Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Month: August 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Optimism for UConn Football in 2016

Bob Diaco

Entering his 3rd season at the helm of the UConn Huskies football program, Bob Diaco has a lot to prove this season. He has attempted to add some energy and excitement around the team and the overall program, and the results have been improving, but just ok. In his first season, the team went 2-10 thanks in large part to his predecessor and a team lacking veteran talent, but last season he began to put his stamp on the program going 6-7 and making his first bowl appearance as a head coach. Below .500 isn’t anything to write home about, but +4 wins in a year is an accomplishment. Now that he has won 6 games and made a bowl, the pressure is on to at least maintain that level of success and take the next step forward.

Year 3 is when a new coach’s recruits start to take roles on the team and the needle moves (or doesn’t). With 10 of the 11 starting offensive players returning, Diaco will show the college football world the impact he can have as a player development coach. The skill players on offense are poised for better seasons, led by redshirt Junior QB Bryant Shirreffs. The team is his for this and next season, he just needs to control the tempo and not make make bad decisions. He has returning weapons around him, RB Arkeel Newsome, WR Noel Thomas, and 2 strong TEs Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers. If he can play smart and get the ball in his playmakers’ hands, then this offense could dominate time of possession and, gasp, put up some points (key word is some).

The UConn defense continues to be the staple of the program. They were one of the best defenses in the AAC conference last season and continue to breed playmakers at all levels of the defense. For fans of the team, there are many familiar names returning, including Foley Fatukasi and Mikal Myers up front, Junior Joseph and Jamar Summers at linebacker, and Obi Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams in the secondary. The heart of the defense is very strong and will have a serious impact on both the run and pass game. With a strong, but not high-powered offense, the defense needs to be stingy in order for this team to win 6 games and be playing in bowl season once again.

Overall, the UConn Huskies appear to be in a good place ready to make a bigger name for themselves on a national stage. They are a long way from being ranked, but could turn some heads in 2016 as the program continues to rise.

Here Come the New England Patriots

patriots logo

To this point on Life of a Sportsaholic, I have written very little about the New England Patriots. It has been a conscious choice to avoid all deflategate and Tom Brady suspension news seeing as how every person in the sports world (and well beyond) has written ad nausea about the situation and their opinion on the 18-month process. I have plenty of opinions and as much as I try, many of them will probably emerge on this blog during this football season, but for now, I am putting aside all of that noise and focusing the the task at hand: the 2016 NFL season. Here is my very high-level initial look at this Patriots team.

The Patriots seem poised to have a strong season as they are basically every single year during the Bob Kraft/Bill Belichick regime. The offense looks solid to start the year despite the Tom Brady suspension (see, I couldn’t go 1 paragraph without mentioning it). Second year QB Jimmy Garoppolo is getting all the headlines, but many of the offensive skill players are returning this season. The offense is headlined by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the wide-receiving core, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and LeGarrette Blount and James White in the backfield. The addition of WR Chris Hogan could be critical for the Patriots, because he adds another dimension to the passing game and makes it more difficult for opposing defenses to key-in only on Edelman and Gronk. In the same vein, tight end Martellus Bennett could play a big role in the red zone for the Patriots, potentially balancing the coverage on Gronk in those situations and also providing some injury protection for the oft hurt Gronk. I will be looking out for rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell who despite being slowed by an elbow injury, has looked very good for a young kid this training camp/preseason. He could have a big impact by mid-late season.

The Patriots defense is positioned to shine in 2016. They have playmakers at all levels of the defense, highlighted by their linebacker core (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Jonathan Freeny) who are incredible athletic and not afraid to give someone a big pop.  Up front they added former St Louis Rams DE Chris Long to replace Chandler Jones and have the impressive DE Jabaal Sheard opposite Long. In the middle Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown have the potential to be solid, but I need to see more to be convinced that Branch is committed after an undisclosed suspension this preseason. The secondary is solid with veterans Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty at safety and Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and rookie Cyrus Jones at CB. Jones is another guy to watch, because the rookie out of Alabama has looked good this preseason both in coverage and in the return game. With a potentially less powerful offense the first month of the season, the Patriots need their defense to step up and hold opponents down.

I’ll break down some of the positional strengths going forward and look at other story lines surrounding the team, but overall the Pats are set-up to be a strong postseason contender if they stay healthy and perform up to expectations (big ifs!). The opener is just 11 days away!

There’s Something About the Rays

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

When looking at the remaining schedule for the Red Sox, it’s hard not have both some anxiety and some hope. The final 23 games of the season are against AL East foe, including 6 against the team just in front of them in the standings (Toronto Blue Jays) and 7 against the team right behind them in the standings (Baltimore Orioles) which offer incredible opportunity for both rising and falling int he standings. On paper the most winnable games are the 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays, but so far in 2016, that’s been far from a foregone conclusion. Thus far in 2016, the Red Sox are 8-7 against the AL East bottom-dwellers, who currently sit with a 56-75 overall record.

Of the last 5 games the Red Sox and Rays have played head-to-head, 4 have been decided by just 1 run including last night’s 4-3 Rays victory. These two teams seem to have a knack for keeping games close into the late innings when one big play or hit becomes a turning point. Last night that was Evan Longoria‘s massive game-winning HR against Clay Buchholz in the 8th inning of a tie game. Despite having a terrible overall record, there is something about this year’s Rays team that just believes they can take down the Red Sox, regardless of their overall talent level. The reason? Familiarity.

The way baseball schedules are set-up, divisional rivals generally match-up 19 times throughout the course of an 162 game season. By the time the team is playing their 9th and 10th games against each other, they are intimately aware of strengths and weaknesses and have likely seen a lot of the opponent’s pitching staff. Then factor in players who spend multiple seasons in the division and the familiarity level sky-rockets. When players feel comfortable with a match-up, regardless of their season successes or failures overall, they can be more comfortable in their approach at the plate. It doesn’t always work that way, but it has certainly help the Rays in their time against the Red Sox this season.

The remaining games against the Blue Jays and Orioles are critical for making the postseason, but don’t sleep on the 7 against the surging New York Yankees and the 4 remaining against the Tampa Bay Rays either. Every single game is huge from now until the beginning of October so strap in and come along for the ride.

Red Sox Back in 1st Place

red sox standings
I’m just going to leave this here…

Andrew Benintendi Makes Catch of the Year

Andrew Benintendi. HOLY CRAP. The day after hitting his first career HR, he makes the catch of the year. Kid’s got potential…

Birthday Cake for Dustin Pedroia

Elisa Amendola/AP

Elisa Amendola/AP

Happy 33rd Birthday to the one and only Dustin Pedroia!

Mookie Betts for the Win

Mookie Betts. Wow. All 5 Red Sox runs on 2 HUGE HRs for the very important W vs. the Baltimore Orioles. That swing put the Red Sox in a 3-way tie for the AL East lead with the Os and Toronto Blue Jays.

Inspiring Stories Linked to US Pool Dominance in Rio

Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports

Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports

Now a few days removed from the end of swimming events at the Rio Olympics, it’s a good time to reflect. The US finished with 33 swimming medals, matching their previous record for one Olympics (2012 London) and continued to prove that swimming is a US dominated sport (the next highest medal total was Australia with 10). It all starts with the now 28-time medalist Michael Phelps, who has been grabbing headlines for more than a decade, but the other, lesser talked about stories are just as impressive and important. Here are two of my favorite stories from the swimming portion of the Rio Olympics.

Anthony Ervin

Maybe the greatest story coming out of the pool in Rio is thanks to 50-meter specialist Anthony Ervin. In 2000, at age 16, Ervin won gold in the 50-meter at the Sydney Olympics. That was the beginning of a steep decline for him as he battled Tourette’s and drug addiction, forcing him to drop out of college (University of California at Berkeley) and “retire” from swimming at 22-years old. He was homeless on a number of occasions and was close to death more than once, including a suicide attempt. In 2011, he re-enrolled in college and began to get his life on track. He competed in the 2012 London games, taking 5th in the 50-meter.

In Rio, Ervin won a gold medal with the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team and won gold in the 50-meter. He became the oldest male swimmer to win an individual medal in more than a century at age 35 and won gold in the same event 16-years apart, an unbelievable feat that ties a record. If Ervin isn’t the comeback story of the entire Olympic games, I don’t know what is.

He wrote a book detailing his life that has gotten some acclaim, Chasing Water. His story is an inspiring one and because of that, his book jumped onto my fall reading list.

Madeline “Maya” DiRado

The story of Maya DiRado is fascinating. She began swimming at age 6 and has been going ever since, until now. She appeared in her first and last Olympic games in Rio, winning 2 gold medals, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in her 4 events. For most, a 23-year old debuting at the Olympics with 4 medals would be the beginning of something looking ahead 4 years, but for DiRado, this was the end. She has a high-powered career with McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm, waiting for her in Atlanta and has ended her swimming career to pursue a consulting career.

Maya has always been a very intelligent person, going to high school at 13 and getting a perfect score on the math SAT at age 15. She entered Stanford at age 17 and graduated, putting her education as a priority alongside swimming, not pushing it aside until after her career was over like many athletes do. She spent the last 2 years training for Rio, knowing it was her one Olympic shot and boy did she make the most of it with her 4 medals. It’s an inspiring story and I have the utmost respect for the difficult decision she made to walk away from the sport. It’s just too bad we won’t see her compete in Tokyo in 4 years.

Mookie Betts for AL MVP?

Photo by Brian Phair

Photo by Brian Phair

Anyone who has watched Mookie Betts play since his MLB debut in 2014 knows that he has the potential to be a special player. His speed in the field and on the bases, his defensive prowess, and his ability to handle a bat with very fast hands make him a star in the making. This season he has continued to improve and has quickly worked himself into serious consideration for AL MVP with just 6 weeks left in the season.

Betts has a .313 average with 26 HRs, 84 RBIs, 34 doubles, and 18 stolen bases (as of 8/16), which is incredible for a leadoff hitter (primarily). He ranks in the top 5 in the AL in batting average (2nd), doubles (2nd), triples (4th), runs scored (3rd), and slugging % (4th) and in the top 10 in stolen bases (6th), singles (9th), and HRs (10th). Not too shabby for a 5’9″ 180lb player in just his 2nd full year in the big-leagues.

To add to his offensive numbers, in 113 games played in the outfield, Betts has just 1 error (.996 fielding percentage) and 9 outfield assists. The most impressive thing regarding Betts’ defense? Until 2014, he had never played a professional inning in the outfield. Before being called up to the majors he had played just 45 games in centerfield in the minors in 2014.

If the season were to end now, I believe Mookie Betts would finish 2nd to Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros in the AL MVP voting. Altuve is having in other-worldly season, hitting .362 with 19 HRs and 73 RBIs so far and is deserving of the honor, but Betts is nipping at his heals. If Altuve’s average dips over the last 6 weeks of the season and Betts continues to put on a show, the AL MVP race could tighten quite a bit and Betts could find himself with some new hardware.

Encouraging Start to the Road Trip for Red Sox

drew pomeranz getty

The biggest issue for the Red Sox thus far in 2016 is winning close games and low-scoring games. On Monday afternoon, the Red Sox checked off both boxes when they beat the Cleveland Indians 3-2. The beginning of a 4-city, 11-game road trip was tight until the final out and despite some scary, heart-stopping moments from closer Craig Kimbrel, the win was extremely refreshing. Before Monday, the Red Sox were an abysmal 4-32 when scoring 3 or fewer runs. That’s an incredibly concerning trend, especially if the Red Sox hope to make the playoffs and have a chance at winning anything. Guess what the postseason is full of? Close, low-scoring games.

This 11-game road trip is pivotal for the Red Sox. The trip includes 2 games against the Baltimore Orioles who are just ahead of the Red Sox in the standings and then 4 against the Detroit Tigers who are nipping at their heals for the 2nd wildcard spot. If the Red Sox emerge from this tough road stretch at 6-5 or better, they will be in great shape as a friendlier September schedules waits around the corner. They need to carry their 4-game winning streak and all the momentum it gives them into Baltimore, because we know the Orioles will be ready for a dog fight.

The other major promising thing from Monday afternoon was Drew Pomeranz. He picked up his first win in a Red Sox uniform and looked strong through 7.2 innings. He allowed just 1 run going into the 7th, but got into a little trouble in the inning allowing his 2nd. To go along with allowing just 2 runs, he had 6 Ks, 5 hits, and just 2 BBs. Monday was just what the doctor ordered and gave fans hope that some strong performances down the stretch are not out of the question from him.

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