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Chris Sale…

…simple as that.

If the All-Star Chris Sale shows up for the Red Sox/Yankees series starting tonight, then I likely give the edge to the Sox.  If not, I probably go with the Yankees.

How’s that for an observation?  Obvious, I know.

But the fact of the matter is it hits the nail right on the head.  If Sale is throwing 89 mph and firing 104 pitches in three and a third in Game 1, welp, see ya.  Cuz who thinks David Price is going to win Game 2?  I thought so.

Sox manager Alex Cora says Sale is ready to go.  Full tilt, he says.

Hard to believe.

I think I heard this week that Sale has pitched 17 innings since the end of July.  I knew it wasn’t a lot, but even that number seems disturbingly low.  A couple of DL stints.  A shoulder that I would bet is still not quite right.  And decreased velocity along the way.

How is all that giving anyone comfort that he is “ready to go”?  Not me.  Not even close.  Could the Sox have just been being delicate with him…TOO delicate…so that he would be ready for the postseason?  Doubtful.  If they were, they would have still gotten him his 162 innings this year (he fell 4 innings shy), so he would qualify for ERA (though he likely would’ve ended up second to Blake Snell, after leading the category for much of the year) and presumably boost his Cy Young chances.  Teams/managers don’t care about individual awards/stats, you may say.  They are just trying to win the World Series, you may say.  I beg to differ.  Cora spoke openly the last couple of weeks of the regular season talking about Mookie going 30/30 and Xander getting to 100 RBI among other individual things.  But I digress…

So although of course we are stating the obvious here, Sale’s performance is really almost all that matters.

If he pitches well and the Sox take Game 1, maybe Price feels less pressure and finally does something in the playoffs.  Same could be said for Rick Porcello.  If he gets blasted and the Sox lose and the bullpen throws a ton to boot, then all the pressure is on Price.  We know how that usually goes.

I know, I know, I know…there is the issue of the bullpen.  If Sale goes 7 and leaves with the lead and the bullpen blows it, then maybe Sale isn’t the key.  We know he isn’t going 9.  At best, Sale probably goes 6.  That gives the bullpen 9 outs to blow the game if they are in that position.

Fair point.

But didn’t we know that already?

We have no idea what Sale is going to give the team.  Still making him the most important story.

Speaking of the bullpen, how did Joe Kelly get on the playoff roster?  Not sure.  We had him out in the projection.  Thought there was a chance he would get on anyway…but in place of Brandon Workman.  Turns out Kelly got Heath Hembree’s spot.  Hembree was less than average down the stretch too, so I guess it doesn’t matter.  But still…Joe Kelly.  Ugh…

As for the lineup, the top four for the Sox are nice, but there is a drop after that.  The Yanks have a stout lineup top to bottom.  Especially with the late-season emergence of someone named Luke Voit.  That should scare Sox fans as well.

Don’t forget the Yankee pitching staff.  The bullpen is great.  And the starters get the job done.  CC Sabathia for some reason pitches awesome against the Sox.  Will it be different in the playoffs?  Hard to say.  Along with all the rest of the Yank starters.  But I think the Sox can do enough damage against the Yankee starters.  As long as Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez don’t get too many at-bats.  Hell, Corey Kluber gave up three dingers today.  So I suppose you never know.

A prediction?  Sigh…I know, I love doing predictions even if most of them kinda stink.  But there is just so much uncertainty around Sale, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around things now.

Maybe I’ll just do this:  If the “good” Sale shows up, Red Sox in 5.  If he isn’t ready, Yanks in 4.

That’s the best I can do…

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Typical Patriots?

Not quite yet, I’m afraid.  What we mean here is, “typical” where the New England Patriots start off a little slow in September (by their standards), such as 2-2 and then steamroll to at least another AFC Championship game by going something like 11-2 (including playoffs) after that.

A lot of fans want to point to that.  Hell, I want to too.  But I’m not there yet.  We’ve spoken before about how “this year feels different”, from several angles.  The sometimes (often?) public snippiness between coach and stars.  The overall talent, or lack thereof.  The different way both the team and its two biggest studs went about their offseason this past summer.  And all that.

The win against Miami was nice.  But there’s a significant possibility that the Dolphins aren’t really very good, despite leaving the game with a still good 3-1 record and first place standing.  The ‘Phins apparently are missing some decent players and on top of that, they lost a couple more during the game.  That’s what I’m hearing anyway.  I have no idea if these injured players are any good, truth be told.

I do know Ryan Tannehill is a certified bum.  That’s not going to help a football club in any way, shape or form.  But who are they going to turn to there, Brock Osweiler?  Ummmm…nope.  Ask Jay Cutler to unretire again?  Ugh.  Miami is actually carrying 4 QB’s, so I suppose there are two more options already on the roster.  I don’t know, there are people who like Tannehill though, so maybe…nevermind…I don’t think we really need to dive all that deep into the Dolphin quarterback situation.  My apologies.

The Patriot defense sure played better, despite the average, at best, opponent.  That has to be encouraging, no matter who the opponent was.  But then again, maybe it’s because the Dolphins forgot that Kenyan Drake ran for a ton of yards down the stretch last year, then gave him only three carries against the Pats.  Drake didn’t do anything with those three carries in the game, but I’m thinking that may not have been enough to get him started.  Especially early in the game before it got out of hand.  I mean, did Adam Gase and his staff watch the Patriot run defense the first 3 weeks?

The Patriot offense looked better of course too.  But still doesn’t appear to be a finely tuned machine.  I mean, has anyone seen the Patriot de facto #1 receiver thus far, Chris Hogan?  Thank God Josh Gordon looked useful in limited action (though the question will linger, how long can he keep his nose clean?  (Pun completely intended).  Julian Edelman comes back Thursday.  But let’s see what he looks like.  Missing all of last year with injury and now he can’t take any juice anymore.  Is the quickness still there?  We will see.  Can’t hurt though.

To the Blowhard, the jury is still out.  Speaking of the Pats…

Indianapolis at New England (-10.5)

…glad to see the Colts come to town.  Looks like Indy has their share of injuries too, including one to receiver T.Y. Hilton.  Huge break for the Pats if Hilton can’t go.  And even Adam Vinatieri is tending to a groin injury.  Can’t have kickers getting hurt, though it seems like a few of them around the league have missed time this year already.  In any event, to top it all off, there are a lot of questions about Andrew Luck’s arm recently.  I suppose that will tend to happen when the coach yanks Luck for Jacoby Brissett to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game a couple of weeks ago.  Maybe the arm is ok, maybe it’s not.  But it sure took a while to figure out when he was going to play this year over the past offseason.  Where there is smoke there is fire, as they say.

So yeah, Gronk is nursing an ankle issue too and hasn’t looked all that great when he has been on the field this year to boot.  Several reporters have said that the injury is “not serious”.  But…you have to worry about Gronk’s health no matter what.  Plus, we have to worry if Gronk’s Dad will allow him to play with even a slight injury.  I’m not too concerned about it though…yet.  I suppose I should be, seeing that the alternative is more Dwayne Allen.

Here’s hoping the team continues to improve on both sides of the ball and doesn’t overlook this game to the next one…a Sunday Nighter against the smokin’ hot Kansas City Chiefs.  I’m thinking as long as the Patriots show up, this one should be easy enough.  But again…nothing is guaranteed with this group this season.

And…what if the Colts are fired up about the “Josh McDaniels Experience”?  Well, that may be an issue more for the front office after Josh left them at the altar.  I suppose Frank Reich may just ruin that mojo by being overly aggressive…

New England 34, Indianapolis 17.

Week (against the spread):  8-7

Week (straight up):  10-5

Season (against the spread):  30-33

Season (straight up):  37-26

Red Sox Initial Playoff Thoughts…

…yaaaaaaaawn…starting to wake up.  The Boston Red Sox have been in cruise control for several weeks now.  The playoffs have been locked up for quite some time.  Alex Cora has been throwing out Spring Training lineups and all half the time.  Why pay attention?

Well, it’s about time to take notice.  No, it’s not because the team just broke the club record for wins.  It’s not because we were all rooting for Mookie Betts to go 30/30 (homers/steals, duh!).  And no, J.D. Martinez is not going to win the Triple Crown…but we knew that, right?

It’s because the playoffs will finally be starting next week.  We can talk more about specific opponents next week.  Let’s chat about their own team for now.

Despite the fact that the team has won all those games, I have to say I can’t be that excited about their prospects in the postseason.  On one hand, maybe it is their year when they win games like the one they won against Atlanta in early September.  You know, the one where they were getting smoked with a AAA lineup and parade of awful relievers…then won the game with a late rally, capped off by 37-year-old minor league callup (?!) Brandon Phillips’ dinger.  On the other hand…THAT BULLPEN.  Ugh.  Atrocious.

I’m still pissed that Dave Dombrowski didn’t get ANYBODY at the waiver trade deadline at the end of August.  Not even a AAAA guy like Hector Velasquez or Brian Johnson or…Joe Kelly.  Sometimes those guys catch fire.  You never know.  But please Dave…anyone?

Bottom line…this bullpen will kill this team.  I don’t think that is any secret.  But it seems like there should have been a better effort to get more arms for the stretch run and October.  What they have now will not cut it.  We will get into that more a little later.

But everyone knows this about the bullpen, as I said.  I have other concerns besides that.

The first is the starting rotation.  Chris Sale has barely pitched the last few months.  David Price has a poor playoff track record.  Rick Porcello’s doesn’t inspire any confidence really either.  Eduardo Rodriguez has battled inconsistency.  And who knows what Nathan Eovaldi will do?

Also…the lineup.  You should be all set with the top four guys in Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Martinez and Xander Bogaerts.  But Benny has cooled off a bit himself.  And the way Cora has been resting guys down the stretch, is it too much?

The rest of the lineup?  Question marks.  You’re probably ok with the first base platoon of Mitch “All-Star, but hasn’t done a thing since then” Moreland and Steve Pearce.  Rafael Devers has promise, but will he even play?  The catchers can’t hit.  The second basemen?  And Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit a little recently.  But it doesn’t mean he will in October.

Let’s take a closer look at what the roster will probably look like next week.  We will give you what we think they will go with.  But I will also tell you that I won’t necessarily agree.

Starting pitchers:

In:  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi

Out:  None, see relief pitchers because all of those guys are already there.

Comments:  I think the Sox go Eovaldi for the fourth spot.  The Blowhard would go with Eduardo Rodriguez.  Because…he’s better, simple as that.  But I think the team has liked how Eovaldi has pitched against the Yanks this year, in particular.  Plus…the Sox have E-Rod in the bullpen this final week, so that’s pretty telling.

But we also have to consider the fact that Sale has barely pitched in the second half of the season.  Not to mention that his September has been a slow-go…and also not necessarily effective.  Price is, of course, a colossal wild card.  Could probably say the same of Porcello.

I can’t say that I am overly optimistic.  But we shall see…

Relief pitchers:

In:  Craig Kimbrel (closer), Matt Barnes (8th), Ryan Brasier, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman

Out:  Joe Kelly, Tyler Thornburg, Drew Pomeranz, Hector Velasquez, Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, William Cuevas, Robby Scott

Comments:  Scary.  Simply frightening.  The above selections are more of an indictment of the guys who are out than who are in.  Kelly is a mess.  Pomeranz the same.  No one is talking about Thornburg, but he has pitched 3 times in September and not once in the last two weeks.  But then again, he hasn’t been great anyway.  But you know Travis Shaw has 30 homers in each of the last two seasons, right?  Ugh.  Velasquez has been here 99% of the year and Johnson 100%, but you know Cora doesn’t trust them.  Scott and Cuevas were never real considerations.  Poyner?  Was my last cut.  Him being lefty helps.  But the fact that the AL Division Series is only 5 games makes me go with 11 pitchers and 14 positional players.  But if the Sox take 12, Poyner is my guy.

So that’s how Workman gets on.  Because he has at least been serviceable, despite bouncing up and down from Pawtucket all year.  Hembree has been terrible lately, but not as bad as Kelly and the rest.

So the key guys in the ‘pen are Kimbrel, good enough, Barnes, who may be the worst “8th inning guy” in the majors, Brasier, a 31-year-old career minor leaguer and 2 starters in Wright and E-Rod.  Wright has been fantastic when healthy the last two years.  But…a knuckleballer in October??  No.  And E-Rod doesn’t have any kind of track record in relief.

Pitching…lot’s of question marks for a 100+win team.

Catchers:

In:  Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart

Out:  None

Comments:  Sandy and his .180 average seems to be the guy that will play the most.  Pitchers love throwing to him.  Sigh.  Vasky may well be in the mix, but we know Blake won’t.  He only makes it because they may have to hit for both catchers in the same game at some point in the playoffs.

Infield:

In:  Mitch Moreland/Steve Pearce (1b), Ian Kinsler/Brock Holt (2b), Xander Bogaerts (ss), Rafael Devers/Eduardo Nunez (3b)

Out:  Tzu-Wei Lin, Brandon Phillips, Sam Travis

Comments:  I’m ok with the 1b platoon.  I’m thinking though that Holt maybe should be the 2b going in.  Really?  Yeah.  If that ends up being a platoon, that would be fine though.  Devers is the future at third, but I feel like Nunez will get the playoff nod based on his…defense?  Yup.

Outfield:

In:  Andrew Benintendi (LF), Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF), Mookie Betts (RF), J.D. Martinez (DH)

Out:  None

Comments:  Not much to see here.  Kinda obvious.

So that’s where we are at this point.  We will dig in a little deeper when the ALDS opponent is actually known…

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