way, this team is still 30 games above .500! If we stay on that pace, we win 96 games this year. Considering we finished third in the division last year, I'm pretty happy about where this team will likely end up, and that's on top. However, there is no time to become complacent and simply be satisfied with a division title. Yes, it would be the first one in quite some time ('95), but this team is one of the best in baseball, and it's almost like being a Pats fan, and being happy with just winning the AFC East. No, we want the whole thing. I remember '04 like it was Friday (I can't say Saturday or yesterday because I really have very little recollection of either of those days). So as I watch this team, all I can think about is that we really have a shot to make it all the way. Don't get me wrong, things will definitely have to bounce our way again to make that happen, but who knows what lies ahead in October. In '04, after getting run by the Yankees in the final series of the regular season, then three straight in the LCS, things didn't look so hot either. So the team may have some struggles now, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have one more big run left in them. Remember, you just have to be good for three series. So, if this team can get hot at the right time, anything is possible.

Saturday I decided to go to Atlanta to check out the tailgating scene for the BC/GA Tech game. I have to say I was beyond disappointed by the absolute lack of places to go if you're an out-of-towner looking to park and set up shop. There are two pay lots in all of the GA Tech area that allow you to park and booze...two! So, after growing up on Chestnut Hill and the SC State Fairgrounds, this was a bit of a letdown. I will say that the campus is located right by downtown, so space is a bit of an issue. Still, I'll give the whole thing a D+, and the only reason I'm that generous is that there happened to be cornhole and horse balls games going on next to our scene (met up with a couple other BC people...very cool...also, horse balls is known as ladder golf...I did not know that...I think it's almost like the beirut/beer pong thing...just kind of where you're at determines what you call the game). Anyway, to the game itself, Matt Ryan (who also apparently goes by "Matty Ice") is definitely making it known that he is going to do everything in his power to get himself a free trip to New York when the season's over (by the way, the Eagles have not had a post-season award winner since 1985). After throwing for a career high 435 yards against the Jackets, Ryan, in my mind, is in the top 3 in terms of the best quarterbacks in all the land (Andre Woodson, Colt Brennan). The Eagles were the only team in the entire country to start the year with three consecutive conference games, and they have won them all, placing them in the top 15, a very impressive feat considering they have a first-time head coach in Jeff Jagodzinski. Now the talk is about what the potential ceiling is for this team. I know that people are going to hate me for this, but I cannot see BC in the national title game this year. I'm sorry, I know that is upsetting, and I hate for it to be like that, but the Eagles are going to have to run the tables, and yes, they're next three are at home against Army (thanks for covering by the way...unbelievable), UMass, and Bowling Green. However, after that, I see a bunch of potential "land mine" games, including at VA Tech, at Maryland, and at Clemson. Personally, I hope they prove me wrong and win out, but history has shown that is a very difficult task to achieve. Last year, only one team made it all the way through without suffering a loss, and it took possibly the greatest two offensive plays in BCS game history to make that happen (Boise St.). Plus, there are four teams right now that are light years ahead of everyone else (Southern Cal, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida). I know BC does not have to win every game to get to a BCS game, and hopefully they have shaken the Tom O'Brien "let's do really well all throughout the regular season, tank the last game, then win a inconsequential bowl against a weak opponent" approach, and they end up in the ACC title game, where they would likely have a rematch between VA Tech or GA Tech.

In other news, I am horrendous at picking games.

Well, the season is young, but so far, I just haven't had the touch to really nail any of these games. First of all, I should have been in on that Florida game. I have no idea why I missed that. I talked about it a few days before the picks, then neglected it, instead opting to pick underdogs in Nebraska and Washington when I could have stuck with a sure-fire favorite. Also, Utah absolutely blew out UCLA, and that's embarrassing when you pick a team that's favored by
two touchdowns and they lose by 38 points. That's never a good thing. Northwestern got beat at home by know what, I am not going to feel bad about that game. Excuse me for going against a team that has lost 22 straight games, then they suddenly beat a Big 10 team on the road (this also speaks to how bad the Big 10 is...of course, the big story has been Michigan, but really, the whole conference has not looked so hot this year...Iowa lost to Iowa St., Minnesota got beat by Florida Atlantic; yes, Ohio St. had a big road win, but the only teams that I can deem "Big 10 worthy" right now are Wisconsin and Penn St., and other than that, it's a total crapshoot). The good news is that I had a couple of good ones in there, including BC, and yes, Florida International. Hopefully, I'll get on the good foot this week...God knows I need it.

On Sunday, it was pretty much the same song and dance. I'll give myself a gigantic pat on the back for basically drawing out everything that was about to happen in the Pats game. Tomlinson got absolutely crushed for the second week in a row (for the first time ever, I'm sort of happy I didn't get the #1 pick in any fantasy league), and again, he had it coming. He just couldn't shut up about the Patriots, and he was still crying from last year. The guy is the best running back in the game, but you cannot call the Patriots out...because you will lose. It has been tried numerous times over the Brady era, and no one has come out on top when they question if the Pats will show up. Again, the Chargers are overrated because they have no secondary and their coach is Norv Turner. Let's see, how to we replace coaching incompetency in the playoffs? I know, let's get a guy with even less experience, a horrible coaching record, and give him a ton of money. Yeah, because that always works. Anyway, the Pats again dominated, and I'm pretty sure Adalius Thomas could outrun like 98% of that team (at least we know he's faster than the receivers). I remember someone before the season commenting about how when Adalius played safety for the Ravens, they used to always target him because he was not that who was the guy I saw blazing down the sidelines on Sunday night. Seriously, how does a guy that big move that fast? He is such an animal, it's ridiculous. Anyway, I have to say that Belichick's legacy, while not completely back to 100%, went from completely tarnished one day, to a "well, I guess this guy could have possibly won all those games" viewpoint the next. The Pats beat a better team than the one they were accused of "spying" against, and had the eyes of the entire country on them to look and see that they were playing everything by the book. So is this going to stop now? I mean, haven't we proved that this team is just that good? Next week, the Pats play host to the Bills, and I am thinking that if you don't like the Pats, you may not want to watch that game, because it's going to get pretty ugly for Buffalo.

And now, the other games that weren't as easy to predict:

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Carolina Panthers!

Yes, they finally proved my point. Sure, I picked them, but I was happy to be totally vindicated for bashing this team for the last month and a half. Houston just took it to them, and luckily Steve Smith had a career day, or it could have been much worse. I am now finding out that St. Louis is just that bad, as they went down again at home, meaning that Panthers win was simply a case of a bad team knocking off a bad team that lost their Pro Bowl left tackle, and has no secondary to boot. Sure, I picked the Rams to win the west, and I'll sink with that ship. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. Just look at that Cleveland/Cincy game. I am having to eat my words for betting against a point guard who threw for five TDs and a "worn-out" running back who gained over 200 yards on the ground. Green Bay is looking great, meaning that prediction is actually working out. Tom Coughlin is clearly in the driver's seat in the "coach who will be fired before the season gets out" race. How does he still have a job? Seriously, I question this every week, and I'm sorry for the repetitiveness, but it simply shocking that they are keeping Coughlin around. Tampa definitely came through for me, and that made me look pretty good. The Bears and Colts games both went oddly how I thought they would. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there were a lot of people giving 12 points and taking the Bears at Soldier Field, so that was another nice call. Overall, I'm not happy, but I'm not completely in the dumps. Again, hopefully another week of gathering information will help me out...or it could just confuse me even more and I'll end up being even worse.

I know there will be someone out there to appreciate this:

The Redskins are for real!...I'm sorry!

So, to cap it all, I had a great weekend. Going to Atlanta for the BC game, watching the Sox/Yanks (even though they lost) and Pats/Chargers at the same time was amazing. I got to see my Houston Texans blow the doors off the Panthers, which was good because I didn't have to wait in traffic after the game...all very good things. This week, I'm going to try and get some NASCAR in here, as it's obviously been lacking for a while (this is what happens when Denny Hamlin goes through a cold stretch), and, of course, a preview of the game of the week going down at Baton Rouge on Saturday (Gamecock fans: I know that this is going to be an absolute fight to win, but let's cherish this right now; we are #12 in the country, we beat UGA for the first time since '01; and we have a chance this weekend to shock a nation and potentially throw ourselves in the national title race...that would have been absolute crazy talk two years ago...let's enjoy the limelight). In addition, I will be white-knuckling it all the way to the end with the Sox (who gave up three dingers to Frank Thomas tonight, and the lead is now 3 1/2). This is what you get for anointing them division winners before it was locked up. Dan Shaughnessy should be fired, forced into quitting, or simply barred from ever talking about the Sox again if they lose this division. He's been saying that they have had the division won since June. I hate when people just jump the gun like that. Do you know what team this is? Just because we won in '04, that doesn't mean this team isn't still called the Boston Red Sox, and even though it was only three years ago that we won, we're still carrying a bunch of baggage that has existed in that short period of time (most of it in the form of J.D. Drew...oh come on, how can I not go an article without bashing J.D. Drew; it's almost as easy as predicting what he's going to do with a guy on first and less than two outs, or when he's in a two-strike count...anyone know if Rickey Henderson wants another go around in Boston?). So, don't count your chickens before they hatch...or something like that. Anyway, there's going to be the usual banter leading up to the weekend, so you have that to look forward to. See you next time. Peace.


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