Sunday, January 21, 2007

6-Pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon

1. DIRTY, FILTY HORSES:
Oh God, how I detest pre-game trash talk. In this case, I am referring to players, as my feeling on trash-talking fans is sickening. Hey, I want the home team to win, but since I have no control over ANY aspect of the game (other than possibly being in the stands and making enough noise along with 50,000+ fans to distract the opposing quarterback), I am not one to get into too much boasting and bragging BEFORE the games are played. Afterwards, well that is a different story.

Anyway, I know NFL coaches usually try to reign in any braggadocio from their players, but I do not really see how reporters writing about these slights really do anything but fill space on a slow news day. I am sure, that in private, Bill Belichick is telling his defense that Peyton Manning is a #$&%#* who cannot #$&%#* #$&%#* without help from his #$&%#* mommy. Also, I am sure he tells Tom Brady in the meetings that the Colts defense is #$&%#* #$&%#* #$&%#* and they could not even #$&%#* without help from each other. Of course, there is no reason to say anything but the usual fawning about how wonderful they are to the press, because who needs an already over-jacked linebacker getting any more worked up after his fifth Red Bull and handful of No-Doze before kick-off? But, we will continue to see that Dwight Freeney hates the Patriots (what, he is supposed to love them because he came from Connecticut? Forty percent of the state is Eastern New York anyway) and that Nick Harper, after Brady threw a couple of picks and had some tipped passes bounce off the San Diego defenders breadbaskets, is disrespecting the New England Golden Boy because he said he makes a few throws that could be picks? Yeesh, everyone dial down the chest-pounding (especially the idiot, drunken, frat-boy wannabe bandwagon Pats fans on YouTube with your hideous home-made rants that make us respectable New England fans look like toolbags), and just get ready for a great game.

2. TROT, TROT TO CLEVELAND
The nightmare of the first round pick of 1993 finally comes to an end. Some other first-rounders that year chosen after Trotman at number seven to put Lou Gorman back on the hate mail speed-dial: CLOSER DELUXE Billy Wagner, PERENNIAL MVP CANDIDATE Derrek Lee, LOCAL YOKEL AND LIFELONG SOX FAN Chris Carpenter, ALL-STAR Torii Hunter, and DRAFTED BUT UNSIGNED Jason Varitek. Now, before we light the torches and search out Sweet-Lou, remember these three names picked right before Trot at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: Darren Dreifort, Brian Anderson, Wayne Gomes, Jeff Granger, and Steve Soderstrom (A-Rod went number one). So in retrospect, the Sox got a decent right-fielder for a few years which turned out a bit better than some picks. Also, the Mets drafted the immortal Kirk Presley at #8, the Tigers took Matt Brunson at #9, the Cubs took Brooks Kieschnick at #10, and the Indians took Daron Kirkreit at #11, so Trot was not really that bad a pick. I guess this exercise shows what a crap-shoot the draft is and shows why Billy Beane was so smart to go against conventional wisdom and bring statistical analysis to the draft process.

If you are wondering just who some of these guys are: Dreifort went 48-60 with a 4.36 ERA, got big bucks from the Dodgers and blew his arm out; Anderson was supposed to be great, but finished up 82-83 with a 4.74 career ERA for the Indians and Diamondbacks primarily; Wayne Gomes finished his major league career in a forgettable fashion with the Red Sox in 2002, but was a set-up/middle reliever for the most part with the Phillies and once saved 19 games in a season; Jeff Granger pitched in 27 games over 4 years; Steve Soderstrom made it up for a cup of coffee with the Giants in 1996; Brooks Kieschnick made it up to the Cubs as a big-swinging outfielder, got switched to a pitcher when that did not work and bounced around a bit, getting to the majors briefly with the Brewers; the others never made the majors.

So, good luck to Trot backing-up Grady Sizemore in Cleveland. He was never what he was sold to us as, never that 30-30 athletic outfielder, and he was far from my favorite player, but he was serviceable, a decent fielder, hit once in a while, and apparently was well-liked. Best of luck, Trot.

3. ITS CALLED BRUINS
I am surprised by how much more interesting the Bruins can actually be this season. The game Thursday night against Pittsburgh was surprisingly riveting. Can this be a hockey revival in New England?

(wait for it)

(wait for it)

NAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. MISC:
The Steelers have to be better-off without the Chin at the helm, right?

Is there anyone worse for basketball than Kobe Bryant?

Bridgette Wilson, the grade school teacher from the movie Billy Madison, married Pete Sampras, the hirsute tennis player? How do I not know these things?

Chase Utley gets 7 years and $85 million from the Phillies? Chase Utley?

Watched Nova beat Texas yesterday. Stop smirking, Brigs!!!

5. NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PICK
Bears 24 Saints 23

The Bears do one thing good on offense: throw the deep pass. The Saints have one glaring weakness on defense: yes, you guessed it, defending the deep pass. If Brian Urlacher and future New England Patriot Lance Briggs can stick Duece McAllister a few times and put Drew Brees on his heels just a bit, it will make for one heck of a game.

6. AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PICK
Patriots 27 Colts 17

Let me see, I have ridden the Pats this far, so I guess it is time to saddle up and play rodeo and rope those Colts. I still doubt the Colts defense and I still think Peyton Manning will fall into the same trap in the playoffs where he tries to do too much and forces some horrible interceptions.

Bears and Patriots rematch in the Super Bowl? Sweet, now to find my BURY THE BEARS t-shirt with #7 Eason on the back of it and see if it still fits.

* * *

TAKING STOCK OF THE SOX

A quick winter review and look ahead to spring training which is less than 30 days away.

New Faces:

The Sox brought in a bit of new blood led by a top-of-the-rotation starter in Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new shortstop with a lethal bat and ok glove, Julio Lugo, and they will eventually sign J.D. Drew to play right field. In addition, they brought in four new arms for the bullpen: the OTHER Japanese import Hideki Okajima (likely to pitch in Pawtucket), set-up men extraordinaire J.C. Romero and Brendan Donnelly, and the most controversial closer candidate of the off-season (well, other than Soloman Torres in Pittsburgh), Joel Pineiro.

Out with the Old:

The Sox happily said goodbye to shortstop Alex Gonzalez and right-fielder Trot Nixon. In addition, they let former closer Keith Foulke and all-star second baseman Mark Loretta walk away. With Drew, Lugo, and Dustin Pedroia expected to step right into RF, SS, and 2B respectively, the Sox really have one question mark: the bullpen.

Penned:

Basically, the Sox did the smartest thing and took a mish-mash of relief pitchers, will mix them up in March and April, and see who sticks at closer. The closer (or co-closers) will be from the pile of pitchers including Mike Timlin, Joel Pineiro, Craig Hansen, Brendan Donnelly, Edgar Martinez, J.C. Romero, and Manny Delcarmen. Heck, those seven make a nice mix of old and young in a pen. I would say it, but I think it is a dirty word in these parts still, but closer-by-committee anyone?

Line-up:

Here is how I see the Sox shaking things out:

1B: Kevin Youkilis: Speed? Like the Sox steal bases anyway!
SS: Julio Lugo: Perfect in the #2 hole. He should feast on fastballs with the big boys behind him.
DH: David Ortiz: Answer: Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard. Question: Who are the only threats in baseball the crown as greatest clutch hitter in the game? (Sit down, A-Rod!)
LF: Manny Ramirez: Teddy Ballgame, Yaz, Rice, Greenie, and Manny. Guess which one will not get in the Hall of Fame?
RF: J.D. Drew: Finally, the perfect complement to Manny and Papi.
3B: Mike Lowell: 50 doubles is the goal for Lowell
C: Jason Varitek: At this point, any offense is a plus.
CF: Coco Crisp: Without Big Papi and Manny behind him, he should steal 40 bases.
2B Dustin Pedroia: no pressure and a chance to run if on base

Super-powered Staff:

Right now, I doubt there is another set of arms that can match-up with the Red Sox rotation:

SP: Curt Schilling: No way he retires at the end of the year. Look for the Roger Deal to kick-in for Curt in 2008. The Hall of Fame is so close, and with his post-season success, it will only take 250 wins.
SP: Josh Beckett: Will the nasty stuff come back now that he is blister-free?
SP: Daisuke Matsuzaka: Think dominant.
SP: Jonathan Papelbon: His shoulder is the only question mark.
SP: Tim Wakefield: #2 or 3 guy on most staffs.
SP: Jon Lester: If he bounces back from the cancer, it would be such a great feel-good story. He has the stuff to succeed and the Sox could use a southpaw in the rotation.


Benched:

The depth is there.

OF/1B: Wily Mo Pena: He is a younger Big Papi in training. He is not even 26 so give Wily Coyote some time.
1B/3B/OF: Eric Hinske: What happened to Hinske? Is there any chance he bounces back?
C: Doug Mirabelli: Well, at least my wife will be happy he is back for prime ogling every fifth game (only in my household is Shakey-Wakey starts Must-See TV). Of course, her sisters are still in mourning over the departures of Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler.
SS/2B: Alex Not Joey Cora: Best utility infielder in baseball.
OF/1B: David Murphy: should win the job, but a year in Pawtucket would probably be better development-wise. Do not be surprised to see Terry Francona fall in love with some player in camp on a minor-league deal like Joe McEwing and have him take over the last roster spot.

Final Analysis:

With a few spots still up in the air, here are how the stats breakdown on the roster (thanks to BaseballProspectus.com for doing the dirty work):

RH Batters: 7
LH Batters: 5
Switch-hitters: 2
RH Pitchers: 15
LH Pitchers: 7
Average age: 29.4

* * *

The State of US Soccer

Well, the World Cup is long over. They're prouder than proud over in the North End in Boston, and likely in Little Italy sections of cities all over the country. The English side is getting a much-needed retool. Coaches have been fired or quit. The stage is now being set for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

What of the US side? Plenty of talent, with Eddie Pope, DeMarcus Beasley, and Clint Dempsey, to name a few. If you ask me, there's goalkeeping questions, with World Cup disappointment Kasey Keller in his "advanced years" likely to not return for 2010. Brad Freidel, Blackburn Rovers man and hero of the upstart 2002 squad that helped put US soccer on the map in the new milennium, also in advanced years, and apparently deemed expendable by Arena this last time out in Germany. Tim Howard, the Man U backup and current Everton #1? He would be a good choice, but he is still somewhat inconsistent. Case in point, Howard's 4 goal giveaway allowed the Blackburn Rovers to advance in the FA cup vs. a limp Everton squad. How about Reading's Marcus Hahnemann? Perhaps, bet he's likely not going to make the cut. Another option worth considering is the Revs' Matt Reis, who has proved to be a solid player in recent years. We just have to hope there's a good netminder in MLS who will be seasoned enough by 2010. I must say, though, after the US's dreadful 2006 performance, our participation in 2010 World Cup is not a definite.

One other question is coaching. With the departure of Bruce Arena, we're left with a void. Arena coached the US team for 12 years, and his are big shoes to fill. My favorite, and apparently everyone else's favorite for the job was former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsman, nicknamed "California Klinsman" due to his full-time residence in the Golden State. An ideal match, right? Apparently not. Klinsman took himself out of the running as the big sport websites accidentally leaked that Klinsman had taken the job. Who we have is former Chivas USA boss Bob Bradley. Is he the right man for the job? Time will tell. Meanwhile, he has to pick up the pieces and get the national squad ready for the uphill battle to World respectability.

Becks is coming! Becks is coming!

Why would I get excited about the prospect of David Beckham, a player who I clearly feel is soft, coming to MLS? Simple, Beckham has a unique opportunity to put US club soccer on the World map. As you can imagine, there are those in Europe who claim this move is a selfish one, made for money and not for the good of the game. Most notably, Real Madrid's manager Fabio Capello, has benched David for the season, which is unfortunate for Becks, and also for LA, who stand to get a player who hasn't played a game in 8 months. The sentiment among English fans isn't much different. We soccer fans in the US should see it differently. Beckham can bring the European style of play to the MLS, but more importantly, he'll give us, and
certainly the LA Galaxy benefits most from this, name recognition. He'll
sell shirts, he'll sell out games, he'll be a literal cash injection for a struggling league. More older Euro stars need to consider doing this. I'd call out Zinedine Zidane to do the same, but if he does play again, it would likely be for a cushy Middle Eastern club, such as those in Qatar. Before the Becks move, MLS did have its influx of Europeans, but they were names like Youri Djorkaeff and Paolo Cannavaro. Not well known. I'd like to call upon more World Class player to finish their career in the MLS. Then, perhaps, in ten years or so, World Class players will consider the MLS clubs for start, middle, and end to their career.

On the flip side, the MLS is losing one of their World Class stars to the Premeirship. Clint Dempsey is leaving MLS, and more importantly for me, the New England Revolution, to play in Craven Cottage at Fulham. The transfer was the largest for an MLS player, at $3+ million. Unfortunately, this loss will hurt the Revs, at least in the short term. In the long term, perhaps another World Class striker will find his way to Foxboro. As for his choice of English club, I shake my head in disbelief on that one, too. Dempsey could have done better to go to a Newcastle or a Tottenham, or a Blackburn (I'll always mention my Rovers). This move does reunite him with his US tammates Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra. Will he propel Fulham to a decent Premeirship table position. Again, time will tell, but for Dempsey's, Fulham's, and MLS's sake, let's hope so.

Premeirship so far...

Well, the Premership 2006-2007 season is half over, and it is an exciting season indeed. Pre-season favorites, Chelsea put a bunch of money towards buying all of Roman Abramovich's favorite World Cup players, and yet they are still playing second fiddle to Sir Alex Ferguson and Man U. This by definition makes each Chelsea and ManU match exciting, regardless of opponent. Liverpool is quite anemic, in spite of adding some good players in the offseason, such as former Newcastle/Blackburn forward Craig Bellamy.

This has even led some to speculate on the future of Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez. Arsenal are still strong contenders, and I must admit that, in spite of myself, I enjoy watching an Arsenal match, because their intricate passing and footwork is the prime example of why soccer is "the beautiful game." Other top table clubs include the surprise Bolton and Portsmouth sides. Both sides did a great job retooling in the offseason, even though some pundits speculate that Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth side did some shady dealing to acquire his new crop of players. Blackburn may yet reach the top side, but a slow start, along with the fact that they can't seem to beat the big boys (Arsenal, Chelsea, and ManU), will likely keep Mark Hughes's club towards the center of the table. Cellar dwellers include the hapless Charlton side, with Hal's two long-lost brothers Marcus and Darren Bent.

West Ham United has been poor this year. Why is this, when the coup of the season was to bring the two Argentinian nationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, on loan to the club? Like the Yankees are finding out, you can't buy team chemistry. Also, expectations were too high following the Hammers' success of last season. The team is unfortunately not as talented as once thought. A crappy start led to the ouster of boss Alan Pardew, and now it remains for new manager Alan Curbishley to pick up the pieces and salvage the season and avoid relegation th the Championship. Lastly, Newcastle United are a surprise bottom-half dweller right now. Their play on the pitch has been indicative of that, in the games I have watched. A 3-0 pounding vs. Everton 3 weeks ago is evidence that the Magpies don't have it together. Currently, I'm watching Newcastle face Tottenham, and it looks like another loss for Newcastle United. All in all, with the season champ still very much to be decided, and matches in full swing, the second half of the season will be as entertaining as the first.

-Christopher J. Brigham

New England Patriots: On Vacation as Free Agency Begins - Full Press Coverage

The 2019 NFL year has begun with the advent of free agency and as usual the New England Patriots are one of the quietest teams. While teams ...