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: October 2016 (page 2 of 3)

Loui Eriksson Already Missing the Bruins

That’s not a great way to start the season with your new team. Poor Loui Eriksson scoring on his own net in the most ridiculous way possible. Well, on the bright side, it can only get better from here, right?

Player Spotlight: LB Elandon Roberts

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The Patriots rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts played in place of injured Jamie Collins on Sunday against the Bengals. He looked very good early on in the game, making tackles all over the field and had a few really nice hard hits. For those who are unfamiliar with Roberts, which I imagine is most of you, here is some background on the young linebacker.

Basics

Age: 22 years old (Rookie)

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 235 lbs

Hometown: Port Arthur, TX

College: University of Houston

Drafted in the 6th round (214th) in 2016

College Career

Roberts began his college career at Morgan State, where he had 107 tackles his freshman year (2nd best in school history). He transferred to the University of Houston where he played in 8 games during his sophomore season, playing mostly on special teams. In his junior year, Roberts got significant playing time at linebacker and recorded his first sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games. He recorded 9 tackles in the Armed Forces Bowl victory that season. He blossomed in his senior year leading the team with 88 solo tackles (best in FBS) and 142 total tackles in 14 games played (50 more than the 2nd highest tackle total on the team). He helped lead Houston to a 13-1 record (only loss was against UConn) and an 8th ranked finish in the final AP Poll.

One of the main reasons Roberts dropped so far in the draft was his size. He is an undersized linebacker, which scared teams away. The Patriots liked him for his leadership skills and his extensive special teams experience (Bill loves special teams guys). It didn’t hurt that Roberts showed some serious speed at the NFL Combine (4.62 40-yard dash).

The NFL graded him a 5 out of 10 (“50/50 chance of making the roster”) for the draft. Although it’s very early in his career, his potential definitely looks greater than a 5.0 at this point. Under Bill Belichick, he will have a chance to learn and grow behind one of the best line-backing cores in football.

NFL Career

Roberts has appeared in 3 games (1 start) for the Patriots in 2016 and has recorded 7 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles (the majority in the last game vs the Bengals). With the revolving door of linebacker injuries this season for the Pats, Roberts should get a decent chance to showcase his skills and continue to earn playing time. Any time he gets on the field this season is bonus learning experience for the future. If he keeps performing well and earning time, he could be a consistent rotational player as early as next season.

Patriots with 3rd Quarter Magic Against Bengals

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The first half of Sunday’s Patriots vs Bengals game was dominated by the Bengals in almost every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. The Patriots were up 10-7 going into the break thanks to some timely defense (4th and 1 stop on the goal line) and a late 9 play, 50 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by LeGarrette Blount with just 57 seconds left on the clock. It was a slow start in Tom Brady‘s return to Foxboro, but they more than made up for it in the 2nd half.

The turning point of the game was a 4 min stretch in the 3rd quarter that saw the Patriots put up 15 unanswered points. After the Bengals took the lead 14-10, the Patriots were forced to punt the ball to back to Cincy. It all got started for the Pats with a Dont’a Hightower sack on Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety, bringing the score to 14-12. The ensuing drive was 5 plays, 68 yards in just 2 minutes and ended with the first Gronk spike of the season (19-14 Pats). The defense then stepped up, forcing a 3 and out for the Bengals in just 27 seconds of game clock. In typical Brady fashion, he then shut the door with a 4 play, 53 yard TD drive to give the Pats a two-possession lead (25-14).

Overall, Brady was as impressive as ever. He went 29 for 36 (83%) with 376 yards and 3 TDs, despite his offensive line struggling to protect him, especially in the first half. Rob Gronkowski finally looked fully healthy and had a monster day hauling in 7 passes for 162 yards and a TD. Defensively, the Pats were without Jamie Collins, but in his place, rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts was all over the field early. Frankly, he was one of the only bright spots in the first half on defense. He came up big in the run game and made some great plays over the middle. Roberts spent a little time on the sideline with an injury, but recorded 7 tackles (6 solo) and looked like the spotlight was not too bright, even at the young age of 22.

A good 35-17 W for the Pats who head to Pittsburgh next weekend for a showdown with the Steelers. Luckily for New England, Ben Roethlisberger tore his meniscus yesterday against the Dolphins and needs surgery. He’ll miss next weeks game, so the Pats will be facing off against Landry Jones and not Big Ben as they look to move to 6-1. Not to look too far ahead, but two weeks from now Sexy Rexy and the suddenly-playing-well Buffalo Bills come to town for a rematch of the 16-0 Pats loss in week 4.

NFL is Shooting Itself in the Foot

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

It’s not breaking news to many that the NFL ratings are down this season through 5 weeks. They are down around 10%, depending on exactly how you choose to segment/compare, a direction that has Goodell and Co. scrambling for answers. I don’t believe there is one clear reason for the decline, but it is likely a variety of factors, including the most polarizing election likely in history (and the debates), some big market struggles (New York and Chicago), some self-inflicted issues (*cough* *cough* suspensions), and, the biggest of all, ‘NFL fatigue’.

Let’s put the election aside, understanding it definitely plays a factor in lower viewership opposite the debates, but it is certainly not the sole cause. The first main cause in my mind revolves around large market teams. The New York Giants and New York Jets are a combined 3-7 this year. Both have lost 3 straight games and are in last place in their respective divisions (the Jets are tied for last in the AFC East and the Giants are alone at the bottom of the NFC East). Although there are plenty of devoted fans of both the Giants and Jets who will always watch, regardless of their records, when big market teams suck, bandwagon fans jump off and casual fan ratings suffer. When a market like New York or Chicago (Bears are 1-4) has teams struggling to win, that hurts ratings for the entire NFL.

Then there is the 2,000 lb elephant in the room: the suspension of Tom Brady. Thanks to Goodell’s ridiculous decision, the league was without Brady for the first 4 weeks of the season, limiting the number of casual fans who tune in. During the first Sunday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, NBC did a 14.8 rating, which out of context is excellent, but a more than 10% drop over the 2015 Sunday Night opener (16.7). Guess what? Stars drive ratings. No Brady, lower ratings. Who’s fault is that? It’s the definition of self-inflicted.

Finally, it is still amazing to me that after domestic violence cases, child abuse cases, sexual assault cases, and every other crime/stupid move in the book tarnishing the NFL’s reputation, that ratings still remained strong and even grew last season. My newly developed theory? The NFL ratings drop is, at least partially, due to a delayed reaction to the NFL’s mishandling of dozens of player situations combined with the endless deflategate talk. I believe it has developed into ‘NFL fatigue’ that has grown to a point of driving the more peripheral viewers away from the game. Fans who like football, but aren’t seriously invested in a team (or fantasy football) are opting to spend their Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays) watching or doing other things. They have reached a breaking point and are no longer going to go out of their way to watch football.

In a hailmary effort to turn the tides, the NFL issued a ban on team twitter accounts posting highlight videos during the time-frame when the live game is airing on TV. The NFL thinks that fans who are on twitter watching highlights are less likely to watch the game live and that is a cause of the decreased ratings. That doesn’t just waft of desperation, it’s a giant diaper filled with desperation.

Given all these factors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little rebound before the season is over, but I’m not convinced the damage hasn’t already been done. I’m not convinced casual fans drifting away from the NFL won’t just stay away for good, causing a deeper ratings crisis for Goodell.

A Personal Thank You to David Ortiz

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As a Red Sox fan who’s peak watching years have coincided with David Ortiz‘ tenure in Boston, last night was tough. It wasn’t tough because the Red Sox lost, realistically their fate was sealed in Cleveland, but rather to see Big Papi walk off the Fenway Park grass for the final time as a player was more emotional for me than I care to admit. Hell, I’m getting emotional just thinking and writing about it today. The words ‘thank you’ aren’t enough, but they’re the best I can muster: Thank you David, you will be missed more than you could ever know.

When Ortiz emerged on the Red Sox scene in 2003, my first instinct was that he was Mo Vaughn 2.0. Mo was one of my favorite players growing up. At 6’1″ and 225lb, he could put a baseball into orbit and that entertained me to no end. At the time, I thought no one could hit the ball harder or further…until I saw David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform. During the first few games of Ortiz’ career, I was in awe that someone could be even bigger and stronger than the great Mo. Standing at 6’3″ and 230lbs (although at times I think that number was a little light), Big Papi filled the entire batters box with ease.

It took a while in that first season for Ortiz to get going, but one of the most telling moments of future success was his first HR in a Red Sox uniform. It came against the Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were called then) in the top of the 14th inning. He pinch-hit for Jeremy Giambi to lead off the inning and hit an opposite field bomb on a pitch on the outer-half of the plate to give the Red Sox the 1-run lead. It was followed by a Jason Varitek HR and the game ended 6-4. It was just a late April regular season contest, but it was the first of dozens of late-inning clutch heroics for Big Papi in Boston.

As much as I would like to re-hash every great moment in Big Papi’s career, I only have space and time for my favorites. At the absolute top of the list, and frankly should be at the top of every Red Sox fans list, is his performance in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. We know the story: down 0-3 after getting pummeled 19-3 in game 3, the Red Sox went on to win 4 straight and get to the World Series in which they swept the St Louis Cardinals and broke the 86-year curse. The script that was written in 2004 is arguably the greatest story in baseball history given the intense rivalry and unreal individual and team effort. At the center of it all was Ortiz.

Because today is a day for nostalgia, let me take you back. Game 4, bottom 9, down 4-3 with the season on the line and the greatest closer of all time (Mariano Rivera) is toeing the rubber. The situation does not look good from a Red Sox perspective. Kevin Millar leads off the inning with a walk and is immediately lifted for Dave Roberts (Rivera had just 20 walks all season in 2004 in 78.2 innings). Even though every single person at Fenway Park and every single person watching at home on television knew Dave Roberts was going to try and steal 2nd base, he slid in safely by the thinnest hair on my chinny chin chin to give the Red Sox a runner in scoring position. Still to this day when watching the replay of Derek Jeter applying the tag to Roberts, I honestly can’t tell if he was safe or out. After the steal, Bill Mueller hit the 3rd pitch of the at-bat into center field for a game-tying single. Hope was alive.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 12th inning. Manny Ramirez singles to lead off the inning and David Ortiz steps into the box against Paul Quantrill. On the 4th pitch of the at-bat, Ortiz crushed one over the 380 sign in right field for a walk-off win that will never be forgotten. By my estimation, that one swing is the most important hit in Red Sox franchise history. It propelled the Red Sox to a 7-game series victory and led to the most important moment in Red Sox history, the final out of game 4 of the 2004 World Series. Ortiz went on to hit 2 more HRs in the series as well as a walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning in game 5. His legacy truly began being written in that Yankees series and the story grew longer and more impressive as each passing year and clutch hit occurred.

All of this unfolded during my sophomore year at UConn. Being uniquely situated between Boston and New York, the UConn campus was rife with trash talk and bad blood between Yankees and Red Sox fans. I heard it from every single Yankees fan, real and bandwagon, after the 19-3 game 3 drubbing and I just had to grin and take it. There was no response and very little hope for a comeback. Just 4 days later, I was watching game 7 with my girlfriend, now wife, who is an avid Red Sox fan from the Boston area. Even though the Red Sox had a 7-run lead entering the 9th inning of game 7, our hearts were pounding out of our chest and our nerves were fried. Once the final out was recorded, tears of joy (and relief) began to flow and outside you could hear hundreds upon hundreds of cheers and screams across campus.

As any college students would do, we all ran outside and began running around campus like complete idiots. Hoards of students ran past Gampel Pavilion (basketball arena) and to the old football stadium on campus, Memorial Stadium. Dozens of students (mostly drunk) decided to take down the goal posts in celebration and after several minutes of trying, were successful. Even though I watched from a safe distance, that moment sticks with me to this day. It was finally time for Red Sox fans to celebrate.

All of this is just to say, in the most heartfelt way possible, Thank you Big Papi. You have single-handedly changed everything about being a Red Sox fan. You created expectations that are just unrealistic and nearly impossible to reach, yet somehow, you reached them over and over again. We now expect wins and championships on a yearly basis and anything else is a failure. In the 8th and 9th inning last night, most of Red Sox nation was expecting a big late-game comeback because you have set bar so damn high. It was a honor to witness your career unfold in Boston; the void that is left behind with your retirement is to large to fill.

As my brother-in-law Jonathan said on Facebook last night after the game, “Thank you 34 for the memories. See you in Cooperstown in 5 years with Brian Phair!”

Red Sox Need a Miracle

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Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Another sub-par outing from a Red Sox starting pitching and in less than 24 hours the chances of making a deep postseason run almost disappeared. Being down 0-2 in a best of 5 series is a worst case scenario for any playoff team, but hope is not all lost until the 3rd win is official. The series shifts to Fenway Park on Sunday with the Red Sox on the ropes. Now the Red Sox hopes lay squarely on the shoulders of Clay Buchholz.

If you want something to hold onto until game 3 on Sunday: the Red Sox have a rich history of coming back from down 0-2 in the ALDS. The Sox are the only franchise to come back from 0-2 more than once in their history and one of those, in 1999, was against the Cleveland Indians (the other was 2003 against Oakland). As an optimistic person (mostly), that stat makes me feel slightly hopeful, but still not good. What we have seen so far in this series, bad at-bats/weak offense and bad starting pitchers, tells the story. Unless the Sox can have a much better offensive approach and get better starting pitching performances, this series is not going back to Cleveland for game 5.

Who would have thought before the season that all hopes for playoff survival rest with the unstable Clay Buchholz.  He had an up-and-down year that saw him in and out of the starting rotation on numerous occasions. I have a strange feeling that he will throw a gem on Sunday to prove everyone wrong. Redemption is the name of the game this weekend.

Game 3 is Sunday at 4pm eastern. Not only could it be the final game of the 2016 season for the Red Sox, it could be the final game of the illustrious career of David Ortiz. What a sad way for a Hall of Fame career to end: a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians. Let’s go Buchholz!

A Deeper Dive on Rick Porcello

Photo from NESN

Photo from NESN

The Red Sox unexpected defacto ace and game 1 starter Rick Porcello struggled against the Indians last night allowing 5 runs in 4.1 innings. It was a tough time to have one of his worst outings of an otherwise very impressive 22-win season. Most fans were surprised at the emergence of Porcello as a #1 pitcher in 2016, but he has always shown signs of greatness, just without any real consistency and the right guidance/experience to bring it into the forefront.

Porcello made his major-league debut at the young age of 20 with the Detroit Tigers. He was an impressive 14-9 in 31 starts that season with an ERA of 3.96. Not too shabby for a young kid being thrown into the majors. He was able to begin learning from veteran guys like Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson and showed real promise. Porcello spent the following 3 years trying to match the success of his rookie campaign, but his ERA didn’t cooperate and he finished those 3 seasons with an OK 34-33 record and a mediocre 4.75 ERA. The pressure to become a top tier pitcher didn’t help his development. Instead of time learning to pitch in the minors, Porcello was forced to learn against the best players in baseball every 5 days.

After a better, but not great 13-8, 4.32 ERA 2013 campaign, Porcello entered the 2014 season with something to prove and a contract to earn. He pitched well, finished the season with 3 shutouts (the only 3 of his career) and posted a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He helped the Tigers reach the postseason, but was the odd man out in the ALDS as the Tigers got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games. To be fair, he was beat out in the rotation by the ridiculous 1-2-3 of Cy Young Award winners*, current teammate David Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. It’s pretty damn hard to break into that top 3. Interestingly, Porcello could become the 4th member of that 2014 Tigers rotation to win a AL Cy Young Award. *Interesting fact, Verlander, Price, and Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award in 3 consecutive years (2011, 2012, 2013), but Price won his when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.

After the strong 2014 campaign and an overabundance of pitching, the Red Sox came calling and Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and minor-leaguer Gabe Speier. The Red Sox had Porcello under control for just one season ($12.5 million) and they wanted him locked up long-term, so offered him a huge 4 year/$82.5 million deal that would give him a base salary of $20 million a season. At the time, critics (myself included) destroyed the Red Sox for giving Porcello so much money, but the front office clearly saw the potential of a still young, but experienced MLB starter.

After spending his entire career in Detroit, the transition in 2015 was less than stellar. After a terrible 2/3 of the season an injury kept him out for most of August. Porcello returned much stronger and looked much more comfortable, as if he just needed the time to reset and adjust to Boston. His ERA dropped from 5.81 at the time of the injury to 4.92 at the end of the season in just 8 starts, putting him on the trajectory we all witnessed in 2016. Since his debut in 2009, expectations were that he would be a top of the rotation arm, so the only surprise is that it took him an extra 6 years to reach his potential. Now that he is comfortable and has learned how to pitch and not just throw, Porcello is an incredibly valuable member of the Red Sox rotation now and into the future. Even with 8 years of experience, Porcello is still just entering his prime years at age 27.

It has definitely been a long-game approach with Porcello in his career and now it is paying off. The Red Sox front office deserves credit for identifying his potential and giving him the time to grow into the role he currently holds at, or near, the top of the rotation. Last night aside, expect Rick Porcello to be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation for years to come.

Patriots Day Trailor Released

For those interested in the Mark Wahlberg movie about the marathon bombings in 2013, the first trailor was released this week. I’m not terribly optimistic about the movie being great, but we’ll find out at the end of December when it opens. It’s a powerfully intense first look.

Down 0-1, David Price Must Shine

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After a heartbreaking 5-4 game one loss to the Cleveland Indians Thursday night, the Red Sox have to put this game behind them and turn right around for a late afternoon game two on Friday. John Farrell hands the ball to David Price for the most important start of the season. For those who need a reminder, let’s take a gander at Price’s career in the postseason (hint: it’s bad).

In 14 postseason appearances (8 starts) Price is 2-7 with a 5.22 ERA. His ALDS numbers are even worse (1-6 with a 5.48 ERA). That’s the guy Red Sox Nation is relying on for a strong outing opposite the Indians ace and one of the best pitchers on the AL, Corey Kluber, the owner of a 3.14 ERA and 18-9 record. Does anyone in Boston feel good about this matchup? If you do, you should get your head examined.

I’m an optimist, so this is where I say things like: on any given day, you never know, and anything can happen. Despite saying those things, in my heart I know the Red Sox are up against it in a big way. If there was ever a time for Price to endear himself to Sox fans, this is it. A gem tomorrow leading to a W would erase the memory of a handful of really bad starts this season and make his $30+ million per year salary seem slightly more justified (just slightly).

No pressure Price, it’s just a must win postseason game.

Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland

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For New England sports fans, all attention is focused on Cleveland sports teams this weekend. The Red Sox open postseason play in Cleveland tonight, then play again tomorrow and Sunday, while the New England Patriots are preparing to play the Cleveland Browns on the road on Sunday afternoon. This odd overlap of Cleveland and Massachusetts teams has me digging up some history on previous Cleveland/New England sports matchups.

Going back to 1901, the Red Sox have played the Indians 2,021 times in their history and have a 977-1,036 record against the franchise. However, since 1990, the numbers favor the Red Sox slightly (251 games, 133-118 record, including a winning record in Cleveland – 64-59). Since I love numbers, I looked at the past 10 years as well and it shows similar success to the past 26 years, the Red Sox with a solid 47-34 record against the Indians. Overall, these two teams have played each other well but a slight recent historic advantage swings to the Sox.

On the football side, the Patriots have played the Browns 23 times (first matchup in 1971) and have a 10-13 record against Cleveland. In the same vein as the Red Sox/Indians history, more recent matchups have looked different. The Patriots have a 7-2 record against the Browns since 1995, with their 2 losses coming in 2010 and 2001. The Patriots will likely move to 8-2 over their past 10 meetings on Sunday when the 0-4 Browns host the Pats. This week’s match-up gives the Patriots a significant advantage even on the road (spread is around 10/10.5 points).

Even though the Boston Celtics are not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers this weekend, I figured it’s worth bringing them into this look at Cleveland/Boston “rivalry”. The Celtics and Cavaliers have matched-up 232 times since 1970 and the Celtics hold a commanding 141-91 record against the Cavs. Like the Patriots and Red Sox, recent history is also kind to the Celtics. Since 2000 (78 games), the Cs are 42-34 against the Cavs. Now I know, like the Browns, there were come lean years in that stretch for the Cavs, so looking at just the last 10 years, not surprisingly the record shifts slightly in the Cavs favor (Cavs 28-27).

Overall, New England professional teams have had some decent success against Cleveland teams over the last 15-20 years (as have most franchises in most sports). Thankfully for Cleveland sports fans, the streak of no professional championships for the city ended this year with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title and the Indians are back in the playoffs, so life is better now. What does that mean for tonight and into this weekend? Nothing, but it was a fun ride, wasn’t it?

*All stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference, Pro Football Reference and Basketball Reference

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