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Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

Month

September 2010

Plenty of blame to go around for Red Sox

So the Red So are now officially out of postseason contention, but anyone who really thought they had a shot even heading into the Yankees series was simply diluting themselves.

It’s true that with all of the injuries to key players the Red Sox had over the course of the season, it’s commendable that they stayed alive as long as they did. The replacements the Red Sox had were competitive and it speaks volumes of the organization’s farm system. Some might say if they played in another division, they would be in the playoffs.

But the fact of the matter is the Red Sox don’t play in another division. They play in the AL East, a division in which even the fourth-place team is dangerous and you simply have to play at a higher level.

When you have a team that is being pieced together with guys whose best effort makes them “competitive,” you need help from the remaining stars to lead the way to being a winner. That is what the Red Sox lacked this year.

There’s only one thing you can say about John Lackey, who made $18 million this season in a free agent deal that brought him in from Anaheim: At least he didn’t spike himself. Lackey’s ERA jumped over half a run this season, allowing the most runs in his career since 2003.

Josh Beckett, still considered an ace heading into this year, totally fell apart, went on the DL, came back and still wasn’t any better. Beckett posted the worst ERA of his career by far, which now sits at 5.77. He didn’t even give his team a chance to win a lot of games.

J.D. Drew has had one of the most anonymous stays in Boston ever. Can you think of a great J.D. Drew moment? This year was again a pedestrian season for the overpaid never-was. Drew, who’s currently hitting .258, hasn’t had a batting average below .260 since 2002. His .799 OPS is his lowest since his first year in Boston.

Jonathan Papelbon did little to help the Red So chances with eight blown saves. His 4.02 ERA is simply abysmal and does not actually indicate just how badly he pitched. To make matters worse, two of those blown saves came against the Yankees, including one in the last series in the Bronx that effectively ended the last hopes of for the Red Sox.

All of these players at this point are expected to be back and if this team wants to make the playoffs next season, things need to change for the better.

Weekly Poll: Who should be the Red Sox’ priority?

You got my take on the Red Sox’ free agent situation in this week’s Mailbag. Now I want to hear yours. Who do you think should be the first player the Red Sox look to re-sign this offseason?

Eyes on the Irish (9/27): Notre Dame not nearly ready for the big time

The score was not indicative of the game. In fact, Notre Dame played far worse.

The Irish’s 37-14 loss to Stanford marked the lowest point in a season that has seen plenty of them thus far. However, the last-minute loss to Michigan and the overtime loss to Michigan State that led to both teams being ranked afterward had Notre Dame fans believing they could at least play with good, ranked opponents.

Saturday’s loss proved them wrong.

The defense, which has been called into question in recent weeks, actually had a game in which the box score does not reflect the effort. Until the fourth quarter, the defense held one of the best NFL quarterback prospects to one touchdown and the Irish were still within striking distance, even when down, 19-6.

But eventually, the defense got tired because of the offense’s ineptitude. Manti Te’o had an impressive 21 total tackles on the day, but that signals the larger issue: Why did Te’o have to be on the field long enough to accumulate 21 tackles?

It’s because Stanford knocked the Notre Dame offense out of rhythm the entire game and shut off any chance of Dayne Crist getting Kyle Rudolph involved in the offense. Rudolph, who started the game leading the nation in receiving by a tight end, was held to one catch for one yard on the day. Michael Floyd got his with over 100 yard receiving and Theo Riddick also once again impressed in the slot, but overall, the Irish were not able to sustain drives and were unable to run the football effectively enough to free up some receivers downfield.

Kelly’s teams have been known for their ability to pile on the points, but through four games, Notre Dame is averaging 23 points per game, which is worse than Utah State. Credit does have to be given to Stanford, who proved their early-season success on defense was not just a mirage created by playing Sacramento State, UCLA and Wake Forest in its first three games. What was most impressive was the Cardinal’s ability to shut down the pass without allowing a big day running.

People seem surprised that the team is losing games, even when early in the season they predicted the Irish would lose 3-4 games. It almost seems like fans said that simply so they did not seem overconfident as they had in 2009, but fully expected Notre Dame to be in the hunt for a championship. Anyone who expected that not only drank the Kelly Kool-Aid, they bobbed for apples in it. This is a coach who is in his first year trying to run his spread offense with pro-style personnel that he didn’t recruit. On the other side of the ball, he’s trying to transition to a brand new style that requires different responsibilities that players are still trying to learn. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.

The season is not over for Notre Dame. Far from it. It’s not time to pack it in and say there is no hope for a bowl game this year. Let’s face it, this has been a very difficult stretch of games for the Irish, including three teams that are currently ranked. Now the Irish now begin a stretch of very winnable games with Boston College (just shut out by Virginia Tech), Pittsburgh (recently embarrassed by Miami), Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa.

The Stanford game proved Notre Dame is no where near ready to be called elite yet. Still, they have enough talent to win more than they lose.

Check back on Friday to see my five predictions on the Irish’s matchup with Boston College this Saturday.

Nevada sure is fun to watch

I’ll be honest. Before Notre Dame played them in 2009, I hardly even knew that Nevada had a major college football team. Now I watch them every opportunity I can.
Sure, the Wolfpack play in the WAC – which would be a completely obscure football conference if not for Boise State – and they’ll never play for a national title, but they are just such an exciting team to watch.
And now they’re also a ranked team for the first time since 1948 after beating BYU.
Nevada is fifth in the nation in scoring offense with 44.8 points per game. Last year they ranked sixth in that category and the year before, they ranked 12th.
What’s at the root of the Wolfpack’s offensive success? A little offense called the pistol and a guy who would be in the thick of Heisman discussions if he played in a different conference – Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is ranked 39th in the nation in passing with 231 yards per game. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception. Not bad. But throw on top of that the fact that he’s averaging almost 113 yards on the ground, which is 15th in the nation among all rushers, not just quarterbacks, and the fact he has more rushing touchdowns than Michigan’s Denard Robinson and you’ve got a dynamic player there.
Oh, let’s not forget that Nevada also has a running back that is ranked 14th in the nation in rushing and has added five touchdowns of his own.
The one thing holding Nevada back in the past has been its defense, which ranked 86th in scoring defense last year and honestly, that’s what made their games that much more exciting. But this season, the Wolfpack is averaging less than 19 points allowed per game, an impressive improvement over last year.
Boise State is still by far the best team in the WAC, but Nov. 26 in Reno is one game I’m hoping finds its way onto the television schedule. It should be one to watch.

Maza’s Monday Mailbag (9/27): Who’s Danny Woodhead?

Quite a few questions from up north this week, but this week, we’ll start with the simplest of questions that doesn’t have the simplest of answers.

Cary, NC wants to know: Who is Danny Woodhead?

Danny Woodhead is a third-year pro out of that Division 2 Chadron State in Nebraska. He was actually a two-time winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is essentially D2’s version of the Heisman Trophy. He holds the all-time NCAA rushing record with 7871 yards over the course of his collegiate career. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jets  in 2008 in relative anonymity until becoming one of Rex Ryan’s favorites on HBO’s Hard Knocks. But with Ladainian Tomlinson as the backup to Shone Green, there wasn’t a spot for the Jets, who decided they had a greater need at wide receiver and waived him so they could sign David Clowney. The Patriots picked him up the day before their game against the Jets, presumably to get as much information out of him as possible. But when Kevin Faulk went down with a torn ACL, it opened up a more long-term spot for Woodhead. He fits Bill Belichick’s model for a player with versatility, ability and willingness to play special teams and, from what we saw yesterday, a terrific motor. While I don’t think he’ll make a career out of playing in New England, this season he can provide a good change of pace to downhill runners such as Fred Taylor, Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris.

Bow, NH asks:  Of V-Mart, Ortiz, and Beltre, who do you think the [Red] Sox should/would resign? Any free agents you feel strongly about pursuing? Thanks Maz, love the blog!

Victor Martinez should be the Red Sox’ top priority this offseason, followed closely by Adrian Beltre and it’s for a very good reason: the Red Sox have no major league ready option in the organization who can take over if they leave and the free agent talent out there would not be an upgrade. Ryan Lavarnway is probably the best catching prospect the Sox have and he split the year between Salem and Portland and has only been catching since 2007, so he still has some learning to do.  While he’s nothing special behind the plate, Martinez will be the best player available at his position in the upcoming offseason. Miguel Olivo’s  name has been thrown out there, but he’s been very good for the Rockies this year and it’s more likely they will pick up his option. While he probably only has a few more good years at catcher, Martinez offers you the option of playing DH in the future.
Beltre is a concern because in the two biggest contract years of his career, he’s put up by far his best numbers. Still, he seems to fit in with the locker room well and has shown tremendous hustle, even if that hustle did land two Red Sox outfielders on the disabled list early in the season. What catches my eye the most is his numbers are actually better on the road than at home, so his success has not been solely a product of Fenway Park. Throw on top of that the fact that the Red Sox’ best prospects at the position are in Salem and Greenville, respectively, the Sox need to fill that hole with a veteran and none of the free agents are worth taking a look at as a replacement.
Ortiz is not that high of a priority on my list simply because you can find anyone to DH, but not everyone can play the field. Don’t get me wrong, Ortiz proved me wrong by overcoming a brutal early season slump to hit 30 homers and he’ll drive in 100 runs by the time it’s all said and done.  But as far as value goes, Ortiz is very limited, not only by the fact that only AL teams will look at him, but there are only a few that can afford him at his asking price. Should the Red Sox pick up his option, he’d be making $12.5 million for one season. Vladimir Guerrero, who will finish the season with a better batting average, a comparable number of home runs and more RBI is making $5.5 million this season as a DH. Ortiz doesn’t want to play for one year, but doesn’t want to take a pay cut in order to sign a multi-year deal.  And most likely he’d want to go to a competitive team. The Yankees are getting older and have enough players that can fill the DH slot. Tampa Bay is talking about cutting payroll and if it wants to make a real effort toward keeping Carl Crawford, it’s going to have to pinch its pennies. There aren’t many options out there for Ortiz and the Red Sox have the upper hand in this situation. Most likely they will use exercise the option, then try to work out a two-year deal with Ortiz.
Outside of those guys, the Red Sox need major help in the bullpen. Injuries hurt the offense, but the pitching staff can’t use the same excuse. Theo Epstein is financially locked into the rotation he has now, but the bullpen can be addressed, starting with Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon was very hittable this year with a 4.01 ERA as of today and lost a career-high six games this season. Papelbon went from a four-pitch pitcher to a one-pitch pitcher, falling in love with his fastball, which now he throws at 94-95 mph as opposed to 96-98 the way that he used to and that makes a big difference, especially when you’re not willing to throw your other pitches. There are certainly enough teams that overvalue big name closers and will take his past success into account that would like to have him. Daniel Bard was the Red Sox’ most dominant pitcher and outside of him, Felix Dubront and Scott Atchison were the team’s most consistent relievers. That’s a problem. Okajima pitched well in the second half when taken out of pressure situations and is still under the team’s control, but series middle relief help is needed. Michael Bowden has not taken to the transition from starter to reliever and with names like Scott Downs and J.J. Putz on the free agent list, the Red Sox need to make some efforts to sign guys there.

Aspen, CO says: Who would be your pick for AL MVP out of Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera? Or do you think someone else is more deserving?

If I had to choose between those two, I would have to go with Cabrera. I know that Detroit didn’t do much this year and Texas is the team heading to the playoffs, I have to think that if Detroit played in the AL West and Texas played in the Central, the roles would be reversed. By the same token, I think the player who had the benefit of playing an unbalanced schedule with teams like Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim should put up better numbers. Honestly, I would not be upset if one got it over the other because you can make a case for both.
That said, I do believe there is one player who is forgotten in all this and I think he is most deserving. That player is Paul Konerko. Konerko played out of his mind this season and very quietly put up 38 homers and over 100 RBI with a .240-hitting Carlos Quentin protecting him on the lineup. On top of that, he has been a far superior defender than Cabrera or Hamilton and that means something in my book.

Dover, NH writes: What do you think about the Bruins chances? I haven’t heard a ton about Seguin, has he been looking good in camp? Will Savard ever live up to his deal?

I have very high hopes for the Bruins this season. Even despite being right up against the cap, they have been able to maneuver themselves into a very good place heading into the 2010-2011 campaign. The Bruins have arguably the best duo of goaltenders in the league. The defense will be an even better unit than last year and they have depth in the organization at the blue line, but where they are most improved is offensively. Tyler Seguin from what I understand has been as advertised in camp, but the guy I’m really looking forward to seeing more from is Jordan Caron. Caron is a big, physical winger who has the potential to be a real scoring threat. Basically, he’s everything that Blake Wheeler should be, but is not. As for Savard, the post-concussion syndrome is a tricky thing. Savard admitted himself that he probably came back too soon from the hit he took from Matt Cooke and, while I’m not doctor, it stands to reason that that might have something to do with his recent issues. As for living up to the contract, hey, last season the guy was still able to put up 33 points in 41 games, a pretty impressive number, considering the two guys he shared a line with both really underacheived.

Manchester, NH asks: What did you think of Kyle Arrington yesterday? If you were Belichick, who do you start, Butler or Arrington?

I thought Arrington played very soft, but was able to get away with it for most of the game against a Lee Evans. He did a nice job breaking up a potential touchdown pass, but was later burned on three plays in the third quarter that resulted in close to 50 yards. He did play almost every down and also played special teams, so there’s quite a bit to applaud him for in this game. Overall, it was a solid effort that earned him another start next week against Miami, but overall, I still think Butler is the superior talent who just plain played a bad game against the Jets. The guy was the best cover corner in the 2009 draft and I still think he’s the best cover corner the Patriots have in their young secondary.

That’s the mailbag for this week. Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Mailbag by emailing me at mazasmusings@gmail.com

New and Improved Maza’s Musings

Welcome to the new home of Maza’s Musings.

Along with the new look, the blog will now consist of new features, better structure and hopefully a broader readership.

For those of you new to the blog, you can find out more about me by going to my professional Web site at http://www.chrismaza.webs.com

One of the newest features of the blog will be Maza’s Monday Mailbag. Submit your questions on any sports topic to get my take by emailing me at mazasmusings@gmail.com

Unexpected teams at 0-2

Not every team can win every week, but did anyone expect to see Dallas and Minnesota at 0-2? Is there a chance that either of them drop to 0-3? If anyone, it’s most likely that the Cowboys will be winless between the two as they go up against a Houston team that is red hot right now. Meanwhile, there are several teams that would almost be expected to be 0-3. What do you think?

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