DigBoston: Bruins-Canadiens Story Live

Head over to DigBoston for my column on the Bruins-Canadiens game last Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I was hoping for a raucous crowd Thursday night when I went to North Star near the TD Garden to watch the Bruins play the Canadiens. What I got was something surprisingly un-raucous, and it made it for an interesting third DigBoston column.

Check it out!

Patriots Report Card: Divisional Round

With over 75 percent accuracy, masterful two-minute offense and a playoff record-tying six touchdown passes, Tom Brady gets an "A+" in this week's report card. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Book of (2) Timothy states: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

The Book of Tom states: “Good for you. I just whomped your ass.”

Any comparisons between Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots died following Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game. Brady tied the NFL postseason record with six passing touchdowns, the defense squished Tebow under hundreds of pounds of linemen and linebackers, and the Patriots cruised to a 45-10 gelding of the Broncos.

With a victory as complete as the Patriots’ over the Broncos, did anyone not earn academic honors? Here’s my first report card of the playoffs.

Quarterback: A+

Brady set a first-half playoff record with five touchdown passes, then tied the single-game record with a sixth in the third quarter. He completed over 75 percent of his passes, averaging better than a first down per reception. He finished the game with 363 passing yards, six touchdowns and an interception. He orchestrated a masterful 58-yard drive with a minute left in the half, needing just five plays to hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a 35-7 lead with 5 seconds left in the half.

Brady’s best touchdown pass came with just under two minutes left in the first half, when he hit Deion Branch perfectly in stride after Branch ran past cornerback Andre’ Goodman. Not needing to slow down to catch the ball, Branch easily got to the end zone for the 61-yard score and a 28-7 lead.

Brady also executed the best quick-kick I’ve ever seen.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Divisional Round

Red Sox Ink Jarrod Saltalamacchia to One-Year, $2.5 Million Deal

How the newly re-signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia handles Jon Lester and the other top Red Sox pitchers will determine his success as the new everyday catcher. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Jason Varitek is gone. Now it’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s turn.

The Red Sox signed Saltalamacchia to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Sunday, the Boston Globe reported, avoiding arbitration and giving Saltalamacchia a $1.75 million bump over his 2011 salary.

Saltalamacchia’s Giant Offensive Step Forward

Though he may never be the biggest offensive contributor on the team, Saltalamacchia proved last year he’s a legitimate power threat from the bottom-third of the lineup. He set many personal bests in 2011, including hits (84), doubles (23), triples (three), home runs (16) and RBIs (56). Saltalamacchia’s 2011 season ranks ahead of all of Varitek’s post-2007 seasons in most offensive categories, including batting average (.235 for Saltalamacchia in 2011).

The Red Sox have plenty of hitters in the middle of the lineup, but the deeper they can maintain their power, the better. If Saltalamacchia can continue to improve offensively – especially reducing his fifth-among-catchers 119 strikeouts – the hitters in front of him will enjoy more-hittable pitches.

Defensively Sound, Saltalamacchia Must Improve Game-Management

Not only did Saltalamacchia drive in runs, he likely saved quite a few as well. Saltalmacchia threw out 37 runners in 2011, ranking fourth in the majors. Varitek has never thrown out more than 31.

Defense isn’t the problem for Saltalamacchia. But finally given the starting job, Saltalamacchia needs to take control of the pitching staff.

Red Sox pitchers allowed over a run more per game with Saltalamacchia behind the plate than with Varitek. Saltalamacchia posted a 4.63 CERA (catcher’s ERA) to Varitek’s 3.56. Varitek hasn’t posted a CERA that high since 2006.

Of course, the pitchers Varitek and Saltalamacchia worked with played a big role in the differences between their numbers last season. Varitek has long been the designated catcher for Josh Beckett and Jon Lester – Boston’s two best pitchers. Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, has had to work with high-ERA guys like John Lackey and Tim Wakefield.

Continue reading Red Sox Ink Jarrod Saltalamacchia to One-Year, $2.5 Million Deal

Boston.com: Somerville-Medford Girls’ Basketball Story Live

The Boston Globe liked my first high school basketball story so much, they brought me back to write a second, this one about Friday’s Somerville-Medford girls’ basketball game. And they paid for it, too!

Check it out!

Book Review: “Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection,” by Geno Auriemma, with Jackie MacMullan

"Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection," by Geno Auriemma, with Jackie MacMullan

Geno:In Pursuit of Perfection is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s memoir. Published in 2006, the mostly self-written book takes us from Auriemma’s earliest years in Italy to growing up in Norristown, Penn. The book touches lightly on Auriemma’s career at St. Joseph’s and Virginia before devoting the bulk of pages to UConn. Diana Taurasi, whose departure basically ends the book, also introduces it.

Though also credited as a writer, the book contains none of former Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan’s style. I get the feeling MacMullan just helped a bit with structure and grammar.

As Good as it Gets

The best parts of this memoir are the recruiting stories for Rebecca Lobo and Taurasi. They were two of the most acclaimed, successful and popular players in women’s basketball history, and the book doesn’t skimp on how Auriemma convinced them to play for UConn. Lobo’s story actually reads a bit better because UConn wasn’t a premier franchise yet.

Auriemma’s brief discussions of real basketball strategy are also quite interesting. Too many look at Auriemma and only see his “fiery” attitude. They forget that to do what Auriemma’s done, you need the brains to properly utilize the talented players you have. The strategy sessions show off his mind instead of his voice.

Still, this book has some serious flaws to it. Auriemma darts back and forth too much between seasons. The 1995 and 2002-04 championship teams obviously had different players. Auriemma also says he both worked his players harder and got more feedback from players on those early teams. So if the players are different, the relationship with the players are different, and the demands placed on the players are different, how valid can any comparison between two eras of UConn basketball really be?

Additionally, Auriemma’s a coach – he’s not a writer. He tends to use the same adjectives to describe every one of his players. He names two or three different players as the nicest, the most loving, the most fit, the smartest, etc. By using the same superlatives over and over, Auriemma diminishes each player’s unique accomplishments.

Yes, a school like UConn will likely get multiple players who are incredibly smart, incredibly athletic, or incredibly competitive. But no two players are identical, and Auriemma should have tried harder to differentiate his players by specific strengths and weaknesses. Only Swin Cash comes off as unique, and that’s only because she dressed exceptionally well (which is kinda sexist to focus on, anyway).

Continue reading Book Review: “Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection,” by Geno Auriemma, with Jackie MacMullan

A Nation Divided Makes Great Football

The Saints' Drew Brees is just too good a passer, with too many great receivers, to be contained by the 49ers in Saturday's divisional-round playoff game. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Eight division winners will fight for spots in the AFC and NFC Championships this weekend. The last time no fifth- or sixth-seed teams won their Wild Card playoff games was 2007.  Since the 1978-79 NFL playoffs – the first season with Wild Card playoff births (albeit just one per conference) – the higher-seeded teams have never won all their first- and second-round games.

At least one of the better-rested teams will very soon enjoy a much longer respite. Who will it be? Here’s my preview.

Saints vs. 49ers

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. at San Francisco

San Francisco has a very strong defense: first in rushing yards per game, second in points per game, fourth in total yards. Notice which category I left out? That’s right: passing yards per game. And they’re taking on New Orleans – the best passing team in the NFL. Drew Brees can shred even good secondaries like confetti. There are far worse pass-defenses (including New Orleans’), but the 49ers’ biggest weakness plays directly into the hands of the Saints’ greatest strength.

Meanwhile the 49ers average over 10 fewer points per game than the Saints. The 49ers’ offense is horrendous: their best wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, has caught just four touchdown passes, while QB Alex Smith is an untested, above-average quarterback who can only be used sparingly (just 197 yards per game). Frank Gore runs well, but the Saints defend against the run far better than against the pass.

San Francisco can’t match New Orleans’ scoring, so they’ll have to win it by forcing turnovers. Only problem: the Saints showed last week against the Lions that they too can intercept passes.Pick: Saints.

Continue reading A Nation Divided Makes Great Football

Heidi Watney Breaks Collarbone Playing Ultimate Frisbee

If Heidi Watney wants to avoid fracturing her collarbone playing Ultimate, she should organize her team so only one person cuts at any one time. And buy a pair of cleats. (www.insidelocal.com)

It seems Heidi Watney’s transition from the Red Sox and NESN to the Lakers and Time Warner has been anything but painless. Both the Boston Globe and CBS Boston reported Monday that Watney broke her collarbone playing Ultimate Frisbee in what she tweeted was a “full-speed collision.”

Goose’s Gabs sends our best wishes to Ms. Watney as she recovers from such a painful injury. And with 13 years of competitive Ultimate Frisbee experience under my belt, here are a few suggestions that might help her avoid any subsequent injuries in what’s easily my favorite sport to play.

Time Your Cuts

As a NESN reporter, Ms. Watney, you haven’t been exposed to football and basketball the way you have baseball and hockey. That’s too bad, because an Ultimate receiver’s moves bear the most resemblance to basketball and football moves. The sport combines the circulations of a half-court basketball offense with the deep- and hitch-routes common to football. And as with basketball and football, not cutting off other receivers or allowing one defender to cover two receivers is essential to running an offense. So wait for your teammates to cut, then time yours so that you’re the only one cutting. You’ll get open more often, and way more safely.

Organize Your Offense

Pickup Ultimate too often devolves into people running around all willy-nilly. And in all that chaos and confusion, collisions become almost inevitable. Instead, try convincing your teammates to organize themselves in a straight line down the field, which Ultimate players call a “stack.” Then have the last person in the stack cut in towards the disc. When that person catches it (or doesn’t and runs to the front of the stack), the new last person in the stack cuts in. Your opponents will be dumbfounded by your team’s rhythm. And again, way fewer collisions.

Wear Cleats

The easiest way to improve your ability to stop or angle away from other players is with a pair of cleats. Cleats allow for quicker reactions and better-controlled sprints. Every Ultimate player who reaches a certain competitive level (often as young as junior high, if you go to places like Amherst, Mass.) buys a pair. You should, too.

Continue reading Heidi Watney Breaks Collarbone Playing Ultimate Frisbee

Boston.com: Cambridge-Somerville Boys’ Basketball Story Live

As some of you might know, Somerville Patch canceled my writing contract with them as the organization moves towards cheaper, user-generated (i.e. “crappy”) content. So rather than let my professional relationships with the coaches and administrators of Somerville High School go to waste, I pitched my services to Boston.com. I wrote my tryout feature for them on Friday’s GBL-opener between the Somerville and Cambridge boys’ basketball teams.

The story went live Saturday morning, and my editor said he wanted to work with me again. Check it out!