Wait Til October

The Red Sox are one of the best teams in the MLB. They have the most wins, currently riding a 10 game streak, and are on pace for one of the franchise’s best season ever. They have several all stars, including the league’s best starting pitcher in Chris Sale, one of its best hitters in JD Martinez, one of its best closed in Craig Kimbrel, and if not its best then its second best (currently) overall player in Mookie Betts. Their new coach Alex Cora has been substantially better than the previous skipper.

So why are Sox fans so pessimistic about the team? Every win is qualified: “the other guys are bums”, “the whole league is terrible”, “they’re overrated”. But one that Sox fans who watched before 2004 certainly feel vividly seems to be “they’re gonna choke in October”.

I’ll admit that I was young when the Sox won in 2004, but I remember vividly watching the few years before that, including game 7 in 2003’s ALCS. I hear firsthand stories of people watching in 1986, 75, 78, etc. Three championships in the last decade have softened up Sox fans a bit, which is both good and bad.

There are people who can’t enjoy the success during the season, for whatever reason, but I think it’s very commonly this: they don’t want to get their hopes up just to get disappointed. I do that with plenty of things too, so I don’t blame them for it.

There are others who will jump up and down and cheer regardless of how successful the team actually is (Example; giving the $30 million man David Price a standing ovation for only giving up three runs to a pathetic, 8-below-.500 Toronto). Ever since 2004 they’re been constantly positive, the “just be happy they won recently” types who get angry when you question the team’s capability at all. They’re a little annoying, but especially in the case of older fans I don’t blame them for enjoying the recent success after decades of heartbreaking near misses and failures.

The million dollar question: who’s right? The short answer is, probably unsurprisingly, neither.

The team has some great strengths. the players I mentioned above are all playing awesomely this year. Other guys, Bogaerts, Benintendi, Devers at times, Moreland, Porcello, etc. are also stepping up and improving from last year. Everyone is hitting for power better than last year, and their utility guys have improved too (especially Holt, who looks like he’s recovered from vertigo.)

The team also has weaknesses. Devers has been moderately inconsistent as expected from a second year, 20 year old player. Bradley Jr. had been terrible at the plate. Second base is a revolving door of mediocrity lately due to injury, and Pedroia is getting old. Their catchers have been iffy at times, though Sandy Leon has been good lately. But the bullpen is atrocious at times, which could hurt them in the postseason. They’ve been pounding the ball all year, with players already exceeding their home run totals from last year, but most of the roster had been inconsistent with power. They go cold a bit too often.

The MLB itself has a major issue as well: leaguewide competition. There are a small group of teams that are true world series contenders (Houston, Boston, New York); a slightly large group of playoff hopefuls who could potentially shake things up but probably won’t really (Cleveland, Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, Milwaukee, LA, Arizona, Philly, Atlanta); and teams that aren’t competitive enough to matter, ranging from fairly close to that second tier (LAA) to downright shit (Baltimore).

This isn’t just an issue for fans of those unfortunate teams, or who want to see more variety than a handful of very good teams clobber and sweep everyone. It becomes a problem for the teams themselves. The better teams don’t get a chance to play against the top competition, save for a handful of games. they’re not truly being tested unless a bad team has a great pitcher or a few great hitters. The overall level of competition weakens. It also impacts the smaller market teams that aren’t great and can’t afford the free agents needed to become so.

The Red Sox are lucky to be one of those contenders. They’ll be in the playoffs, whether by winning the division or managing to blow their lead to the Yankees. I worry about a few of their players performing at that level, Price chief among those. But even if they choke again, we shouldn’t let it get in the way of a fun season. They’re beating everybody they play, hitting extra base hits, showing excitement and emotion, everything that makes baseball fun to watch. I’m not saying everyone has to be Jared Carabbis with the #goldbottles celebrations every day, but you don’t have to be Jim Murray and refuse to enjoy any of it either. With a new manager, a new outlook, newfound aggression, and new faces, they might surprise everyone.

Advertisements

Tom Brady is a System Quarterback

The Patriots have an intricate offensive system, probably more so than any other team in the NFL. The organization knows how to gameplan for just about any team or scheme. But there has been a history of positional turnover, at least in the time Tom Brady has been the starting quarterback and centerpiece of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

Taking a look at the coaching staff since 2000, there have been 3 official offensive coordinators: Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien, and Josh McDaniels. Brady has made it to at least one super bowl with each (3 with Weis, 1 with O’Brien, and 4 with McDaniels). Weis won all 3, O’Brien lost his only appearance, and McDaniels has won 2 so far. Looking further into the success of each coordinator, each can be broken down by their record in each postseason appearance. Weis was present for four seasons, missing the playoffs once (2002) and winning every postseason game Brady appeared in. O’Brien had three seasons with Brady, losing one Super Bowl (2011) and facing one-and-done playoff appearances with losses to the Ravens and Jets(!). McDaniels, in two stints with the team, had a greater variety of finishes. They lost a divisional round game to the Broncos, a conference championship to the Colts, and a Super Bowl to the Giants in his first stint, missing the playoffs in 2008 when Brady got injured. I will return to this point later. In his second stint, they have not failed to reach the AFC Championship game. They have lost to the Ravens and Broncos (twice), and beaten the Colts, Steelers, and Jaguars. Going back to the final season with O’Brien, Tom Brady has been to 7 consecutive AFC Championships, winning 4 and losing 1 (the extra win was against Baltimore with O’Brien, which finished with Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal).

What’s the point of all of this? The point is that with all of these offensive systems, Brady has had tremendous success, though with O’Brien’s the team was eliminated early a few times. He has been league MVP three times and Super Bowl MVP four times. Regardless of the coordinator Brady has been able to lead the team deep into the playoffs in the majority of his time as a quarterback, reaching the Super Bowl in 50% of his seasons and the AFC Championship in 62.5% of his seasons. He has led the league in passing yardage three times, including at the age of 40, and touchdowns four times. Regardless of the offensive system, one constant factor remains: relying on Tom Brady is enough to get you to the playoffs, more often than not deep into the playoffs.

How do we qualify that success? Brady deserves most of the credit, as he has had a revolving door of wide receivers that range from reliable and dominant (Brown, Edelman, Welker, Gronkowski) to briefly great but short lived (MOSS) to bust (Gaffney, Ochocinco, Lloyd, Thompkins, Stallworth, Caldwell). The mediocre-to-bad receivers tend to outnumber the good-to-great ones, especially with Belichick’s tendency to cut or trade players a year or two before age catches up to them. But Brady has managed to play at peak performance with any assortment of receivers, great or terrible, through injuries and inconsistencies.

How, then, do we explain the team’s record without Brady? Since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady has missed 20 games (16 in 2008 excluding one series against the Chiefs, 4 in 2016, and about half of a playoff game against the Steelers in 2001/2). In that time, Matt Cassel managed an 11-5 record (missing the playoffs through wild card tiebreakers), Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett went 3-1, and Drew Bledsoe handled one win in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh. That’s an impressive 15-6 record without Brady. How does that impact Brady’s legacy?

In regards to 2008, 11-5 is a solid record. But with a very similar roster from the previous season, losing Brady made a difference of five games. FIVE games out of 16 is 31.25% of the whole season. That’s like a difference of 50 games in the MLB or 26 in the NBA. It’s a huge difference.

As to 2016, the Patriots were locked and loaded to get their revenge from the year before and from Deflategate. Martellus Bennett and Chris Long were all in for a chance at a ring, and the offense operated more conservatively with the backup quarterbacks in. Garoppolo looked very good in his 6 quarters, but still made a few decisions that Brady would not have made. And while their victories over the Cardinals, Dolphins, and Texans were very good wins, they were beating up on some teams with clear deficiencies and only beat Arizona because of a missed field goal. They were also shut out at Gillette by a mediocre Bills team. Brady then had a near-MVP season the rest of the way, losing only one en route to the greatest comeback of all time in the Super Bowl.

So the title of this post is somewhat true and somewhat facetious. Brady is the system. He is the only consistent part of the offense from 2001 to now, and he’s playing better than ever at the age of 40. To try to diminish that because the team as a whole has had a lot of talent on both sides of the ball (particularly the defense at the start of his career) and god-tier coaching at times is ridiculous.

Goodbye Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers on Monday evening. I don’t recall a backup quarterback ever having so much intrigue for the Patriots (unless of course you go back to Brady himself, and even with him I don’t remember so much buzz about him in 2000). 

Jimmy was a talented quarterback. His performance in the first game and a half of 2015 were very important in keeping the Patriots at the top of the AFC in Brady’s wrongful absence. Some in the media questioned his toughness when he had a sprained ac joint and missed one game, but I never considered that opinion to be likely. I believed he would be the quarterback of the future for the Patriots, but alas.

It’s unusual to see a dramatic shift in opinion on a player from Bill Belichick. It usually takes a drastic event, like Asante Samuel dropping a super bowl interception, for such a shift. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve seem/heard Bill say, he apparently liked Jimmy a lot. Some have claimed it was Kraft who made the choice, telling Bill that Brady must retire a Patriot (which i have hoped for a long time), and since Brady will likely last a few more years Bill saw the writing on the wall. I do wonder what that means for Bill Belichick coaching the team into the future, if this will impact whether he feels Kraft trusts him or will let him run the team as he sees fit.

Speaking of Brady, it also makes one wonder how Brady felt about Jimmy. Im sure he wanted Jimmy to be a successful player, but it must have been a pain to see the guy many people want to replace you throwing the ball on your field. I’ve heard stories that Brady didn’t like these implications, but it’s obvious that it lit a fire under him that made him perform better (which is honestly hard to believe given his immense talent). This move tells me that Brady will be here for at least a few more seasons.

However things go, Jimmy Garoppolo is almost certainly out of the equation for good. I hope he succeeds in San Francisco and has a long career. Not that he beats the Patriots, but I wouldn’t wish I’ll on him. Thank you for your contributions to the team.

On another note, welcome back Brian Hoyer.

Red Sox Playoffs

The Red Sox playoff run kicks off today. It remains to be seen whether this will be a quick exit again.

There’s reason to be excited for the series against Houston. The Astros got off to a phenomenal start in the first half of the year, then sort of coasted to the postseason (losing the top spot to Cleveland after their record streak). They have a way more consistent offense, scoring 111 more runs than the Red Sox. Their starting pitching is also more consistent. Verlander vs Sale will be a great matchup, and hopefully Sale can keep the Sox in the game for at least 6 innings. Keuchel is inconsistent, but has the ability to be a dominant pitcher, while Pomeranz has had an excellent season and should continue to do well in game 2. Beyond that, the Red Sox starters have been downright unpredictable, between Porcello and Rodrigez struggling and Fister’s bipolar swings. As far as a third starter goes, Fister has the best postseason track record. The Red Sox have a better bullpen, especially if David Price can keep it together the way he has in the last few weeks.

To win, the Red Sox will need their two best starters to step up and pitch as well as they have all season. The offense will need to hit much more consistently than their regular season effort, and they will have to manage not to get thrown out on the bases as they have all season. Defense is fortunately something that the Red Sox do very well, and I am very confident that they’re going to continue that.

If the Astros win this series, it will be because the Red Sox can’t hit consistently, and their aggression on the basepaths gets them thrown out (Benintendi). Leaving runners on base has been a struggling point all year, given the style of offense the Sox use (somewhat of a small-ball approach, few consistent power hitters), so that may rear its ugly head if they can’t build offensive momentum. Either way, I look forward to an exciting series against a solid all-around team.

Postseason Again

The Sox clinched a spot in the postseason last night with a win and an Angels loss. At the very least, they’ll be a wild card team. They’re in the driver’s seat for the division though, so barring a pretty big collapse they’ll have (likely) Houston, or more likely they’ll be heading to Houston. 

I’m not as confident as I’d like to be in the Sox. Their offense is inconsistent. Just look at their last 3 games: two overtime Wins, one going 15 innings, and one blowout win on the back of Chris Sale’s absolutely dominating performance. If they had a consistent showing on offense even for the past month or so they could be contending for home field advantage. I’m still no 100% sold that they’ll be ready to compete in the playoffs with playoff pitching, whether it be Verlander, Keuchel, or even Kluber if things go south for Cleveland.

Pitching is another concern. Sale is Sale, but other than yesterday he kind of struggled (relatively, of course, for the Cu Young award hopeful). Big congratulations are in order on his 300 strikeouts this year, the first time since 1999 that it’s happened in the AL. Drew Pomeranz has actually been consistently very good this year, which is something I wouldn’t have expected to say last year. He has done a tremendous job and has been one of the few cconsistent pieces on this team. Beyond that, what do we have? Rick Porcello, who isn’t even close to what h was last year; Eduardo Rodriguez, who is what you’d expect him to be; Doug Fister, a solid fifth starter with an unfortunate last name who would be exposed as a third starter; and the billion-dollar man David Price, who will probably be a bullpen pitcher (which is good considering that’s the only way he’s ever won a playoff game).

The Sox will most likely play the Astros in the ALDS. I think they can win, but it’ll probably go to at least 4 games if not 5. Houston has been coasting a bit since starting the season like a rocket and burning out after the all star break. After Houston would be Cleveland, a juggernaut who won 22 games in a row and is poised to have home field to defend their pennant from last year. Cleveland looks to have Boston’s number this year, whatever the reason. If I were a gambler, I wouldn’t bet on the Sox in Cleveland. But stranger things have happened, so the Sox shouldn’t be counted out yet.

Random Drug Tests

I see this every damn time someone hits multiple home runs in a game (congrats, JD Martinez). Everyone complains about how they’ll get “random” drug tests, and it’s clearly not “random”. It happens every 4/20 too.

Here’s the answer: it isn’t meant to be random. “Random” only applies to the player. The MLB (and NFL, and NBA, etc.) Have the authority to do it *randomly (I.e. at their discretion, without warning the player in advance) as a way of potentially catching a player in the act of cheating. It’s to deter people from cheating. It isn’t random for both sides because there would be no practical benefit for that.

Preseason Predictions 8: The NFC West

The final round of my preseason predictions. Here it is:

1. Seahawks: 11-13 wins

Seattle will have another strong year, contending for a high playoff seed. How they fare in the playoffs is a mystery.

2. Cardinals: 6-9 wins

I think Arizona will finish stronger than last year, but their potential isn’t particularly great. They could contend for a wild card slot, but they’ll be a dark horse if anything.

3. Rams: 5-8 wins

Los Angeles’s season is up in the air, especially since their quarterback situation is a little messy. But now that they’re free from the clutches of Jeff Fisher, their future looks brighter than before.

4. 49ers: 4- wins

Oh my. This team is a hot mess. Guaranteed top 5 draft pick.