Friday, October 07, 2005

Sun Sets on the Red Sox Nation

Just like that, the reign of the Boston Red Sox ended tonight. It was the other Sox that defeated Boston three games to none in the ALDS. In every aspect of the game the Chicago White Sox were better than the Red Sox and they deserved to win.

To some people it was a surprise, to many it wasn’t…it was bound to happen. The team that the Red Sox Nation and many other Americans became enamored with in October of 2003 and became infatuated with in October of last year is out. The downfall of the 2005 BoSox was clearly their lack of pitching. Not enough good starting pitching and a very depleted bullpen. They let the great Pedro Martinez walk. They let another Boston mainstay, Derek Lowe leave to free agency in the offseason too. Right now Pedro and Lowe must seem like Juan Marichal and Don Sutton.

This team just didn’t have the same flare for the dramatic. The Red Sox had won eight of their last nine games when facing elimination because of that flare. They rallied from an 0-2 deficit against the Oakland Athletics in the 2003 ALDS and then in historic fashion against their nemesis Yankees won four straight last year en route to their first World Series title since 1918 and ended ‘the curse’.

Too many pieces to their Championship jig saw puzzle of ’04 didn’t fit this year. Their closer who Sox fans revered like Yastrzemski fell apart early in the season, which forced them to use a mix-and-match pen from that point on. The second baseman that Boston fans cherished was striking out more than he got on base and finally showed why he has always been considered an average infielder. They released him. And their left-handed stud out of the bullpen became a batting practice pitcher. They released him too.

I’m also tired of the crazy notion that Terry Francona is all of sudden Casey Stengel. NEWS FLASH to the Red Sox Nation: Francona’s first two winning seasons as a manager where last year and this year. Sure, Terry’s a good leader to this vagabond bunch of ‘Idiots’ and he’s done a nice job, but he’s not Mozart.

Truth be told, with the way that this team lost their AL East lead in September to the Yankees – this team should be talked about like the 1978 Red Sox…they choked.

Now the interesting part comes. How many pieces of the jig saw puzzle will still be around in 2006? Word on the street is that the Sox and General Manager Theo Epstein are far apart on contract talks. Leadoff hitter and centerfielder Johnny Damon is a free agent that will attract tons of attention on the open market. May he roam the outfield of Yankee Stadium next season wearing pin stripes? Where will Manny Ramirez be next year? Boston might finally pull the trigger on a big trade to unleash the eccentric slugger. Will Keith Foulke be effective again? Can Curt Schilling be the front-line starter that he’s been for the last decade plus?

Too many questions for the Red Sox Nation to ponder this winter. I’ll let them cry in their beers for now and start rooting against the Yankees tomorrow.

Chief Redskin Still Making Strange Decisions

You’re 3-0 in the NFC East and everything seems to be bouncing your way. But not all is right in Redskins-World.

I’m trying to get my hands around this one. The best player on your defense doesn’t play? Repeat: The best player on your defense doesn’t play. After practice on Wednesday Hall of Fame Head Coach Joe Gibbs and three-time Pro-Bowl Linebacker LaVar Arrington exchanged words and their voices were loud enough that a full gang of reporters could hear everything they said. This cannot be a good sign for an undefeated Washington Redskins team.

Now, the stud linebacker and one time franchise player has been relegated to a special teams player? Arrington played only two snaps on defense in last Sunday's 20-17 OT victory against Seattle, and he barely played in the first two games of the season.

Now I’m a big believer in “if ain’t broke – don’t fix it” but this is crazy to me. Arrington has been one of the best defensive players in all of football since he was drafted. He dazzled fans in his rookie season and then was a Pro-Bowler in three consecutive seasons before hurting his knee last year. And now that he’s healthy he gets a nice big reward of – SIT THE BENCH. Makes no sense to me.

It's difficult for me to say this because the Redskins are 3-0, but I really don’t think they’re player personnel decisions have been good at all…and let’s be real – they’ve won their three games by a combined six points. The defense has been good and not given up many points, but hasn’t been able to get many turnovers or sacks. The Redskins have forced only two turnovers and have only four sacks. The are currently ranked close to the bottom of the league in both.

Maybe Joe Gibbs didn’t watch too much football while he was retired and off doing the NASCAR thing, but sacks and turnovers are Arrington's bread and butter. In LaVar’s three Pro-Bowl seasons he racked up 17.5 sacks, forced 10 fumbles and also had 3 interceptions. My point – he’s all over the field making big plays.

They need this guy. Marcus Washington has been fantastic for the Redskins and Warrick Holdman and Lemar Marshall have been really good too…but the best linebacker on the team hardly plays. If he’s not a starter – bring him in on 3rd down and long…let him go all out on blitz packages – because if he’s healthy he’s going to make a difference. If he’s not healthy, then tell us and I’ll move onto my next topic.

As far as I can see, the ‘Skins aren’t a playoff team – but maybe with a jolt of energy and exciting play the rest of the season they’ll be able to steal a few more victories…LaVar Arrington is just the guy to be making those plays.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Playoff Baseball Starts Today

When I leave my building in the morning I can smell the aroma of Fall in the air. The air is starting to get colder and the days are getting shorter, but thankfully, I know it leads to one beautiful thing…The Fall Classic – The World Series.

A couple of my buddies called me several times this past weekend wanting to talk football? I kept saying, “I’m not concentrating on football until things get ironed out for the baseball playoffs.” I must have said that one sentence about five or six times. Indeed, I wanted to watch the games on the grid-iron – but not as much as the very important games on the diamond.

In the American League the Red Sox won two of three from the Yankees but still lost the AL East to the Bombers. The Indians lost all three against the ChiSox (AL West Champs) and eliminated themselves from winning the AL Wild card – which went to Boston for the third straight season. And the ‘Angels of Somewhere in Southern California near Los Angeles but actually in Anaheim’ beat the Texas Rangers on the last day of the season to have first round home-field advantage.

Field Level’s AL Division Series Predictions:

Angels defeat Yankees and win series 3-2
The Angels pitching is SO much better than the Yankees. I think with Bartolo Colon and John Lackey starting on the bump in the first two games they have a decisive advantage over the Yankees. They’ll take this series back to the Big Apple up 2-0…Randy Johnson will win Game 3 and the Yankees will win Game 4 in the Bronx and take it back to California. But homefield is always key and the Angels will take the deciding game to move on.

ChiSox defeat BoSox and win series 3-2
The Red Sox are going to fall victim to this problem – “Too many tired arms”. I think this series is going to be tight, but the White Sox have much better pitching right now. With Buehrle and Garland they have the best two starters in the series and having the home-field advantage will payoff handsomely in Game 5.

The only thing up for grabs in the final weekend of the regular season in the National League was the NL Wild Card. The Houston Astros won it for the second consecutive year by edging out the Philadelphia Phillies. I was admittedly pulling hard for the Phils for a few reasons. They play in the best division in baseball, the NL East. And my parents happen to be big fans and season ticket holders. The Astros will do battle in the divisional series with the Braves again and the NL Central Champ Cardinals will host the NL West Padres. San Diego won a whopping 82 games this year – having the worst winning percentage for any team to make the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Field Level’s NL Division Series Predictions:

Cardinals defeat the Padres and win 3-0
Unfortunately for the Padres they don’t have the fire power to match the Cards. This is going to be one of those very anti-climatic, boring series. I’m sure the Padres will play Game 3 close but lose and watch St. Louis dance on their field. They’re not a good team…they’re a below-average team that plays in a disgusting division. MLB should’ve told them to stay at home and let the Phillies play.

Astros defeat the Braves and win 3-1
Bobby Cox always has his team in it to win it…but they just never seem to do it. This year is going to be no different than the last 9 years – no World Championship for Atlanta. The fact of the matter is the Astros don’t lose at home and with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens going in the first two games they’re going to split. Oswalt will easily out-pitch Jorge Sosa and the series will end in Houston in Game 4. Better bullpen, better starting pitching, better defense and wha-la! The Stros will move on for their NLCS rematch against the Cardinals.