Where’s the Offense?

The Red Sox are in trouble. Big trouble. The problem doesn’t lie in the starting pitching, not exactly. Granted, they’ve surrendered 3 and 4 runs in their two outings, respectively. However, I bet it’s incredibly tough to play in situations where your team isn’t scoring any runs. You have to pitch so finely in those situations that it’s probably easier to make mistakes. And that’s been the situation the Sox have found themselves in for almost the entirety of the playoffs so far. And that’s because the offense just isn’t clicking.

I missed Thursday’s game, but I know they were limited to just 4 hits. Last night, it was the same thing: just 4 hits. While they managed to score a run and give Josh Beckett the lead for a little while, they didn’t do nearly enough to win the game against an excellent Angels offense and a solid pitching rotation. Nobody on the team is having a good postseason so far, and unless the bats wake up, it’s going to be an early end to the season for the boys from Boston.

Right now, Anaheim just looks like the better team. Their offense is clicking much better than the Boston’s is. What I’m seeing most is their ability to string multiple hits together. The Sox can drag out at-bats, draw walks, as good as anyone, but I have yet to see them combine that with some timely hitting to drive in some runs. They don’t have the Angels speed, so they have to rely on consecutive hits and power if they want to drive in runs. Right now the power’s out with the Sox, and that just leaves hitting as a means to move baserunners along (you know, when they have any).

Luckily, the Red Sox have experience on their side. They were down two games to nil against Oakland in 2003 and came back and won. They were down 3-0 against the Yankees in 2004 and came back and won. They were down 3-1 to Cleveland in 2007 and came back and won. They even came back from a 3-1 deficit to Tampa in 2008 to at least force a game 7 situation. The Red Sox are great at digging themselves out of holes. They absolutely could come back in the series. They are a squad of mostly experienced veterans who have been to the playoffs before and no how to handle the pressure. So all hope is not lost yet.

Unfortunately, at this point Anaheim can say the same thing. They’ve been to the playoffs 5 times in the last 6 years (granted they were all first round exits, mostly to Boston). So they know the atmosphere too and are unlikely to crack under the pressure. Boston’s only chance lies in getting to the starting pitching and having their bats wake up. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening. I’ve been wrong before, and I hope I am now as well, but I just don’t see the Sox winning the series with the way they’re playing right now. This team this year has been marked by hot and cold stretches. They’ve played unbelievably well for a couple weeks, then gone .500 or worse for a week or longer. They didn’t play well going into the playoffs (beating up the 4th-place Indians doesn’t count), and they’re showing no signs of coming out of their team-wide funk. My prediction is an early exit for the Sox this year, a team that just didn’t quite have all the components necessary to win a championship. If I can take solace in one thing, it’s that I think the Angels are DEFINITELY capable of beating the Yankees come the ALCS.

Favre Leaves Old Team in the Dust

I have a very violent friend who’ll hit me if I don’t say this first, so here goes: Brett Favre is a douchebag. There, I’ve said it, now please don’t hit me. Anyway, the Vikings beat the Packers pretty handily last night, 30-23. I have to say, I expected as much, I just didn’t think the game would play out exactly as it did, for several reasons:

1) I expected this to be the Adrien Peterson show. Quite simply, he is the best running back in the NFL today. When you have a back of that caliber, you use him and use him and use him until the passing game is wide open for you because of how terrified the defense is of the run. I then expected to see Favre start to open up. Instead, the Green Bay defense played a pretty good run defense yesterday, holding Peterson to just 55 yards rushing and TD. Overall, they surrendered just 63 yards of rushing offense, and for that they can be proud. They put the game in the hands of a 40-year-old quarterback and asked him to win the game for Vikings. Unforunately…

2) Favre won the game for them. He threw for 3 TDs and 271 yards. I thought Favre was too old to be anything more than a competent quarterback. As I’ve said before, with a good running back you only need a competent QB to keep the other team honest. Many teams in the NFL don’t even have that! You know, the crappy teams like St. Louis or Washington. So having the combination of a great running back and what is clearly still a GREAT quarterback in Favre will make the Vikings offense very difficult to contain. Favre can still beat you in the air when he needs to, and when he can’t the Vikes still have the best RB in the game. The Vikings offense is DANGEROUS!

3) I didn’t realize the Vikings defense was as good as it is. They effectively contained the run, limiting the team to only 82 yards on the ground (16 by the quarterback himself), and they sacked Aaron Rodgers 8 times, including once for a safety. Jared Allen is a monster pass rusher. The Vikings defense curtailed the running game and put the ball in Aaron Rodgers’ hands. To his credit, Rodgers did pretty well, passing for 384 yards and 2 TDs. But he also gave up an interception, fumbled the ball away, and took a safety.

All in all, the Packers proved they are a good, competitive team with Aaron Rodgers manning the helm. The problem is that the Vikings are a GREAT team with Brett Favre manning the helm. With excellent running, passing, and defense, I think the Vikings are proving they are absolutely the real deal this season. They are going to be very tough to beat.

As a postscript, I want to say that I don’t exactly blame Favre for going to the Vikings. It’s a betrayal, absolutely, but can you really expect a man to turn down $10 million to continue to play the game that he loves and do the only job that he knows how? If your rival company offered you a huge salary bump to jump ship, wouldn’t you do it? These players don’t believe they represent their cities as much as we do as fans, so to them these are all business decisions. Favre made a business decision, and as much as it breaks my heart to see him in purple, I can’t get too mad at him. Still, I would’ve cheered if the Pack had managed a sack.

On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin

So this will be a bit of a challenge to write about, because honestly I partied a bit to hardily at the Baseball Tavern and my memory of this game is a little spotty, to say the least. I know Wisconsin beat Minnesota and maintained possession of Paul Bunyan’s axe, which is a pretty awesome trophy if I do say so myself. Anyway, the Badgers won 31-28. The hero of the day was definitely John Clay, who rushed for 3 TDs and 184 yards of total offense. He was the absolute key to the Badgers offense, allowing Wisconsin to eat up clock time and control the pace of the game throughout its entirety. All in all, the Badgers rushed for nearly 300 yards, and that’s a great way to control the ball and set the pace of the game.

Scott Tolzien, the Wisconsin  quarterback, played all right. He threw for just under 170 yards and had a nice passing TD to Lance Kendricks. He also gave up an interception, unfortunately. I think Tolzien is rounding into a competent quarterback. He’s not a great quarterback, not like John Stocco was, but he can efficiently run Badgers offense and lead the team when he is called on to do so. I think the strength of this team still lies in its running game, though, and that running game will need to continue to perform well if the Badgers want to contend for a bowl game this season. Were a game to be put in the hands of Scott Tolzien alone, I’m still not convinced he could win it for us.

Defensively, I really think this team has some talented players on it. I continue to be impressed with O’Brien Schofield. Schofield is right up there with any defensive star in the NCAA and I think the Badgers really have something in him. I love watching him play. He plays with talent, ferocity, and control, and he is an absolute monster pass rusher. If the Badgers can keep him healthy, I think he could give any opposing quarterback fits, no matter how talented.

Unlike the last game I watched from the Badgers, I really feel they earned this victory. They didn’t get lucky, they didn’t receive a bunch of penalties in their favor, and they didn’t rely on Minnesota making mistakes in order for them to win the game. Simply put, they outplayed the Golden Gophers. Their offense played superior football, and the only reason Minnesota was even IN this game in the 4th quarter was because Wisconsin fumbled and the Gophers recovered for a TD. Quite honestly, Minnesota was lucky this game wasn’t a complete blowout.

In any event, Wisconsin won. They improve to 5-0. Unfortunately, everyone they’ve beaten so far are unranked teams. This means that for the 5th week in a row, the Badgers will go unranked, despite their run of success this season so far. I think it will take a victory against a ranked opponent for Wisconsin to get ranked, which is a good thing. It will show us for once how good this team is comparatively. If they can beat a ranked team, say Iowa in a couple of weeks, it will show that Wisconsin deserves to be considered among the top programs this season. If they lose, it will show that the Badgers are just an above average team beating up on inferior opponents. I’m looking forward to finding out which is the case.

Fantasy Sports: I Don’t Get It!

I love watching sports. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, definitely. I love pro and college sports. I also like more archaic sports, such as beach or indoor volleyball. I’ll watch certain kinds of combat sports, such as the World Combat League on Vs., and I’ve even been known to watch a horse race or two. I love watching sports. And, as evidenced by this blog, I clearly love thinking about, talking about, and writing about sports as well. I would say I love sports in general, and all that they entail. Except for one thing: fantasy leagues.

To this point, I’ve joined two fantasy leagues: one baseball, one football. The football team was my first. I actually missed the draft, so I didn’t even get to pick who was on my team. As it turns out, my team was good enough to make the playoffs of my league. Having done little to bolster my team throughout the season, I considered it a moral victory. My baseball team, last I checked, was in last place. This doesn’t really bother me, since it’s run through a company I no longer work for. Neither of these leagues have been a huge source of enjoyment or entertainment for me, and I think I’ve figured out why: The drafts take too long.

To me, it’s just not worth it to spend two hours waiting around, with just moments of excitement every now and again when it becomes your turn to pick. It’s like watching a low-scoring baseball game: boring. And unless you really put the time in ahead of the draft, you won’t really know if you’re even getting a good team or not. Granted, there are more experienced fantasy players for whom this is not an issue. But for me, it is. The draft simply takes too long to make it worth it to even play.

Additionally, I find fantasy sports to just be a jocky version of Dungeons and Dragons. When it comes down to it, how different are fantasy sports leagues from fantasy role playing games such as D&D? Both revolve around creating teams of characters with stat based abilities. Having high constitution or charisma is essentially the same as having a high batting average or completion percentage. Instead of player-created dungeons, we have pre-scheduled games for players to pit their athletes in and see who does the best. Instead of experience points, we have fantasy points that lead players to higher rankings and teams to better performances. It’s all the same, and it’s just as nerdy. It’s just not as OVERTLY nerdy, and people hope no one notices what’s below the surface. Frankly, I’m not buying it.

The last reason I’m not crazy about fantasy leagues is that they lack the connectedness of real sports teams. What makes sports great is the way they unite a community around a group of people whose actions they have no control over. The Boston Red Sox, despite being comprised of many players who are not natives of Massachusetts nor even current residents, somehow come to represent the city of Boston. Ohio State’s football team represents even those students who’ve never been to a football game. With fantasy leagues, you lose that in the face of pure individualism. I watch sports to feel part of something larger than myself. I don’t watch to feel more insulated and individualized. Fantasy leagues remove from sports that which makes them wonderful.

Maybe I’ll never get the appeal of fantasy sports. I’ll have to be content with real sports and just hope that somehow Tom Brady develops better THACO.