My teams certainly know how to deliver a birthday present (although the Pats were a bit late...)
Besides hitting four consecutive homeruns on my birthday, the Sox dominated the Yanks so far this year. And I know the only thing more April-Rod than April-Rod is the Red Sox, but I am (as always) carefully optimistic. Why? The pitching staff. Last year, Schilling was inconsistent, Beckett was... bad, and there really wasn't much depth beyond those two other than steady Timmy. Love TIMM--EH!
This year, Schilling is consistently placing the fastball, Beckett is throwing more pitches for strikes (less reliant on his fastball), Dice-K shows promise (needs to throw more strikes when ahead in the count--challenge hitters with his screwball, slider and gyroball rather than trying to get them to chase fastballs), Timmy is TIMM-EH, and John Lester should be in the rotation by June 1st. The bullpen is perhaps the best (or at least the most underrated) in baseball (Okijima, Timlin, Donnelly, not to mention that Papelbon guy. He's o.k.). The Red Sox don't have to win games 8-7 this year. Now they can win them 8-4. Their tied for the best record in baseball and Manny Ramirez is hitting below the mendoza line. Anyone who thinks Manny will be hitting below .250 by the all-star break, please, please, please tell me you are willing to bet a large sum of money. Please
Besides Sox nation, the Pats are showing that their is a method to their madness--that just because you don't give money to some free agents doesn't mean you don't give money to any free agent. I'll trade Branch and Givens for Thomas and Stalllworth any day (perhaps others wouldn't--but if you look at the money, that's essentially how the moves work out). The Pats, as exhibited with their 49ers trade, plan for tomorrow. The idea is to build a franchise, not a team. They are the anti-thesis of the Redskins and the early-ought Titans, and I would say the plan is working. Could the Pats have used a running back this season? Sure. But now they'll pick up a veteran, and still get the 49ers first-round pick next year. And chances are the 49ers will struggle without Norv Turner--Alex Smith has to prove that he can learn a new system and maintain progress without one of the best offensive co-ordinators in the history of the game. Good luck.
Finally, a few people have emailed me regarding the receiver formerly known as Randy Moss. He will know be known as "one of Tom Brady's options." And he will like it. Remember when Corey Dillion was a problem child? When the Bengals made an "addition by subtraction." Yeah, that was awesome. Dillion cost us a second round pick, so there was something at stake there. Moss? A fourth rounder? Act up, get cut. They've even worked that into his contract restructuring (which went quickly and without fuss). Like Dillion, Moss has been stuck on terrible teams, blamed for problems that are far beyond his reach, and played with a string of quarterbacks and offensive systems below NFL standards. He does have more character issues than Dillion, that I'll admit.
But, on the Patriots, he'll win. If he and Stallworth can learn the extremely complicated passing routes employed by the Pats (and there's a string of compitent wideouts who can't--see Doug Gabriel for the latest victim), then they will create incredibly difficult matchup problems for any team. Add to that a couple of underneath threats--Welker, Washington, Caldwell, Gaffney, and hopefully Brown (who, respectively, rock as 4-5-6 receivers rather than as 1-2-3) and the Pats offensive looks lethal. Oh, the five-wide out set. Oh, add to the mix Ben Watson. Oh, the matchups. Can't wait for Madden 08.