So on the way home from softball, I am listening to the Sox game, completely out of sorts due to a fill-in announcer for one of the wonder twins on WEEI, and find out David Wells is working on a no-hitter. Rushing in to turn on the television, I am just in time to see him give up the first hit of the game for Cincinnati. Just my luck.

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It is amazing to see the effect of great starting pitching on a team and their fan base. As Earl Weaver said back in when he managed the Orioles in the seventies, it all starts with pitching. I would also add that it all starts with starting pitching. The Sox starters in the last four games have gone 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA. No, I do not expect that type of dominance to continue, but with the return of Curt Schilling, the rotation should improve. For those idiots who say the Sox are getting a free ride this year from the fans after winning the championship, I can only say talk to me during a losing streak.

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Why teams continue to pitch to David Ortiz in situations with runners on base is beyond me. I would pull a Barry Bonds and walk him every time he came up to bat with runners on base as long as the bases were not loaded. Why teams continue to allow him to hurt them is beyond me. Time and time again Big Papi rises to the occasion and smacks a clutch hit for the Sox. I do not care if Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Edgar Renteria, Trot Nixon, John Olerud or Kevin Millar is hitting behind him in the lineup, I would take my chances with any of them before taking my chances with Ortiz. Hard to believe a guy that was released by the Minnesota Twins and was expected to back-up Jeremy Giambi when he signed with the Red Sox is now the most feared clutch hitter in baseball except maybe for the incomparable Albert Pujols.

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Has Manny finally found his stroke? His single to right field was a more telling at bat than any of the three home runs in three games. When Manny is locked in he hits to all fields with power to the gaps. When he tries to pull the ball, he hits into endless double play ground outs to short stop (see also: Renteria, Edgar). If Manny is back to form, and remember he is getting into the mid-thirties in age when power hitters not on steroids (see: Bonds, Barry) tend to slowly lose their power stroke (see: Luzinski, Greg; Kittle, Ron; and Kingman, Dave), he should see the batting average and power numbers spike upward in the next few weeks and months.

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So is it another year and another 5-1 or 6-0 inter-division record for the Patriots? Time to take a peek at what the Pats rivals in the division have been up to and their season preview:

Miami Dolphins:
The Dolphins, one of the two teams to beat the Patriots last season, are a team in serious transition. A new GM, a new coach, new coordinators, new players, impact draft picks, and new philosophies. At best, if everything gels quickly, the Dolphins could make a run at .500. Still no quarterback (Gus Ferrotte!?!), a rookie RB and the return of Ricky Williams (a nightmare waiting to happen, would Oakland give the Dolphins a sixth round pick for Ricky?), still Chris Chambers and a bunch of chumps on the receiving end, and an offensive line in flux. Not a good combo. The defense was strong last year, but with major shake-ups in the secondary (good-bye Patrick Surtain, too bad on the injury Will Poole, hello Tebucky Jones!) and the transition to a 3-4 defense, even that is up in the air. Most likely, a 5-11 season.

New York Jets:
The Jets believe that they were this close to the Super Bowl last year. Whatever. They upset San Diego (the curse of Marty), and should have beat the Steelers (rookie QB in the playoffs); however, they would have had no chance against the Patriots. The Jets got by with Curtis Martin and a strong defense that played it safe in the cover-2. Well, much like when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their stud defensive lineman and linebackers began to age, the Jets defense (other than Jonathan Vilma, who is a stud, but with a knee ready to blow out this summer) is looking a little rough. Jason Ferguson was a huge loss. There is no other way around it. He WAS that defense. With the likely hold-out of defensive end John Abraham, the Jet defense still has major holes (I did not mention the secondary because, with their cover-2, it does not matter who is there). The Jets offense was Curtis Martin and dump-off passes. Expect more of the same and a lot of 14-10 games. The Jets, at best, are 9-7.

Buffalo Bills:
The deluded legions of fans in Buffalo (hey, it is football 24-7 there, I should cut them some slack) are already planning their vacation around the Super Bowl as they have replaced the one element holding them back: Drew Bledsoe at quarterback. No, Tom Brady did not go to Buffalo, but rather a late first round pick from 2004, J.P. Losman. Losman, who, according to the Bills, walks on water, performs miracles daily, and is telepathically connected with all members of the offense, should be a considerable upgrade over the mortal Drew Bledsoe. The defense is very good, not great, but good. The offense, well, I still am not drafting Willis McGahee in first three rounds in fantasy football just because I do not believe his knees will stand up to a full year pounding. Losman, even if he is as good as advertised, needs time to gel with the offense, and Eric Moulds is older with unproven kids around him. The Bills have another fight to get to 8-8.

So, it looks like less than stellar play again this year from the AFC East (not including the Patriots, of course!).

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Apparently, according to my beautiful webmaster (yes, I admit it, I am sleeping with her. Of course, I will have been married to her eight years this week, so it is o.k.), I mentioned NESN morning sportscaster Hazel Mae in a blog in the past and that I am getting a lot of traffic to the site by people finding the site via a search for her. Well, now I feel obligated to bring up Hazel Mae if only it will help me look good to the advertisers by getting more hits. So, here are some titillating comments to draw in those web searchers looking to…God only knows what they expect to find: I was watching NESN this morning, standing in front of the TV nearly nude as I watched Hazel Mae show the highlights of the Sox game. In fact, I was half naked when Hazel Mae mentioned the Yankees score. What a boob I shouted when Hazel Mae showed the replay of the error in the outfield by Manny.

There, that should do it.

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For the life of me, I cannot get Beverly Hills by Weezer out of my head, and I do not even know all the words which makes it ten times worse. It is almost as painful as watching the Pirates hand the game the other night to the Yankees. Jose Mesa, you are a virus on my fantasy team and I would wish you exile to baseball hell but you are already pitching in Pittsburgh.

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