The End is Near

There’s nothing interesting to write about the 2017 Patriots.  The team lost one major player, LeGarette Blount, and added top CB Stephon Gillmore, WR Brandin Cooks, DE Kony Ealy, RB Mike Gillislee, LB David Harris, and TE Dwayne Allen.  Bill Belichick made significant upgrades to a team that just won the Super Bowl, and besides the scary start that preluded the greatest comeback of all time, they pretty much dominated the rest of the 2016 season.  If the Patriots lose in the Super Bowl, it will be a great disappointment.  Hell, if they lose 2 games, it would be a pretty disastrous season, all things considered.
Belichick is the smartest head coach in NFL history.  He knows exactly what he was doing by trading their 1st and 2nd-round picks for veteran talent.  The Patriots are maximizing on their franchise centerpiece’s window, a window which could be anywhere from 2 months to 5 years.  No one is worried about the last go-rounds of the Brady-era, but has anyone considered life thereafter?

 

The Patriots are trying to become the 2nd team in NFL history to win 6 rings, and not only would they be able to accomplish this in the next few years, but they would have won all six with one coach, one owner, and one leader under center.  I am completely in support of Belichick and Kraft going all in while the greatest QB of all-time is still (inexplicably) in his prime, but Patriots fans are neglecting the future.  What will the greatest franchise in sports look like in 3 years?

 

Truth be told, probably bad.  Let’s deal with question numero uno, which is clearly the quarterback.  The Patriots took a calculated gamble with Jimmy Garappolo by not trading him for a treasure chest of picks.  The team decided that one year of an elite insurance policy was worth more to them than anything concerning the future.  Again, I don’t refute this point—Jimmy G is better than Peyton Manning when he was fading in his final Super Bowl, and this Patriots’ supporting cast is at least as good as theirs was—but understand the decision Coach Bill has made.  Unless Brady suffers a seriously debilitating injury that forces him into an early retirement, Garappolo will leave New England in free agency at the end of the season.

 

This isn’t a risk—Jimmy will leave.  The Patriots won’t pay a backup quarterback top market price when teams like the Browns, 49ers, and Jets will break the bank to acquire a competent starter.   Even if Kraft considered paying Jimmy to play backup for one more year, 1) Jimmy isn’t going to waste anymore of his career not starting, and 2) There’s no chance Brady will allow himself to be paid $20MM less than his backup.  The shoe has already dropped—Jimmy is here for 1 more run, and that’s it.

 

So, considering the difficulty of acquiring a talented QB, Jacoby Brissett is your QB of the future.  The jury is out on whether he will be a competent NFL starter considering he’s only had 2 games with a W-L record of 1-1, but that’s who you’re stuck with either way.

 

It goes farther than QB, though—many key Patriots players are also in the primes of their careers now, and will be significantly less able when Brady decides to hang them up in 2 or 3 years.  Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are over the 31 mark.  Rob Gronkowski, the 2nd best player on your roster, is 28, and extremely injury prone.  Is a 31-year old Gronk going to have the same impact on a game?  Will he be healthy enough to?  Certainly, Patriots’ fans pray he is, but the sober fan realizes the gray area associated with their star TE.

 

The young players that will still be under 29 in a few years are two talented WR, Brandin Cooks and Malcolm Mitchell.  These players, at 23 and 24 respectively, are going to be excellent wide receivers, and with a semi-competent QB in Brissett, they should be good offensively, right?  Well… maybe not.  Have you heard of the Jaguars?  Allen Hurns and A-Rob catching passes from strong armed Blake Bortles sounded great… in theory.  But then the Jaguars were terrible.  Having a Belichickian influence will certainly bolster Jacoby Brissett’s development, but there’s one thing no one’s asking:

 

Will Belichick be here in 3 years?

 

The knee-jerk reaction answer is “Of course”.  Why would he leave the greatest football team of all-time?  He’s a phenomenal head coach, and football appears to be his life.  But what if Bill wants to go out on top?  If he wins two more with Brady, one this year and one next, he would be the all-time greatest HC in football history, and it won’t be close.  They’ll have the most Super Bowls in NFL history.  Would Belichick chance his reputation and take the risk of a couple bad seasons?  What taste would be left in the mouths of the NFL if Belichick capped off his incredible run with a bunch of 8-8 seasons?  I’m certainly not saying I expect this to happen—I believe “The Hooded One” will coach for a long time after Brady is gone—but there’s always a possibility, and losing the mind behind the operation would be incalculably detrimental to the allure of New England.

 

The coaching staff faces a similar issue that dwells over the QB situation—there are two perfect heirs to the throne, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia.  However, both names have been mentioned over and over again in connection to vacant head coaching jobs.  There’s only so long you can expect a guy to turn down a $3MM pay raise, and once those two are out the door and moving on to other things, the replacement options could be troublesome.   Patriots’ fans have been spoiled so long by having unmatched consistency and excellence in the two most difficult positions to find that: Head Coach and QB.

 

I’m not spelling out death for the 2020 Patriots by any means.  Like I said, my guess is that Belichick hangs around longer than Brady does, but I don’t see a world where Belichick allows his hall-of-fame reputation to be tarnished.  The Quarterback is the central nervous system of a team, on the field and off it, and once you lose that guy, you start to get… well, nervous.  There are a few young pieces in place, but not enough to make you feel nearly as confident as you’ve felt about the past 16 seasons or so.  Life comes at you fast, and fans in New England should be wary of this.

 

Make the most of this time—there’s no dominant force in the NFL that appears to be a worry for the Patriots.  It’s far from inconceivable to imagine Tom Brady having 7 rings when all is said and done.  Being a Patriots fan is one of the greatest blessings one can receive.  However, the bigger you are, the harder you fall—and fans in New England will be falling hard once Belichick and Brady become memories.  And that day might become faster than you realize.

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The NBA 2K17 Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been waiting to write this piece of literature for as long as I can remember.  There is only one, single, solitary thing in this world better than sports—and that is NBA 2K17.  With the next version on the horizon already, let’s hand out the 2K17 Awards—or, as I like to call them: The Yammies (I am so sorry).

 

 

Best New Feature: Circular Shot Meter

If you are a human with a pulse, the first thing you noticed (and hated) was the change in shot meter, and having a shot meter on layups. Why would you change two of the most fundamental elements of the game?  Everyone said that…until you learned how to use the meter.  And until you figured out that you could hit tough layups if you nailed the timing.  And when you found out that the meter length was actually indicative of how likely the shot was to go in from there.  And when you found out that even if you had a tiny bar from half court, you could still have some say in whether or not the shot was close.  Yeah, about that meter we all hated?  They better never change that, because that is without a question the thing that separates 2K from every other game.  You get a say in every single shot, no matter how ill-advised.  GIVE ME THOSE!

 

Best Game Mode:  Start Today Franchise

There were many worthy runners-up for this, including Expansion League and MyCareer, but Start Today was another ingenious idea.  It became as easy to do as an exhibition game: do a start today with the Celtics, pick a superstar to try to get at the deadline, and if you don’t start winning championships, try another league.  Is your favorite player having an amazing season?  Take over today, with today’s stats, and get him his double-double average.   Are you a Miami fan and wanted to sneak into the 8-seed with the Heat?  Well, I don’t care—you stole Ray Allen.  Stop reading my blog (just kidding, but seriously.  Kind of.)

 

Best Player to Use In-Game: Steph Curry

Steph was fun to play with before.  Once the new shot meter arrived, the Warriors became the Falcons of Madden 2004.  You could be anyone except the Dubs.  The 2K17 shot meter’s best feature was the indication of how good a look you had—for Steph, you had a pretty fat circle around you no matter where you went.  And he hit DEEP shots, regularly.  Which does make sense—Curry’s shooting percentage from 25 feet is honestly just stupid.

Worst Player to Use In-Game: Andre Roberson

If you hit random and got the OKC Thunder, no one said “Yes! The Thunder!”.  They said “Yes! Westbrook!”.  Until that slimy, no-free-throw-hitting clown was parked in the corner with no one on him.  This was for good reason; Roberson’s meter from 3-point land was smaller than anyone’s chances of stopping Westbrook going to the rim (note: the chance of that is very small.)

Most Fun Team to Play With: The Utah Jazz

Nothing is funnier than playing with an original 2K roster and having Rudy Gobert be an 84.  Once the Jazz’s overalls were adjusted for the great season they were having, they took the lead as both the deepest roster in the game (Hayward, Gobert, Favors, Hill, Hood, Johnson) and the most fluid.  Ball movement could sometimes be a problem in this game, but it seemed like every time I used Utah, every player had between 5-10 points, 3-5 assists, and Rudy Gobert had 77 boards.  I think this team is also so fun to use because you can’t really tell who you’re passing to, or taking it to the rim with.  No one aside from Gobert stands out from a physical standpoint in the game, and all of their top players are super well rounded.  Sorry for ruining that for you, Utah (I’m actually kidding.  I’m glad the Celtics got Hayward.  Idiots.)

Worst Team to Play With: The Brooklyn Nets

This doesn’t deserve a full paragraph, unless you really love Brook Lopez’s hook shot 40 times a game.  I don’t, and I was able to deal with DAR on the Lakers, or Dirk on the Mavs.  Speaking of…

Most Unstoppable Move: Classic Dirk’s Post Fade/Up and Under

Was anyone else even on the classic Mavs team?  I seriously wouldn’t’ know.  Here’s the first verified NBA 2K17 cheat code: give it to Dirk in the post.  Score.  Repeat.  99 is not high enough to represent how frequently that God-forsaken shot went in.  Oh, did you time the block perfectly?  Up and under.  FU.

Best Downloadable Expansion Team: Las Vegas Aces

God bless whoever was sitting in their basements making these themes.  They were great, but I only made one once or twice—that shit is a lot of work.  Some of the ones you can download from the server are pretty awesome, though, and none more so than the LV Aces.  The home and away’s were very steezy, but nothing is steezier than having someone you don’t know do the work for you!

Top 3 Best Innovative Game Modes: Here’s a little subsection.  Sometimes, even 2K’s numerous game modes simply aren’t enough for you, and you have to do a little improvising.  These works of art are courtesy of @banks1096, @troy_costa21 and @kickedtothakirb on Twitter.

 

  1. Random Number Generator

This game mode requires one guy on a computer, and one guy manning the controller and a cell phone with a “Random Number Generator” app.  The goal is to build two teams of 13 players and duke it out in a one game, winner takes all type event.  First, you are given a random team.  Next, you are given a random number.  The idea is to take your number and see if it matches the uniform number of a player on the team you received.  If it doesn’t, random another number until you get a jersey match.  Once you get a match, mark down that player—he’s on your team now.  Do this 12 more times until you build a complete team.  The coolest thing about this is the wide range of team you’ll get—you could get a bunch of bench players, or you could roll a 23 and a 13 and have a superteam.  This one never gets old.

  1. Value Draft

Same goal as the RNG game—you want to put together a team of 13 guys from various clubs, except this time, it’s not the jersey number you need to know.  Just like last time, you random a team.  Let’s say you get the Boston Celtics.  Now, you can pick ANYONE on their entire roster!  Sounds great, right?  Here’s the catch; the 13 players you choose fill one slot each.  Each slot represents how good a player is relative to his team, so you can take 1 player who is the best player on his team—after that, you can only take someone who’s the 2nd best or lower.  If you take LeBron, you can’t take Kawhii, Isaiah, or Anthony Davis.  This is the most strategic game ever—if you get the Lakers, you should really only spend a 13th or 12th best player.  If you get the Jazz, who’s 5th best player is Rodney Hood, an 80, you just hit a minor jackpot.  This also increases the value of teams who have a big-3—that third guy could be an integral part of your team.  It also makes your best player a tough choice.  Sure, you could take Isaiah Thomas, but what if you get the Warriors?  (Also; Klay Thompson.  Best value pick).

 

  1. Co-op My Career

This actually has nothing to do with the MyCareer game mode, but it’s even better… trust me.  Instead of taking a terrible player and grinding through the worst years of his career, you create a player.  And even better, you can create 2, 3, or 4!  Create guidelines—overalls can’t be higher than an 80, potential can’t be higher than a 90, etc.  Now, you can completely control your play style, and pick where you want to play.  Once you’ve finished making your rookies, edit a roster, put them on teams, and start up a franchise.  If you end up playing in a game, make sure you lock on your player.  If you’re lucky, you and your buddy’s teams will meet in a big-time playoff series, and you can square up one for one and look at the stat lines after.

 

Best 2K Drinking Game: Threes and Blocks

Are you looking for a drinking game?  Why not make your drinking game the best video game ever created?  2K, exhibition.  Pick teams however you please.  If your opponent hits a 3, you drink.  If your opponent blocks you, you drink.  Losing is fun.

Best Franchise Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

This was actually hard—Anthony Davis is higher rated, and only a few years older, but for some reason I never win when I manage to get him.  Ben Simmons at 19 is also a surefire way to rocket your team to the Finals, but Karl-Anthony Towns is simply a monster.  Finding someone who can be a star at the 4 is hard; KAT can do that.  Finding someone who will ALWAYS resign with you isn’t easy; KAT does that.  Finding someone who makes literally every post shot at the end of games is… well, you get the idea.

Player That Got Screwed the Most: Rudy Gobert

Even though the bumped him to an 88, it’s still not enough.  If you controlled him for a whole game, and no one else, you’d probably finish with 10 Blocks.  Kyle Lowry is an 88.  Rudy is a top 10 NBA player.  Don’t come at me on this.

Player That is Way Too Good: Jae Crowder

I’m sorry—I’m sure there’s someone who is more over-blown with their attributes, but JAE CROWDER’S OPEN SHOT THREE WAS HIGHER THAN KLAY THOMPSON.  STOP THIS.  Love you Jae, but that is atrocious.

Best Shot in the Game: Kevin Durant

Steph and Klay are close, but KD’s stroke is so smooth, whether you’re a big or a guard.  However, I feel like I’m more successful with that shot on created player than when it’s actually Durant.  Maybe I suck?  On second thought, it’s definitely that.

Worst Shot in the Game:  Al Horford

My favorite thing to do is watch people’s facial reactions when they press “X” or “Square” and see what Al Horford is about to do.  That meter is straight out of a horror movie.

Best Prospect in an Online Draft Class: Michael Porter Jr.

I’ve downloaded the most popular draft class for both Xbox One and PS4.  Lonzo is amazing for a franchise, and so is Mo Bamba, but Porter Jr. at the 4 is just unstoppable.   People are overhyping him as “the next Kevin Durant”, but he certainly develops that way with the potentials they’ve given him.   Also, he plays the 4, which is the hardest position to acquire a star at.  UNPOPULAR OPINION: Use generated draft classes!  The players are much more varied—one year, I got an 84 first overall.  The next, a 75.  The downloadable ones are too top heavy for my liking.

Worst Game Glitch: Jumping Into a game Mid-Simulation with No Timeouts

Really, 2K?  You’re telling me that not a SINGLE coach in the NBA would save ONE TIMEOUT with FIVE MINUTES to go in GAME SEVEN?!

Assistant Coach:  Pop, there’s 6 minutes left and we’re up by 5.

Gregg Popovich: Call the last timeout.

AC: What?

GP: We need to figure out if we should have Shane Larkin or Elfrid Payton as our backup point.  What, are we gonna need to make a plan in the dying seconds of the game?

 

Best Classic Player to Use: Michael Jordan

Look, if you know which button is shoot, you’ll be okay with the ’96 Bulls.  Seriously.  Unfortunately, this one wasn’t close.  Other honorable mentions: 2004 KG, 2012 LeBron, and 2002 Dirk.

Stupidest Thing in the Game: The “Intangibles” Attribute

So, one of the hardest things to do when creating a player for the Co-op My Career franchise (see above) is lowering your attributes enough to meet whatever overall maximum you’ve given yourself.  How come I can’t have my player be a 90 in all types of shooting and still have him be a 76 overall?  One category that influences your overall significantly is “Intangibles”, which means things that can’t really be quantified.  I thought, okay, must be the clutch gene, or the “It” factor, right?  Nope!  Someone did way too much research on this and found out it was literally just a way to boost player’s overalls to create a balance with the new rosters.  What a bust.

Top Feature to be Improved in the Next Game: Volatility of Player Overalls

2K17 is detailed, well made, and contains endless opportunities.  However, if you play enough Franchises, you’ll realize that players sort of end up doing the same things over the course of their careers.  In 2K18, the developers should make a player’s career arc more unpredictable.  A perfect example is Jaylen Brown—in every franchise, he tops out at about an 84.  How cool would it be if, for one out of every 20 franchises, Jaylen ends up being a 95?  Like, everything goes his way and he develops into a superstar?  Potential is a good indicator of how good a player is projected to be, but what was Giannis’ potential when he was drafted?  Probably not a 91.  In the real NBA, highly touted prospects end up falling through, and absolute nobodies end up being stars.  The game should reflect that.  (Realistically, I just want to see an 88 overall Marcus Smart).

 

Whew.  What a ride.  So many nights of listening to “WHTY YOU THINK IM OUT HERE ACTIN CRAZY?”.  If I didn’t have 2K, I probably would’ve studied a lot harder.  Oh well!

 

MA!  YOU KNOW IM STILL YA LITTLE BABY!

 

 

*Editors Note—I am in no way affiliated with 2K, the NBA or anything even remotely that cool.  I wish, though.

The Best Trades are the Ones You Don’t Make

Last night, Todd Frazier was traded by the Chicago White Sox to a contending team.  The move made sense for Chicago on numerous levels—after trading basically anyone of value in 2017, including Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the other Sox were obviously not looking to contend.  Frazier is hitting near .200, but has enough power to keep him in the middle of the lineup, making him the perfect candidate to be traded from a young, rebuilding club to a contender.  As it turns out, that contending team wasn’t the Red Sox, who have a glaring hole at third base and are last in the MLB in homeruns.  Seems like a match made in heaven, right?  Did Dombrowski let the final puzzle piece slip away?

 

Allow me to further explain why this deal may appear terrible for Boston.  The team that did acquire the former Little League World Series champion was the Yankees, who just happen to be in the midst of a race for the division crown with the Sox.  Not only that, but the Yankees acquired two good relievers, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.  The Yankees bullpen is now ferocious, adding two talented arms to a pen that already featured Betances and Chapman.  Now do you think Dombro screwed up?

 

Don’t.  He didn’t.

 

What my rendition of the story doesn’t explain is that New York had to give up their first-round pick last season, a talented outfielder Blake Rutherford.  Rutherford is the 30th ranked prospect in all of baseball.  The Yankees greatest strengths are their two young stars, Gary Sanchez and the new face of baseball, Aaron Judge.  Robertson and Frazier are both former All-Stars.  Frazier has two months left before he hits free-agency.  Are you starting to see where I’m headed?  The Yankees, in typical Yankee fashion, have no self-control when it comes to building a roster for both today and tomorrow.  This is a bad trade for them, all things considered.

 

This Red Sox team—a team that sits in 1st place, and has for a little while now—was built almost entirely from the farm.  Mookie Betts, JBJ, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vazquez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Barnes, Devin Marrero—they’re all guys who came up through the farm system.  How many great offers do you think the team received for some of those guys on that list when they were prospects?  People knew Mookie was going to be good from the time he was a second baseman.  Boston is basking in their disciplined decisions to hold on to stars, while New York just traded one of the only prospects they have left for a bullpen upgrade.

 

Frazier would have been good on the Red Sox, but only for a mid-level prospect.  I say this for two reasons; one, because the Sox have such a young team already, and therefore have time to restock the cabinets (like they did in 2012) before the Killer B’s new contracts are due.  The Yankees have kept a hold on Judge and Sanchez, wisely, but besides the future rookie-of-the-year, their outfielders are Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, two guys who are both 33-years old and at the back end of their careers.  Even Judge is 25, which is obviously still great, but it’s not like they have 10+ years of future outfield greatness like the Red Sox have.  Rutherford was obviously one of their best trade pieces, but I can’t understand why they would make this deal knowing that left and center field are soon to be vacant.

 

The second reason I liked Frazier for the Red Sox, not the Yankees, is because of the type of upgrade.  Right now, with Devin Marrero and Brock Holt doing an admirable but underwhelming job at the hot corner, the Sox are in 1st place—and they haven’t even heated up yet.  Frazier isn’t a gold glover, and his average stinks, but he has the Adam Dunn-type reputation of being a guy who hits fly balls, most of which are outs, but some of which are homeruns.  That fits the Sox perfectly; you don’t need to add a .300 hitter to the top of the lineup, but adding a bat with some pop for the 7 or 8 spot in the lineup would be the cherry on top for a team with a very particular need.

 

The Yankees, however, have Chase Headley signed through 2018.  Headley isn’t great—his numbers are underwhelming this season—but he isn’t that much different than Frazier.  Sure, you’ll get a few more long balls, and that certainly helps, but Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are already hitting plenty, and Headley’s average is actually almost .50 points better than his apparent replacement.  Maybe the team will platoon the two, but still, why trade a major part of your future for the other half of an 8-hole platoon?

 

As far as the relivers, Kahnle makes the most sense for the Yankees, at 27.  Both guys have an ERA under 3.00.  Robertson, however, is already 32, and here’s the best part: the Yankees already had David Robertson!  They let him go to the White Sox, and now they’re ponying up their top prospect to get him back.

It’s also extremely important to know that the only piece the Red Sox were interested in adding was Frazier—they didn’t want the other two relievers.  In typical Yankees fashion, Brian Cashman was so enticed by the idea of bolstering his roster and blocking the Red Sox that he couldn’t help himself.  It’s like an ex-girlfriend paying hundreds of dollars to send dead animals to your house.  Sure, it bothers you, but was it worth it?

 

Don’t send dead animals to people’s houses, and don’t give up too much for players who will only make a small impact.  The Red Sox have Rafael Devers coming up, their number 1 prospect in their entire system, who also happens to play… you guessed it: Third Base.  How is he doing?  Well, in 81 games, he’s hitting .308 with 20 doubles, 3 triples, 19 homeruns, and a .960 OPS, a number that represents on base percentage plus slugging percentage.  This basically gives more credit to hitters who walk more and get more extra base hits, and is widely accepted as the best indicator of how good a hitter is.  While it may be a stretch, Devers’ .960 would be 12th in the MLB, and to put it in perspective, Giancarlo Stanton’s OBP is .946.  You want to block that guy—and maybe even trade him—for someone hitting .206?

In 2013, the Red Sox rushed up an infielder, their highest prospect, through AA and AAA before he finally landed in the big leagues.  They won the World Series that year, and that player started for the team, and ended up being pretty good to boot.  That player was Xander Bogaerts.  Don’t fret, Sox nation.  You are in 1st place, have the best pitching staff in the AL, and are about to be blessed with an incredibly hot hitting stud that no pitcher has a scouting report on yet.  Let the Yankees have the 33-year old’s; they seem to be fond of them.  We’ll take the Pennant, instead.

The Red Sox Have Acquired David Price

This time, for real.

 

A year or two ago, the Red Sox did acquire a pitcher named David Price, but it wasn’t that David Price.  This David Price was capable of pitching well, but was very inconsistent and fell victim to the long ball way too frequently.  Curiously enough, the team paid this pitcher an absurd amount for an average number 2 starter—$217MM too much—but that’s all over now.  The aforementioned starter has been replaced by someone very exciting, arguably the best deadline acquisition anyone in the MLB will make in 2017.

 

The Red Sox just acquired David Price.

 

Yes, that David Price.  The guy on the hill for the Rays several years ago, the only pitcher in the division you really didn’t want to face.  Every time your team was stifled to one run on 5 hits, you scratched your head in frustration, and said “man, if we only had a guy like that”.  Guess what, Boston?  You do! (You also have a better pitcher in Chris Sale, but that’s not the point of this blog!)

 

Enough with the shtick; the Boston Red Sox have obviously had David Price under contract since he signed here in the offseason of last year, but he only arrived last night.  A huge wrinkle in Price’s Red Sox career has finally made itself clear—Price never fully bought in.  While that may not be news to anyone, it became glaringly obvious last night when he finally did.  And all it took was being in the center of the greatest rivalry in sports.

 

I started feeling good about Price when teammates started emerging in support of his explosions at various members of the media.  I definitely didn’t understand when Price blew up at reporter Evan Drellich in the clubhouse and caused a huge media stir.  I definitely didn’t understand when he blew up at  hall of famer Dennis Eckersley on the team plane.  At that point, I figured his time in Boston was done.  But the strangest thing happened; he started pitching better.  His teammates came out of the woodworks and talked about how he was a leader in the clubhouse.  I was shocked—the big stupid jerk David Price was actually the David Price we wanted all along.  He was way better at being the villain than being the hero.

 

But then, on Sunday night baseball, I realized that even that wasn’t enough.  And it took two events in the 8th inning for Price’s plane from Toronto to finally land in Boston.

 

First, arguably the most exciting moment of the season so far: Jackie Bradley’s incredible, game saving catch, robbing the face of baseball, Aaron Judge, of a game-altering homerun in the 8th.  It would’ve been a disappointing end of the night for Price, a performance that ESPN’s Karl Ravech claimed “was his best in 2 or 3 years”—and he wasn’t lying.  Price’s fastball was popping; guys looked overmatched, and the strikeouts followed.  It was exciting to listen to the crowd roar after each of his 8 punch outs.  But then, Bradley made one of the smoothest, most incredible catches you’ll ever see.  Price was enthralled, and it showed through his mile-wide smile and joyous exclamations that were so loud you could hear them through the TV microphone at home plate.

 

But even this wasn’t enough!  He still didn’t get it.  He was getting closer.  It was the final batter he faced, Matt Holliday.  Holliday is a great hitter, and has been for an impressively long stretch.  He hit a game tying homerun off the best closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel, to steal a game for the Yankees the night before.  With runners on, Price dialed up three straight fastballs, and threw all three right by Holliday for a strikeout.  This was the moment.  Price roared like a lion; he pumped his fist as the 38,000 at Fenway roared right with him.  Price finally got it; it was playoff baseball, against the Yankees, under the lights, at the greatest stadium on earth, with the greatest fans on earth.  Price was officially acquired by the Boston Red Sox.

 

There’s a reason why Red Sox baseball is different.  When you’re bad, the sky is falling.  No one understands this more than Price, who has been berated by media since he walked in the door.  But when you’re good?  Or great?  Ask Pedro.  Ask Ortiz.  Ask Schilling.  You will be immortalized, glorified, canonized—this city will show you sports glory like no other city can.  Jake Peavy bought a damn duck boat.  Now, Price has seen how magical a 2017 World Series victory would be in this city, and how quickly things are forgiven on the back of an 8-inning, shutout performance.

 

The Red Sox are a scary team if David Price is the real-life David Price that Dave Dombrowski paid for.  Chris Sale is already the best pitcher in the American League.  Drew Pomeranz and Rick Porcello will combine to be a formidable playoff 3-4 combo; Pomeranz could implode at any minute, but for now, he’s been incredibly consistent and better than good.  Porcello has struggled mightily, but he showed Cy Young flashbacks in his last start.  Remember, in Boston, it’s not what you’ve done, but what you’ve done lately.  Even if one of those guys gets hurt or pitches themselves out of the rotation, a healthy Eduardo Rodriguez could outpitch them both.

 

But if you insert a dominant David Price as your two?  Boy, are you cooking.  Sale and Price, at the peak of what they can do, would arguably be the two pitchers in the American League.  If that becomes true—or even if they become the best 1-2 punch in the playoffs—they have the opportunity to win you a game in 50% of any series.  We all know that pitching rules in the playoffs, and there’s no better time for Price to start coming around than right before the August/September playoff push.

 

So, welcome to Boston, David.  If you pitch your guts out on the mound like you did under lights on Sunday night baseball yesterday, you’ll do just fine here.  Make sure you buy a couple hoodies for October.

RIP “The Panda Era”: 2015-2017

Finally, after an excruciatingly long journey that was actually less than half as long as it was intended to be, the Boston Red Sox and Pablo Sandoval have cut ties.  The contract, which was originally a 4-year, $80MM deal with a player option for a 5th season, will now be paid out to Sandoval without the former all-star doing anything at all.  “Panda” was Designated for Assignment today, and will now be free to do whatever he wants—which, judging by his play, is not much of anything.

 

It’s another casualty in the Bostonian war against Free Agency, and echoes the disappointment felt when the Sox finally gave up on Carl Crawford in 2012 after inking him to a big pay day.  Crawford was more disappointing considering he was a superstar for a division rival, who let him walk, because they apparently knew he was about to suck like nobody’s business.  People were more aware of the risk behind signing Sandoval, whose numbers had been steadily slipping despite his performance in the playoffs.

 

The real frustration behind the Sandoval signing is the Red Sox’ front office.  It’s almost like they completely ignored all the red flags and convinced themselves this was a good idea.  The BIGGEST red flag?  Sandoval WOULDN’T SIGN WITH SAN FRANCISCO BECAUSE THEY WANTED A WEIGHT CLAUSE.  This guy, who only made the All-Star team twice in his career, was about to walk away from a multi-million-dollar contract because his team wanted him to stay in shape.  If the team that drafted him, made billions from marketing “Panda” attire, and won multiple rings with him wouldn’t commit to long term money without a weight clause, WHY ON EARTH WOULDN’T YOU WANT ONE TOO?!

 

Sorry, that was more therapeutic for me than you.  The Sox front office saw what they wanted to see: a left handed bat they needed.  The third baseman they needed.  The marketable franchise face and DH to replace Ortiz after he retired.  It made so much sense on paper, but anyone with eyes could see that Sandoval was not a hard enough worker to be productive over a 162-game season.  The Giants’ history with him was as perfect as it gets, but for some reason, the fact that they were willing to move on from him so easily didn’t alarm you at all.  Remember when the Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk for more money?  Well, that was because they knew his contract season was a fluke, that he was too injury prone, and a bad investment.  It’s not rocket science.

 

The Red Sox time with Sandoval was never good.  It was never even average.  For the measly price of $85MM, the Red Sox got 161 games and 620 PA.  Sandoval hit .219 over his Red Sox career.  He hit 14 homeruns and 27 doubles.  Now, the team will pay him $49.5MM dollars from now until the end of his contract to do nothing.  He won’t even be shagging fly balls in the outfield, or getting Chris Sale’s Dunkin’ run.

 

Here’s a really sober way to put Sandoval’s tenure in perspective—the $49.5MM the Sox owe him represents the second largest dead-money contract in baseball history.  The 1st?  Josh Hamilton, an ṳber superstar whose career was cut short because of serious drug and alcohol addictions that nearly took his life.  Pablo’s excuse?  He was overweight.

 

I feel bad for Pablo Sandoval, because I really wanted him to fit in.  He was such a great fan face.  There’s a major lack of personality on this ball club, because the stars like Bradley, Benintendi, Bogaerts and Betts are all relatively introverted.  Panda would’ve brought a much needed sense of style to the team if he could’ve hit… or fielded… or did anything worthy of him being on a baseball team.  However, he couldn’t: he was a bad pinch hitter, he was more than a defensive liability as a defensive replacement, and obvious wasn’t going to do much pinch running.  Now, a roster spot opens up for a  position player that John Farrell can utilize off the bench.

 

RIP.  (Rest In Panda-dise)

The Red Sox are Boring, and That’s Good

Most teams with a comfortable lead in the division are the pride and joy of their respective markets.  Boston isn’t most places, though, and even with a 3.5 game lead in the AL East (coming off losing 3 out of 4, no less), people feel… well, antipathy towards the 2017 Red Sox.   Are the Red Sox boring?  Is baseball dead?  Is this team going to get eliminated in the first round… again?

 

To quote one of the most inspirational women in American history, Rosa Parks, “No”.  The Red Sox flying under the radar should make you do summersaults as a fan.  Baseball is very predictable in the sense that every season, the most unpredictable thing happens.  When the Red Sox were over hyped last season, people were wondering if the Indians would even be competitive, seeing as several of their starters were hurt, and the Sox had the AL Cy Young winner (and David Price).  We all remember how that went.  It was Ortiz’s last season, and so much energy was expended every game to win for Ortiz.  It seemed like a given; of course they’ll get to the ALCS.  It’s Papi’s final season!

 

The team in 2017 is taking a different approach, and it’s called cruise control.  They know they’re good enough—you have Sale, who can basically give you 50% and still get you to Kimbrel in the 9th, who has been as hittable as a pitching machine loaded up with nickels.  There are enough star players, like Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, and Benintendi, where the offense will give you a 7-10 run outburst once, sometimes twice a week.  That’ll cancel out at least one crappy Porcello outing, or get you through whoever the team’s 5th starter is that week.

 

Fans; I know you’re not motivated to watch this team right now, and that’s okay, but it’s only getting better.  David Price is finally coming around after starting the season uncertain whether he’d even pitch at all.  His role as the #2 guy is way better for his personality, too; I don’t think he much liked being clearly outpitched last year by Rick Porcello, who makes $10MM less than he does per year and is much less high profile.  Chris Sale, however, is the most unhittable starter in the American League.  It takes the “Ace of the Staff” pressure off him, something he clearly couldn’t handle last year, but you’re also getting back some semblance of David Price, who was a perennial Cy Young candidate before his rocky start in bean town.

 

Rick Porcello also just gave you his first truly dominant start before the break, too.  I think everyone knew that Porcello’s award campaign was a fluke, or to put it nicely, an outlier, but he will level off his performance by the start of the playoffs.  He won’t finish with a great W-L record, but his ERA should end up around 3.90, and all the stats get cleared in October, anyway.  I don’t care if he gets a bunch of No-Decisions during the regular season—if he wins me games in October, he’s worth every cent of his $80MM extension.

 

How about Eduardo Rodriguez?  He was the third best pitcher on the staff before he fell during warmups and reinjured his knee.  When he gets back, I’m sure it’ll take him a few starts to brush off the dust, but the beauty of their division lead is that they can afford to let him settle in.  Rodriguez, if healthy, will certainly be part of the playoff rotation, and getting a young cornerstone pitcher like him more October experience is extremely crucial to the overall development of the team.  Let’s also not forget Drew Pomeranz, who somehow is pitching out of his mind lately—and consistently.  There’s your 5 starters for the final half of the season.

 

The reason this team’s success has been so muted is all the minor negative incidences that have surrounded them.  Pablo Sandoval has morphed into an enigma of a burning bag of cash–$20MM, to be exact.  The hole at third base is so glaring that players on the left side of the field have started wearing sunglasses, even at indoor stadiums.  David Price’s explosions on the media are well documented, but somehow, seemed to have distinguished his role as a leader on the team??  Hey, whatever works; this team needs an identity, and if “The Assholes” are going to lead them to a division crown, I’ll even buy a T-shirt.

 

Let me remind you of baseball’s most proven rule—pitching is king in October.  Sale, Price, Porcello, E-Rod, and Pomeranz is a rotation that could rival the best in baseball.   The Yankees young resurgence is just what the team ordered, too; the revival of this division rivalry will keep the team hungry and moving, but New York is still young enough where you don’t need to stress them too much.  If it boiled down to a 5 or 7-game series in the Bronx, you’d expect them to have home field advantage, and you’d also expect to see Chris Sale 2 out of 5 (or 7) games.  Even with the new-look Bronx Bombers lineup, most of their young stars have little to no playoff experience.  Ask the 2016 Sox—that stuff kind of matters.

 

Have no fear, Sox fanatics; if your team is just going through the motions in July, it means you’re on pace for a splendid September and October.  This Sox team is poised to really flex their muscles when the lights are shining brightest, and considering Vegas’ odds of them winning their division are 87%, they’re pretty confident that they can conserve their energy until then.  And by the way, don’t let Hanley Ramirez heat up, either.  A reporter recently read him off some of his below average hitting statistics this season, which actually shocked him, and now he’s hitting .359 in the month of July.

 

I say to you, Fenway Faithful!  O Fenway Faithful!  Do not lay down your rally caps; but pick up some beer from the packie, and enjoy the smooth ride en route to a very exciting October finish.

Lonzo Ball will be the Next Steph Curry

The best player in the draft wasn’t picked number one, but number two.  Lonzo Ball’s name has been on the lips of NBA fans since last season, when he was projected early to go number 1, before Markelle Fultz took over as the consensus best player.  That analysis is wrong, though, and Philadelphia will regret their decision when Lonzo wins his first MVP in a few years.

 

Moving fast today, aren’t we?

 

Here’s why—he’s the guy who can make the biggest impact.  Today’s NBA is all about impact players—how does your game create problems for the other guy?  Steph Curry can hit threes from 35 feet with regularity.  James Harden drives to the bucket whenever he pleases.  Giannis can dunk on you from the corner of the paint.  Lonzo fits into this mold of players who can simply do things you can’t teach; his passing ability is obviously transcendent.  His shooting style is, to put it nicely, incorrect, but it goes in the hoop a lot, and he shoots it with an outrageous amount of confidence.  Fultz can shoot better than him, but Lonzo runs a better point.  You can sense the level of comfort from guys who play with him—they’re not that worried about getting open because they know Lonzo is going to find them.

 

Ball isn’t a great on ball defender as far as preventing points, but he is a great defender when you look at how he creates turnovers on defense.   Curry isn’t going to physically lock you down, but if you get careless with your dribble, he makes you pay.  That’s what non-athletically dominant guards have to do—interrupt lanes, strip the ball, and create a defensive impact. There’s that word again.  His 5 steals last night made him a problem on defense.  That is the best thing to be in the NBA (when the other team is saying it about you).  He also isn’t gonna let you shoot in his face like Isaiah Thomas.  He’s 6’6”, which many people don’t realize.  If you disrespect his defensive ability, he’ll swat you away just the same.

 

Offensively, he gets it done.  He’s your grade A point guard who moves the ball around seamlessly, scores, and holds up his end of the bargain on defense.  But there are plenty of guys who fit this mold.  Lonzo is special because of the least measurable value in sports—the “It” factor.  Think I’m full of it?  How many 19-year olds could absolutely BOMB their professional debut, and then come back and wow everyone for the rest of the summer league?  

 

Watching Lonzo on draft night was the first time I realized he really had it.  He didn’t look like a kid from UCLA anymore; the way he sat there was so interesting to watch.  He was silent, calm, looking around at everything that was going on.  The moment wasn’t too big for him; in fact, it was just the right size.  Look at his father.  Lonzo doesn’t back down from the big stage—in fact, he actively seeks it out.  He wants the Lakers and the media in LA.  He wants his father to keep overhyping him and putting pressure where it doesn’t need to be.  He wants the ball in his hands, and his hands only.  Like I said, he’s 6’6”.  He could’ve easily been a shooting guard.  He wanted to be the center of attention, the most important player on a team.  He has it.

 

The “It” factor is what separates talented players from stars.  Bradley Beal is an incredibly talented player, and one of the best scorers in the NBA.  John Wall has that thing.  That’s the difference, and that’s why John Wall took the 28 foot three with the season on the line in Game 6 against Boston.  Beal is a better shooter; Wall is the guy.  Zo, too, is the guy.  Ingram can shoot 49% from 3 this season, but Game 7 of the Finals (the Lakers won’t be there, but humor me), you’re putting the ball in Lonzo’s hands.  He’s going to do whatever it takes—whether it be a pass, shot, or dunk—to win the game.

 

Compare Lonzo with the other players in this year’s class.  Fultz’s biggest problem is Lonzo’s biggest strength: while Fultz won 9 games, Lonzo took the Bruins pretty far.  Even though their teams were significantly different, the “best player in the draft” couldn’t take over a game more than 9 times.  Lonzo’s teammates will be better because of him than Fultz’s will.  Jayson Tatum has a more comparable impact on his team in the Summer League, but his game is very reliant on post scoring.  His percentages will change once he faces NBA defenders at the SF position.  Tatum will also make less of an impact than Ball beyond the arc, not only because of their respective skill, but because Ball’s position affords him more volume.   Josh Jackson is too raw to take over a playoff game.  DeAaron Fox can certainly defend Ball when he’s passing to UCLA Bruins, but what about when he’ s dishing to Ingram, Clarkson, Randle, KCP, and Lopez?  Maybe he gets shut down a little less.

 

Ball has the potential, at 6’6” and with better passing and scoring abilities than most 19 year old prospects, to be an MVP.  He has 4 years to fully develop his NBA game, and then he’ll be a 23 year old nearing the prime of his career.  The Lakers are setting themselves up to acquire Paul George, LeBron James, or both.  I strongly believe they’ll get at least one, and if Ball gets to start dishing full court dimes to someone with PG13’s shooting ability, he’s going to average 10 APG.  His shot is flawed, but flawed shots work in the NBA if they go in a lot.

 

The tall point guard in Los Angeles, being mentored by the greatest passer in history, who possesses an undeniable essence of stardom from a young age, is going to be the best player to come out of this draft class.  When you read it like that, it makes a lot more sense.  But don’t stop there—one day, when Golden State’s reign subsides, we’ll be talking about Lonzo Ball’s first MVP award.  Maybe building that shoe brand that everyone knows by name now wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.