Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The (Pitching) Staff of Life

According to the Website AZcentral, the Diamondbacks traded Wade Miley to the Red Sox largely because the pitcher adamantly refused the team's repeated requests he go on a gluten-free die.

Whether Miley will help the Sox in 2015 I couldn't say. He hovered somewhere between mediocre and competent in 201. meaning Miley could start on Opening Day if he has a strong spring training.

But I will say that if Dunkin' Donuts doesn't feature Miley in its advertising next year, it's missing a bet.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life Comes With an Obstructed View Seat

There have been two big news stories in Boston this week which have captured public imagination and dominated public discourse.

People are shocked and appalled that a well-to-do Harvard Business School professor completely lost his shit over a $4 charge in a bill at a Chinese restaurant.

These very same people are shocked and amazed that Jon Lester decided to sign with the Chicago Cubs instead of the Boston Red Sox just because there was an extra $30 million or so in it for him.

Monday, December 08, 2014

You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know to Defer When You Win the Coin Toss

During this century, the New England Patriots have won many more games than they've lost in the month of December. Of course, this is also true of the months of September, October and November, but there's just something about how the Pats tend to finish strong that brings out the laziest, most hackneyed prose imaginable by football commentators.

The boring truth, which is that the NFL back loads schedules to feature divisional games during the stretch run of each season and that the other three teams in the AFC East haven't been very good for a very long time never seems to come up. Instead, we are assured there is some mystical bond between the Patriots' victories and how December is when New England weather really starts to suck. So beloved is this inane false correlation that actual weather conditions don't apply to it.

"Pats heat up as the weather cools off" was the headline of one newspaper story last week previewing the Patriots game against the Chargers last night, a game played in San Diego, California, the American city with the best year-round weather. Going one better, NBC color man Cris Collinsworth talked about how the Pats got better as the weather got colder as the game was going on. Regrettably, his words were not followed by a cut to a shot of the skimpily dressed Chargers cheerleaders on a typically pleasant southern California evening.

Despite the lack of chilblains among the spectators, the Patriots won 23-14 anyway. Maybe Bill Belichick showed videos of Boston local TV weather forecasts for his pregame pep talk.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Puttin' on His Top Hat Would Be Better

As the clock ran out on the Packers victory over the Patriots yesterday, and Bill Belichick ran onto the field for the post-game ritual meeting with the opposing coach, he looked like he always does after a loss, a portrait of misery and gloom. At least his face did.

But clothes can unmake the man, or at least make him look foolish as well as unhappy. Atop his head, Belichick wore an official NFL stocking cap. This was prudent headgear for Green Bay in late November, but the cap's cunning design of alternating rings of red, white, blue and gray topped with an adorable little red pompom made it appear Belichick had swiped it from the set of a particularly cloying Hallmark Channel holiday special. The contrast between the coach's visage of pain and the jolly fashion statement on his head made Belichick look ridiculous. It was the moment in the Hallmark special when Santa's senior elf learns Old St. Nick has checked himself into rehab four days before Christmas.

NFL head coaches have an impossible job involving constant near-lethal stress levels. They all love it, but that doesn't make it easier. It seems the height of cruelty that during the three-plus hours of game day that are the splendid, horrible peak of their professional lives, the league orders them to be dressed in nothing but copyrighted NFL merchandise, the mass produced crap it peddles to those fans who love their teams not wisely but way, way too well. Bad enough Belichick lost a game that had to be utterly draining for both coaches. For the sake of a little free advertising, the league made him lose his dignity as well;

That's pro football in the 21st century, since about the 1980s in fact. A Hall of Fame coach can be jerked around by the whims of some Reebok designer angling for a better gig at Uniqlo because the NFL thinks there might be a spare nickel in it. I don't often feel sorry for Belichick, but when I saw that cap I did.

Oh, well, New England's next game is in San Diego, win or lose Belichick will be spared the indignity of dressing up for a junior high skating party. That leaves only one question about Sunday's crucial tilt.

What does the official New England Patriots Hawaiian shirt look like, anyway?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dull Can Be Beautiful

The producers of the approximately 1,827 Sunday night NFL highlight shows must've been frustrated by the Patriots' 34-9 throttling of the Lions yesterday. They had to avoid showing the most important plays of the game at all costs.

Incomplete passes are TERRIBLE television.

Football's single snooziest play was the core of New England's lethal efficiency against Detroit. Twenty-seven of Matthew Stafford's passes hit the ground out of 46 attempts. Granted, a good number of those did so after they first hit a Lions receiver, but the hallmark memory of this game was a ball sailing past a Detroit player wearing one or more Pats defensive backs as a sweater vest.

All of that nothing happening represented a uniquely outstanding performance by New England's defense. As the NFL evolves towards its Madden 2050 destiny, the incompletion has become almost as endangered a species as its more flamboyant cousin the interception. Quarterbacks just aren't harassed into completing less than 50 percent of their passes anymore even in blowout losses. The rules do their best to forbid it.

In the Denver-Miami game, Peyton Manning and Ryan Tannehill combined for only 16 incompletions in 71 attempts. OK, that was a 49-36 shootout. But Colin Kaerpernick and RGIII had only 16 incompletions between them in a game were the final was San Francisco 17-Washington 13.

The Pats pass rush was solid but not what one would call terrifying against Detroit. New England's defense has become an outfit working from back to front. In the era of pass first and also second, that's logical. It's also fiendishly difficult to do.

As of this morning, there are only three starting quarterbacks in the NFL with completion percentages under 60 percent, Brian Hoyer, Stafford and Cam Newton. There's also whoever's playing quarterback against the Patriots, an imaginary QB clocking in at 58.1 percent and an NFL passer rating of a soon-to-be-benched 82.

New England is one of six teams holding rival quarterbacks to lower than a 60 percent completion rate. The others are the Eagles, Bengals, Colts, Browns and 49ers. Not coincidentally, their combined record is 45-20-1. If there's a prop wager in Vegas allowing you to take those six as eventual Super Bowl champs, it's a value bet.

What's most difficult to do is inevitably also the most worthwhile to accomplish.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Other Team Has Something to Do With It When You Win, Too.

Jonas Gray deserves his moments in the sun for having had the best regular season rushing performance by a Patriot in over 40 years. It has to be gratifying for all the Pats, most of all Bill Belichick, that in the first half of Sunday night's win over the Colts Tom Brady positively stunk (10 for 19 for 90 yards and two interceptions) and New England still led 14-10 at the gun.

As I watched the rout unfold, however, it stirred cloudy recollections of football past. A bit of memory-refreshing research confirmed my vague impressions. In almost every particular, the most notable element of the Pats' 42-20 victory was its spittin' image similarity to the Pats' 43-22 thumping of Indy in last season's playoff game.

Gray is justly lauded for his 38 carry, 199 yard, four touchdown performance. But back in January, LeGarrette Blount, currently pouting himself out of a paycheck in Pittsburgh, had 166 yards in 24 carries and four TDs against the Colts. Brady's second half this year was as superior as his first was subpar. In the playoff win, he was very much the second banana to New England's running game once more, with a 13-25-198 passing line. The weather is always perfect in Lucas Oil Stadium, but at Gillette that January night, temperature at kickoff was a football-pleasant 57 degrees. Hell, Pete Morelli's crew officiated both games.

These parallels are most suggestive evidence that the 2014 Patriots are a superior team that has neared or reached its peak form since its narrow escape against the Jets. They are conclusive evidence that whatever form the Pats are in, they just offer a dreadful matchup for the Colts. The Pats can block the Colt front seven at a level which turns journeymen running backs into Emmett Smith. The Colts can't return the favor, which leads to Andrew Luck's arm getting very, very tired by the third quarter.

Diving a little further into the 2014 Colts, their dispiriting loss to the Pats stands as part of a much more dispiriting pattern. Simply put, any NFL team whose offense has a pulse is a horrendous matchup for Indianapolis.

The Colts have four losses in 10 games, having been beaten by the Broncos, Eagles, Steelers and Pats. In them, they allowed 31, 37, 51 and 42 points respectively. They couldn't stop Jonas Gray from running, and they sure couldn't stop Ben Roethlisberger from passing.

The concept is abroad in NFLland that Luck isn't all he's cracked up to be, that he's not "elite" because he has too many turnovers. Luck cannot offer his best defense from the charge, so I'll make it for him. Look at the other guys with the horseshoes on their helmets and note its likely that Luck will quarterback this bunch to the playoffs for the third time in three seasons.

Any quarterback who takes the field thinking "35 might not be enough points to win it for us" is going to wind up throwing interceptions. Luck also leads the NFL in pass attempts. That's becaus the Colts don't have many other ways of winning.





Thursday, November 06, 2014

Volume Light on Curb Exchange

Not to sound too egotistical, not to mention deranged, but my garbage is an economic indicator. Perhaps that requires some explanation.

We're getting a new sofa this afternoon, and Thursday is trash pickup day in our suburban neighborhood, so last evening I hauled the old sectional out to the end of the driveway.We got it before Bill Clinton was elected for the first time. It's seen hard use from children who're now adults and a sadly gone unruly dog. It's faded, dusty, and there's a tear in the fabric of one section.

But it's still quire functional, comfy even. Took a last nap on it before I took it out. It'd be a major plus for any Allston student apartment/hovel.

Yet this morning when I awoke, it was still there. Scavengers had NOT removed it for resale or personal use. This is microeconomic evidence that in this neck of the woods anyway, the recession is over.

Back in 2008-2010, any piece of furniture, broken tool or object more substantial than orange peels which we put out as trash vanished before dawn, or sometimes before sunset. Once in 2009 I carruied a collapsing due it yourself bookshelf dating back to the big hair '80s. It was held together by the few nails which weren't pointing dangerously in all directions at who ever lifted it. And before I came back down with the regular weekly recycling, two chaps were putting it into their pickup truck, a free treasure from what was then a cruel market system.

In 2014, usable furniture is headed for landfill. Clearly things are looking up. As a further bullish sign, the rusting metal pipes which were part of a long vanished hammock that I put out for disposal the week before last were snaffled by a scavenger before suppertime that evening. This means demand for raw materials is up, too! I say, go long China!!!