A time to rebuild is at hand for Farrell, Red Sox

The end of an era has come.  The once and thought to be future kings of Boston baseball have been removed and will soon be forgotten. The castle has crumbled around Red Sox management and has fallen down upon them. A payroll of $173 million has been withered down to a mere $45 million commitment in salaries next season.  The parapet is destroyed, and a shield of invincibility that surrounded the Red Sox for the last decade no longer protects owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino.  On the eve before free agency, a time to rebuild is at hand.

The process has already begun in the hiring of new manager John Farrell, but much work is yet to be done. The question now is: how far do the Red Sox go?  If the recent past says anything, it would say to exercise caution.  Just two years ago the Sox committed roughly under $300 million in salary to superstar players Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. In the second year of their contracts, both were quickly whisked away to the Dodgers, along with perhaps the biggest villain in Boston, Josh Beckett.  The players that were supposed to lead this team to more glorious and triumph-filled years failed to even make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.  The takeaway from this is simple in a sense that the Sox should be cautious in signing big name free agents such as a Josh Hamilton this offseason.

With mistakes in the past, the Red Sox should look to players who have had success playing in Boston.  Cody Ross is one of those players.  Ross, coming off one the best years in his career, thrived in the atmosphere of Fenway Park.  He hit 13 of his 22 home runs at home, using the Green Monster in left field and a dead-pull hitting style to his advantage.  Ross will also likely not be as expensive as other free agent outfielders in a very thin market.

The time has not yet come for David Ortiz’s valiant exit.  Big Papi must be resigned, as he has proved again and again that he is the warrior the Sox need to move forward.  Leadership is essential for a team that so evidently lacked it last season.  The Red Sox have a leader in Ortiz, and he should not be dismissed when he is so clearly needed.  He batted .318 with 23 home runs in 90 games last year before being bogged down by injury.  A healthy Ortiz next season is just what Boston needs in this rebuilding process.

One player the Sox do not need back is Kevin Youkilis.  He will be available, as the White Sox have declined his $13 million option for the 2013 season.  With the Red Sox, the Youk man was the finest of knights, beloved by fans for his ferocious tenacity and workhorse ethic.  Unfortunately, these qualities cannot compensate for Youk’s nagging back problems and evident decline.  In the 2010/11 seasons, he missed a total of 102 games, most of them due to an assortment of injuries.  He hit just .233 in his remaining 42 games with the Sox before being traded to Chicago in order to give the young Will Middlebrooks a full time job at third base.

There are many problems still with the pitching staff, but the hiring of Farrell is a start.  The hope is that Farrell, the Sox pitching coach for five years until 2010, will help return Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to their former selves as dominant starting pitchers.  If Lester and Buchholz can succeed in doing this, perhaps it is possible that the Red Sox can have the beginnings of a strong pitching staff.  The next step in bolstering the rotation well enough to compete next season would be to trade for Angels’ starter Dan Haren.  Although he had a down season last year, Boston could be a great place for him to start fresh.  With adding Haren to the mix to a rejuvenated Lester and Buchholz, the Sox could have the makings of a much-improved pitching staff next year.

Obviously the bullpen will need to be addressed after it blew a total of 22 saves in 57 opportunities last season.  The overall defense too can be improved as it finished  14th in baseball with 101 errors last season.  Furthermore, what is to be done with John Lackey, perhaps the most disliked Red Sox currently on the roster?  Again, much has yet to be done.

This is not a road map or a guide that will lead to the future success of Boston’s beloved baseball team.  However, a sense of hope is back in the city, as the managerial dictator Bobby Valentine is gone.  Farrell enters into the rubble of a franchise in need of great help.  The stronghold can be rebuilt and fortified once more, as it has been done in the past.  Sox ownership should know very well by now, that in a city such as Boston, winning heals all wounds.  Now it should only be a matter of caution, patience and a short amount of time before order in Red Sox baseball is restored.

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Manti Te’o, more than just an athlete

“All he had known about Bridget, all he had been told through a mutual friend, was that Bridget’s brain tumor was finally proving too powerful and that she wasn’t going to get out of the hospital again. And she loved Notre Dame football and Manti Te’o.” (Greg Couch)

Athletes in society today are idolized and looked up to as role models. They are in the spotlight because they chose to be. Too often professional athletes are making news for the wrong reasons. Too often athletes fail to be the proper role model for kids today. Fortunately, we find hope in one young athlete making a difference for others in his life.

Manti Te’o, 21, is a linebacker for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and is in the running for the Heisman this season. He’ll go high in the NFL Draft and is beloved by thousands of fans. He has it all. Or does he? Te’o recently lost his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day, yet he played the next game to honor them. He’s a man of faith and does things for others out of the goodness of his heart. The following story by Greg Couch is about his email to the parents of a dying 12-year-old.

Te’o eases grieving parents’ pain

Te’o’s story should serve as an example for all athletes. He didn’t even know this girl, yet he felt the desire to reach out to her family. He wrote the email from his heart and with the intent of it being solely for Bridget and her parents. Te’o did this on his own in a sincere act of compassion.

What if all athletes had the heart and desire to serve others as Manti Te’o? Too often athletes are looked up to for all the wrong reasons. It’s rare that an athlete, such as Te’o, is brought into the spotlight for something far greater than his play on the field.

Courtesy of Neon Tommy on Flickr

Four reasons why Verlander struggles in the World Series

Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. He won both the Cy Young and MVP award in 2011, becoming the first starting pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986. His fastball tops out at 100 MPH, and he only becomes more dominant as he goes deeper in his outings. Up until game one of the World Series, Verlander was 3-0 this postseason with a miniscule 0.74 ERA and a .122 OBA (opponent batting average). So why is it that the most dominant pitcher in the game today has now lost his third straight career World Series game? Here are four possible reasons why:

1. Too much time off

Back in 2006, Verlander had nine days off after the ALCS ended in four games against the Oakland A’s. This time around he had seven days off after the Tigers defeated the Yankees in four games. Like in 2006, Verlander simply did not look sharp in game one of the World Series. He left too many pitches out over the plate, and the Giants took advantage. Who would think that sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS could have actually hurt Detroit’s ace? It’s certainly possible.

2. Opposing lineups are locked in

Give the Giants a whole lot of credit for knocking Verlander out early. Their hitters are locked in after winning the last three games of the NLCS to defeat the Cardinals. Marco Scutaro hit .500 in the series, slapping 14 hits in just seven games. Pablo Sandoval too is dialed in this postseason, and that showed in game one as he mashed two Verlander mistakes over the wall. The Giants are focused, and their hitters were ready for anything Verlander had to throw at them.

3. Facing unfamiliar opponents

Verlander had only faced the Giants once before in his career, and this could play at an advantage for San Francisco. The Giants offense had to prepare for one man. Verlander had to prepare to face nine unique batters. Like in 2006, he did not have much experience against the Cardinals. That being said, he did bounce back and pitch well in game five of the 06′ World Series. Expect him to do the same if he gets another opportunity this year.

4. Can’t handle the pressure (unlikely but possible)

Yes, this is highly unlikely that a pitcher such as Verlander would collapse under the pressure. However, it should not be ruled out. Even the best in the game can struggle on baseball’s biggest stage. Again, it’s unlikely to be the case because Verlander had been near perfect this October. The reason for his struggles is likely a combination of the three circumstances above.

Red Sox spot on in new manager John Farrell

Red Sox fans can take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief. The short, yet disastrous era of Bobby Valentine is done. It’s over. Thank goodness the nightmare that was the 2012 season has come to an end. The Sox have moved on and already taken the first important step in trying to forget their worst record since 1965. John Farrell is the new face of hope in Boston and the right man for one of the most difficult jobs in baseball.

Before going into why Farrell is the right choice for the Sox, one thing has to be made clear. It will take a heck of a lot more than a new manager to fix Boston’s copious amount of problems. This job is not meant for one man alone. That being said, Farrell is unquestionably the right start to help Red Sox Nation, at the very least, wake up from this nightmare.

What’s most important is simple and obvious. John Farrell is not Bobby Valentine, and that is a great thing. However, Farrell is the man whom General Manager Ben Cherington may have wanted all along for the job dating back to last season. Farrell, unlike Bobby V, is already saying all the right things. He said yesterday at his introductory press conference that he believed in “an up-tempo, aggressive style of play.”

“I think to play that style of game, it does create an attitude, which I think is critical to win at the Major League level, and that’s to be relentless,” said Farrell. “With our effort, with our preparation, with the work and the competitiveness that we take the field every night, that is of the utmost importance in how we play.

This is exactly the type of rhetoric Red Sox fans want to here from the new manager. Words such as aggressive, effort, preparation, work, competitiveness and relentless are not words used to describe last year’s team. Unlike Bobby V, Farrell is a man who understands his role. Of course it’s one thing for Farrell to say he wants an attitude of relentless. It’s another thing to put these words into action. The point, however, is that he already understands what needs to be different about next year’s Red Sox team.

Farrell understands what Boston needs to be a successful ballclub. He should know because he’s been here before. Farrell was the pitching coach under Terry Francona from 2007 through 2010. There is a sense of familiarity with the players, coaches and management that should already be present. He has relationships with previous players such as Jon Lester, who according to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes, is excited to have Farrell back with the Sox.

“I think it’s a good thing,’’ Lester told Edes. “He helped mold me into the pitcher I am, the player I am. My work ethic, the work I do between starts, he really helped mold all of that.”

It is clear that players already have respect for their new manager, starting with the ace of the pitching staff in Lester. Almost equally as important as respect, Lester credits Farrell in helping him become the pitcher that he is today. In his rookie season in 2006, Lester walked nearly five batters per nine innings and had a 1.64 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). By 2010, Lester was an all star and finished the season fourth in the AL Cy Young race. All of his improvements came under Farrell until his decline in the 2012 season. Lester finished the year with a 9-14 record and a career-worst 4.82 ERA.

Not only is it important that Lester had success under Farrell but so too did the entire pitching staff. In Farrell’s first year as pitching coach, the Red Sox ranked first in the league in ERA and WHIP. Boston went on to win the World Series that season. Last year, the Sox pitching staff was abysmal, finishing 12th in the league with a team ERA of 4.70. Farrell could be the answer the Red Sox need to solve their most urgent problem in pitching.

Bobby V couldn’t fix the issues that faced the Red Sox in his first year as manager, but he was the wrong man from the start. In Farrell, the Sox bring in a familiar face and a respected coach. He is the fresh start the Sox have been searching for since the demise of Francona and the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. Cherington cannot miraculously heal the team of all its wounds with the signing of John Farrell, but it is undoubtedly the right start.

Five reasons why the Cardinals refuse to lose

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr

The St. Louis Cardinals are once again on the brink of heading to another World Series. Some think there’s no explanation for it. After all, they did just lose franchise slugger and superstar Albert Pujols to the Angels last offseason. How can a team compensate for such a loss? How can the worst regular season team to make it to the playoffs be one game away from back-to-back World Series appearances? Here are five reasons why:

1. Pitching

With Kyle Lohse anchoring the pitching staff this season, the Cards have a plethora of starting pitching. Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Lance Lynn have all risen to the occasion in the playoffs this year. They come up with big games when it counts, and that’s a theme with this Cardinals team going back to last year. Closer Jason Motte has done his job as well, only allowing one run through 7 and 1/3 innings this October.

2. Managing

Mike Matheny has to be given a lot of credit for the job he’s done with this Cardinals team. Like last year, they are coming together as a group at the most important time of the season. He’s calm and always seems to make the right moves, in this his first season as manager.

3. Timely hitting

Unlike the Yankees, the Cards always seem to get the big hits when it really counts the most. Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma got the biggest hits this postseason in game 5 against the Nationals. Again on the verge of being eliminated, the two hits tied the game and put the Cardinals ahead, advancing them to the NLCS to face the Giants. Give the Cards a lot of credit for constantly coming up in the clutch, even on the edge of elimination.

4. Players born for the postseason

It’s true, the Cardinals are filled with players just dying to play deep into October. Obviously David Freese has to be the number one guy on this list after what he did in last year’s World Series. But again, players like Descalso and Kozma continue to step up for St. Louis. Two nights ago, it was Matt Carpenter filling in for an injured Carlos Beltran, who hit what would be the game winning home run in the third inning. Matt who? It’s guys like this, even coming off the bench, who thrive in the big moment.

5. Heart

One cannot simply define how much heart a team has, but the Cardinals have it. They have a whole lot of it. You can’t do what they’ve done in these last two postseasons with out it. Even when it seems like their magic has run dry, they find a way to win baseball games. This is a team that literally defines Yogi Berra’s saying “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The Cards have no quit in them, and that is a true measurement of heart.

No need to panic for Brady, Patriots

Just under 11 years ago, the New England Patriots sat at 3-3 with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback and Bill Belichick in his second season as head coach. Brady had just taken over the starting position after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and Belichick had yet to have success as head coach. All Patriots fans know how that season ended, with the Patriots going 8-2 the rest of the way and winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Today, much has changed over the years, with the exception of Belichick and Brady. Arguably one of the greatest head coach/quarterback combos of all time is still at the helm of the most successful NFL franchise of this millennium. Like 11 years ago, the two did not panic. Don’t expect them to now.

The present-day Patriots sit at 3-3 once again as they search for answers to the inconsistent start. Though a .500 record may not sit well with the coaches, players and the fans, it is good enough for New England to be tied atop the AFC East. All four teams may have the same record, but a win against the New York Jets this weekend would push the Patriots ahead of their division rival. Out of all 16 AFC teams, only two of them are currently above .500, the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans. With so much parity in the division and the conference, the Patriots may be sitting pretty with a .500 record at an opportune time to put everything together and catch fire like they’ve done in the past.

This time around, the Patriots have a favorable schedule to work with the remainder of the season. Of the remaining 10 games, only two of them are against teams that have a winning record. Those two games against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers will be played at home where Brady is 70-13 in his career with the Patriots. New England also has five remaining games against its divisional opponents, and with each team tied atop the AFC East, these games will be vital. The question is not what have the Patriots done in their first six games of the 2012 season, but rather, what can they do in the remaining 10? Like in 2001, an 8-2 record the rest of the way is not just feasible but highly possibly.

It is highly possibly that a team with the best offense in the NFL can finish so strongly. The Patriots not only lead the league in points scored but also in yards per game. Brady himself leads the league in total passing yards with 1,845 that is combined with a strong run game. The emergence of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden has done wonders to what is now one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. New England is fourth in the league with 917 total rush yards and second with 10 rushing touchdowns through the first six weeks of the season. With Brady still competing at the level of an elite quarterback, combined with a tough ground game, the Patriots are operating at a highly efficient level. Having tight end Aaron Hernandez back in the lineup will only add to the versatility of the offense as the season moves forward.

Although the defense has looked suspect in the last few games, it did get off to a strong start and has come up big in key moments. Defensive End Chandler Jones already has five sacks and three forced fumbles in just his first six NFL games. His play thus far has also earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. The defense overall is young and has plenty of room to grow, but it did force important turnovers at the end of week 5’s game against the Denver Broncos. Rob Ninkovich caused his second fumble in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots recovered to all but seal the game. It’s been in moments like these and in rookies like Jones and Dont’a Hightower that New England’s defense has improved since last year, a season in which the Patriots played in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots have won in convincing fashion three times this year against the Titans, Bills and Broncos. They have lost their three games by a combined total of four points. The Patriots could just as well be undefeated as they are 3-3 had several plays gone their way in those three losses, but that’s football.

This Patriots team has to be dying to prove itself after its mediocre start. Belichick and Brady are at the helm, and they’ve been here before. As in 2001, they did not panic and have not panicked ever since. When others think panic or trouble, all Brady and Belichick do is win football games. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

Cincinnati Reds collapse under pressure

The San Francisco Giants had no business winning this series. The Cincinnati Reds collapsed after dominating the first two games on the road. Cincinnati had not lost three straight home games all season but do so in the first round of the playoffs? Even with the injury to ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds had to have this series. The Giant stole it from them and not because of their own heroic play.

Let’s break things down. The Reds two-hit the Giants in game two of the series and won 9-0. They headed home with a commanding 2-0 lead, knowing that they had played well at Great American Ballpark all season. Surely the series was over.

With a tremendous effort from Homer Bailey in game 3, the Giants only managed one hit through the first nine innings. They were fortunate to have the one run after Gregor Blanco was hit by a pitch and later scored on a sacrifice fly in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately for the Reds, they had only mustered one run through nine innings as well, and the game went to extras. Jonathan Broxton took the mound in the 10th for the Reds and immediately allowed two singles. He should have gotten out of the jam, but with two outs eight-time gold glove winner Scott Rolen made a rare error that allowed the Giants to take the lead 2-1. This turned out to be the pivotal moment in the series as the Reds would eventually lose game 3. The Giants, having been one-hit through nine innings, had life because the Reds allowed it.

Cincinnati, seemingly demoralized, lost game 4 again at home 8-3 the next day.

Still, entering game 5, the Reds should have had some confidence having beaten Matt Cain all three times this season, including in game 1 of the series. Mat Latos was strong through the first four innings, but then hell broke loose in the 5th. Latos imploded on the mound. After allowing a leadoff single and then a triple, Latos got Cain to ground out. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart then botched an opportunity in the field, allowing another run to score. Latos walked Marco Scutaro, gave up a hit to Pablo Sandoval, and the bases were loaded for Buster Posey. Latos didn’t even turn to look at the ball as Posey launched a moonshot into left field, silencing the Cincinnati crowd. It was 6-0.

The Reds made an effort at a comeback but came up short in the 9th inning. Rolen struck out to end the game with the tying run on first base, and the Giants breathed a sigh of relief. The collapse was complete.

Cincinnati, having not lost three games in a row at home all season, choked on baseball’s biggest stage. There are no excuses for this team that won the NL Central by nine games. They should have swept away the Giants in three games, but the Reds gave them a chance. The Giants didn’t win the series, the Reds lost it.

Patriots run all over Broncos in win

The New England Patriots ground attack shredded through the Broncos defense as Stevan Ridley rumbled to a career best of 151 rush yards. Danny Woodhead came up with the biggest run of the game when he rushed for 19 yards on a 3rd and 17 play during a key third quarter drive. Quarterback Tom Brady led the drive from there and eventually took it into the end zone himself on a one-yard touchdown run.

Running back Brandon Bolden added 54 rush yards of his own to the Patriots 251 total yards on the ground. Shane Vereen contributed with a one-yard touchdown run to cap off an 80-yard second quarter drive, while Woodhead also posted 47 yards rush yards on only 7 carries.

The Broncos found no answer to the Patriots high-powered rushing attack as New England defeated Denver 31-21 Sunday evening in Foxboro. Brady is now 9-4 against quarterback Peyton Manning, defeating him for the first time in a Denver uniform.

Brady and the offense marched methodically down the field in the first half against a helpless Bronco defense. After a punt to start the game, the Patriots went on three straight 80-plus-yard scoring drives. Manning came back with a touchdown down drive of his own, making the score 7-7 at the beginning of the second quarter.

The Patriots answered.

Brady took over with the ball on his own 20-yard-line and faced a third and ten. He quickly hit Wes Welker with a pass for a first down. Woohead kept the drive going with a first down run of his own. The Patriots entered the hurry up offense, and the Denver defense quickly folded. Ridley ran the ball for a first down, which was quickly followed up by a 15-yard strike to receiver Brandon Lloyd and a 12-yard catch by Rob Gronkowski. Two more quick first downs setup the Patriots on the one-yard-line. Vereen capped the six-minute, 80 yard drive off with a one-yard touchdown run, putting the Patriots ahead for good.

New England finished the second quarter off with a 93-yard drive and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

The Patriots continued to pound away at the Broncos defense with a near replica six-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter. Ridley reached 100 yards as Brady and the offense maneuvered their way down the field once more.

Manning would not go quietly, however, as he willed the Broncos back into the game despite being down 31-7 late in the third quarter. He exploited the Patriots weakness in Devin McCourty at cornerback, finding receiver Demaryius Thomas for 9 catches and 188 yards. Manning cut through the Patriots defense and brought the Broncos within striking distance after a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with eight minutes left to play. A hush fell over Gillette Stadium as the Patriots found themselves only up by ten.

The Patriots lead was too much for Manning and the Broncos to overcome late in the fourth quarter. Rob Ninkovich came up with his second forced fumble of the game when he stripped Willis McGahee on the Patriots own 10-yard-line. Jermaine Cunningham recovered the ball and Bolden ran for one more first down before the Patriots knelt the ball to run out the clock.

New England finished the game with a team record of 35 first downs, 18 of which came on the ground. It only makes sense that the Patriots offense held the ball for nearly 36 minutes compared to the Broncos 24 minutes.

Welker too set a record of his own with nine catches in the first half alone. He finished with 13 grabs for 103 yards and a touchdown. After a slow start to the season and many questions about his role in the Patriots offense, Welker now has 469 receiving yards in just the last four games and is New England’s leading receiver.

Manning led his team through the air with 345 passing yards and three touchdowns. He brought the Broncos back and gave them a chance late in the fourth. McGahee ran for 51 yards but never truly got going on the ground. In the end, Brady had something  Manning didn’t.

In a game where Brady and Manning excelled at the quarterback position as they usually do, the Patriots run game answered the call. On the day the Brady-Manning rivalry was renewed once more, the Patriots running backs led the charge. Ridley, Bolden, and Woodhead scorched the Broncos defense as Manning could only watch on the sidelines.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has the New England offense operating at a highly efficient level. More importantly, he may have given quarterback Tom Brady a key weapon in a lethal run game.

Bold Postseason Predictions: Orioles and the A’s? One will win the World Series

Courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics are undoubtedly this years biggest surprises baseball. The A’s stormed into the playoffs to overtake the Texas Ranger in the AL West on the last game of the season. The O’s played consistently all season long as most awaited for them to tail off. That didn’t happen, and now they have the opportunity to advance further into the playoffs due to the new wild card format. The A’s and the O’s are two teams that make baseball great and will make this October just that more exciting, but which will make a shocking deep postseason run?

Let’s get to the predictions…

AL Wild Card Round – Orioles over Rangers

The Rangers have to be gassed at this point after back to back World Series losses and getting swept by Oakland to lose the division lead on the last day of the season. The Orioles have some magic in this team full of unlikely heroes like Chris Davis. The O’s steal this one down in Arlington.

NL Wild Card Round – Braves over Cardinals

The Braves are 12-0 when Kris Medlen starts this season. That undefeated record is not going to change in this game against the Cardinals.

ALDS – Athletics over Tigers

The A’s are on an absolute tear and have all the momentum in the world entering this postseason. If the A’s can combine a sturdy rotation and a strong bullpen with timely hitting, they can go deep into October.

ALDS – Yankees over Orioles

Unfortunately, this is where the O’s magic finally runs out. The Yankees surged into this postseason, and the division win allows them to setup their rotation. Yankees over Orioles easily in four games or less.

NLDS – Giants over Reds

This has to be the most intriguing matchup of the first round, and it comes down to pitching. Matt Cain facing off against Johnny Cueto in game one is the key to this series. Which ever team can win this game will take the series. Cain has the experience and players behind him that have been in this situation before. The Giants take this series after Cain wins game one.

NLDS – Nationals over Braves

Even without Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals are the most complete team in the National League. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman are as good as any 1-2 punch in baseball in the rotation, and they are backed up by one the the best bullpens in the league. The Nationals end the Braves season and the illustrious career of Chipper Jones.

ALCS – Athletics over Yankees

The magical season does not end with another loss to the Yankees October. The A’s rotation and pitching staff is too deep even for the Yankees to overcome. If CC Sabathia can’t win two games for the Yankees in this series, the A’s will come out on top and return to the World Series for the first time since 1990.

NLCS – Giants over Nationals

If the Nationals had Strasburg, they’d take this series. They don’t. This is finally where their decision to sit him comes back to haunt them. With Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong anchoring the rotation, the Giants once again have the starting pitching to take them to the promise land.

World Series – Athletics over Giants

Yes, in a Battle for the Bay Area, Billy Beane’s dream of finally winning a World Series as the Oakland Athletics’ GM comes true, setting up for the sequel, Moneyball 2.

First quarter breakdown: Patriots roller coaster start

Courtesy of AJU_photography on Flickr

It’s difficult to say that a season can be like a roller coaster after only four games, but that’s exactly what the 2012 Patriots have felt like. The team got off to a promising start with a win against the Titans but quickly dipped back down after a game full of twists and unexpected turns against the Cardinals. The downward spiral continued in Week 3 against the Ravens as the Patriots lost on a controversial game-winning field goal in which coach Bill Belichick sprinted onto the field to grab a replacement referee. The roller coaster continued to speed downhill as the Patriots found themselves down 21-7 in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills. Finally, it quickly shot upward when the Patriots offense finally woke up and put 45 points on the board in the second half to steamroll the Bills 52-28.

After all that, the Patriots sit at 2-2 and tied atop the AFC East with the Bills and the Jets. The Pats could be 4-0, but inconsistency has led them to this roller coaster of a start in the 2012 season. Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses thus far.

Strengths

1. The Run Game – Over the course of the first four games, the Patriots have managed to run the ball for 576 yards, good for 8th overall in the NFL. Stevan Ridley alone has 339 of those rushing yards and averages 4.6 yards per attempt. Ridley and Brandon Bolden each had 100-yard games last Sunday against the Bills, making them the first two players to accomplish such a feat in 32 years for the Patriots.

2. Tom Brady – Yes, Brady has been inconsistent at times, but overall he is the reason the Patriots could be 4-0. Brady executed a comeback against the Cardinals that should have led to a game-winning field goal, but didn’t. Brady tore up a stingy Ravens defense but to no avail. He’s only thorwn one interception in the four games and continues to be the leader this team needs.

3. The Defense – Through the first two games, the defense looked much improved and kept the Patriots in the game against the Cardinals. It only allowed 284 and 242 total yards of offense in those first two games. Rookies Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson have all stuck out and have made big plays of their own early on in the season.

Weaknesses

1. The Coaching – Sitting at 2-2, the Patriots have played in four games that probably should have been won. Although it’s the players who don’t execute, Offensive Coordination Josh McDaniels has made some questionable play calls that have caused the Patriots offense to sputter at times. Belichick himself made a questionable move by not trying to advance the Patriots into better field goal range against the Cardinals. This led to a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal. It’s not to say that he made the wrong call but certainly questionable

2. The Offensive Line (at times) – Although it has played better in recent games, the O-line struggled to protected Brady, most noticeably in Week 2 against the Cardinals. Although it hasn’t been atrocious, Brady is used to a strong offensive line that can allow him to sit back in the pocket and pick apart defenses.

3. The Defense – Yes, the Patriots defense has not only been a strength through the first four games but also a weakness. After a strong start, the Patriots defense allowed 503 and 438 total yards consecutively against the Ravens and Bills. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington look equally lost at the cornerback positions, and at times, the line has failed to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. That being said, only time will tell whether the Patriots defense is truly a strength or a weakness.

Projections

Looking ahead, the Patriots do not have a very difficult schedule. Of the remaining 12 games, eight should result in a W. The four remaining games that could prove to be a challenge are against the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, and San  Francisco 49ers. The Patriots are too talented of a football team to play inconsistently the rest of the way. A 10-2 record in the remaining 12 games is not a stretch. This would put the Patriots at 12-4 to finish the season, easily putting them at the top of the AFC East and possibly at the number one or number two seed in the conference.