No, I'm not talking about my stock response when people ask whether I'm actually from
Boston or just the suburbs. I'm talking about the state of my five local sports teams. Let's start with the undeniable bottom-feeders: 5. Bruins
This franchise gives a whole new meaning to the word "vomit." At one time, they were the cheapest team in hockey for years, and one of the most stubborn and pig-headed when it came to player personality issues, but at least they were well-run. Now, they're cheap, they're pig-headed, and poorly-run.
The trades made this season are the worst in recent memory. In the old days, you could bitch and moan about Adam Oates or Jason Allison being run out of town by Harry Sinden over money, but at least Sinden always ended up with the best player in the trade (Allison and Glen Murray, respectively). The dump that sent Joe Thorntonto San Jose, however, netted us two nice players in Marco Sturm and Brad Stuart, but neither can, or ever will, replace the Big Banana.
It all goes back to the pre-lockout decision to sign... nobody. Brian Rolston (34G, 45A), Mike Knuble (34G, 31A) and Michael Nylander (23G, 56A) could have been signed for market value, and then had that market value reduced by 25% as part of the new CBA. The team would be intact, there would have been no unnecessary reliance on emerging stars Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes, and the team might have contended for a playoff spot. Instead, they have a team with a gaping leadership void, gutlessly losing OT games like they wanted to set a record. Disgusting. 4. Celtics
Given their roster's constant state of flux, due a combination of injuries and trades, they could never have competed for a playoff spot. But this is actually a tale of two seasons... before, and after, the Blount/Banks/Davis trade. Without having to give unproductive minutes to Blount and Banks, this team has had nothing but good news. Wally Szczerbiak has proven a perfectly good complementary player. Kendrick Perkins has shown he can be a starting NBA center. Ryan Gomes has burst onto the scene. Gerald Green has emerged.as a Ricky Davis clone, but with a better shot. And perhaps most importantly, Paul Pierce became a leader.
Given some good health, and some additional veteran leadership via trades or free agency, this team can make a Clipper-like leap next season. I have obvious reservations about Doc, and will continue to have them until he is fired, but Pierce seems to be OK with him now. I will defer to Pierce for now; anything that keeps him from leaving after next season is fine with me. But once The Truth signs a deal, if Doc starts up with his 15-man rotation crap again, I want his ass out of there. 3. Revolution
"Jeff," you may think, "you jackass. Put the Celtics up there. You haven't removed their jocks from your mouth since the Wally trade, and now saying they're beneath a soccer team? Schmuck!" Well, I never! But I mean no disrespect. Well, maybe in the Bruins' case I do... listing the B's ahead of the Revs would be a totally unwarranted insult. (Like dropping a "c-bomb" on Mother Teresa. I mean, seriously, what for?) Anyway, I could see listing the Celts above the Revs, but the Revs were one goal away from a championship last year. The Celtics were 33-49 this year, well out of playoff contention, which is an achievement in the Eastern Conference. End of discussion.
The Revolution's turnaround from laughing-stock to perennial contender has not gotten its fair share of local attention. They sport a young, ridiculously deep front line of Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey, and Pat Noonan. Steve Ralston mans the middle, and continues to be as talented a distributor as MLS has to offer. Their defense, featuring midifielder Daniel Hernandez, fullbacks Jay Heaps, Shalrie Joseph, Michael Parkhurst and Joey Franchino, and goalie Matt Reis, is as good as it's ever been. It's a lineup without an obvious weakness, which says loads about their growth as a franchise, and about coach Steve Nicol.
The argument can be made that the Revs are as well-assembled as the Patriots, or even better than the Red Sox. Until they actually do
something, though, they can't beat out the recent champs. But the fact remains that the Revs have built a franchise as strong as the Red Sox and Patriots, if not stronger. 2. Patriots
I actually thought about whether the Pats should be #3, solely because of the Adam Vinatieri fiasco. But despite the hyperbole and spleen-venting seen elsewhere on this blog, there's no reason to think the Pats won't be as good this season as they usually are. They're still vulnerable in certain areas (secondary, wide receiver, running back), and I'm somewhat surprised by the team's continued failure to address their areas of need, but this is no different than any other offseason, and they always manage.
The question is whether they should be satisfied with simply treading water, instead of dealing with their weaknesses proactively. Vinatieri's departure, in retrospect, is not a reflection on the team's competence as much as a reflection on the team's interest in remaining elite, as opposed to competitive. This team has regressed over the last 12 months from an immortal dynasty to a plain-old playoff team. From a contender to a competitor. It's not time to panic in the streets, but one would think an "elite" franchise like the Pats would take steps to halt that regression, to return to what made them great in the first place. As opposed to, say, jettisoning the player who best personifies the team's image as clutch, unflappable, and invincible.
Furthermore, Bill Belichick is acting like a coach on autopilot. Now, don't misconstrue this. He deserves a break, especially at his age. But the fact is that the 2001-05 Belichick wouldn't have made the media/PR rounds during the offseason like the 2006 Belichick has. When you see the last vestiges of the 01-05 teams leaving town, and your coach not
doing the things that allegedly led to his own success, it's reason for concern. What happened to all that no-rest-for-the-weary, singular-focus, no-BS stuff? The way that team played in Denver, I didn't expect Belichick to act like he'd thrown in the towel.
Maybe that's why Vinatieri's departure bothers me so much... the Denver loss, the departure of Vinatieri (and to a lesser extent Willie McGinest), and the public vacationing by Belichick have deflated the whole notion of Patriot Mystique. It just seems hollow now.
So, until further notice, I think this is a franchise heading south. I am contractually obligated to endorse this regime, but I'm doing so in an "OK, but if you fuck up it's your fault, not mine" way, not an "I trust your judgment and believe in this team" way. Allowing them to act this way is not equivalent to them not
teetering on the brink of irrelevance.
1. Red Sox
So far, so good. There's not much to say that I didn't say already in February, but there's still plenty to say. This is the best shape the organization has been in since I started following them 20 years ago. Never, ever, has this roster been so well-executed, and with young players pushing the envelope to boot. Amazing. Lineup
Most of my commentary has to do with the lineup, because there's been so much moronic talk about how the lineup has been mediocre. Understand that their recent "struggles" have been in the absence of Coco Crisp, Trot Nixon, and, frankly, Manny Ramirez. When Manny's slump ends, and Coco returns, people will shit themselves over this lineup. Goofier-than-necessary permutations aside (Tito cashed in all of his political capital last week by putting Cora, Stern, Snow, Bard AND Gonzalez in one lineup) the lineup is doing fine.
Despite all the reasons to calm down and hold back, there's been an awful lot of "stories" lately. Lots of talk about Mike Lowell's slow bat, despite a solid start to the season. Plenty of kvetching about Josh Bard's struggles with knuckleballs, despite knowing that Doug Mirabelli had just as much trouble early on in his
Sox career. And there has been an ungodly amount of complaining about Wily Mo Pena's offensive buffonery, defensive tomfoolery, and miscellaneous other ooleries. The Sox are 11-4... do we really need to be raking ANYBODY across the coals right now?
The scapegoatery with Wily Mo is particularly galling to me. We all
knew what the deal would be... he makes Manny look like Andy Van Slyke in many ways, and his development will be painful to watch, but the guy's as talented as anybody in the entire organization. This is the deal that makes up for losing Andy Marte, and people hate the friggin guy like he's some kind of stiff. He's 24 for God's sake. Not every game is life and death. And to everyone saying the Arroyo trade was a mistake in light of Fatty Arbuckle's stint on the DL... get a goddamn life. Rotation
Matt Clement and Fat Boy clearly are not the long-term answer in the rotation. Clement has been his usual Jekyll-Hyde self, but he's probably not going anywhere now, not with Jonathan Papelbon so firmly entrenched as the closer. And Fat Man will be better than he was... you may recall he was this bad last April as well, but eventually became a crucial member of the rotation. I do think we're seeing our 2006 rotation, pending a major injury, Wells' retirement, or Jon Lester's promotion from the minors. The likeliest of those scenarios is Lester. I could see him being so lights-out in AAA that he unseats Wells, a la John Lackey in 2002. Bullpen
Can we please give the Seanez/Riske/Tavarez bellyaching a rest? This team pitched fucking Jeremi Gonzalez in the 8th inning last year. The shittiest Seanez is equivalient to the best Jeremi. This bullpen is light years ahead of last year's edition, to say nothing of the Yankees' current crop of stiffs and Proctorologists. Papelbon has been untouchable, Foulke is on the mend, Timlin is struggling a little but not terribly. Lenny DiNardo is the best long-man/spot-starter we've had in a long, long time. The return of Tavarez and Riske will help keep Timlin fresh, and Seanez will improve. I see success for these guys, and if they don't work out, we've got a couple more guys in Pawtucket and Portland (Delcarmen, Van Buren, Hansen) who can take a crack at it. Diagnosis
Best Sox team I've ever seen. Honest. Better than 2004. I can't see them failing. They're 11-4 with half an offense and two guys hurt. I shudder to think about how much better they can be.