Thursday, September 18, 2008

Return Of The Hack

"I'm back to save the universe..."

It's been awhile...I know, right?

Happy to be writing once again. Just picked up a spankin' new laptop, and hopefully I can regain whatever it was I had going before. In case you were just tuning in, I'm in a different locale...Lynchburg,VA. Why Lynchburg you ask? Or some of you may get this one confused with the one that makes Jack Daniels (that's Tennessee by the way). Well, I took a job as an intern with the minor league team here...the Hillcats...the mighty Hillcats who finished last in the league at the end of the season. In any event, I learned a bunch, but now it's over, and basically I'm reduced to sitting at home and sending out resumes in large quantities. Think of it as throwing a thousand darts at once at a's got to hit bulls...or at least close right? Anyway, so for the time being, I'm working two part-time jobs to keep me afloat, and it's given me some time to get back to the column. Now I'm not exactly sure how often I will be able to update this, but hopefully it's a little more than once every nine months.

The top story right now has to be the Sox losing two of three to the D-Rays (I know they're the "Rays" now, and I think that's all well and good...but come need an adjective before ray; there's sting rays, riibontail rays, fantail rays, etc.). Everything was looking good on Monday after almost everyone in the lineup hit a homer (by the way, if you were wondering how I felt about the Manny trade, here's a thought: 28-15 since July silence...nice). After blowing up Kazmir, it seemed the Sox were potentially going to take the division lead once the series was over. Of course it seems my instinct of premature thinking once again has gotten the best of me, and we are now two back with ten to go. While part of me still believes that there is a shot for the Sox to take first by the end of the season, realistically, a wild-card birth almost seems inevitable at this point. All things considered, it's not the worst thing to be the wild card. Look at '04...that worked out ok. However, that being said, the Sox would be on a collision course with the Halos and their west-coast home advantage. Again, the same thing happened in '04, but this time around, I'm expecting Anaheim to be just a smidgin better. With the addition of Mark Teixeira to what was already an extremely potent lineup, the Angels are easily the best team in baseball. The key to the Angels has been their starting pitching and K-Rod closing games out. Not only is Rodriguez breaking the all-time single-season saves record, it appears like he'll be finishing in the neighborhood of 65 saves this year, potentially becoming the first reliever since Eric Gagne in '04 to win the Cy Young and the first occasion in the AL since Eck won the award and the MVP in 1991.

To be brutally honest with you, I was more concerned about the upcoming series with the Jays than the one against the Rays. For whatever reason, historically, once the Sox get past that border, they just cannot seem to put it together in the Skydome...or Rogers Centre...I really should grab a newspaper and get with it or something. With a 2-4 mark already on the road against Toronto, the Sox are in desperate need to win this series, not just because it would help them in the division race, but I also think that for the psyche of this team, they need to be reminded of the fact that they have an excellent team, and its one that should be winning these crucial games on the road. If they can't beat Toronto on the road, then what chance are we giving ourselves if and when we play the Angels on the road (as painful as it may sound, a trip to the world series goes through the O.C. this year pretty much no matter what)?

On Friday, after a much-deserved day off, it will be Byrd vs. Burnett...I have to say that this is the one game I really can't say I have a whole ton of confidence in. Burnett has been tremendous this year. It's bad enough that he's 10-3 at home this year, but he's also 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three starts against the Sox this season. While Paul Byrd has been a very nice post-deadline pickup, it seems like he's overmatched here. I'm not throwing this game out, but I'm doing pretty much everything short of throwing this game out. Saturday's matchup is definitely one of the better matchups you could ask for in the entire American League, let alone between these two teams. Jon Lester, who continues to break expectations even though they have been set on a ridiculous level, against Roy Halladay, the quality start machine. Halladay has seen the Sox four times this year, and while he is 2-2, he has gone at least seven innings in all four starts. Halladay is another pitcher that does extremely well at home, so getting to him early, which is the key to the game, is going to be no small feat. From pitches 1-25, Halladay's OAVG (opponents' average) is .258. That number shrinks to .212 from 26-50 and .206 from 51-75. Basically, Lester is going to have to find a way to keep the Sox in the game without giving up the big hit that would put them behind. I like our chances, but if we fall behind early, you can pretty much forget about it. In the series finale, it's the Dice man against Shawn Marcum. This is actually going to be a big test for the Sox. This is one of those potential let-down games, especially if they happen to win Saturday against Halladay. Do not take Marcum for granted. He has performed extremely well this season, and yes, that also reflects on his home performances as well. Dice has been remarkable this season considering it is only his second year in the "bigs," but he has also been extremely fortunate, and at times, lucky to get out of some of the jams he has put himself into. The Jays are not nearly as strong of an offensive club as they have been in the past, but this is still a team that can make you pay if you start screwing around and putting runners on base. Remember also that this team is leading the AL in ERA and has been back and forth with the Julio Lugo-less Sox for the top spot in fielding, so even the smallest mistake could be the difference in each of the three games.

In switching gears now, I have to comment on my beloved Patriots and their quest to run the regular season tables again...that's right, I said it. Look, I know that it's not the easiest thing to win without the best player on the planet (ok, laugh if you want...but take a second and think about it...who is better than Tom Brady right now?...I refer all Tomlinson fans to the '07 AFC Championship game...he's just not the man anymore), but the Pats still have a strong D, a good O-line (at least one that won't get Cassel killed), and the best duo of receivers in the AFC (as much as my man-crush on Wes Welker wants me to say the NFL, I still have to defer to Boldin and Fitzgerald in 'Zona). In addition, Cassel has been in meetings and running the same offense for the last four years when he has been given a chance. Sure, his preseason numbers weren't outstanding, but as Randy Moss showed last year, the preseason is not the come all, be all of comparitive translations to the regular season (Moss did not play one snap last preseason, then the regular season came...catch my drift?). I kind of just brainstormed this one up...see if this makes any sense. It is almost safe to assume that Cassel is the AFC's Aaron Rodgers? They both backed up two of the best QBs of all-time, then through a set of circumstances, they suddenly landed the starting job, and both were criticized for their lack of experience right out of the gate before they had ever even thrown a pass. While Rodgers knew, well, kind of knew, that he would be the starter this year all along, still, there was much skepticism about how he would do in Lambeau, much like how Cassel attempted to, and for the most part did, silence his critics as the Pats...the underdogged Pats, went into the Meadowlands and pulled out a very efficient 19-10 victory. I don't know, but both of these guys have major intrigue factors right now and will most likely continue the rest of the season...and possibly beyond. If you've noticed around the league, getting a capable signal-caller behind center is not the easiest thing to do. Imagine if Cassel is able to put up not superstar numbers, but respectable numbers the rest of the year. There is no telling what kind of pay day he could be playing himself into if he continues to show the poise he did on Sunday. Look at a guy like Matt Schaub. Here's a guy who came in for a few appearances while Michael Vick was out, and netted a $49 million contract with Houston after Atlanta wanted to get two first-rounders for him during the season. It will be interesting to see how Cassel does though. Obviously, he is not completely comfortable with the offense yet. Anytime Randy Moss only gets two catches, it's a sign that the play-calling was fairly conservative, which is absolutely the right move in terms of bringing a new QB into the starting role. First, you have to pump your confidence up with drop passes and slant patterns in the 5-10 yard range, then eventually, you can spread the ball around more once that confidence in yourself is raised, as well as the confidence your teammates have in you getting them the ball. If this happened to Randy Moss two years ago, he probably would have demanded a trade, but now, being on a winning team, I feel like he has somewhat checked his ego at the door. Not saying that the "playmaker" mentality is gone, but I feel like he is seeing the bigger picture now, and that Cassel is a young guy who is trying to get his bearings. Moss' time will come, and I think he has the patience to wait and let Cassel develop his game into being able to throw the deep ball. Against Miami on Sunday, I would not be at all surprised if Moss gets close to 100 yards receiving purely on the notion that no one on the Dolphins can hold a candle to him, which was evident last year when Brady was literally just throwing the ball in the air, and Moss was able to come down with two long touchdowns. I really think this is the game where Moss gets involved again in the passing game, after starting of the '08 season on a quiet note.

Also, Wes Welker, because he's Wes Welker, will likely torch his old team. Have you ever seen anyone run the middle and basically know that it's an automatic first down if you get him the ball? There's nothing like watching Welker play.

Tomorrow, I hope that during my check-cashing, resume-chucking day, I can get to some predictions that you will lose a bunch of money on if you take. Other than that, hey, it's been good to get back on this. I really missed being able to rant and rave about God knows what all the time. Again, hopefully I can keep this going for the forseeable future. Until next time, take care everyone. Peace.



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