Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight


December 2010

Maza’s Thursday Musings: Jets tripping over themselves now

As if the last two games weren’t embarrassing enough, the New York Jets now have an extremely sticky situation on their hands.

The Jets took further action against strength coach Sal Alosi, stating they knew nothing about the “human wall” he and inactive players made when he stuck out his knee and tripped Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll while covering a return.

The Jets want you to think that Alosi acted on his own accord and without the knowledge or consent of the rest of the Jets’ coaching staff. Right. And Josh McDaniels knew nothing about what his “rogue” employee from video department was up to.

Now, I know during the course of the game a lot is going on and probably the last thing on Rex Ryan’s mind is, “I wonder what my strength coach is up to right now.” And I won’t presume to know the intricacies and inner workings of an NFL coaching staff.

However, when there’s as much smoke as there is surrounding this, there usually is more than a lit cigarette somewhere. With the season quickly spiraling with second straight poor outing against a division foe, the Jets and Ryan, who have been nothing short of bombastic this season, are not a team that I would put past to try anything to stop the bleeding. Something like a big punt return might have turned that game around.

Whether he told Alosi to do it or just let him do it knowingly, there had to be some level of involvement on Ryan’s part. And to make Alosi the sacrificial lamb just confirms that Ryan and the Jets are who we thought they were.


Maza’s Wednesday Musings: Breaking down Hockey East at the break

There’s just one game remaining – Vermont vs. St. Lawrence – before the mid-season break for Hockey East teams and amidst all the rankings and standings and statistics is one question: Who is the best?

Well, here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

1. University of New Hampshire
Sure, people will accuse me of being biased and maybe I am a bit, but UNH has the resume to back up this claim. With no big-name stars, just a ton of depth, UNH has lost all of two games this season and nine games came between their first and second losses. Since the second loss, the Wildcats have gone on a five-game unbeaten streak, including a 4-3 overtime win over then eighth-ranked Maine on the road. Against ranked opponents, the ‘Cats are 6-2-1.

2. Boston College
The Eagles got off to a rocky start, thanks to some inconsistent play, but certainly have righted the ship and seem primed for a second-half run after brutalizing Boston University in a two-game set. The Eagles have sweeps this season over some pretty good teams, including BU, Denver and Maine. For some reason though, Merrimack has their number (1-2-0) and a poorly played game against Vermont in a two game road trip earlier this year has prevented the Eagles from getting any true momentum. But when you have the top scoring team in the conference and a defense that gives up fewer goals than any other team, more good things are going to happen than bad. Cam Atkinson is the best forward in college hockey you’ve never heard of and should be a major contender for the Hobey Hat Trick this year.

3. Boston University
Few ranked teams can be looking forward to the break as much as BU. The Terriers were absolutely embarrassed by Boston College at their own rink in a 9-5 game that really wasn’t nearly that close, then dropped a 5-2 decision the next day to the Eagles. After beating Northeastern, they dropped a 4-1 decision to Renssalaer. BU certainly has talent. At one point this season, BU had the longest unbeaten streak in the country, but now they need to regroup and get back to what was working for them during that streak.

4. Merrimack
Last year’s little team that could is making a case that it can run with the big boys now. Having been in the USCHO rankings for nearly a month now, Merrimack is showing that solid goaltending is the key to success. Joe Cannata, who seems like he’s been there forever, has developed into a top-flight goaltender, ranking second in the conference in goals allowed average and save percentage. They’ve also been a thorn in Boston College’s side and have proven they can play with the likes of BU and UNH. In six games against those teams, Merrimack is 2-2-2 and has an 11-11 goals for-goals against ratio. Doesn’t get much more even than that.

5. Maine
Maine’s 4-3 overtime loss to UNH was a heartbreaker for them, but the Black Bears controlled the play for all of the second period and most of the third until the Wildcats brought on the extra attacker. Maine has proven it can beat the also-rans of Hockey East, but has had its struggles against ranked Hockey East opponents, going a combined 0-3-1 against BC, UNH and BU.  That said, they did make a fool out of North Dakota with an impressive sweep earlier this year. Still, Maine has to win some tough games if they want home ice in the Hockey East tournament.

6. Providence
Providence is making quite the turnaround this season and it’s good to see them being competitive at least. Their defense still needs shoring up before they can be considered a true threat to any of the top teams in the conference. Only UMass-Lowell has given up more goals this season.

7. Northeastern
The Huskies have been in a lot of close games this year, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t win them. Northeastern has been in only one game this season in which the margin of victory was more than two goals, but they hold an ugly 3-9-4 record, including an 0-1-4 mark in overtime games.

8. UMass
After struggling mightily to get its first win of the season, UMass has been a fairly competitive team. With its youth, it’s obviously going through growing pains, but going 3-1-1 in its last five games going into the break is a good sign.

9. Vermont
With a 2-8-4 record, UVM has very little to hang its hat on. They did beat Dartmouth and Boston College for its two wins this season, but they went 0-4-1 in the five games between the two victories.

10. UMass-Lowell
What is there to say? This team is simply awful. Their goaltender couldn’t stop a beach ball and they have such an inept offense that they can’t even come close to making up the difference. Wasn’t this team in the middle of a resurgence just a year ago?

Maza’s Tuesday Musings: Don’t let Yankees fans fool you. Missing out on Lee hurts.

(First of all, I’d like to apologize to all eight of my readers for not having this up yesterday. Apparently, I clicked save instead of publish.)

If one were to put on a blindfold and then be face to face with a Yankees fan today, they might think they were standing in front of a television set playing the parade scene from Animal House with Kevin Bacon insisting, “Remain calm! All is well!”

Most Yankees fans want you to believe it doesn’t bother them that the fact their division rival made two of the biggest acquisitions of the offseason, while the Yankees lost the player they had focused seemingly all their efforts on to a team that underbid them.

But make no mistake, being turned down by Lee does hurt the Yankees and leaves the team with a lot of holes remaining to be filled in the next few months.

A rotation with C.C. Sabathia, Lee and Phil Hughes as the top three starters is one that would be feared by a lot of ballclubs, especially if A.J. Burnett in the fourth slot could return even a little bit back to his earlier form. A rotation with Sabathia, Hughes and Burnett as its top three just doesn’t scare many people. Miss Sabathia in the rotation and life is a lot easier.

And yes, Andy Pettitte may decide to return, but if the Yankees are resting their hopes on a 38-year-old who pitched – albeit well – in 21 games last year, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Yankees are still a very good baseball team and offensively, they’re still very, very dangerous. The Yankees had four players (Mark Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher)  in the top 10 in home runs in the American League and three (Rodriguez, Teixiera and Cano) in the top 10 in RBI.

Their bullpen is still very strong with Mariano Rivera remaining the anchor. With a 3.47 ERA, they were one of the strongest units statistically in the American League. But the question still remains. How will the Yankees get to that bullpen with a lead?

The San Francisco Giants proved last season that pitching trumps power more often than not, especially in the short series. Can the Yankees recover from the failure to sign Lee and make something happen to improve that rotation? Only time will tell.

Weekly Poll: Who’s the NFL MVP?

Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are throwing the ball all over the yard. Maurice Jones-Drew is running through, around and over people. And Troy Polamalu is, well, just doing his thing. So who’s the Most Valuable Player in the league?

Maza’s Monday Musings: Ho Hum. Pats beat another 9-win team

Everyone thought this would be a close game. They thought that about the Jets game on Monday night, too.

Everyone thought the weather would have been a major factor. Tom Brady could have played in the Metrodome and executed the offense.

Let’s get one thing straight – teams aren’t taking the New England Patriots lightly. It just looks that way. The Patriots are executing at such a high level in just about every facet of the game that teams just can’t keep up.

People talk about statistics and that’s ok. I’m a stat guy myself. I just hope people look at the right statistics. There’s one in particular that explains why the Patriots look great. The Patriots have an NFL-best turnover differential of +18. That statistic suggests just two things – the Patriots don’t give it up. They just take it away.

Every week the Patriots defense looks better and better and while they may give up some yards, the team’s athleticism, coupled with more gameday experience, are able to force turnovers and make teams pay for them. Yesterday’s game was no different when Devin McCourty alertly stripped the ball while falling backwards making a tackle on Johnny Knox and Gary Guyton brought it back for a touchdown.

Sunday’s game marked the fifth-straight win for the Patriots and during that streak, New England has forced 13 turnovers – including four against Chicago, three against the Jets and Indianapolis – without turning the ball over once themselves.

Once the defense gives the ball to the offense, it doesn’t leave their hands seemingly until whichever player finds the end zone and gives the ball to the official. Tom Brady is playing with amazing efficiency. In his last three games, he’s had passer ratings of 158.3, 148.9 and 113.4.

Watching the Patriots at this point is like watching poetry in motion and nothing appears to be able to stop them. Give them extra time, they come up with a 42-point win. Give them a short week, they’ll come up with a 29-point victory.

It’s not over yet, but with three games left to go and wins over Baltimore, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New York and now Chicago, is there any doubt that this team is the toast of the AFC?

Maza’s Friday Musings: Seven years for a pitcher? GMs never learn…

The bidding for Cliff Lee is about to come to a close as the Rangers are expected to have their answer sometime today, according the the Rangers Web site. The reports coming in state that if anyone wants Lee, they’re going to have to make a seven-year commitment to him.

Now, let me preface my statements with this: Cliff Lee is a terrific pitcher who had one of the greatest postseasons I had ever seen, save one game. He’s the ideal model of the power pitcher and with 185 strikeouts and just 18 walks, there are few I have ever seen control the strike zone the way he does.

With all that said, doesn’t history prove that making long-term commitments to pitchers?

At age 26, Mike Hampton led the National League with 22 wins, while also posting a 2.90 ERA in 1999. The following year, he won 15 games and posted a 3.14 ERA. He was considered one of the best pitchers in the league at that time. Then he signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies. After two seasons 5-plus ERAs, he was traded by Colorado. And let’s not forget he missed two consecutive seasons with injuries. His numbers since signing that deal? 56-52 with a 4.81 ERA.

Barry Zito had the AL Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young awards in his resume when he entered free agency in 2007 at the age of 28. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract that offseason and since then, has underwhelmed the Giants with his abilities, going 40-57 with a 4.45 ERA.

Remember Denny Neagle? He was a former 20-game winner and a two-time all star when he hit free agency. Colorado (again) gave him the 31-year-old a five-year, $51 million contract, where he won just 19 games over three years with an ERA of over 5.50. He never finished out his contract because of injury and a little legal issue involving a prostitute.

Chan Ho Park had an very strong start to his career in the US  and was coming off two of his best seasons with back-to-back years of over 220 innings with ERAs of 3.27 and 3.50 and his first all star selection. At 28, he signed a five-year, $65 million contract. Over the life of that contract, he never posted an ERA under 5.00 and after making 25 starts in the first year, he made just 23 over the next two and never recovered.

Now you may tell me these guys aren’t of the same caliber as Lee and at this point in their careers, no, they’re not. But these were all considered top-flight pitchers and received compensation based on that. Certainly deals like C.C. Sabathia’s have come up roses, but the point is you never really know. Pitchers have two commodities – their arms and their heads. And if something happens to either of those, teams can be saddled with humongous headaches for years to come.

Maza’s Thursday Musings: Crawford’s great, but there’s more work to be done

Many of us woke up this morning to the news that Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash at the winter meetings thus far with the signing of Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million contract.

To say this was a major coup for the Red Sox would not be an overstatement. Maybe the most prized positional player on the free agent market, Crawford was being pursued by some of the league’s heavy hitters and ESPN Los Angeles reported that sources thought he was “almost certainly” going to be an Angel.

But the Red Sox swooped in with an astounding contract that will pay him on average annual salary of $20,285,714, putting him in the top 10 highest paid players, based on annual salary. The total contract is the 10th largest in history, according to the Associated Press.

Is that worth it for a guy like Crawford? The market dictates worth and seeing as Jayson Werth was handed a 7-year, $126 million contract, in terms of keeping contracts proportionate with ability, then yes, it was a “fair market value” deal.

So just how good is Carl Crawford? In 2010, he won a gold glove, a Silver Slugger award for being the best-hitting left fielder, led the league in triples and stole over 40 bases for the seventh time in the last eight years and has an OPS Plus of 134.

While he’s never hit 20 home runs in a season, Crawford’s speed makes him a power hitter. His 62 extra base hits ranked 13th among qualified hitters and were more than Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guererro and Victor Martinez.

In terms of the division, Crawford helps in so many ways with a career batting average of over .300 against every division opponent, with the exception of Tampa Bay, of course. The signing also helps protect the Red Sox from Crawford, who hit .300 off Sox pitchers and had more stolen bases against Boston than any other team in his career.

With Crawford on board and Jacoby Ellsbury presumably healthy going into the season, the Red Sox have a very different look from last year when their fasted everyday player was probably J.D. Drew.

So now, what to do with the lineup? The Red Sox find themselves with a great deal of left handed bats on the team right now (Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew). So how do you keep a balanced lineup? This is my suggestion:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
2. Dustin Pedroia (R)
3. Carl Crawford (L)
4. Adrian Gonzalez (L)
5. Kevin Youkilis (R)
6. David Ortiz (L)
7. Marco Scutaro (R)
8. J.D. Drew (L)
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

The threat of having a lefty come in to face Crawford and Gonzalez in crucial situations is not has high, given the fact that Gonzalez actually hit lefties at a .337 clip last year, higher than his .278 against righties. The real concern is having a left handed bat protecting Ortiz. Therefore, while not as much of a threat with the bat, Scutaro provides better protection in that sense than J.D. Drew, who batted .208 against southpaws last year and actually has better career numbers out of the eight hole than the seventh spot.

Now with the offense bolstered, Epstein needs to change his focus to the pitching staff. The Red Sox posted one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the league at 4.24.  The bullpen needs a complete overhaul with quality arms, not reclamation projects that Epstein seems to like so much.

The offense is fine now. Time to focus on quality, as opposed to quantity in the bullpen. So here’s my list of potential arms the Red Sox should consider:

  • Type A free agent Scott Downs would cost the team draft picks, The Red Sox should also not be quite so hesitant this year to go out and get a recognizable guy like Downs, despite what it would cost in addition to money. Downs has posted ERAs of under 3.00 in three of the last four seasons (In 2009, he had a 3.09 ERA).
  • Pedro Feliciano (Type B) has been a tremendously underrated reliever for the Mets (3.09 ERA in ’07, 4.05 ERA in ’08 and3.03 in ’09, led the league in appearances all three seasons).
  • Jon Rauch (Type B) was a terrific fill-in guy for the Twins when they lost closer Joe Nathan for the season.
  • Matt Guerrier (Type A) is another underrated reliever from the Twins organization, who really has some great career numbers, including a 3.38 career ERA.
  • Brian Fuentes had a nice bounce back season last year, but don’t expect another sub-3.00 ERA. He has value as a left handed arm. He did make the fewest appearances of his career since 2004, though, so you have to wonder about the 35-year-old’s durability.
  • Kevin Gregg (3.51 ERA, 37 saves last season) is a solid option as a Type B free agent that won’t require any draft picks. Most likely he’s going to want to go somewhere with an opportunity to close, however.

Maza’s Wednesday Musings: The most anticlimactic non-tie ever?

The Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night featured what had to have been one of the most anticlimactic end to an overtime game that didn’t end in a tie I have ever seen.

Dennis Seidenberg’s shot – which evidently hit off Mark Recchi – got past Ryan Miller, hit the top of the inside of the net, then bounced back onto the ice. Officials waved it off and play continued, despite the fans’ pleas that it was, in fact a goal.

It wasn’t until a full minute after that play that there was an opportunity to look at the replay and determine it was a goal.

You have to wonder what exactly the officials were looking at and what they thought the puck hit in order to think that there was no goal. The crossbar? I understand that it’s a game that moves fast and you’re not going to catch everything, but you’d assume that an official at ice level would be able to see better than I whether or not a puck goes in the net.

It was clear to me – watching my non-HD television through half-opened eyes amidst thoughts that I really should go to bed because I have a big day tomorrow – that it was a goal. So how could they let such an aggregious mistake happen?

What if Buffalo had come back down the ice and scored themselves? Imagine that scenario and the backlash there would have been. Or more importantly, what if someone, playing on tired legs in extra time either got hurt or did something stupid to get someone else hurt? That responsibility would have squarely fallen on the officials and all they would have been able to say is, “Sorry. We screwed up.”

Ultimately, neither of those things happened and the right call was eventually made, but a lot could have happened in that extra minute of play.

Of course, it Marc Savard had even a little bit of a killer instinct, overtime wouldn’t have been necessary.

On two separate occasions in last night’s game, Savard passed up good shot opportunities to make ill-advised passes. On the second of the two, Ryan Miller actually showed so little regard for Savard’s ability to shoot the puck as he approached from the right circle, that he cheated towards the middle, fully prepared to make a stop on the potential shot from the slot. That left a huge area over and around his left shoulder wide open. But instead of taking a shot, Savard made a bad pass into the slot and turned a good opportunity into no shot at all.

Savard does a lot of things well and I still think he’s a playmaker with some of the softest hands in the league. But once in a while, you’ve got to shoot the puck, Marc.

Maza’s Tuesday Musings: Brady, Patriots looking super?

There was no one in the world who thought it would end like that.

The New York Jets laid a complete egg on both sides of the ball and the New England Patriots publicly humiliated them in a fashion not unlike that kid who used to give you swirlies  before stealing your lunch money.

With a tough schedule coming up, there’s no time for the Patriots to rest on their laurels, but you have to at least be thinking that after a dominating performance over a team some still had considered the best in the AFC. And it’s also not like the Patriots are just starting to face a tough schedule. This is a team that has beaten San Diego and Pittsburgh on the road and Baltimore and Indianapolis at home.

This game proved more than anything that the Patriots’ offense is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Darrell Revis, without a “big name” receiver to lock onto, couldn’t cover Wes Welker, who caught seven passes for 81 yards and a score. Small, agile and powerful, Deion Branch made a fool of Antonio Cromartie with a 23.1 yard per catch average and Danny Woodhead, whether it was against a safety, a linebacker or a nickel back, was too much as an option for Tom Brady out of the backfield.

In his last seven games, Brady has thrown 17 touchdowns without throwing an interception. In those games, he’s completed 145 of his 219 passes (66.1 percent) for a yards-per-completion average of 12.6. So even with the short passing game, he is able to put the ball in a place where his quick, athletic receivers can run after the catch.

And say what you will about the defense, but it is a playmaking group. They will not win a game for you, but they most certainly will make some plays to put you in a position to. Devin McCourty is a terrific corner in the making and especially if the offense gives them a lead, the defensive unit can go out there and be aggressive.

In a year when there is so much parity, it’s hard to say that there is a sure-fire Super Bowl candidate, but right now, especially if they can secure home field advantage, the Patriots look like a pretty darn good horse to put your money on.

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