Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. folks. Flawless.
Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. folks. Flawless.
After a 9-15 forgettable 2015 season, it looked like the Red Sox signing of Rick Porcello was going to be a flop. Thankfully for the Red Sox and Porcello he finished 2015 stronger than he began and took that momentum right into a stellar 2016 season, guiding the Red Sox into a postseason birth with his 22-4 record and 3.15 ERA. On Wednesday night he received the highest individual pitching honor in baseball by being named the AL Cy Young award winner for 2016 joining an illustrious list of former Red Sox pitchers to win the award (Pedro Martinez (2x), Roger Clemens (3x), and Jim Lonborg).
It’s hard not to be happy for Porcello. He was rushed to the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers at the young age of 20 with the weight of the world on his shoulders and expectations through the roof. In the 2009 MLB Top 50 prospects list rated his upside potential as “Ace, All-Star, Cy Young candidate, you name it. He’s been compared to Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Roy Oswalt and Josh Beckett.” No pressure kid, just follow in the footsteps of some of the best pitchers of this generation. The pressure clearly impacted Porcello’s development and he never quite reached that level of success…until now.
With 8 seasons of experience under his belt and just entering his prime at age 27, Porcello has looked better than ever. He is finally living up to the expectations and thankfully for Red Sox fans, it’s happening here in Boston. No one knows what the future will hold, but this could very well be the beginning of a special run for Porcello and the next few years may just elevate him as one of the better pitchers in baseball. He’s not flashy and won’t blow 100 mph heat past you, but is experienced, smart, and knows how to win ballgames (at least this year).
Congrats to the real ace of the Red Sox staff, Rick Porcello!
Sidenote: That 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 Detroit Tigers rotation consisted of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello – three Cy Young Award winners and the 3 guys that got the highest vote counts in 2016. Scherzer won the NL Cy Young this year and Verlander finished just 5 points behind Porcello for the AL crown. In 2014, David Price joined the staff, making it now 4 Cy Young award winners on the same staff (they obvious weren’t all winners at the time). Is that the best rotation in the modern era? Maybe.
After 9 weeks of the NFL season, the AFC East is firmly in the control of the New England Patriots (7-1). They are 3 games up on the Miami Dolphins (4-4), Buffalo Bills (4-4) and 4 games up on the sad and pathetic New York Jets (3-6). The Jets were obviously hoping for better when they signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 1-year $12 million contract after a long and ugly stalemate this offseason. The Jets felt Fitzpatrick was the right person to lead this team to a solid season, but boy were they wrong. In typical fashion for the Jets, the Fitzpatrick signing is an absolute disaster in almost every way possible.
Through 9 games, 8 started, Fitzpatrick is ranked at or near the bottom in almost every statistical category. He has 8 TD passes compared to a whopping 13 interceptions (most in the NFL), including a historically bad 6 interception game against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 3. For perspective, he had 15 interceptions in 16 games last season and 8 in 12 games the year before. Fitzpatrick has the worst passing percentage of any qualified QB in the league (56.5%) and has just 220 yards/game (28th in the league). A sound $12 million investment?
From a Jets perspective, they can hang their hat on only offering Harvard educated Fitzpatrick a 1-year deal. They aren’t locked up long term with the worst QB in football and can move on next year. The only issue with that logic? Who’s their next QB? It’s certainly not going to be Geno Smith if they want to win football games.
I love watching the Jets disaster. They are just good enough to not get a top pick in the NFL draft, but bad enough to not contend in any real way. A rebuild takes a lot longer if you don’t sink like a rock and get a top player in the draft. Jets futility could become the norm over the next few years, so get used to it.
The news at the end of last week that Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo was headed to the Diamondbacks to be their manager was not surprising. When Mike Hazen left to become the GM of the D’Backs a few weeks back, much of the speculation was around Lovullo joining him. It’s a great opportunity for Lovullo to get a sniff at managing for a franchise that is rebuilding and get a chance to prove that the short sample at the helm of the Red Sox was not a fluke. Despite being happy for Lovullo, his departure leaves a hole in the Red Sox dugout.
Lovullo has long ties with the Red Sox organization. He was the Pawtucket Red Sox manager in 2010 and took them to a 68-78 record. Despite the record, he was considered to be a candidate for some type of MLB coaching job. When John Farrell left the Red Sox for the Toronto Blue Jays managerial job, he took Lovullo with him to be his 1st base coach. After 2 seasons in that position, Farrell was released from his contract in Toronto at the push of the Red Sox and he became the Red Sox manager. Farrell brought Lovullo over as his bench coach and he has been in that position since 2013.
The most talked about story is in 2015 was when Lovullo took over for Farrell when he underwent treatments for lymphoma. He took a bad team and finished the season on a 28-20 stretch, creating a buzz around his future as a manager. He decided to stay on as bench coach for another year when Farrell returned and frankly was a back-up plan in case things when south. Since things did not go south (at least not aggressively enough), Farrell kept his job and it was only a matter of time until Lovullo either got the Red Sox managerial job, or would leave for one. Now is that time. If it wasn’t the D’Backs, it’s likely another team would have come calling.
Lovullo is a calm and intelligent presence in the clubhouse and according to many reports has a great relationship with the players. Turn on almost any Red Sox broadcast in 2016 and you will see Mookie Betts in Lovullo’s ear asking him about anything and everything. Lovullo was always in the ears of younger players and I credit him, at least partially, for some of the success that the young core had in 2016. Although Lovullo leaving isn’t going to have a significant impact on the field, it will have at least some impact in the dugout. How much? We’ll find out next year.
Leading up to game 1, this year’s World Series matchup had the potential to be great. Two long-suffering franchises with a combined 176 years without a championship vying for the trophy. The Cleveland Indians without a win since 1948 and the well documented 108-year heartbreak of the Chicago Cubs. Both teams loaded with young talent, balanced with veteran leadership, and led by top-tier managers in Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. Thankfully, for baseball fans everywhere (except maybe Cleveland), the series was even better great and both teams stretched it to the limit.
The Cubs were on the brink of heartbreak after 4 games, down 3-1, and it looked as though 109-years would be the new mantra. Terry Francona was pulling all the right strings and had his team poised to end their streak of mediocrity. Then, in impressive fashion, the Cubbies stormed back to force a game 7 in Cleveland for all the marbles. Ticket sales were through the roof insane, but if you were there to witness game 7 in person, it was the memory of a lifetime. The game had everything but great defense and proved to be the most watched baseball game since 1991 and according to Nate Silver at 538, had 49.9 million viewers at it’s peak going into the 9th inning.
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead and it looked as though Cleveland would wither away, but not this team. With 1 man on and 2 outs in the 5th inning, Joe Maddon inexplicably brought in Jon Lester. After a swinging bunt and throwing error by David Ross, the Cubs 5-1 lead was in jeopardy. With runners on 2nd and 3rd a bad wild pitch and a Ross stumble led to both runners scoring to shrink the Cubs lead to just 2 runs, 5-3. Ross redeemed himself in the top of the 6th with a HR to center field to extend the lead back to 3 runs, 6-3.
As most Cubs fans (and older Red Sox fans) would know, it felt like there was still too much time for the lead to evaporate and heartbreak to ensue. Sure enough, in the 8th inning, exhausted Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman stumbled in a big way. With 2 outs in the 8th, Lester allowed a single that deflected off of Cubs SS Addison Russell‘s glove and opened the door to bring in Chapman, who had already be heavily over-worked in the series. The first batter he faced, Brandon Guyer, ripped a line drive double into the outfield allowing Jose Ramirez to score. All of a sudden, it was a 2-run game with the tying run in the batter’s box.
With a 2-2 count on Rajai Davis, the UConn product*, Chapman tried to throw a 97 MPH fastball by him and failed. Davis crushed the pitch for a massive, game-tying 2-run HR. Even a 1,000 miles away in Boston you could feel the life being sucked out of Cubs fans and the phrase “not again” being muttered. The 9th was filled with some drama for the Cubs, including a challenge for slide interference and an inexplicable foul bunt K, but the game would move into extras. To add another layer of drama to the already crazy game, the tarp was unfolded after the 9th inning to prepare for an impending downpour that never really came. As it turns out, that 17 min rain delay was a blessing for the Cubs. They had a team meeting and regrouped, leading to 2 runs in the top of the 10th inning thanks to a Ben Zobrist double and a Miguel Montero single.
The bottom of the 10th began with a K to Napoli and a ground out for Jose Ramirez leaving the Cubs 1-out away…but Cubs fans gut-wrenching pain was not over yet. Brandon Guyer walked and Rajai Davis singled to drive him in, making it an 8-7 game with the winning run in the batter’s box and the tying run on base. Michael Martinez had the chance to destroy Cubs fans with an even more epic loss than anything previous, but a slow grounder to 3rd baseman Kris Bryant and an off-balance throw to 1st baseman Anthony Rizzo stranded the runner and gave the Cubbies the victory. One championship drought over, the other on-going.
This series, and in particular game 7, was incredible to watch for any fan of baseball. The big hits, dramatic catches, and unusual use of pitching staffs made for excellent entertainment. For those in Boston, there were countless storylines around former Red Sox managers, executives, and players. It was a battle of Cleveland manager Terry Francona against his former boss Theo Epstein for the Cubs. On the field there were 4 former Red Sox players or prospects on the Cubs roster (Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross, and Anthony Rizzo) and 4 on the Cleveland roster (Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp, Andrew Miller, and Michael Martinez), which only added to the interest from across New England.
Overall, this was the best world series of my lifetime outside of the Red Sox title runs. It’s the first world series, not involving the Red Sox, that brought me a similar level of rollercoaster emotions and an insane level of intensity. If baseball can figure out how to bring a similar level of intrigue on a more regular basis, then new fans would flock to the the sport and the MLB would grow to new heights. As is, more casual fans watched game 7 then practically ever before, so now is the time to grow the sport.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to the Indians and Cubs for putting on a show for the ages and delaying my offseason sadness. This is a series I will not soon forget.
*UConn Avery Point Campus
On Tuesday morning, Ray Allen retired from the NBA by writing an article on the Player’s Tribune. For those in Boston, Allen will forever be a crucial member of the big three with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce that helped deliver banner #17 to the TD Garden in 2008. For others, Allen was a nice complementary player on the 2013 Miami Heat Championship. And even for others, Allen is Jesus Shuttlesworth from He Got Game. For me, Allen is the star of the most important sports moment in my life.
March 10th, 1996. Madison Square Garden. Big East Championship game. Allen vs Allen, Ray vs Iverson. I was sitting in the living room at my childhood home in Manchester, CT, just 20 minutes from the Storrs, CT campus watching the game with my dad on our 19 inch TV. The game began and UConn looked like there were going to get blown out by the Hoyas. They were down 18 in the middle of the 1st half and had committed 20 turnovers. Then UConn started to make a push, closing the gap to just 4 at half time, 46-42. Jim Calhoun had rallied the team and was not going to go quietly (as he never did).
As the 2nd half wore on, UConn was still trying to play catch-up. At the 4:46 mark, UConn was down 74-63 and things were looking bleak. Then the run started. Freshman Ricky Moore and junior Kirk King stepped it into high gear and cut the deficit one basket at a time. All of a sudden, it was a 1-point with under a minute left on the clock, 74-73. After a timeout, Doron Sheffer fouled Victor Page, the tournament MVP, and sent him to the foul line in a 1-and-1 situation. Page missed the first shot and UConn got the rebound and called a timeout with 33 secs left. This was their chance. The ball was in-bounded to Ricky Moore who brought the ball up the court, dribble penetrated, handed the ball off to Ray Allen who hit a ridiculous off-balance, feet kicking, body contorting, twisting jumper.
AlIen Iverson had a jump shot to win it, but missed and the put back with just a few seconds left rolled off the rim. The UConn Huskies were Big East Champions for the first time in the program’s history. Ray Allen had exactly 1 basket in the 2nd half, but it was the greatest shot of my lifetime. Huddled around our TV, we went nuts and my life was changed. My passion for sports grew from that moment and into the crazy, obsessed fan I am today 20+ years later. From then on, I followed Allen, as best as I could, for the remainder of his basketball career until today, when he officially decided to hang up his shoes.
In general, I have a terrible memory, but that moment is emblazoned in my mind. No matter what you think about Ray Allen, he has had one hell of a career. After 3 years at UConn, Allen logged 18 seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Seattle SuperSonics, the Boston Celtics, and the Miami Heat. Allen holds the record for 3-pointers made in a career with 2,973 (413 more than Reggie Miller) and is ranked 22nd on the all-time scoring list with 24,505 points.
Thank you Ray, for helping me find my sports passion.
As most people were getting through their Monday work day in anticipation of an evening filled with scary masks and candy, Bill Belichick was hard at work scaring Pats fans by trading away an All-Pro linebacker. Bill sent Jamie Collins packing in exchange for a conditional 3rd round pick from the Cleveland Browns. The move sent shock waves throughout the NFL and sent the Patriots fan base into a tizzy. A Patriots team without Collins is not surprising given he will be a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly asking for Von Miller money (6 yrs, $114.5 million), but the timing of the trade is very curious.
Going into their bye week, the Pats are 7-1 after having avenged their only loss of the season to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The defense has been under-performing as a group leading to Belichick calling them out to the media saying he was “disappointed” (full quote below). Clearly he felt like a message needed to be sent to the defense that if you don’t work as hard as you can at every practice and during every game, you may be shown the door, regardless of your talent, contract, etc. Collins has had a roller coaster year, looking elite in a few games and disappearing for long periods of time in others.
“I think overall, we had our ups and downs. At times we played well defensively and at other times, not so well. It was good enough to win. It was good at times and then at other times I think we really – I think we’re all disappointed, so we really just need to do a better job. That’s pretty much across the board – the running game, the passing game, everything. I mean there were some things that just, we need to do better.”
In order for Bill to make the move now, there has to be another reason. The more I think about this trade the more I believe there were other factors involved in sending Collins away so early in the season. There had to be. My guess is that Collins was not working as hard as he should and has not given 100% effort in every practice and game. Belichick is not about to tolerate a player half-assing it on the field and I could easily see that scenario resulting in this type of trade. Seeing the emergence of Elandon Roberts as a solid linebacker may also have helped Bill decide that Collins was an expendable piece. Roberts is no Collins, but I, for one, am excited to see him get even more playing time now.
Where I struggle with this trade the most is in the return, not the player. I know Collins is a “rental” player because his contract is up at the end of the season, but there are enough teams in football with enough cap money to sign a player of his caliber longer term. There really wasn’t a sign and trade deal out there that would have given the Pats more than a 3rd round conditional pick? Was Collins that toxic to the team environment that he had to go to any bidder just halfway through the season? Is there another move brewing for Belichick?
In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust.
Just keep saying it over and over again, because that’s the only redeeming piece of this deal.
This was a busy weekend for New England sports teams, especially those I am particularly interested in following. Let’s take a look at each game from this weekend.
|New England Patriots||27|
The New England Patriots overcame some early mistakes to beat Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, so resorted to starting Landry Jones. Jones wasn’t terrible for the Steelers and took another step in his development, but didn’t have enough in the 4th quarter to hang with New England and even make an attempt at a comeback. The Steelers defense looked good at times, but Brady found ways to use his plethora of weapons throughout the evening. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs (74 yards after halftime) against his former team and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for Gronk’s 68th TD. It was all smiles after the game for Gronk who pointed out to those assembled that his next TD will be his 69th. “One more and I got 69 touchdowns. You know what I mean.”
After a 3-1 start for the Bruins and a 3-0-1 start for the Canadiens, the two bitter rivals matched up for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens looked like the better team throughout. The Bruins again allowed the first goal and found themselves playing from behind the entire night, down 2-0 and 3-1 in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Bruins made a lot of mistakes and had some sloppy play throughout the game, which tends to happen when teams have younger talent developing under the bright lights. It’s early, but the Canadiens look strong after a blockbuster off-season trade sending PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have now won 9 straight in Boston against the Bruins.
It was homecoming for UConn on Saturday as they hosted the UCF Knights. The Huskies came into the game at 3-4 and needed a W against the Knights, but looked flat and couldn’t muster anything in the 2nd half leading to their 5th loss of the season. UCF moves above .500 to 4-3 with the win, rebounding from a 1-pt loss to Temple a week prior. UConn travels to Greenville, NC for a matchup with East Carolina next week desperately needing a W to keep bowl hopes alive. The 2-5 East Carolina Pirates are coming off a 12-pt loss to Cincinnati on the road this past weekend.
|New England Revolution||3|
Despite a disappointing season overall (11-14-9), the New England Revolution finished it off with a strong 3-0 win over the Impact at Gillette Stadium. The Revs made a late push for the playoffs, but knew prior to Sunday’s match that their season would be over finishing in 7th place, 1 spot out of the playoffs. With nothing to lose, the Revs played a strong match and got goals from Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara. Coach Jay Heaps summed up the season after the game. “It’s disappointing that we waited too long to really find ourselves and express ourselves throughout the last part of the season. Five (wins) out of seven is really good, but we just didn’t do enough.”
The Patriots picked up their 6th win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh and with a Buffalo Bills loss, are in complete control of the AFC East. Despite tremendous success in 2016, one piece of the Pats offense, arguably one of the most important pieces of the last several years, has seen a sharp decline in production. Julian Edelman was previously the #1 target in the passing game, but has been almost invisible during large swaths of games this year and has made only minor contributions. The drop-off in his numbers are significant.
Through 7 games last season, Edelman was the #1 option for Tom Brady and was lighting up defenses across the league. This year, he is a complementary player. Why the drop-off? I have a few thoughts.
|Julian Edelman (through 7 games)|
1. Missing his best friend
For the first 4 games of 2016, Edelman was without his best friend, big brother, and idol under center. Edelman is completely and utterly head-over-heals obsessed with Tom Brady, so without him, he is lost. Although it’s somewhat of a joke, there is some serious truth to it as well. In the first 4 games of the season, Edelman was targeted 27 times and in the 3 games since Brady’s return he has been targeted 27 times, a nice increase for JE11. What this doesn’t explain is Edelman’s drop in catch percentage with Brady under center (70.4% with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes and 66.7% with Brady).
2. Added firepower
The addition of offensive weapons this year has taken opportunities away from Edelman. Any other year, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for any period of time would afford Edelman even more touches, but not in 2016. Martellus Bennett stepped in this year and had 2 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 weeks of the year. Bennett has a 77.1% catch percentage this year and 367 yards and 4 TDs through 7 games. Add the production of James White in the red zone the last few weeks (3 TDs) and that spells trouble for JE11’s stats.
3. Foot injury
Edelman’s foot injury may be hampering his quickness and ability to separate from defenders. Even when he completes the catch, he’s not getting the same type of separation from defenders. Sunday’s game against the Steelers was a great example. Edelman caught 9 of 10 passes, but averaged just 6.67 yards per reception. He would make the catch and then couldn’t create any space to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. He would catch, turn, and go down, rather than make a move and gain at least a few extra yards like he has in the past. If his foot is 100% healthy, then I worry about a loss of quickness, his greatest asset, at age 30.
4. Opposing defenses keying on him
Given how important the quick slant is to the Patriots, many defenses are treating Edelman like a #1 WR hoping to stunt the offense by slowing him down. They are playing more physical with him at the line knowing that the quick patterns are all about timing. Brady loves to get the ball out fast (under 2 seconds as we hear about on every game broadcast) so defenders are keying in on Edelman. That tends to open up opportunities for others, but certainly doesn’t help Edelman break out.
There is a long way to go in the 2016 season and I predict Edelman’s numbers will begin to tick upward after the bye week (week 9). He’ll have a chance for some extra rest and can come into the Pats week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks refreshed. The best news of all for Pats fans: Even with a less-than-ideal Edelman, the team is 6-1 and not showing signs of struggling on offense.
Today’s UConn Football game vs USF is important for many reasons. Here are three quick reasons to watch today’s game:
1. It’s UConn’s homecoming, which is an enjoyable time for the UConn community to come and celebrate. Alumni will travel from around the country (CT) to tailgate and drink away some of the bad losses earlier this year. In all seriousness, homecoming adds an extra layer of energy in the stadium and hopefully will help UConn put up a big W.
2. At 3-4, this is a must win game against a beatable conference opponent. UCF is 3-3 on the season and the Huskies need to win 3 of their last 5 games to be bowl eligible. If they lose today, that task gets much harder and more improbable.
3. It’s another installment of the UConn created conFLiCT rivalry between the two schools. Nothing better than a 1-sided rivalry artificially created to get your juices flowing!
UCF at UConn, Noon ET