Red-hot Red Sox look to come home on 7 game winning streak

“I think we’ve hit bottom.  If this isn’t the bottom then we’ll find some new ends to the earth or something”

Bobby V. has gone from goat to hero in the matter of a week

That was Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine’s quote 8 days ago after the debacle in Boston in which the Red Sox blew a 9-1 lead to the Yankees in the 7th inning and lost the game 15-9.  In many ways it was rock bottom, being embarrassed like that by your biggest rival at home and dropping your record to 4-10.  Thankfully the Red Sox didn’t find those new ends of the earth.  After Sunday’s rain out the Sox headed on the road and have basically pulled a 180 on their season in 6 games in Minnesota and Chicago and go into today’s Sunday matinee looking for a clean 7-game sweep of their AL Central foes.  The Sox are now at .500 with a 10-10 record, a feat that they didn’t accomplish until May 15 last season, and could miraculously finish with a record over .500 in April if they can take the last two games of the month.

Bobby Valentine has been much maligned this season but things seem to be clicking now.  His moment of levity in the first game of the series in Minnesota may have helped Alfredo Aceves start to rebound from his horrid start.  After Aceves gave up a long fly ball to light hitting Trevor Plouffe Valentine trotted to the mound and asked Aceves if he was trying to kill him.  Aceves said no and proceeded to close out the game and his next two chances on the trip without allowing a run.  As a matter of fact the bullpen as a whole is pitching better as they have only given up 1 earned run on the road trip.  Junichi Tazawa looks like he may become a contributor as he’s pitched 6 scoreless innings since being recalled last weekend.  Daniel Bard also came in and contributed 2/3 of an inning on Monday and you might see more of that here and there for the rest of the season as they try and keep his innings count down.

As far as the starting pitching went Bard showed why he should be in the starting rotation.  He pitched 7 strong on Friday night giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and striking out 6.  He showed that he is really too valuable in the rotation, particularly with Clay Buchholz continuing to struggle.  Felix Doubront continued to impress, pitching 6 innings on Thursday and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and K’ing 2.  He finally got his 1st win after a few impressive performances that included a wasted great start last Saturday against the Yankees in the infamous 15-9 game.  The performance of the week probably belonged to Jon Lester on Saturday night.  After having to throw over 30 pitches in the 1st inning Lester bore down and finished the game with 7 strong innings of shut-out baseball.  He scattered 5 hits and only walked one while striking out 7.  He endured a 10 pitch at bat on his final batter of the game but finally put Alex Rios away with his 120th pitch of the game.  That broke a personal 5 game losing streak for Lester.  The starting pitching as a whole has seemed to have found a groove with the exception of Buchholz.  Hopefully he is just working off the rust and will come around soon.

Aviles has been the fire starter for the Sox lineup

The offense has continued to click on all cylinders on the road and it all begins with Mike Aviles, who has replaced Jacoby Ellsbury as the team’s lead-off hitter.  He has gone 8-for-27 on the road trip with 2 HRs, 5 RBI and a walk.  He’s set the pace for an offense that has scored 45 runs on the 6 game road trip which has included 3 games of 10 or more runs.  Cody Ross started things off with a clutch 2 home run performance in game 1 to propel the Sox offense which has also gotten 3 home runs from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 2 from Aviles and David Ortiz and 1 each from Darnell McDonald and Kevin Youkilis.  Adrian Gonzalez, while not going deep, has continued to be an RBI hit machine, going 7-for-20 with 6 RBI.  The only game on the trip in which he didn’t get an RBI was the Friday night 10-3 rout in Chicago.  He saved his best piece of hitting for the Saturday night game when he took a good Jake Peavy pitch up the middle for the only run of the game in the 4th inning.  David Ortiz has continued his red-hot April on the trip, going 7-for-22 with 2 HRs and 6 RBI.  The scary thing about this offense is their are doing all of this on the road and, in Chicago’s case, against some pretty good pitching.  I’m interested if they continue to click on all cylinders when they come back to the friendly confines on Monday.

Josh Beckett takes the hill on Sunday against Gavin Floyd of the White Sox as the Sox try to go 7-for-7 on the road trip.  If they do it will provide a huge boost to the team as they head into May with a favorable schedule for the first two weeks.  The honeymoon may have been a disaster for Bobby V. and company but the first week of the marriage seems to be going good and hopefully it carries over.  The biggest difference from this season’s version of the Red Sox compared to last years is the production that they are getting from the back of the rotation.  Doubront and Bard continue to give the Sox solid starts from the back-end and are improving as they gone on.  Last year they got limited production from those spots whether they came from John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Kyle Weiland, or someone else.  When you’ve got 5 guys that can go out there and pitch it makes a world of difference.  The one weak link is the bullpen but if they’ve started to get themselves right and Bobby V. is starting to get a feel for how to use these guys this team is poised to be a very dangerous team from here on out.  Those new ends of the earth will seem so far away if the Sox can complete the clean sweep of a crucial 7 game road trip.

Follow me on Twitter

Full AFC East Draft Recap

The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books.  I’m not going to give out grades because I think it’s pretty stupid to judge guys who have not even stepped on an NFL field yet.  Instead I will outline all of the picks for the AFC East and say what I liked and didn’t like about the 2012 NFL Draft.

Buffalo Bills

  1. 105th pick Nigel Bradham

    10th Overall – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

  2. 41st Overall – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  3. 69th Overall – A.J. Graham, WR, NC State
  4. 105th Overall – Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State
  5. 124th Overall – Ron Brooks, CB, Louisiana State
  6. 144th Overall – Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
  7. 147th Overall – Tank Carder, MLB, Texas Christian
  8. 178th Overall – Mark Asper, OG, Oregon
  9. 251st Overall – John Potter, K, Western Michigan

WHAT I LIKED: Pretty much everything they did from Rounds 1-5 with the exception of A.J. Graham.  Gilmore was the 2nd best CB in the draft and Cordy Glenn was a 1st round talent drafted in the 2nd.  They added some guys with a lot of experience from big schools in rounds 4 and 5.  Ron Brooks could be a real steal coming from a stacked LSU secondary that included Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, and Tyronn Mathieu.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  This was a deep wide receiver draft and to end up with only Graham who had more of a mid round grade seems to be a bit disappointing.  The Bills could have used more depth at WR, TE, and LB but went with a guard in the 6th round after taking two offensive linemen earlier in the draft.

Miami Dolphins

  1. 42nd pick Jonathan Martin

    8th Overall – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

  2. 42nd Overall – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
  3. 72nd Overall – Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami
  4. 78th Overall – Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
  5. 97th Overall – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
  6. 155th Overall – Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon
  7. 183rd Overall – B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
  8. 215th Overall – Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  9. 227th Overall – Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada

WHAT I LIKED:  Martin is a good tackle prospect.  He can play right tackle and if the Dolphins continue the purge and dump Jake Long after next season he can move over to the left side.  Egnew will be able to catch the ball, just don’t ask him to block.  Cunningham was productive in college.  Lamar Miller is a low risk/high reward guy.  He could replace Reggie Bush if they decide to jettison him.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  Ryan Tannehill.  I wasn’t enthralled by their front 7 picks.

New York Jets

  1. 202nd pick Terrance Ganaway

    16th Overall – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

  2. 43rd Overall – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
  3. 77th Overall – Demario Davis, MLB, Arkansas State
  4. 187th Overall – Josh Bush, S, Wake Forest
  5. 202nd Overall – Terrance Ganaway, HB, Baylor
  6. 203rd Overall – Robert T. Griffin, OG, Baylor
  7. 242nd Overall – Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
  8. 244th Overall – Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan

WHAT I LIKED:  Stephen Hill is a high risk/high reward pick in the 2nd round but at his best could be a poor man’s Randy Moss.  Davis will give them decent depth in the middle and provide for some Bart Scott insurance.  I LOVED the Ganaway pick in round 6, that guy is a little ball of fire.  Also loved the Antonio Allen pick in Round 7.  He was very productive in college, that seems like great value.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  No one can talk me into liking the Coples pick.  Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, even Courtney Upshaw were better options that were still on the board to bring in to rush the passer.  I’m not sure a guy with a reputation of taking plays off is the best guy to add to the Jets locker room.  They also took the wrong Robert Griffin from Baylor.

New England Patriots

  1. 21st pick Chandler Joens

    21st Overall – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

  2. 25th Overall – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
  3. 48th Overall – Tavon Wilson, FS, Illinois
  4. 90th Overall – Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
  5. 197th Overall – Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State
  6. 224th Overall – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  7. 235th Overall – Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

WHAT I LIKED:  Obviously the aggressive moves in the 1st round.  Belichick and co. picked up two huge pieces for their defense.  Jones was the sexy pick because he’s the sack guy and has a UFC fighting brother but Hightower is the meat and potatoes guy that can be the heart of your defense.  Jake Bequette is a solid pick, he’s your standard hard working, never give up defensive lineman.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  Going way off the board for Wilson and Ebner.  I’m not sure what the point is?  I understand the Dennard pick but a guy doing something so stupid so close to a life-changing event just rubs me the wrong way (Dennard got arrested for assaulting a police officer last week).  Guys like that don’t usually stick.

The Pats made the biggest impact early by securing Jones and Hightower in the 1st.  The Bills I thought had the most consistent draft and really hit on their picks in rounds 4 and 5, which included a pick acquired for Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch respectively.  In total the 4 AFC East teams made 33 picks.  Of those 33 picks 15 were on the offensive side of the ball, 17 on the defensive side, and 1 on special teams.  The ACC had the most picks to the AFC East with 9.  The SEC and Big 12 came in second with 5 each, the Pac-12 and Big 10 had 4 each, the Mountain West and MAC had 2 each and the Big East and Sun Belt Conference each had 1.  Ryan Tannehill was the only QB picked by any of the AFC East teams.  There was 6 WRs drafted, the most of any position.

Now all of these guys will get to work in the coming weeks with rookie mini-camps and OTA’s and then training camp.  Some of these guys will make an immediate impact, some will sit for a while before they hit their strides and then some will never pan out at all.  You never know what return you are going to get on any draft pick until they hit the field.  That’s the beauty of the draft – it’s a crap-shoot.  That said, I think it’s time for ESPN to give up their draft coverage because NFL Network was light years ahead of them in quality all weekend long.

Follow me on Twitter

Thoughts on Day 2 of the draft and looking ahead to Day 3

Day 2 is in the books and it’s on to Day 3 where teams fill out their rosters while hoping to find a diamond in the rough in the late rounds.  Then one of my favorite parts, something we missed last year, when the guys who aren’t drafted are bombarded with phone calls when they become unrestricted free agents the minute the draft is over.  Here is a look at Day 2 of the draft:

  • The Bills got great value picking up Glenn at #41

    AFC East 2nd Round Picks:  Bills took Georgia OT Cordy Glenn with the 41st pick.  Huge value here, this guy was a first round talent.  He’ll play LT in Buffalo’s quick drop offense and they hope he’s a road grader for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the run game.  The Dolphins took Stanford OT Jonathan Martin with the 42nd pick.  Martin should be a pretty good player but I’m surprised that they took him to play RT, he seems like a more natural LT and obviously he won’t play there in Miami with Jake Long.  The Jets took Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill with the 42nd pick.  This guy has a ton of speed for his size as shown at the combine but the concern is that he could be a one trick pony.  Mark Sanchez isn’t exactly Dan Marino with the arm.  The Patriots took Illinois S Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick.  Not much is known about Wilson since he wasn’t really on anyone’s draft board.  He played for a bad program and a horrible coach so there is no where to go but up for him.  Best pick: Glenn, getting 1st round talent and a starter at LT at 41 is tremendous value.  Worst pick: Wilson, if nothing else because the other 3 teams got good value with their picks and he is sort of an unknown.

  • AFC East 3rd Round Picks:  Here is where the waters get muddied for me.  I will confess to only hearing of one of these guys picked before tonight.  The Bills took N.C. State WR T.J. Graham with the 69th pick.  It was an interesting pick because they traded up two spots to get him and he looked to be 5-7 round range on most people’s boards.  He does look like a poor man’s Lee Evans which is exactly what the Bills need.  The Dolphins took Miami DE Olivier Vernon with the 72nd pick.  Again I don’t know much about this guy but he’s staying home which is good for him.  Miami is going 4-3 so they need those 4-3 bodies in there so I guess this is a start.  The Jets took Arkansas State LB Demario Davis with the 77th pick.  He’s not exactly Melvin Ingram.  He’s only 235 so he seems kind of smallish for the Jets defense.  The Patriots took Arkansas DE Jake Bequette with the 90th pick.  This is the one guy I heard of.  He’s the dreaded “high-motor white guy” defensive end type.  He could make up a great duo with Chandler Jones in the future.  Best pick: Bequette, SEC guy, high motor, plays hard.  Worst pick: Graham I suppose because it seemed like a reach.
  • Upshaw would have preferred to go in Round 1 but he can't complain about his destination

    Other picks I liked on Day 2:  The Ravens nabbing Courtney Upshaw at the top of Round 2.  His knock that he only played at an extremely high level in college because of all of the talent that he had around him.  Well, look at all of the talent that he has around him now.  The 49ers grabbed LaMichael James to round out the transformation of what was an average offense last year.  He’ll be their Darren Sproles.  The Eagles grabbing Vinny Curry at 59 seems like a steal.  I liked Mohammed Sanu getting redemption and actually getting that call from the Bengals but what are the chances he believed that it was really the Bengals when they first called?

  • NFL Network is king:  If it wasn’t clear that NFL Network had the superior coverage on Day 1, Day 2 confirmed it.  While ESPN resorted to something that assembled more of a shock jock talk show than a draft by the end of the night NFL Network showed every single pick announced until the very end.  Mike Mayock is enjoyable and he wasn’t being feed picks like the ESPN guys and for the most part Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk shut their mouths and only chimed in occasionally while the former players on ESPN were loud and obnoxious.  I probably won’t even turn on ESPN at all today.
  • What to look for in Day 3:  Well, I guess today is just checking out who your team picks.  If you went to college or have a college team that you root for you can check out where their guys go.  I like to see where the 2nd generation guys go, so I’m interested in seeing Nick Toon, son of long time Jets receiver Al Toon, get drafted.  Also a couple of name QBs remain, Michigan State’s gritty QB Kirk Cousins and Boise State QB Kellen Moore who barely ever lost but is only about a 6th round pick in the draft.  Enjoy your Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter

AFC East Draft Day 1 Review and Day 2 Preview

Day 1 of the NFL draft is in the books and day 2 looms tonight.  From a pure recap and review stand point the new draft format works a whole lot better.  You can spend all day analyzing the first round picks and then move on to what will happen on Friday night in Rounds 2 and 3.  Here’s a look at what I liked and didn’t like on Day 1:

  • The Pats got aggressive in order to acquire the uber-versatile Hightower

    I LIKED:  The Patriots’ aggressiveness in Round 1.  Their swindling pick system became obsolete with the new draft rules and so instead of finding trade partners to kick the ball down the road they reversed course and aggressively pursued their targets by trading up.  They got two good young defensive guys to add to their front 7 although I seem to be in the minority in liking the Hightower pick more than the Jones pick.  You just don’t find that versatility that Hightower possesses often.

  • I DIDN’T LIKE:  The pick of Ryan Tannehill from a football standpoint.  I get why they did it and I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have done it if I were in their shoes but this guy just doesn’t do it for me.  If he doesn’t pan out then it could set your franchise back for years.  Is it worth it to get a few months worth of fan support?  It certainly is desperately needed after the failures by Stephen Ross to woe coaches and quarterbacks to Miami.  The only benefit of the doubt I will give them in that Mike Sherman, who was Tannehill’s college coach, is now the Offensive Coordinator in Miami so that may help Tannehill’s transition.
  • South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore fit the Bill for Buddy Nix and co.

    I LIKED:  Buddy Nix staying true to his draft board again and not reaching for need.  The Bills need a WR and LT the most but since they had Michael Floyd off of their board due to character issues there was no guy at those positions worth the #10 pick.  It happens every year…two years ago it was Jimmy Clausen and Bryan Bulaga.  If they took either one of those guys then they would still be looking at trying to find a QB and a LT since Clausen sucks and Bulaga plays the right side.  Gilmore should be a great player in time and will get veteran leadership from Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee in the meantime.

  • I DIDN’T LIKE:  The Jets picking Quinton Coples over Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, or even Courtney Upshaw.  Coples was seen as a top 10 pick during the college season but attitude and effort issues dropped him down the board.  He also seems big to play OLB in the 3-4 which is what the Jets needed.  The Ingram pass is the biggest mystery to me because I think Ingram is going to be a real player in the future.  I can’t fault them too much for passing on Upshaw because everyone else did too but I still think he’ll be a player in the right situation.
  • NON AFC EAST THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THE DRAFT LAST NIGHT:  Loved Pittsburgh’s pick of David Decastro at #24, best pick of the night in my opinion.  Just a perfect fit and there may not be a guy in the draft set up to contribute right away than DeCastro.  Dallas made out by moving up to get Morris Claiborne at #6.  Dre Kirkpatrick could be a steal for the Bengals if he pans out, his arrest helped Cincy with that one.  They also got a good player in guard Kevin Zeitler with their 2nd 1st rounder.  I think Melvin Ingram was a steal for San Diego at #18 as well.
  • I didn't like the Poe pick before he got up to the podium...

    NON AFC EAST THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:  I’m not sure about Dontari Poe going #11 to the Chiefs.  Even factoring the systems I liked Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers better.  Whitney Mercilus was a one year wonder so Houston going with him was a bit of a surprise.  I didn’t like the AJ Jenkins to San Fransisco pick although there is room for him to develop behind Moss and Manningham.

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR TONIGHT:  What’s interesting is that the 3 AFC East teams that didn’t make the playoffs all have the same needs going into tonight.  The Bills, Jets and Dolphins all need receivers and offensive tackles.  The Pats have multiple picks and still need help in the secondary and could use some offensive line depth but they can add it anywhere, don’t necessarily need a tackle.  Buffalo is up 1st with the 9th pick of Round 2 however any 1 of the other 3 teams can move up.  As you saw last night that’s not hard to do these days.  There are plenty of wide receivers and tackles at the early stages of the 2nd round so look for a lot of action there.  The 3rd round seems so far away at this point but I’m sure the teams will be looking for whatever they didn’t get in Round 2.  I am not bold enough to mock the next two rounds especially after all the movement of last night.

Follow me on Twitter

Patriots pull reverse course and trade up for two defensive studs

The Patriots have made a habit in recent years of collecting draft picks and rolling them over year after year like they were an IRA or a mutual fund.  That practice came to an end last night when instead of moving back for more picks the Pats actually moved up in the draft to get players that they targeted.  The change in philosophy makes a lot of sense due to the new NFL draft structure and rookie salary pool.  With all the salaries tied so close together the value of picks have deteriorated,  The old NFL draft value chart made by Jimmy Johnson back in the late 80’s has turned obsolete.  Gone are the days where you can net a 1st round pick in the next draft for someone to move up in the 2nd round.  Belichick and his staff adjusted accordingly and used their own chips as currency to get the players that they wanted.  Here’s a look at the two players that the Patriots drafted:

New Patriots DE Chandler Jones

21st pick overall Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse – Jones is a guy that really flew up the draft boards in recent weeks.  The pick has gotten a lot of publicity but hopefully fans temper their expectations a bit, at least at the outset, because Jones is a bit of a project guy.  He’s at 266 right now but will probably develop into a playing weight of about 280-285 in 2 or 3 years.  That’s when he should really hit his stride as a player.  He’s got 10 sack potential and will be a versatile lineman with the ability to excel against both the run and the pass but he will probably be a work in progress for the first few years.  The Pats are probably going to run a more hybrid scheme this year, mixing the 3-4 in with the 4-3.  I think Jones will see the majority of his action in the 4 man front replacing Mark Anderson in a platoon with another DE, either someone picked today in the 2nd round or a veteran, perhaps even Andre Carter when he is healthy from his knee injury.  Long term Jones will be looked at as a cornerstone for the defensive line that will likely be running primarily out of a 4-3 base defense.  The 3-4 players that the Patriots used in their hey day are pretty much all gone with the exception of Vince Wilfork who can play both schemes anyway.  With the spread offense en vogue in the NFL these days defenses are using a ton of nickel packages and that means 4 down linemen which is why the 3-4 is sort of fading away again.  Jones is a great pick to develop during the transition.  He probably couldn’t have gotten drafted into a better situation, with Bill Belichick and Pepper Johnson and the rest of the defensive staff in New England as good as any in the league at developing defensive players, particularly defensive linemen.  I would give this pick a B+ with the only red flag being that he was a late riser which I am always weary of.  That means that his game film is not as good as some other guys but his workouts were better, which doesn’t always translate to a better player on the field.  However with Belichick and his staff ready to develop him he could not have found himself in a better situation.

 

New Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower

25th pick overall Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama – In a move that should shock no one Belichick moved up in the 1st round again (ok maybe that should shock you) to take a player from a Nick Saban coached defense.  Dont’a Hightower is as versatile a linebacker as they come.  In a 3-4 he is strictly an inside guy but in the 4-3, which I suspect the Patriots will be moving towards, he is a guy that can play all 3 LB spots if need be.  He’s got great size (6’2″, 265 lbs.) and good speed and can move sideline to sideline but can also rush the passer if need be.  I would imagine that the Pats will use a heavy rotation involving Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Rob Ninkovich, and Hightower this season with only Mayo getting more snaps than Hightower.  Brandon Spikes will probably get the most snaps in the middle this season but I can see Hightower playing with Mayo in the nickel packages.  Spikes is good when he is on but he is inconsistent.  I can see Hightower eventually usurping Spikes in the middle if he plays as good as he has the potential to.  Right now I see the guys mixing and matching in spots, Belichick loves to be creative and he can get plenty creative with the top 4 linebackers he has on the field now.  Hightower came from a Nick Saban coached team so he knows what it’s like to be well coached and how to play in a complex scheme.  His transition into the Belichick defense should be smoother than most and he should be ready to contribute right away.  Again this is a good long term pick for the Pats but unlike Jones Hightower will be there on opening day ready to make an impact.  I give this pick an A all things considered.  Hightower is the prototype for a Bill Belichick defense and he possesses a versatility that you don’t often see in a linebacker.

The Pats pick two more times today.  Again a trade UP wouldn’t be out of the question but I can see them trading down with one of their picks to grab a few for Saturday.  Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw looks mighty intriguing sitting there and there is a good chance that Baltimore will be able to snatch him up here.  The Pats do still need a lot of help in the secondary.  Janoris Jenkins will probably go early 2nd round but the Pats would probably have to move up to the first 2 or 3 picks of the night to get him.  Jenkins is by far the best CB on the board and would have been a 1st rounder if he didn’t have character issues.  The Pats would find a ton of competition if they tried to move up for Jenkins so maybe staying put would be the best option.  Belichick loves picking guys in the 2nd round and has had success in the past few years with Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes among others.  I would expect today to be secondary day as they worked on the front 7 yesterday but don’t rule out another front 7 player or an offensive lineman.

Follow me on Twitter

AFC East 1st Round Mock Draft

I don’t know enough about all 32 teams and all of the 50 or so potential 1st round prospects to do a full 1st round mock draft but I follow all of the AFC East teams enough to know what they need, who they like, etc.  So instead of trying to pick the 32 picks of the 1st round I will focus on the 5 that the AFC East teams currently hold.  Here is my prediction for what happens tonight within the AFC East

Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M -The Dolphins are desperate for a QB.  They lost out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn this off-season.  They desperately need a win in the PR column right now and that’s why they’ll reach by about 20 spots to take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.  The problem the Dolphins have is that they hold the #8 pick in a draft where the two best quarterbacks are also the two best players.  The drawback to taking Tannehill is that they have created so many holes in the off-season that they really need a guy who can come in and contribute right away.  Tannehill will likely start the season playing behind Matt Moore, David Garrard, or both.  It would probably be for the best as the Dolphins traded their best receiver and lost their starting right tackle to retirement.  They are in year 1 of a rebuild and they can sit on their future franchise QB for a year while they build a team around him.  The question that remains is whether or not Tannehill is a franchise guy.  Some people feel strongly that he is and some feel strongly that he isn’t.  He’s got a big arm but he lacks experience playing in NFL style systems.  He hasn’t played the same competition that Andrew Luck played against at Stanford or Robert Griffin III played against at Baylor but Texas A&M is no slouch playing in the Big 12.  I guess only time will tell whether or not he can be “the guy” for an NFL franchise.  Back-up pick: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore

10. Buffalo Bills – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina – The Bills upgraded their pass rush in the off-season and need a few more players at key positions.  Left tackle, wide receiver, and cornerback are the three most glaring needs.  The left tackle crop isn’t all that strong and the Bills could probably get a similar player at tackle at the 41 spot as they can at #10.  They need a big wide receiver with speed opposite Stevie Johnson and Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd would seem to fit the bill but the Bills had not engaged much with Floyd in recent weeks and didn’t even bring him to Buffalo for a visit.  That leaves cornerback.  The Bills are also very high on Alabama safety Mark Barron but at this point he is flying up the boards and I doubt that he even makes it to #10.  The Bills have two aging corners, Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee, and can put Gilmore with 2nd year player Aaron Williams and match them up on the outside for many years to come.  They play in the AFC East with the pass happy New England Patriots and their secondary has struggled against Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  Getting a ball-hawk could be enhanced if the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson do what they are supposed to do up front and put pressure on the passer.  Despite their interest in Barron they are deep at safety and adding Gilmore would give them a great deal of youth mixed with some veteran leadership in the secondary.  It would not shock me to see the Bills trade down and try to grab and extra 2nd rounder so they can fill the LT, WR, and impact secondary guy all within the first 2 rounds.  But if they stay put and make the pick at #10 my prediction is that Gilmore will be the guy.  Back-up pick – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

South Carolina DE/OLB Melvin Ingram

16. New York Jets – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina – The Jets have a few areas of need and are another team that has been rumored for a trade up but in the end I think they stay predictable and go for the pass rusher.  Syracuse DE Chandler Jones is an intriguing option at this spot but I’m not sure that Jones projects well in the 3-4 scheme that Rex Ryan loves.  Ingram has the skills to be a prototypical hybrid defensive end/linebacker.  He is skilled at rushing the passer, which the Jets are looking for, and has the savvy to play in the Rex Ryan 3-4 defense.  He’s got decent enough cover skills so that he won’t kill them but a match-up against a Gronkowski could be an issue.  Still, the reason he would go here is his pass rush abilities and he has plenty of those.  The Jets could use a receiver and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd could still be in play but I doubt it.  They could go secondary or they could go offensive line as well but at the end of the day I think the instincts of Rex Ryan win out and the Jets go and grab the pass rusher and put him with the outstanding trio of Bart Scott, David Harris, and Calvin Pace.  It’s a safe pick and it makes the most sense.  Back-up pick – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

Notre Dame S Harrison Smith

27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints) – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame – I know that every Patriots fan in the world will be screaming for front 7, for someone to rush the passer but I don’t think it’s the pick here.  Bill Belichick and his staff rarely do what you think they are going to do.  I could see them trading this pick because it will have more value than the #31 pick but you’re probably not going to be able to get another 1st round pick next year for either pick so might as well use the higher one.  The Pats biggest problem last year was in the secondary.  They played poorly in pretty much all areas.  They had no one at safety almost all year with Patrick Chung’s injury.  Adding a player like Smith to the fold and assuming Chung can stay healthy for a season would make a huge weakness into a strength.  The Pats still need help at corner as well but Smith may be a safer pick than the corners that will be left at the end of the 1st round.  The Pats could go D-line here but I think that Belichick is weary about putting a rookie into his complex system, especially one that could be a 4-3 for several weeks then back to a 3-4 for another stretch.  Smith is a versatile safety who could help with both the run and the pass.  I just get the feeling that they are going secondary with this pick and in my opinion Smith is the best bet at this spot in the draft.  Back-up pick – Nick Perry, DE, USC 

31. New England Patriots – Trade down into the 2nd round.  You know it’s coming.  The Patriots love drafting players in the 2nd round and #31 is a prime spot for someone to move up 10 or so spots to get the player they want and Belichick will jump all over the opportunity.  He’ll probably get more than he should for the pick too.

We’ll see how I do.  If I am close enough maybe I will try the 2nd and 3rd rounds for tomorrow.  Enjoy the draft.

Follow me on Twitter

Quick Thoughts on the Red Sox/Twins series

Don’t look now but the Red Sox are on a winning streak!  Their futility against the league’s better teams in the early going is concerning and it makes you wonder if this team has what it takes to win a World Series but they are clearly in the top 6-7 teams in the American League so eventually their play would plateau when they started to play the weaker teams.  That seems to have started this week in Minnesota.  Here are some thoughts on the series:

  • Jon Lester's April struggles are back in 2012

    On the starting pitchers:  Jon Lester is a little off right now.  He seems to have an inning or a stretch in the game where he doesn’t quite seem right.  It almost cost us the game on Monday but Cody Ross fixed that.  Remember that Lester has struggled in April in the past only to put it together in May for the rest of the summer.  Hopefully that is what is going on with him now.  Josh Beckett wasn’t as good as he was in his last two outings due largely to the 40+ pitch 1st inning that contained a questionable strike zone.  The encouraging thing is that Beckett bounced back and got through 6 innings and only gave up 1 run.  He seems to be in a bit of a groove now.  Clay Buchholz wasn’t as bad last night as he was last week against the Yankees but that is not saying much.  He is still throwing far too many pitches and pitching to too much contact.  With Aaron Cook pitching well in Pawtucket you have to wonder how long they’ll go with Buchholz before he gets one of those mystery DL stints.

  • Aceves celebrates his bases loaded save on Wednesday

    On the bullpen:  Well, at least Alfredo Aceves make it exciting.  He is at least getting a little better but clearly you don’t need to see 1-run games being closed out with the bases loaded.  It looks like we’ll sink or swim with Aceves at closer.  The whole Bard thing remains a mystery but there wasn’t another option besides him to start Friday’s game in Chicago.  His next start will say a lot about his role going forward.  Most of the other guys pitched well on Monday and Tuesday but they had trouble cleaning up Buchholz’ mess on Wednesday.  Justin Thomas got some critical innings and didn’t fare well.  He’ll soon be replaced by Rich Hill.

  • On Mike Aviles:  This guy was on fire in Minnesota.  He went 6-for-13 with 2 HRs, 6 RBI, and 3 runs scored.  For all of the worry that was out there after Jacoby Ellsbury was injured Aviles has done more than enough to temper the masses.  So much so that if he keeps it up he might stay at the top of the order with Ellsbury hitting 2nd.  It’s early but the Red Sox look like the clear winners in the Marco Scutaro trade.
  • On the rest of the offense:  The offense continues to click on all cylinders with 6, 11, and 7 runs in three games in Minnesota.  Big Papi continued his hot ways with a monster home run in game 2.  Cody Ross was the hero in game 1 with his two late inning home runs.  Even Kevin Youkilis got in on the fun with some hits to get him back up to the Mendoza line.  Adrian Gonzalez is starting to drive in runs in bunches again.  It should be interesting to see how this group performs in Chicago with some better pitching against them.
  • Bobby V. has had his hands full with Boston's bullpen

    On Bobby V.:  That moment of levity with Alfredo Aceves and the Sox infield on Monday might be looked back at the turning point for the Red Sox.  Some of his bullpen moves are still inconsistent but I guess that could be a by-product of an inconsistent bullpen.  The lineups moves that he’s had to juggle around have all seemed to have been on point so far.

  • What’s next:  A 4 game series in Chicago to take us through the weekend before the Sox come home next week.  Pitching match-ups are Doubront (0-0, 3.94) vrs. Humber (1-0, 0.63), Bard (1-2, 4.38) vrs. Danks (2-2, 5.11), Lester (0-2, 6.00) vrs. Peavy (3-0, 1.88) and Beckett (2-2, 4.56) vrs. Floyd (1-3, 3.60).  Obviously Phillip Humber is coming off of last weekend’s perfect game on Thursday night in his start vrs. the Sox.

Follow me on Twitter

 

Playing the Red Sox blame game

The “Red Sox blame game” has become en vogue in these parts thanks to another slow start by the Red Sox.  Of course things are a bit more hostile this year when they were last year due to the stink of the September collapse and subsequent jettisoning of Terry Francona and bailing out of Theo Epstein.  Basically to play the blame game you make a pie chart and assign a percentage of blame to who you think it most responsible for the current state of the Red Sox.  Here’s my version of the blame pie:

Former Sox GM Theo Epstein ran off to the Cubs in the off-season

35% former GM Theo Epstein – Theo was the architect of 2 World Series teams in Boston but he also lead the roster into a state of disarray in recent years.  He signed John Lackey to a huge contract when they didn’t really need to add another big money pitcher back before the 2010 season.  In anticipation of losing closer Jonathan Papelbon he signed reliever Bobby Jenks to a 2-year, $12 million contract and he doesn’t look like he’ll put on a Sox uniform ever again.  As much as I think Crawford can still be an asset I can certainly see questioning the wisdom of signing a guy when you have to sign a younger guy with a similar skill set (Jacoby Ellsbury) very shortly.  It’s like they set a high market for one of their own young players which seems kind of crazy when you think about it that way.  Then there is the myriad of prospects that have been traded away in the past few seasons that have depleted the farm system.  He gave up Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone for a season and a half of Victor Martinez.  He gave up Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo to get Adrian Gonzalez after the bungled Mark Teixera negotiations.  He gave up a potentially very valuable outfield piece in David Murphy to acquire Eric Gagne who was a disaster for half of a season in Boston.  Theo’s record on trades in past years has been bad and his free agent signings have not been much better.  He bloated the payroll to the point where over $67 million in players are currently assigned the Red Sox’ disabled list.  To make matters worse he cut and run after the debacle of last season in what seemed to be a maneuver that he had started to plan as far back as the beginning of last season.  Let’s not forget that he won a power play over Larry Lucchino in 2005 and every indication is that he had the final voice on any player moves.  Simply put he left the Red Sox organization holding the bag.

Cherington walked into a tough situation but he was Theo's right hand man previously

25% current GM Ben Cherington – I almost feel bad here because Cherington did a great job finding cheap players with the payroll constraint that he had to deal with this off-season.  Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Kelly Shoppach have all produced in the early going.  Ben loses me in two places.  First is that he was Theo’s right hand man for the past several seasons.  You would think if he knew that he was the heir apparent to Theo, who had seemingly been planning his exit for some time, that he would try to jump in and dissuade Theo from signing some of these dumb contracts or making some of these poor trades.  He’s got to be held at least a little bit accountable for the previous regime.  The other thing that counts against Ben is his handling of the bullpen in the off-season.  This was the major need in the winter.  Letting Papelbon walk I can see.  Trading for Andrew Bailey was a pretty good move as well but although Bailey’s spring injury was a fluke he has had injury issues in the past.  That tells me that you should really go out and fine a good, proven setup guy and maybe more than one.  Instead Cherington went out and got Mark Melancon, who closed for the Astros in the NL Central.  Although he didn’t give up much to get him it was a curious move particularly since there wasn’t another move to bring someone else in to work with such an unproven guy.  Obviously with neither Bailey nor Melancon able to pitch at this point the bullpen is an utter disaster.  I have to think better decisions could have been made.

Guys like Aceves are not doing the job they were asked to do

20% The Players – This one is another tough one because you are lumping the whole team together.  Unlike last year, when the whole team seemed to be underachieving, this slow start seems to be a product of underachievement on the pitching side of things.  Josh Beckett gets a lot of money and shouldn’t be giving up 6 home runs in a game like he did in Detroit.  Jon Lester needs to pitch better than he has the last two times out.  Clay Buchholz has been a disaster so far and he’s making too much money to pitch so poorly.  The bullpen, well, all of these guys are major league players so they should start pitching like them.  I know the Yankees, Rangers, and Tigers are good lineups but it is pretty embarrassing when you literally can’t get anyone out.  Daniel Bard is more worried about his future paychecks than where he can help the team best.  If I did this last year I would have placed more blame on the players, as a matter of fact they probably would have gotten the majority, but it’s tough to do that this year with Papi hitting well over .400 and Aviles filling in admirably at the lead off spot and things like that.

These guys might be annoying but they are not the main reason we are 6-10

15% The Owners – This is where I break from most people.  Theo left on his own volition so you can’t really blame them for that.  Yeah, there was the Tito thing and the fact that he was replaced by Bobby Valentine but notice that Bobby V. hasn’t been named on the blame pie chart yet.  The ownership group doesn’t really deserve as much of the blame as they get for what happens on the field.  The Red Sox have a higher payroll than all but 1 of the 30 MLB teams, which is of course the Yankees.  All I hear is people complaining about them selling bricks.  Who cares about that?  It’s their job to make money and selling bricks creates revenue?  What’s the issue.  This is the problem that people don’t understand – there aren’t 3 guys who do the same job.  Lucchino is the baseball guy, he doesn’t have anything to do with selling bricks.  That would be Tom Werner who is the marketing guy.  It’s hard to argue that Tom Werner is not very good at his job.  He doesn’t have anything to do with the baseball decisions so blaming him for players not performing on the field seems ludicrous.  Then there is John Henry who is the facilitator and I’ve already mentioned that the Sox have the second highest payroll in the league.  They parred their payroll in the off-season, much like the Yankees also did to little fanfare, more because they were sick of paying increasing revenue sharing taxes to low revenue teams who in turn pocketed the money rather than because they didn’t have the money.  Are the Red Sox owners arrogant, over-bearing, and generally unlikable?  Sure they are but that doesn’t make it their fault that $190 million worth of players are not performing on the field.

Bobby V. must cringe every time he has to do this

3% current manager Bobby Valentine – Despite the boos you hear at Fenway Bobby V. has done a pretty good job in my opinion.  He made a few errors but most of his gambles have paid off.  You can’t really blame him for making too many pitching change mistakes since most of the guys he calls upon can’t get anyone out anyway.  He got a spark when the offense struggled the first two games and he placed Nick Punto in the lead off role.  Replacing Aviles for the injured Ellsbury at the top of the lineup seemed to be a great move.  Moving Ryan Sweeney into the #2 slot seems like a move that is paying off as well.  The only two flaws to Valentine’s year so far are the Youk comments, which he may have been right about anyway, and the Bard situation but as Bard’s comments have shown he hasn’t been too cooperative in the process.

2% Former Manager Terry Francona – He goes on here for now.  If at the end of the season things haven’t turned around then you can take him off and put his current percentage of blame (and probably more) on Valentine.  The reason I put him here is that you can make the argument that some players, particularly pitchers, are struggling with a more hard-nosed approach to the game after being subject to Camp Francona for all those years.  It’s a little thing and something that should fade over time but that’s why he only gets 2%.

There it is, my blame pie.  I’d make a chart but I don’t think it’s that necessary.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me know.

Follow me on Twitter

Bard, Aceves’ unwillingness to step up for team is disappointing

Back before the 2007 season when Jonathan Papelbon was coming off of his 1st full season as closer he was moved to the rotation.  Organizational philosophy says that you put your best arms in a position where they would get the most work, which is in the starting rotation.  Sometimes extenuating circumstances come up.  Towards the start of the season, when it became apparent that there was no better option in the bullpen to close games out than him, Papelbon went to manager Terry Francona and sacrificed his starting spot, where the big money was made, for a chance to help the team where he could help best.  So Papelbon became the closer and held the job for the next 5 seasons and then signed a 5 year contract with the Phillies worth over 15 million per season, the largest ever for a relief pitcher.  Things seemed to work out for Papelbon with what started as a selfless, team-oriented act.

Alfredo Aceves seems to lack the mental toughness to close games out

Fast forward to 2012.  The Red Sox acquired A’s closer Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon but unfortunately an injury right before the season started put him on the shelf for the balance of the summer.  The Red Sox needed someone to step up and fill in for Bailey.  Alfredo Aceves was named the closer although he had never held the job before.  He has struggled mightily in the role and when Nick Cafardo was filling in for Jerry Remy in the NESN booth last night he mentioned that Aceves had told Cafardo’s Globe colleague Michael Vega that he was not comfortable closing and likely never will be.  One has to wonder if his ego was bruised when he was not named to the starting rotation coming out of spring training and that has as much to do with his early season mental ineptitude as does the fact that he is uncomfortable closing.  Aceves has always been seen as a jack of all trades.  He will never be a top end of the rotation guy like Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have the potential to be so he shouldn’t be too hurt about losing out to superior talents.  But if he can’t mentally get into the role the team is asking of him, I’m not sure how much use that he has to the team.

Daniel Bard seems more concerned about his own role than the good of the team

Aceves may not be comfortable with his role but at least he doesn’t publicly refuse to do it like Daniel Bard has.  Bard came out before last night’s game and made it clear that he had no intention of returning to the bullpen full time.  What is interesting about that is that the last time I checked Bard didn’t make the personnel decisions on the team, Bobby Valentine did.  It’s one thing for a bona fide leader like Pedroia to be openly question the manager but apparently Bard forgets the horrendous September he had last year not to mention the fact that he didn’t even secure a spot in the starting rotation until his last several starts of spring training.  I’ve never seen a pitcher who has accomplished so little so publicly throw egg on his manager’s face like Bard did with his pregame comments last night.  That level of diva-ness is generally reserved for the big guns such as Pedro and Roger.  One thing that Bard apparently didn’t learn from his former bullpen mate Papelbon is humility.  As much as a show off and an over the top personality that Papelbon was at least he was a team player.

Make no mistake about it, these guys want to start for one reason and one reason only – money.  Maybe they are just personally selfish guys or maybe it’s an overall attitude that younger pitchers are taking around the league as a whole.  I’ve noticed a few of the young Tampa Bay pitchers act like spoiled children on the mound at times.  Apparently the $60 million over 5 years that Papelbon earned on the free agent market wasn’t enough.  Whatever the reason the Red Sox desperately need to find someone to close out games and the fact that neither of these guys seem to want to step up is incredibly disappointing.

Follow me on Twitter

Red Sox/Rangers series recap

The Red Sox returned to their early season pitching futility in a two game series against the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Jon Lester was lit up early and Mark Melancon was lit up late in an 18-3 loss of game 1.  Josh Beckett held his own but it was not enough to overcome a great pitching performance by Derek Holland on Wednesday night and the Sox once again fell to the Rangers 6-3.

Jon Lester had no answers for the Rangers lineup on Tuesday

As far as the starting pitching goes, Jon Lester’s performance was inexplicable.  It was just one of those things.  He had some trouble getting a feel for the ball after the long home run he gave up to Mike Napoli, who absolutely murders Red Sox pitching.  He actually looked good before that but the home run seemed to throw him off and he couldn’t get into a rhythm after that.  He threw 50 pitches in the 2nd inning and couldn’t record an out in the 3rd before getting yanked.  I’m guessing this was an aberration for Lester and he’ll throw the ball better next time out.  Josh Beckett was much better on Wednesday night.  He is gaining velocity, he went from 91-92 in his first two outings to 93-94 last night, and continues to locate his secondary pitches well.  He gave the Sox a quality start in 7 strong innings and the only blemish was a run scored on a ground ball up the middle and a 2-run homer by, yup, Mike Napoli.  Beckett seems to have settled in after that first outing.

The bullpen is still as mess at times.  Mark Melancon was supposed to be a primary set-up guy for this team but he’s now down in Pawtucket after giving up 3 home runs on Tuesday night.  Michael Bowden has been designated for assignment.  Franklin Morales, who looked great before last night, gave up 3 runs to the Rangers in the 8th inning.  The good news is that Aceves is settling in and Matt Albers and Scott Atchison are pitching better for the Sox.  Vicente Padilla is holding his own in a set-up spot as well.  Perhaps we’ll see if Junichi Tazawa, called up for Melancon and coming off of Tommy John surgery, can contribute.  We may look back at the Andrew Bailey injury and see it as the thing that undid the Bobby V. era before it even started.

Youkilis celebrated his 1st HR of the season Wednesday night

The lineup is doing alright but faced some tough pitching in the two games.  It’s a pretty good staff when you have two guys, Scott Feldman and Alexei Ogando, who have been all-stars as starers as your primary set-up guys.  Papi continues to hit with 1 in each of the 2 games against Texas.  Dustin Pedroia hit his 3rd jack of the young season and Adrian Gonzalez added his 2nd in Game 1.  Kevin Youkilis finally got on the board with a 2-run shot on Wednesday night.  Ryan Sweeney continues to hit well and added an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th last night against Joe Nathan.  Kelly Shoppach continues to hit with another double last night.  Mike Aviles went 2-for-6 with two walks in the series and continues to hold his own at the lead-off spot.  The Sox defense is actually the best in the league so they’re not getting killed in that department either.

So the Sox are 4-8 after 12 games.  Too bad they didn’t start that good last year, they’d have been in the playoffs if they had.  Now they have a crucial series against the Yankees to finish the home stand.  The funny thing is, as a Sox fan, the Yankees don’t scare me as much as the the other teams we have played so far.  We’ve played this team well over the past couple seasons, something you couldn’t say about the Rays or Rangers.  Friday should be exciting, regardless of the record.  I’m looking forward to watching the ceremony and I hope there are a lot of older players that were kind of forgotten about over the years (Luis Rivera, Jeff Frye, Jody Reed, Bob Zupcic, the list goes on and on.)  Anyway until then keep your heads up and go B’s.

Follow me on Twitter