2011 World Series Prediction

Although he's just 0-2 in the postseason, Jaime Garcia is my choice for World Series MVP, after the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in seven games. (AP Photo/Tannen Maury, Pool)
Although he's just 0-2 in the postseason, Jaime Garcia is my choice for World Series MVP, after the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in seven games. (AP Photo/Tannen Maury, Pool)

And then there were two. Two teams that were the best in their leagues. Two teams filled with compelling, heartfelt stories of perseverance. Two teams so plucky and exciting they are sure to captivate the country, nay, the world as they compete for the World Series championship.

Bullshit. It’s the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Texas Rangers.

No one outside of Missouri and Dallas gives a crap about these teams. But here’s who I think will win.

Game 1 pairs Texas’ C.J. Wilson with St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter. Wilson had the better regular season, winning five more games, striking out 15 more batters and posting an ERA a half-run lower. To help him out, only four Cardinals have ever faced him. Comeback Player of the Year Lance Berkman has seen Wilson the most with 18 appearances, but he’s batted just .214. No Cardinal has homered off Wilson, and such inexperience will mean the Cardinals will have to be dependent on game film more than personal experience.

While Texas’ Mike Napoli is the only Ranger to ever homer off Carpenter, seven have at-least faced him. That might give Texas a slight offensive advantage. They’ve also had the slightly stronger bullpen, so I’m giving Game 1 to Texas in a tight one on the road.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 6

Andre Carter's two sacks highlighted a strong performance from the New England Patriot defensive line against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For the first 25 minutes the New England Patriots had the ball against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6, they played sloppy, uncreative football. But down three points with 2:31 left in the game, Tom Brady led a precision air-strike that culminated in Brady’s 8-yard bullet to Aaron Hernandez in the end zone, completing yet another comeback in the saga of Tom Terrific. Coupled with a Buffalo Bills loss to the New York Giants, the Patriots enter their bye-week in first place in the AFC East.

Who qualified for the AP class and who’s taking Remedial English? Here’s one analyst’s opinion.

Quarterback: A-

Brady played B/B- football for most of the game, struggling to solve the Cowboys’ complicated defense before their bloodthirsty pass-rushers could reach him. On his final drive, however, Brady’s play became immaculate. Brady went 8-for-9 on that drive, averaging nearly 10 yards per completion. The Cowboys never knew who Brady would throw to next: he targeted his tight ends three times, Wes Welker four times, and Danny Woodhead twice. He also converted a third-and-1 from the Dallas 29 with a QB sneak, capping a 17-yard rushing day to go with his 289-yard and two-touchdown passing day.

Brady’s only truly boneheaded play came in the fourth quarter, when he threw to Hernandez in double-coverage and linebacker Sean Lee easily picked him off. That interception – Brady’s second – killed a drive that had already entered field-goal territory, but better protection might have prevented the snap-judgment throw.

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In Defense of Ochocinco

Chad Ochocinco is averaging just 1.8 receptions and 27.2 yards per game this season. I couldn't care less. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Chad Ochocinco has nine catches, 136 receiving yards and no touchdowns in six games this season. These numbers are far and away the worst they’ve ever been for Ochocinco, who averaged five catches and 74 yards per game in his first 10 seasons. Ochocinco has given the Patriots virtually nothing as he takes his sweet time learning their offense.

I could not care less. I have absolutely no problem with Ochocinco, and I’m getting increasingly tired of all the Chad-bashing.

Ochocinco: Just the Fifth Receiving Option

Every team has a receiver who contributes less than the others. There has to be a fifth receiver. In years past, a tight end usually filled that role. Tom Brady knew this, so he either lived along the sidelines or used slot receivers to cover the middle of the field. Now, with the the Patriots’ Dynamic Duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has two huge targets to throw to in the flat. Gronkowski is too big and strong, and Hernandez is too quick. No defense has figured out how to shut one down without springing the other, and Hernandez’s speed let’s him double as a deep-threat.

Ochocinco doesn’t need to run the flat routes that older Patriots’ wide receivers had to because the Patriots’ tight ends match up better against opposing linebackers than Ochocinco ever could. Just remember: Hernandez is as tall as Ochocino with 50 extra pounds of muscle; Gronkowski is five inches taller and 70 pounds stronger.

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Malden Boys’ and Girls’ Cross Country Finish 1-2-4 to Sweep Somerville

(written and photographed for Somerville Patch)

Malden High School finished 1-2-4 in both their boys’ and girls’ cross country races against Somerville High School, powering the Golden Tornados to a sweep over the Highlanders Wednesday afternoon at the Blessing of the Bay Boat House course in Somerville.

“We knew it was going to be a tough meet,” Somerville coach Charlie Tesch said. “We knew that they were good, and it was an outside chance for us to get them.”

Malden High entered Wednesday’s race leading the Greater Boston League in both boys’ and girls’ cross country, and again they raced well. Freshman Berhanu Tsige and senior Yusuf Mohamed took the top two spots for the boys after leading for virtually the entire 2.5-mile course. Tsige finished in 13 minutes and 50 seconds, and Mohamed finished in 14:02.

Top highlander Brian Martinez finished third in 14:05. It was Martinez’s first home race this season, and his finish prevented the Golden Tornados from automatically clinching the meet. In cross country, the top five places for each team are added up, and the lower score wins. A team finishing 1-2-3 is mathematically incapable of losing.

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Three Somerville Highlanders Score as Boys’ Soccer Team Handles Lowly Boston Latin

(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)

The Somerville Highlanders scored in the first minute of Monday’s game at Dilboy Stadium and never looked back, beating the one-win Boston Latin Wolfpack, 3-0.

The Highlanders surged towards the Wolfpack goal to begin the game, showing off the speed and finesse-passing that has led to eight wins in their first 10 games. The Highlanders capped the drive with a centering pass from sophomore striker Thayrone Miranda to senior Edgardo Perez Vasquez, who buried the ball the in the back of the net. The Highlanders led 1-0 and the game had barely begun.

“We started off really strong,” Somerville coach George Scarpelli said. “I think that we really focused on working the ball to the outside, keeping the ball on the ground. That’s our style of game.”

The goal exemplified the Highlanders’ aggressive play in the early minutes of the game, which led to several shots on net. Miranda fired off a tight-angle shot that Boston Latin keeper Isaac Buck stopped, then midfielder Francisco Fernandes Neto aimed a 20-yarder at the left corner that Buck had to dive to keep out of the net.

Miranda also set up a heading opportunity that went over the Wolfpack goal, then clanged a breakaway shot off the near goalpost. All this happened in the first 10 minutes of play.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 5

BenJarvus Green-Ellis' career-high 136 rushing yards and two touchdowns (one shown here) against the Jets Sunday earns him top marks. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Though it wasn’t the 45-3 dismembering the Patriots gave the Jets last season, the Patriots still drew first blood against their rivals from New Jersey Sunday when they beat the Jets, 30-21. The Patriots are now one 30-point game shy of the St. Louis Rams’ NFL-record 14 consecutive games. Who’s moving to the head of the class and who’s stuck wearing the dunce cap? The answers lie below.

Quarterback: A-

When running backs put up 149 yards and two touchdowns, the quarterback can usually ease up a bit. Still, Tom Brady played solidly, completing over 70 percent of his passes and averaging nearly 10 yards per completion. Brady didn’t let his interception off the hands of a still-recovering Aaron Hernandez affect his poise the way picks did against Buffalo. Brady also showed considerable heart by standing in the pocket over and over again despite a porous offensive line that four times allowed Jets rushers to sack him.

Running backs: A

BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t quite ready to give up the starting job to Stevan Ridley, setting a career-high with 136 rushing yards and scoring two touchdowns Sunday. His biggest yards came on a fourth-quarter direct snap from the New York 46. Had Green-Ellis not converted that third-and-4, the Patriots would have punted and relied on their defense to preserve a six-point lead. Instead, Green-Ellis executed the play perfectly, chewed up 14 yards, and pushed the Patriots into field-goal range. The Jets burned all three timeouts, and the Patriots still went up nine on the field goal with just a minute to play.

Green-Ellis also added a 13-yard catch and helped sell the one play-action pass the Patriots ran. Terrific game all around.

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Milan Hejduk Hands Rask First Loss of Season

Avalanche right wing Milan Hejduk (23) celebrates his goal against the Bruins with teammates Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson during the third period of Monday's game in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Bruins won over 60 percent of their faceoffs Monday against the Colorado Avalanche at the TD Garden. One of the few they lost came back to haunt them.

Avalanche right winger Milan Hejduk scored with eight minutes gone in the third after teammate Peter Mueller won a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone, and goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov stopped all 30 Bruins shots to give the Avalanche a 1-0 victory over the Bruins. The Bruins finished their season-opening homestand 1-2, while the Avalanche scored and won for the first time.

Hejduk Spoils Strong Game from Rask

Tuukka Rask wanted desperately to show his 2010-11 season was a fluke, and that the real Rask just took a year off following a sterling 2009-10. And for over two periods Monday, Rask succeeded. No matter whether the Avalanche shot from far away (such as defenceman Kyle Quincey‘s 39-footer early in the first) or from point-blank range (such as Hedjuk’s powerplay shot from 13 feet away later in the period), Rask corralled everything thrown his way, gobbling up the puck to prevent rebounds.

Rask stopped all 29 Avalanche shots through two, keeping the Bruins in the game until his save off a Mueller wrist-shot caused a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone. Mueller won it and dished it quickly to nearby center Matt Duchene. Duchene fed it to defenceman Jan Hejda near the blue line, who then hit Hedjuk along the boards. Hedjuk turned and fired off a wrist-shot from 29 feet away that squeaked between Rask and the right goal post. Zdeno Chara may also have partially screened Rask.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: Championship Series

Justin Verlander should pitch the Tigers into the World Series, possibly winning ALCS MVP honors in the process.(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

I was a rainstorm and a Chris Carpenter three-hitter away from sweeping the opening round of the MLB playoffs. Instead, another .500 showing, with my pick for the World Series – the Philadelphia Phillies – not among the winners. Oh well, always move forward. Here are my picks for the ALCS and NLCS (home-field team second).

ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

Tigers coach Jim Leyland rolled the dice in Game 5 of the ALDS by keeping out Justin Verlander. The gambit paid off, because now the Tigers start the best pitcher in the majors in Game 1. Verlander is 6-2 lifetime against the Rangers, and he’s never lost in Arlington (3-0, 1.29 ERA). C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but Verlander is just better. Tigers take Game 1 on the road.

Not helping matters is the Rangers’ offense. More specifically: there lack thereof. The Rangers are the weakest-hitting team left in the playoffs. They hit the worst, they get on base the least, and they drive the ball the least often. They’ve hit as many home runs as any remaining team, but that’s where the offense stops. And while Doug Holland may beat Max Scherzer at Rangers Ballpark – a hitter’s park – in Game 2, that lack of offense is sure to influence Games 3 through 5 at Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park.

The Rangers sport a mediocre .278 combined average against Doug Fister, who will start game 3 for the Tigers. Fister will still be amped from his ALDS Game 5 win over the Yankees, and that’s bad news for a Rangers team with such paltry on-base (.303) and slugging (.406) against him. If Fister can stay on top of Nelson Cruz (.500 avg, 1.390 OPS, home run), he should hold the Rangers in check long enough for the Tigers to get the better of Colby Lewis. The Tigers bat a combined .356 against Lewis, and everyone but backups Brandon Inge and Omir Santos has driven in at least one run.

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Strong Serving and Aggressive Passing Carries Prospect Hill Volleyball Over Boston Collegiate

(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

The Prospect Hill Academy volleyball team prides itself on its communication and passing, and both were key Thursday afternoon at Cambridge’s Moore Youth Center, when the Wizards beat the Boston Collegiate Hurricanes in two games.

Though the first game began with back-and-forth scoring, the Wizards took control midway through. The Wizards played more vocal volleyball, constantly calling for the ball and aggressively passing.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, frequently stared at each other as balls bounced in between players. And though the Hurricanes’ bench kept the chatter going throughout the match, their voices paled in comparison to the enthusiastic and supportive chants emanating constantly from the Wizards.

“In practice, we’re always asking them to focus and cheer each other on or help each other out,” PHA coach Suzie Ramirez said.

Captain Aaliyah Mercer exemplified the aggressiveness that led to the Wizards’ 25-20 victory in the first game, serving, setting and passing extremely well. When the Hurricanes went on a 4-0 run to tie the game 16-16, Mercer’s diving serve-return gave the Wizards back both the serve and the lead.

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Red Sox Erred in Firing Francona, Should Cut Epstein Loose

Theo Epstein's bad personnel decisions caused the Red Sox's historic collapse this season. If anyone should be fired, it's Epstein, not Terry Francona. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

It’s too late to undo firing Terry Francona, a rash decision born from the kind of rabid bloodlust that few fanbases besides Boston’s are capable of. But if John Henry wants to cut out the true cause of the Red Sox’s historic collapse, he needs to go one level higher and axe Theo Epstein.

Player misuse caused by bad lineups, rotation or bullpen order can certainly kill a team, and that’s the manager’s fault. But this Red Sox team had a faulty foundation, and that’s the responsibility of the general manager who built it.

The rotten core that killed this Red Sox team began five years ago, when Epstein signed J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka for big-time bucks. Drew’s pedestrian .264 average, 16 home runs and 57.2 RBIs per season have not been worth the cost, but that’s nothing compared with Matsuzaka. The Japanese so-called superstar was a dud in Boston, failing to contribute anything meaningful from 2009 until Tommy John surgery essentially ended his Boston tenure early this season. On top of that, he became one of the most frustrating, least entertaining pitchers in recent Red Sox history. Fans hated him, and that likely translated into less revenue from him than other pitchers. This is the exact opposite of what Epstein envisioned when he signed Matsuzaka.

Were these the only two bad contracts of the Epstein Era, he keeps his job. But these were just the beginning of a downward trend of spending big money on big games that could never hack it in Boston. For example: the 2010 John Lackey signing – a desperate, panicked attempt to prove to the fans a year after losing Mark Teixeira that Epstein could still attract major talent to as tough a media market as Boston. Lackey didn’t even have a particularly good 2009 (11 wins, fewest since 2003; 3.83 ERA, highest since 2004), but it didn’t matter: Epstein took him and his histrionics anyway. The result? A winning percentage barely above .500 and an ERA over 5.00.

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