NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

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NFL Week 2 Review – Chiefs at Bills

Well, week 2 went a hell of a lot better than Week 1 did for the Bills.  Facing a near must-win situation already in Week 2 the Bills came out swinging and dominated the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.  The Bills really fed off of the home crowd to get to 1-1 going into a relatively tough stretch that takes them on the road for 3 games next month.  Here are some thoughts on the Bills’ 1st win of the season:

  • Cordy Glenn got downfield to block for C.J. Spiller

    Let’s talk about the best unit of the day for the Bills.  No, it wasn’t C.J. Spiller but rather the big guys in front of him.  The offensive line for the Bills had an outstanding day.  Cordy Glenn looked like a beast out there, running down the field and blocking for Spiller.  Eric Wood looks healthy and the unit as a whole looks very strong.  Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been sacked in the 1st two games and Spiller leads the league in rushing.  I’d say that they are off to a pretty good start.

  • C.J. Spiller gets it.  I know it’s like beating a dead horse by now but C.J. Spiller looks like a totally different player in year 3 than he did in years 1 and 2.  He said this week that he has given up trying to hit a home run on every run rather than taking what he is given.  He has slowed the game down and letting his blockers make the plays before he finishes them off.  There’s concern about his workload or whether or not he is playing over his head right now.  Spiller will only have to carry the bulk for a few more weeks however until Fred Jackson returns.  The Bills will likely rely heavily on the run game, particularly with the strong offensive line, throughout the late winter months.
  • Fitzpatrick looked just alright.  He didn’t make mistakes but he missed Scott Chandler badly twice when he was open.  He will definitely benefit from a run-first mentality.  As mediocre as he’s been he leads the league in passing TDs.
  • Kyle Williams looked like his old beastly self on Sunday

    The defensive line finally showed up.  Mario Williams’ day was another modest one on the stat sheet although he did get a fumble recovery.  His presence, along with that of fellow DE Mark Anderson, was certainly felt though as they collapsed the pocket and made Matt Cassel step up and play in front of the pocket.  That resulted in 5 sacks up the middle, 2 by Kyle Williams, 1 by Marcell Dareus, 1 by Alex Carrington and 1 by MLB Kelvin Sheppard.  Kyle Williams looked like his old, pre-injury self by collapsing the pocket and beating his man all day.  When this line is on it will be very tough to block.

  • Cordy Glenn wasn’t the only rookie with a great day.  Stephon Gilmore shook off a tough start after a rough game against the Jets in week 1.  Gilmore was targeted early and often and held his own against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jon Baldwin.  While it was a good showing the rookie can’t rest because teams will likely still key on him in the passing game.
  • The old man can still play.  The Bills had some cornerback troubles early on in the season but Terrence McGee came off the bench on Sunday to contribute with a strong game in pass coverage.  McGee is a great guy for the young guys to lean on but I think he proved that he can still play with his performance last week.  Of course it is easier to cover receivers when the defensive linemen are in the quarterbacks grill right off of the snap.
  • Leodis McKelvin ran back into the good graces of the Bills mafia on Sunday

    Leodis can’t cover but he can still contribute.  Leodis McKelvin has been a disappointment ever since he was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2008.  He has trouble locating the ball when it’s in the air and also has trouble making a play on it.  McKelvin was downgraded to 5th cornerback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but it didn’t get him down.  He returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.  McKelvin may not see much of the field on defense but if he keeps his head in the game he could be a key contributor to the special teams unit.

The Bills embark on a tough 4 game stretch this weekend when they head to Cleveland to face the Browns.  This is a pretty important game for the Bills.  The Browns are a beatable opponent but the Bills have lost 9 of the last 10 road games.  If the Bills want to be in the conversation in December they will need to win at least 2 of the next 4 games.  This one might be the easiest of the bunch.  Regardless the Bills will likely try to take the “one game at a time” approach and try to take care of business in Cleveland and then start preparing for the Patriots a week later.

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The Red Sox And The Demise Of The Big Markets

The Boston Red Sox looked like a juggernaut last season in the run-up to September.  They had spent the previous two off-seasons signing big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford) and making a blockbuster trade (Adrian Gonzalez).  As the Red Sox ran through the competition all summer it seemed like they had created a monster that would last for years, only to be matched by the rival Yankees in the American League and the free-spending Phillies in the National League.  Of course we all know what happened to the Red Sox post-September but it’s interesting to point out that the Yankees and Phillies both went out of the MLB playoffs with a whimper in the 1st round, losing to Detroit and St. Louis respectively.  The Cardinals went on to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Beckett’s bloated contract was taken on by the Dodgers in full

While the Red Sox were at a crossroads going into the season with the firing of Terry Francona and hiring of Bobby Valentine the other big money teams seemed to be on solid footing.  The Phillies added the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, among others, with a big contract.  The Yankees landed Hiroki Kuroda.  Other teams got into the mix – the Tigers spent big money on Prince Fielder.  The Angels spent a small fortune on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  The Marlins went on a spending spree that included contracts for Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.  Texas spent big money to secure the services of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.  Then, after the season was underway, Magic Johnson and co. bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt and traded for pretty much everyone that they could get their hands on.  Despite the Red Sox falling flat on their faces in 2011 spending money seemed to still be all the rage among big market major league clubs.

Fast forward to September 18th, 2012.  The Red Sox have been long dead and buried.  They have already traded two of the three big ticket items that they bought in their spending spree.  Again it started with the Red Sox but it doesn’t end there.  Fielder and the Tigers are clinging to playoff hopes, dealing with a 3 game hole in the AL Central.  They are 5th in the AL Wild Card standings.  Pujols and the Angels are 3rd in the wild card race as well as in the AL West.  They stand 3 games behind the Orioles in the race for the last wild card.  As for the team with the largest payroll in MLB, the Yankees, they cling to a .5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  Yes, I said the Orioles.  The Yankees have the 3rd best record in the AL behind the Texas Rangers and, I kid you not, the Oakland Athletics.  A team with upwards of 190 million in payroll for the season may have to go play a game in the Oakland Coliseum just to qualify for the wild card round of the playoffs.

The Heath Bell contract became a disaster for the Marlins only a few months into it

Over in the National League things aren’t much better for the big spenders.  We’ll start with the biggest failure of all, the Marlins, who are the only big spending team with a worse record than the Red Sox at 65-83.  The biggest disappointment however might be the Phillies who are limping to a late season wild card push with an even 74-74 record.  Then there is the LA Dodgers, the team that took on the complete salaries of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton all in the span of less than a month.  They currently stand at 76-71, 1 game out of the 2nd wild card.  If the season ended today the Braves would host the Cardinals in the play-in game to see who faces the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals.  The Cincinnati Reds would host the San Fransisco Giants in the other series.

So there you have it – if the season ended today only 4 of the teams in the top 10 in payroll coming into the season (Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals) would qualify for the playoffs.  That doesn’t even count the Dodgers who were 12th in the league in payroll coming in.  Conversely the team with the 2nd lowest payroll, the Oakland Athletics, would host the American League wild card play-in game to go with the 2nd best record in the league.  I think it’s safe to say that your money doesn’t go as far as it used to on baseball’s free agent market.

The Red Sox were ahead of the curve in shedding payroll just as they were ballooning it.  This off-season it will probably be a good time for some of the other big-market clubs to do the same.  After all, Dodgers president Stan Kasten said that he hasn’t found a spending limit yet and will be sure to take on some of those bad contracts.  Either way baseball seems to be re-revolutionizing itself into a more parody-resulted league and that can be nothing but a good thing.  But one thing could be taken away about the results of the teams with multiple heavy contracts in the clubhouse – we know for a fact that the Red Sox had major issues internally – based on results, isn’t it safe to say that they probably weren’t alone?

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The Red Sox Blockbuster – A Day Later

Well we are one game into the post-armageddon era of the Red Sox roster and the results were a lot similar to what they were before the trade.  Clearly a team with one of the worst starting ERAs in the league is not going to be fixed with the jettison of one pitcher.  The pitching needs to be overhauled in a big way but unlike two days ago the Sox now have the financial flexibility to do it.  It is still amazing that such a deal went down on August 25th, 25 days after the non-waiver deadline.  Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald had some interesting stuff on the deal this morning.  When you add it all up you can find two undeniable facts regarding the two sides.  The first is that the Red Sox didn’t want to give up Adrian Gonzalez.  The second is that the Dodgers wanted him so badly that they literally made the Red Sox an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

Cherington had a Godfather-like moment yesterday – all of the family business was settled

I remember a few months ago and in the last off-season hearing the Red Sox ownership express concerns about getting under the luxury tax next season for fear of major tax penalties.  I’d imagine that those fears are quashed now.  The Sox have roughly $120 million in space between their year end payroll and the luxury tax threshold.  They could still go out on a spending binge of $60 million in new salaries for next season and still be a cushion of between $50 and $60 million.  The Red Sox aren’t going to spend all of the money that they have just saved in one off-season but the change in financial flexibility from one day to the next is just staggering.  Last year the Red Sox couldn’t even make an offer to pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a 37-year old starter, because they couldn’t spend the $10 million on a one year deal it would take to get him.  This year they could sign three Kurodas and have plenty of money left over.

I’m not too familiar with the Dodgers situation but it’s  been pretty clear since the new ownership got there that they badly wanted to exercise the Frank McCourt demons.  Apparently they decided the best way to do it was to spend, spend, spend and then spend some more.  Previously they had taken on all of Hanley Ramirez’ remaining contract from the Marlins even though Miami would have been happy to chip in some money to get Hanley out of town.  They claimed Joe Blanton off of waivers from Philly and assumed his whole contract when Philly let him go.  They also claimed Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who is owed $21.5 million over the next 3 seasons but the Phillies pulled him back.  Then they made the huge move yesterday.  They took on over $250 million in salary considerations over the next 5 seasons to secure the first baseman that they wanted.  If a move like that seems preposterous it’s because it is.

The shocking thing about it isn’t just that the Dodgers took on all of that salary but they even gave up some good prospects as well.  This is where general manager Ben Cherington gets a lot of credit.  Even if Henry and Lucchino made it clear that they weren’t going to simply give Gonzalez away it was Cherington who had to do the leg work.  In trades to dump salaries you usually expect something mid level or lower in return (and usually have to pick up some of the tab).  Cherington gunned for the Dodgers #1 prospect, pitcher Zach Lee, but the Dodgers balked.  Cherington then wound up “settling” for the Dodgers #2 and #3 prospects, pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.  They also got potential decent bats in OF/1B Jerry Sands and IF Ivan DeJesus.  They also got a major league player, 1B James Loney, that they can audition for the rest of the year and see if he is a fit.  The Red Sox not only got tremendous financial flexibility in the deal but they also got players that they could potentially use in major roles in the future.  One thing Cherington has done very well this season was bolster the Red Sox biggest organizational weakness – acquire high level pitching prospects at or near major league ready.  Since he’s taken the job he’s acquired Clayton Mortensen, Chris Carpenter, Zach Stewart, and now De La Rosa and Webster.  Not too shabby.

The Sox should now do what they should have been doing for years – build around Pedroia and Lester

You’ve heard the word “reset” a lot in the last few days and in a lot of ways that is the perfect word for it.  When the Red Sox were winning the World Series in 2007 you looked at four young players that the Red Sox could potentially build their team around in the future.  Now this off-season you can conceivably see the Red Sox build a new team around those four players – Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  There now seems to be an abundance of talent in the minors with the addition of the Dodgers prospects – 3 of the guys acquired have a chance to make the Red Sox squad out of camp next year.  The only one who will certainly need more time in the minors is Webster and that is only because he is 22 years old.  The Red Sox also have a trio of exciting prospects – shortstop Xander Boegarts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and pitcher Matt Barnes, who are making a bee-line towards the major league roster and should arrive somewhere in the next 10-18 months.  And of course they now have the financial flexibility to add virtually any veteran player around this young core.

We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward but we know this much – there are A LOT more options on the table for the Red Sox now going into the off-season then there were just two days ago.  Such a move to shift so much payroll from one organization to the next is unprecedented and almost 48 hours after the news first broke it’s still hard to fathom.  One pundit said that this could turn into the Herschel Walker trade for baseball.  I certainly hope it does.  In any event this will go down as one of the most transformational moves in franchise, if not league, history.  Those who were complaining about the direction of this team can probably back off a bit now.  Of course the Red Sox will probably finish horribly for the rest of this season as they audition younger players but here’s the cherry on top – the Red Sox could top off this sweeping organizational change with a top 10 pick in next year’s MLB draft.

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Red Sox Complete Blockbuster Deal With The Dodgers…Now What?

Michael Silverman reported this AM that the Red Sox have completed a deal with the L.A. Dodgers to send 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LF Carl Crawford, P Josh Beckett and IF Nick Punto for 1B James Loney and minor league prospects P Allen Webster, SS Ivan DeJesus, OF Jerry Sands and a PTBNL which will turn out to be P Rubby De La Rosa.  It is a pretty shocking deal considering that the Red Sox had signed Gonzalez and Crawford to much fan fare just two off-seasons ago.  The Red Sox will get tremendous financial flexibility from the deal as they will pick up only $12 million of the $275 million tab that the Dodgers are taking on.

Both Beckett and Gonzalez are shipping out of Boston

A lot of people are celebrating this deal in Red Sox Nation but I’m not sure if I am one of those guys.  This deal comes with tremendous risk.  The Red Sox now have only 1 of their 4 most productive hitters this season under contract for next year (Dustin Pedroia).  Yes, the Red Sox shed a whole boatload of payroll in this deal but where is the money going to go?  The two biggest name free agents on the market, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, have tremendous off the field concerns.  And then there is the fact that it will take more than just this deal to change the culture.  The follow up is just as important – even more actually – than this deal which really should be the first shoe of many to drop.  Is Ben Cherington now empowered to build the team in his vision?  If so does that mean he can pick his own manager in the off-season or will Lucchino saddle him with Bobby Valentine for another year.

The Red Sox need to change the way they do business from the top down to the bottom.  They need to do more than trade just a few guys.  Let’s face it.  If you are hitting the reset button you need to fully change the culture and personality of this team.  That means Bobby Valentine needs to go.  They should bring in a young up and coming guy to be the new face of the team.  There were a few guys that they interviewed last year that they can revisit.  There are a few guys that they didn’t interview that they should look at.  One of the Cora brothers, Joey or former Red Sox Alex, would be a great fit with a young team either as manager (in Joey’s case) or bench coach (in Alex’s).  They need to let that new manager pick his own staff.  As I said they need Ben Cherington, and not Larry Lucchino, making ALL of the baseball moves.

Fireballer Rubby De La Rosa is one of the prospects coming back to Boston

There are also still players that need to be moved for both on and off the field reasons.  If I see Mike Aviles and his .284 OBP start another game at shortstop for the Red Sox I will go nuts.  A lot of people are seeing a contract extension for Jacoby Ellsbury in light of the new-found payroll flexibility but is he really a great fit long term?  Will he be better for the money than Carl Crawford was assuming that he gets a similar contract?  I’m not too sure that the answer is yes.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become a leader for this team but he strikes out more than he gets on base.  The pitching needs some serious tweaking and that can start with hiring a competent pitching coach.  Lester has looked better in the past month so you hope that he has put his issues behind him and build the rotation around him and Buchholz.  Alfredo Aceves, who was angry that two-time all-star closer Andrew Bailey supplanted him as closer a night after he blew the game twice, should be on the next train out of here as well.  As I said this is a huge franchise changing deal but there is a TON of follow up work to be done.

1B Loney is likely just a rental player

Losing Gonzalez represents a major hit to the Red Sox’ productivity.  He is arguably the most productive hitter on the team with only David Ortiz having an argument to that claim.  Gonzalez plays Gold Glove caliber defense that enhances his productivity as well.  The Red Sox will not be able to match that productivity, at least not this year and maybe for several more to come.  They get back James Loney, a .250 hitter that seems to have peaked even though he is only 28 years old.  The two prizes in the deal are the two right handed pitchers.  23-year old Rubby De La Rosa is a fireballer who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.  He will have a chance to join the Red Sox rotation next season.  22 year old Allen Webster is probably an even better prospect who will likely start the year in AAA.  Both guys represent adding to a huge hole in the Red Sox system, high level pitching prospects who are at or on the verge of being ready for the majors.  They also get a potential outfielder in right-handed hitter Jerry Sands, whose power might translate well in Fenway.  Obviously dealing with prospects always comes with risk and it will be a few years before we see how these guys have turned out in Boston.

There seems to be a lot of excitement about this deal.  I will remain cautiously optimistic until I see the actual follow-up.  With all of the negativity around this team this can obviously work out to become a positive but I can’t shake the image of Larry Lucchino simply re-arranging the chairs on the deck of the sinking SS Bobby V.  Once I see that this revolutionary franchise changer is actually a revolutionary franchise changer then I will get excited.

Obviously there will be more on this deal as we get reactions, player profiles on the prospects, etc. so stay tuned.

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Bob McClure Wasn’t Just A Scapegoat For The Red Sox

The McClure and Valentine marriage was less than a match made in heaven

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Bob McClure on Monday, just 122 games into his first season on the Sox’ staff.  He was the 3rd Red Sox pitching coach in as many years and his firing paved way for the 4th, assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.  A lot of people are calling McClure a scapegoat for what’s gone on with the Red Sox this season but can you really be a scapegoat if you fail at your job miserably and are fired for it?  The thing that gets Bobby Valentine off of the hook for this one is that McClure wasn’t a Valentine hire.  You can’t say that canning McClure is Valentine trying to pin the troubles of the 2012 Red Sox on his pitching coach because, according to all reports, McClure wasn’t really Valentine’s pitching coach.

McClure was hired by the Red Sox organization last off-season before Bobby Valentine had even picked his coaching staff.  He was hired to be a organizational pitching instructor and not the major league staff’s pitching coach.  The official story given by Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine today, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is that they interviewed a handful of potential pitching coach options and Bob McClure was added to the list as a dark horse and apparently “wowed” in the interview and was given the job over Valentine and Cherington’s original list of candidates.  That story sounds an awful like how Valentine himself was hired over the myriad of candidates that Ben Cherington interviewed in the early part of the process.  Does anyone care to guess who it was that pushed Bob McClure to the front of the line?  I’m guessing Larry Lucchino “suggested” to Valentine to hire McClure in the same way that he “suggested” to Cherington to hire Bobby V.

It seemed like a doomed situation from the get-go.  Bobby Valentine was saddled by a pitching coach that he didn’t pick and didn’t necessarily have any trust in.  McClure was tossed into a fractured coaching staff as a man on his own.  The other coaches that Valentine has had a frosty relationship with, bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Dave Magadan, and bullpen coach Gary Tuck, are all Terry Francona loyalists.  McClure was coming into the situation cold.  The hiring of an assistant pitching coach, Valentine confidante Randy Niemann, certainly couldn’t have helped the relationship but these are adults that we’re talking about here and McClure was hired, and paid, to do a job.  A job that he apparently thought he could do while barely talking to the manager of the team aka his boss.  As much as I hate to say it that’s the 2012 Red Sox in a nutshell.

McClure may not have liked Valentine but that’s not an excuse to have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league

McClure’s abrasive attitude may have been tolerable if the Red Sox didn’t have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league despite being one of the highest paid.  Jon Lester, who should have been in the prime of his career, went through one of the worst stretches that I’ve ever seen a pitcher of his caliber go through.  Josh Beckett has been mediocre throughout the season.  Clay Buchholz struggled mightily throughout the beginning of the season.  Where were the adjustments?  Daisuke Matsuzaka?  That was another failed experiment.  Felix Doubront had a great start to the season but, again, when he hit the wall where were the adjustments?  What is the point of a pitching coach if not to help the pitchers make adjustments needed to succeed?  Simply put Bob McClure didn’t get the job done.  Now Bobby Valentine will get a month to work with his hand-picked guy, Randy Niemann, as he fights to retain his job for next season (which is another story for another day).

Bob McClure is really a symbol of what was wrong with this team in 2012.  Is Bobby Valentine an attention whore whose sarcasm and brashness doesn’t play in today’s baseball?  Absolutely.  Is that an excuse for guys to sit down on their jobs while getting paid lots of money?  Of course not.  McClure is just the first shoe likely to drop as a result and it’s honestly hard to feel bad for him regardless of how much of a jerk Bobby Valentine is.  The sad part is the true picture of the 2012 Boston Red Sox is starting to show.  It’s a team that was so fractured that only 3 players (Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz) and 1 coach (Alex Ochoa) even gave an attempt to unit the players and the coaching staff.  And in this day and age, in this city, with this media and fan base, 4 guys isn’t nearly enough.

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How Should The Red Sox Handle Carl Crawford’s Injury?

Crawford looks more comfortable in Boston this year but there is no sense delaying his Tommy John surgery

The Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a monster contract before the 2011 season and Crawford had a disappointing first year in Boston.  He hit only .255 and stole only 18 bases, well below his career totals when he was in Tampa where he regularly terrorized the Red Sox.  Crawford was anxious to make Red Sox Nation forget about his poor first season but a series of injuries delayed his comeback until July 16th.  Word was that even though he was healthy enough to play that he would eventually need Tommy John surgery on his elbow, likely at the end of this season.  So the question now is – at what point does Crawford shut it down and get the surgery?

Crawford has played much better this year than he did last year with the Red Sox.  In his 24 games since he has come of the DL he is hitting .258 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.  He is hitting much better at home than on the road though which is something that he needs to fix.  The problem for the Red Sox is that even with Crawford back in the lineup the Red Sox are still sputtering around the .500 mark.  The Sox have not put out their best lineup all season and when they lost 3B Will Middlebrooks for the rest of the year it meant that they won’t at any point.  At some point David Ortiz will be back in the lineup but by then it will be far too late for the Red Sox to get back into contention.  One might say that the Sox should shut Crawford down and get the surgery now.

There is a lot of different information about exactly how long it takes a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery.  Despite Rob Bradford of WEEI’s claim that it takes just as long for a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery as a pitcher, meaning 10-12 months, the numbers simply don’t back that up.  Two position players got Tommy John Surgery last August, Padres OF Brad Hawpe and Reds SS Zach Cozart.  Both players were cleared for full baseball activity by mid-February, almost 6 months to the day from the time of their surgery.  So even if Crawford were to wait until the end of the season to get the surgery he would likely be able to be cleared for baseball activity before opening day.  However if he shuts down at the end of this month and gets the surgery then he should be healthy enough to participate in spring training next season.

One other thing is that Crawford is still “likely” to need the surgery which sounds like a final decision has yet to be made.  Why is there still doubt that the procedure would have to be done?  I’m not sure but it doesn’t make sense for him to “probably” need Tommy John surgery for 3 months and then all of a sudden not need it.  My money is that he will get the surgery at some point in the next few months and will hopefully feel a lot better and more comfortable as a result.

At this point the Red Sox should re-evaluate the decision at the end of the month.  If the Red Sox are still at or under .500 then they should shut Crawford down and have him get the surgery.  A surgery in early September means that he should be able to resume baseball activities in early March and would be more healthy going into next season then he was this season.  He doesn’t need to try and rush to get back to the team like he did this year.  Hopefully with his major injury concerns behind him he can relax and get back to being the Carl Crawford that we expected when he signed here last off-season.  There’s no need for false hope at this point.  This season is lost, it might be time to start looking towards the next one.

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Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

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At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

The Red Sox have been an unmitigated mess since last September 1st.  They have changed managers.  They have changed general managers.  They have turned over the roster some.  The one constant throughout all of the mess has been Red Sox ownership – John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino.  Henry, of course, is the point and money person.  Werner is the marketing and TV guy and since they are still making money hand over fist from ad revenue and ticket sales I’d say he’s not the problem.  That leaves the baseball guy – Larry Lucchino.

At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

Make no mistake, Larry Lucchino bought the Red Sox woes over the offseason when he placed organization mainstay Ben Cherington into Theo Epstein’s old role and then himself not only hired the manager he wanted, Bobby Valentine, but also added to the coaching staff as he saw fit by saddling Valentine with his own pitching coach hire, Bob McClure.  Lucchino bought this mess back in the off-season and now he must be held responsible for what has taken place since.

This isn’t the first time that Lucchino has pulled a power play.  He lost the first time around back in 2005 when Theo Epstein challenged Lucchino’s power by walking away from the organization for several months following the season (and his contract expiration).  Red Sox owner John Henry valued Epstein too much to lose him in a power struggle to Lucchino and brokered a deal to return Epstein to an organization that saw Lucchino’s power diminished.  Epstein went on to win another World Series as GM but the wheels came off the Epstein regime in 2011 and he jumped ship to the Cubs as a result.  This put Lucchino back into his familiar position of power and he exerted every ounce of it that he could.  As new GM Cherington was conducting an on-the-level search for a new manager Lucchino did everything he could to get his guy, Bobby Valentine, the job.

Henry trusts Lucchino put he needs to pull back his power now like he did in 2005

I don’t even blame John Henry for letting Lucchino take the reigns for this year.  The guy, like him or not, is  a proven baseball executive and has been one of Henry’s closest confidantes in baseball for over a decade.  But Lucchino should be subject to the same performance evaluations as anyone else and let’s call his performance exactly what it is – not very good.  Lucchino tried to put on his Theo Epstein hat and do his thing and he failed.  Lucchino, while a great executive and overseer, is simply not a day-to-day baseball guy.  As much as he wanted to be able to say that he could,  at the end of the day Lucchino is simply not a Theo Epstein.  Or a Pat Gillick.  Or a Billy Beane.  He’s not an exceptional baseball operations guy.  He’s just a good businessman who knows the business of baseball.

Now I’m not naive enough to think that Henry will simply dismiss Lucchino but it seems like the time is coming for an organizational overhaul.  That would mean a new front office and coaching staff.  If Henry was smart he’d find another guy out there who he could entrust the entire baseball operations to, like he did Epstein, and tell Lucchino that he needs to back off and let that person do his thing.  That means picking his own manager and letting that manager pick his own staff.  If Henry goes about things the wrong way then come next season Lucchino will still have all the power, Cherington will continue to be a paper GM and Valentine will still be the manager with a lame duck coaching staff.  Its clear that the changes that need to be made at this point are at the top.  It just depends on whether or not John Henry has the guts to implement them.

I don’t advocate making a move now as it will amount to once again putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.  If the Red Sox fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year then it is clear that the Red Sox need to change the focus of the organization.  Bring a new set of eyes in and let them build around Pedroia, Gonzalez, Crawford, Buchholz and the prospects that they do have.

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The Staggering Anatomy Of The Buffalo Bills Playoff Drought

With the trading deadline behind us and the stretch run ready to begin in baseball I can finally turn my attention to NFL training camp.  Next week will be the first week with live games as the pre-season schedule kicks off but the past few weeks have been all about training camp around the NFL.  Expectations have been set and they are quite high in the usual places like New England and Green Bay.  In Buffalo expectations have been heightened by the arrival of former #1 pick Mario Williams and the retention of several of their own key players.  It’s been 12 years since the Bills have been in the playoffs and breaking down the numbers shows exactly what this Buffalo Bills team is up against.

Jim Kelly, who was the last Bills starting QB to win a playoff game, has been in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame for a decade

The 12 year playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NFL, 3 seasons ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders who each have 9 year droughts.  They also have the 3rd longest active drought since a division title at 16.  I’m sure Bills fans wouldn’t mind seeing that record continue if the prior one is snapped this year with a wild card berth.  16 is also the number of years since their last playoff victory, a win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild card round of the 1995 playoffs.  They hold the 4th longest playoff drought in that category, which is pretty impressive since two of the teams ahead of them (Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals) were both in the playoffs last season.  If Bills fans want to aim higher than a simple playoff berth then they can beat these current active streaks as well – they are tied with the Chiefs for the 6th longest championship game appearance drought at 18 seasons (although 1 ahead of their rival Dolphins whose drought stands at 19).  They also have the 9th longest Super Bowl appearance drought, also at 18.  Surprisingly that is only the second shortest drought in the AFC East behind New England who is at 0.  The Dolphins have gone 27 years and the Jets 43 since their last Super Bowl appearances.  They are also one of 9 teams who existed at the advent of the Super Bowl that have yet to win it (Arizona, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tennessee/Houston).

Barring injury Brian Moorman will have played 192 games for the Bills without a playoff appearance by the end of the season

Then there are the individual players.  The Bills signed punter Brian Moorman as an undrafted free agent after the 2000 season, the 1st year of the Bills current playoff drought.  Moorman has played in all 176 of the Bills regular season games since then.  That is the most regular season games for an active player in the NFL to play on the same team without a playoff appearance.  That is also the 3rd longest active streak for most regular season games without a playoff appearance for any player in the NFL.  Of the two players ahead of Moorman on that list #1, linebacker Takeo Spikes, played 47 of his 203 career games with the Bills from 2003-2006 and #2, kicker Rian Lindell, has played the last 136 of his 180 career games with the Buffalo Bills.  He is one of 4 players on the Bills who has played more than 100 games without a playoff appearance along with Moorman, defensive end Chris Kelsay (138) and cornerback Terrence McGee (115).  And you can add the 16 games that they will play this year to their totals as they will obviously not secure a playoff berth before the end of this season.  Adding in those 16 games will put defensive tackle Kyle Williams 1 short of 100 games played without a playoff appearance.  Here’s hoping that game #99 is a charm for big Kyle.

The Bills finally seem to have the team that can get into the mix and put together a serious playoff run.  As you can see from above they have an uphill battle with history if they are going to climb that mountain.  There is a lot of bad history to eradicate and only 16 games to do it.  We’ll see if the 2012 version of the Buffalo Bills has what it takes to finally re-write that history.

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