Wednesday, September 02, 2009


So who's to blame for the Red Sox 8-5 loss to Tampa Bay Wednesday night? Only Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury, Terry Francona, Alex Gonzalez, Ramon Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Manny Delcarmen. That's about it.

Let's slice up the blame pie...

Beckett was perhaps the primary culprit. He allowed 5 runs (4 earned) in 6 innings. He settled down after the first 2 innings, but still couldn't go very deep into the game, and would have been in-line for the Loss, had the Sox not rallied in the 8th. Beckett hasn't registered a Quality Start since August 12th.

Jason Varitek can't hit. I don't care how good of a game-caller he is, his offensive ineptitude kills this lineup. Especially when you have a guy like Alex Gonzalez hitting 9th, then Varitek 8th, that makes the bottom of the order very easy for opposing pitchers to navigate. Too easy. He's hitting .169 since the All-Star Break, and he hit .135 in August. Dreadful.

Jacoby Ellsbury had multiple RBI opportunities, but failed to cash-in on any of them. He was 0 for 4, and 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.

Francona bungled the end of this game, although not in a clear-cut way. With the bases loaded and 1 out, he probably should have used Mike Lowell to pinch hit for Alex Gonzalez. But Gonzalez has been hot, and swinging the bat well. Francona also had Ramirez start the bottom of the 8th after 30+ minutes sitting on the bench. Neither decision worked out well, although both were understandable.

The afore mentioned Alex Gonzalez was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position, including that bases loaded strikeout.

Ramon Ramirez was lights-out in the 7th, then lit-up in the 8th. In only 4 pitches, he'd allowed a double, and a single, giving the Rays' a 6-5 lead.

David Ortiz did have an RBI groundout and a walk, but he failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position, despite having 3 chances to do so.

Manny Delcarmen came in to replace Ramirez. But the quick-step hit parade continued. Declarmen only needed 2 pitches to allow a 2 run homer and a double. In only 5 pitches, Ramirez and Delcarmen turned a 5-5 game into an 8-5 Tampa Bay win.

The Sox lost ground everywhere, as the Yankees and Rangers both won. The AL East race is all but over, as the Sox are 7.5 back. They have a 2.5 game Wild Card cushion over Texas, with Tampa Bay still alive and 5 games behind.

Clay Buchholz faces David Price in the rubber game Thursday night.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara


It's September 2nd. NHL rookie camps have already started. The regular season is less than a month away. And Phil Kessel's future remains very much in doubt. He's a restricted free agent, asking for $5M a year. This amount is way too much for the Bruins to pay and remain under the cap. They'd essentially have to cut another key forward in order to pay him.

Being a restricted free agent means that if another team offers him a contract, the Bruins can match it. If the Bruins choose not to match (they cannot match $5 million), they get compensated. If another team signs Kessel for $5 million, that team has to give the Bruins their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft picks. That's not peanuts. And the picks have to be the team's ORIGINAL picks. So if, for example, Edmonton trades away its 2nd pick in the 2010 draft, they can't even make an offer to Kessel.

And this is what Kessel's up against. Not only are few teams willing to take on $5M in salary (about 9% or 1/11 of the total cap), but few are willing to give up so many picks. The big teams like Detroit don't have the cap space to add Kessel. The rebuilding teams don't want to forfeit desperately needed draft picks.

Then there's actually assessing Kessel's worth. It's true he led the Bruins in goals, but he also had Marc Savard's brilliant passing to assist him. He only had 24 assists as a top-line forward, and a top-power-play forward. That's why he was 3rd in total points on the team.

He had the same amount of assists as PJ Axelsson.

Then there's who he scored against. Again, 36 goals, 24 assists, 60 points, and +23, those were his season numbers.

Against the Islanders (worst record in the NHL), he scored 5 goals, and 3 assists in only three games. Against the Lightning (2nd worst record in NHL), he had 4 goals and 1 assist. So 9 of his goals (25% or 1/4), came against the worst two teams in hockey. 4 of his assists (17%), also came in those games.

Against non-playoff Eastern Conference teams, he scored 26 goals, 13 assists, and was +16. So against the West, and the Eastern playoff teams, he had 9 goals, 11 assists, and was +7. That's not very impressive.

Of course, it's expected that good players feast on bad teams. But even Kessel's overall numbers are hardly earth shattering. He was 12th in the League in goals, 59th in points, and 180th in assists.

He is young, turning 22 on October 2nd, but that's not a major asset in the NHL, especially in the salary cap era. GMs want sure things, not potential, especially when $5 million is the asking price. Then there's his rotator cuff injury and subsequent surgery. More question marks. He's out until mid-October at the earliest, November at the most likeliest. And who knows what kind of player he'll be.

I understand his desire for the big contract. He and agent Wade Arnott probably assumed all year that Kessel would be getting paid big time. But they're going to have to wait a year.

San Jose is the popular rumored destination for him, but they too would have to cut some fat to pay him. Why would you cut players, ship draft picks, and spend money just for a slight upgrade?

The Bruins have plenty of depth at forward. Kessel's undoubtedly the best scorer they have, but they can score without him. Savard, Lucic, Krejci, Wheeler, Kobasew, Bitz, Sturm, Bergeron, Ryder, there's no lack of answers up front.

If I were Kessel's agent (and not a Bruins fan), I'd advise him to take a small, 1 year contract with the Bruins, try to score another 35 to 40 goals, and cash in a year from now, when there'd be no draft pick compensation, and no questions surrounding the shoulder.

But i think he'll take a small deal on an offer sheet from a team like San Jose, instead of a slightly smaller contract from the Bruins.



The Big XII provided the most controversy, and possibly the most excitement in college football last year. And once again, the two big teams in the Big XII - Texas and Oklahoma - will be contenders, with Texas being a heavy favorite to win the National Championship.

The Longhorns will win the Big XII South without tie-breakers, then the Big XII title game in Arlongton, and then the National Championship in Pasadena. Colt McCoy finished 2nd in Heisman voting, in case anyone forgot. And Texas didn't lose much talent. They beat Oklahoma last year, and beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. They're loaded, and they're going all the way, unfortunately. But hey, at least they're not USC or fucking Florida.

However, they might be tested in the middle of the season, with back-to-back trips to Missouri, and Oklahoma State. Those aren't easy places for anyone to win in.

Key games:
10/17 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)
10/24 @ Missouri
10/31 @ Oklahoma State

13-1, Big XII Champs, BCS Champs

The Sooners have the reigning Heisman winner, but lost 4/5 of their offensive line, which gave Sam Bradford the time to make so many big plays. The Sooners also lost talent in their receiving corps. OU is great at reloading, and if they were in just about any other conference, they'd contend for a conference title. But they'll lose the Red River Shootout in October, and perhaps Bedlam against Oklahoma State in November.

I do think they'll have the talent and ability to figure out how to impress people, and earn a BCS berth. But maybe it would be better to settle for an easier win in the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners haven't won a bowl game since 2005, and haven't taken home a BCS Bowl trophy since 2002.

Key games:
9/5 vs. Brigham Young (Arlington, TX)
10/3 @ Miami
10/17 vs. Texas (Dallas, TX)
11/7 @ Nebraska
11/28 vs. Oklahoma State

11-2, Fiesta Bowl loss

Oklahoma State replaces Texas Tech in the spoiler role for the Big XII South. Last year, how Texas and OU fared against Tech turned out to be much more important than how they did against each other. The same could turn out to be true about Oklahoma State in '09.

Similar to Texas Tech, OSU has an insane offense, and a very susceptible defense. They return 8 starters to an offensive unit that averaged nearly 500 yards a game. But on defense, they struggle to pressure QBs, and their coverage units are frequently scorched. That combination doesn't bode well in a conference with Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford.

Key games:
9/5 vs. Georgia
10/31 vs. Texas
11/28 @ Oklahoma

10-3, Cotton Bowl Champs

The Blackshirts are back. Nebraska's defense is capable of propelling them to the Big XII title game. They also have a very fortunate schedule. Out of conference, apart from a trip to Blacksburg to play VA-Tech, the Cornhuskers host Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Lafayette. They also don't have to play either Texas or Oklahoma State. And their matchup against Oklahoma is in Lincoln.

Nebraska has little offensive firepower, but they won't really need it to win the Big XII North.

Key games:
9/19 @ Virginia Tech
10/8 @ Missouri
11/7 Oklahoma
11/14 @ Kansas

10-4, Big XII North Champs, Holiday Bowl Champs

And the rest, in alphabetical order...

Baylor is no longer a guaranteed win for opponents in the Big XII. QB Robert Griffin threw for 2,000+ yards and 28 TDs in his freshman year, along with 843 yards on the ground and only 3 INTs. The Bears won't contend for the Big XII South, and will be fortunate to finish the season bowl eligible, but thanks to Texas A&M, they're no longer the worst Big XII team in Texas. And watch out for this squad to surprise a Big XII powerhouse with a scare game, as most of the big teams have to come down to Waco to face Baylor.

Key games:
9/19 vs. UConn
10/10 @ Oklahoma
10/24 vs. Oklahoma State
10/31 vs. Nebraska
11/14 vs. Texas

Where are you Kordell Stewart? Boulder turns its lonely eyes to you.

CU sucks at just about everything that matters. There are question marks at QB, a below average offensive line returns 4 starters, which is probably a bad thing, and a there's a defensive line that couldn't put pressure on a mosquito. The Buffaloes will be the Big XII North whipping boys, except when they play Iowa State.

Key games:
10/1 @ West Virginia
10/10 @ Texas
11/19 @ Oklahoma State
11/27 vs. Nebraska

New coach Paul Rhodes inherits a program that was 2-10, and 0-8 in conference play. This is another team that sucks on toast, both offensively and defensively. They need to make Seneca Wallace get some plastic surgery, come back as Cayuga Waltrip, and play QB.

Key games (one's they might win):
9/3 vs. North Dakota State
9/26 vs. Army
11/14 vs. Colorado

Just one or two good years and people think KU has an amazing program. I'm still not sold on anything in Kansas that isn't basketball. But they do have a comical out of conference schedule (Northern Colorado, @ UTEP, Duke, Southern Miss), so contending for a Big XII North title, and a longshot at the BCS isn't totally out of the question.

QB Todd Reesing is solid, and has a pair of 1,000+ yard receivers to throw to. But there are weaknesses, as well as dates with Oklahoma and Texas on the schedule.

Key games:
10/24 vs. Oklahoma
11/14 vs. Nebraska
11/21 @ Texas

There are some solid players in Manhattan. But the QB spot is still up for grabs. Then again, the Wildcats have some cupcake games to figure that out before they play their first real team on October 10th. K-State could surprise people, either with a big upset win, or bowl eligibility.

Key games:
10/31 @ Oklahoma
11/7 vs. Kansas
11/21 @ Nebraska

No Chase Daniel, and the Tigers are left struggling. Mizzou also lost most of its other skill players, as well as 7 defensive starters. Unlike the powers in the Big XII, teams like Missouri need a few years to recover from such losses. The Tigers might make some noise in the Big XII North, and could help DETERMINE who goes to the conference title game, but they won't COMPETE for the divisional title.

Key games:
10/8 vs. Nebraska
10/17 @ Oklahoma State
10/24 vs. Texas
11/14 @ Kansas State
11/28 vs. Kansas (Kansas City, MO)

The Aggies might have a decent passing game, which they'll need because they'll be behind most of the time. They have NO running game, which is sacrilegious in the Big XII. They were 114th in the country last year with 88.5 rushing yards per game. Both their offensive and defensive lines are consistently pushed back, and their only conference wins in '08 came against Colorado and Iowa State.

The Aggies might just be the worst team in Texas.

Key games (winnable ones):
9/5 vs. New Mexico
9/19 vs. Utah State
10/31 vs. Iowa State
11/7 @ Colorado

No Harrel, no Crabtree, but somehow Texas Tech will average 500 passing yards and 30 points a game once more. The unsung hero of TTU's 2008 campaign was Brandon Williams, who's also gone. Tech will always have a prolific offense, but last year their defense was almost as fierce, especially in the pass-rushing area, because of guys like Williams. Tech will provide audiences with some thrilling 49-42 games. Good for us fans, bad for Tech.

Key games:
9/19 @ Texas
10/17 @ Nebraska
10/31 vs. Kansas
11/14 @ Oklahoma State
11/21 vs. Oklahoma


Jon Lester had a somewhat early exit last night, after only 97 pitches through 6 innings pitched. He was feeling a sore groin, and his removal from the game was precautionary. Both Lester and the Sox assure that this won't cost him any starts, and he'll be fine for his next start on Sunday in Chicago.

Without Lester, the Sox are screwed, especially if Beckett can't find his mid-season form.

Extra Bases


We continue our position-by-position preview of the Pats with the receivers.

The Patriots' receiver corps is not as deep as most think. You've got Moss, you've got Welker, then not much else. A year after Donte Stallworth departed, Jabar Gaffney has also moved on. Gaffney only caught 38 passes for 468 yards, but he helped out Moss and Welker by drawing a 3rd DB that otherwise could be used in double coverage.

But the Patriots do have Randy Moss, perhaps the best vertical WR in the game today. Even with Matt Cassel's much more conservative passing attack last year, Moss amassed 1,008 yards from 69 catches, and scored 11 TDs. With Brady back, I still wouldn't expect anything like Moss's 2007 performance of 1,493-98-23. But he''ll return to being the most potent offensive weapon in the quarterback's arsenal. More deep balls, more TDs.

From Moss, I expect 1,200+ yards, 15 TDs.

Wes Welker came to the Patriots with 96 career receptions, 1,121 yards, and 1 TD. As a Patriot, he has 223 catches, 2,340 yards, and 11 TDs. He was Matt Cassel's go-to-guy in '08, and Brady's outlet in '07. And things don't look to change much for '09.
The Pats' O-Line isn't as good as it was in '07, so Welker could be the recipient of more screen-type passes, as well as run a few end arounds or reverses. He might be the most valuable member of the WR corps.

I think Welker once again tops 100 receptions and 1,000 yards. He should also fall just shy of 10 TDs.

Joey Galloway was a nice cheap acquisition that doesn't seem to be working out too well. He's not impressing in training camp or in preseason games. He turns 38 in November, and he's coming off a foot injury. He only caught 13 passes last year because of that injury.

Then again, from '05 to '07, he averaged 67 catches, 1,119 yards, and 7.7 TDs a season. But at the same time, 2005 was the best of those years, and there's a big dropoff in the NFL once you're past 37 years old.

Galloway might be able to be like a much older version of Gaffney, used as a #3 or #4 option, and helping to tie up DBs, or be a short outlet option. He's a solid possession receiver. I don't expect much from him. And he looks like a dirty old man.

After Moss, Welker, and Galloway, the talent level drops off considerably...

Greg Lewis is a 7 year veteran and ex-Philadelphia Eagle. The Eagles are not known for their receivers, and rightfully so. Lewis only caught 19 passes last year. His career high in receptions and yards came in 2005, when he caught 48 passes for 561 yards. Don't expect much from him.

After Julian Edelman starred in the preseason opener, we haven't seen much of him. He caught one pass in the Bengals game, and I never saw him on the field Friday night. He seems like a guy who can be a pesky 4th or 5th receiver in a spread formation. He's got Wes Welker speed and evasiveness, we'll see how reliable his hands are across the middle.

He was a QB at Kent State, but the Patriots have explicitly denied that they'll use him in any sort of Wildcat formation (IMO, the Wildcat will be the biggest flop of the 2009 season). He might throw a pass or two, but in plays like a WR Reverse Pass, a la David Patten.

The Patriots drafted Brandon Tate out of North Carolina. Tate was the acclaimed Hakeem Nicks' counterpart, until going down 5 games into the season. He's athletic, and could one day develop into a solid #3 or #4 guy. I wouldn't expect to see much of him outside of 5 wide formations.

It's a mix bag of targets for Brady to throw to. Moss over the top, with the occasional screen or cross mixed in. Welker all over the place. Galloway a possible deep threat, used more to keep Moss open than anything else. Then there are LOTS of question marks. Who will be the #4 receiver. On most teams, this isn't a pressing issue. But Brady and the Pats use all receivers at all times.


It wasn't completely easy, but the Sox won their first game in St. Petersburg since May 2nd. That was the only other Sox win in Tropicana Field this season.

Jonathan Papelbon deserves a lot of credit for the win. His 2 perfect innings were good for a Save, and wouldv'e made Dick Radatz cream in his pants. It was his first 2 inning outing since last year's ALCS.

JD Drew, Jason Bay, and Kevin Youkilis all homered. Ellsbury was 2 for 6 with 2 RBI. He knocked in the Sox first and last runs of the game. Both RBI came with 2 outs. He also made an outstanding catch in the 8th.

Wednesday night offers a tantalizing pitcher's duel. Josh Beckett faces Matt Garza. If the Sox win, they all but eliminate the Rays from Wild Card contention, so this is a much bigger game for Tampa Bay.


Photo Credits:
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara