A Look at the Patriots’ Offseason

After every Patriots season ends, the fans want to see the team go out and sign a lot of big name free agents. In most offseasons that doesn’t happen but in this one, it did. New England signed Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Brandon LaFell, re-signed Julian Edelman, and kept Vince Wilfork through a restructured contract.

This has been the busiest offseason since 2007 when the Patriots went out and signed Donte Stallworth and traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss. And let’s face it, with Tom Brady not getting any younger, it’s time to start realizing that the window is closing and it may be time to load up on talent.

It seems as if the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have become the new Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Both teams make a play for every big name on the market and a few players (Welker and Talib) even swap jerseys and go to “the dark side”. I actually think the Broncos being aggressive is a good thing because if forces the Patriots to be aggressive as well. For the past few seasons, there were really no teams thought to be better than the Patriots so as a result, there was nothing pushing them to sign big names and get better. Now, the Broncos looked to be the better team and made a splash in free agency early by signing Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and DeMarcus Ware. The Patriots were forced to do something, and they did in a big way.

The Pats secondary has been a large concern and weak spot since the likes of Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel left and before Aqib Talib came. When Talib was acquired, the secondary immediately got better as the team finally had a #1 corner. Belichick loves to take away the opposing team’s #1 weapon (usualy a wide receiver) and in order to do that, you need a shutdown corner.

And the difference between when Talib was on the field and off the field was eye-opening and obvious. In the last two AFC Championship games, Talib left due to injury and as a result, the secondary was shredded. Flacco and Manning both took advantage of the loss of Talib and went after the Patriots defensive backs in route to Super Bowls.

So when Talib signed with the Broncos, the Patriots had to make a move and they did by signing the best cornerback in the game (in my opinion), Darrelle Revis. This signing has to be one of the biggest ones in the team’s history. While it looks to be a short term deal, I wouldn’t be surprised if midway through the season, there is a long-term contract extension announced.

After getting Revis, the Patriots went out signed corner Brandon Browner to a three year deal. Browner will sit out the 1st four games of the season due to suspension but I don’t think that will matter a whole lot in the long run. The Patriots need their best players in January, not September. While there were some rumors about Browner moving to strong safety and being a heavy hitter over the middle, I think he’s best served at corner where he and Revis can be one of the best one-two punches in the league.

The last big signing was former Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell adds size to the passing game and gives Tom Brady a big target in the red zone. At one point last season, Brady was throwing to Amendola, Edelman, and Austin Collie, all smaller guys. That makes things tough in the red zone. You need big bodies and LaFell provides that.

Julian Edelman was a key re-signing in my opinion. He was clearly Brady’s favorite target and he’s a very valuable punt returner. There seemed to be a lot of interest in him from other teams but the money didn’t add up and he came back to New England. A primary receiving core of Edelman, LaFell, Dobson, Amendola, and Gronkowski should be more than enough to put up plenty of points, given that they stay healthy. Fingers crossed.

After the Revis signing, news broke that Vince Wilfork wanted his release from the Patriots. But wanting it and getting it are two different things and everything was quiet for a while after that. That was until yesterday when Wilfork sent out a tweet saying he was going to remain a Patriot for a long time. Big Vince restructured his deal into a more team-friendly one and saved the Patriots some money and cap space.

It appears to me that the Patriots have gotten significantly better on both sides of the ball this offseason. They’ve bolstered their secondary into one of the best in league, in my opinion. They restructured Wilfork and Kelly’s contract and now have a solid interior defensive line. And they’ve added to the passing game. Also, let’s not forget that they are getting Mayo, Vollmer, and Gronkowski back from injury as well.

The Pats have lost a few players this offseason however. As I mentioned before, Talib signed with the Broncos. In addition to that, Brandon Spikes signed with the Bills, LeGarrette Blount signed with the Steelers, and Steve Gregory was released.

I still think there is some work left to be done. The team still needs a pass rusher. I was hoping for a Jared Allen signing but that didn’t happen. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are a good tandem but I still think they need someone else in that rotation. If one of those guys go down, the team will be in serious trouble.

One last thing I would like the see the team get is another pass-catching tight end. I think it’s just a given now that you can’t rely on Gronkowski to be healthy for the whole season. And when he goes down, the Patriots struggle to score touchdowns in the end zone. Adding a second pass-catching tight end could give the Pats an insurance policy on Gronk and if Gronk’s healthy, it gives them yet another weapon. New England has done pretty well with two solid tight ends before. There are quite a few good tight ends in the draft and I’m guessing the team will draft one of them. Jace Amaro has been linked to the Patriots a lot.

This offseason has been fun and the back and forth between the Broncos has been interesting but let’s not forget that beating Denver means going to the Super Bowl, not winning it. There are still quite a few teams in the NFC that have loaded rosters and will give the Patriots all they can handle.

Patriots Fall To The Broncos

Not sure how to approach this one. On one hand, it’s impressive that the Patriots even got to this point with all of the injuries. At the same time, a playoff loss is a playoff loss. And New England had their chances in this game but Denver just outplayed them.

This game was too reminiscent of last year’s AFC Championship game. Aqib Talib goes down with an injury (thanks Wes) and the Patriots defense couldn’t stop the opposing team’s #1 receiver. Demaryius Thomas had a field day against Alfonzo Dennard yet there were no defensive adjustments made. I really don’t get that one at all.

Unfortunately at the Patriots expense, Peyton Manning had one of the best days of his career. He had all the weapons you could ask for and picked apart New England’s defense. Dennard couldn’t stop D. Thomas, rookie Logan Ryan had an off game, and the offensive line gave Manning all the time in the world to throw. Not once was he knocked down to the ground. You can’t give a great QB time to throw with those weapons, that just spells disaster.

Onto the Patriots offense, I thought they would score a lot more than 16 points in this one. One mistake I made was discounting Denver’s run defense. The ground game was ineffective until the Broncos dared the offense to run the ball in the 4th quarter.

With the running game being ineffective, Denver started applying pressure to Tom Brady and they got to him way too frequently. I’m not saying Brady had no chance to make plays but he didn’t have a lot of time to throw the ball.

Brady did not have his best game in this one. He missed some open throws for sure. He was out-played by Manning and that’s tough for me to admit. There were a few chances for big plays early in the game but TB12 just didn’t make the throws. The Patriots came into this game as underdogs and there was no margin for error if they wanted to win. Unfortunately too many errors were made.

The offensive play-calling made it seem as if Josh McDaniels had already accepted Cleveland’s head coaching job. On the first two 3rd downs of the game, the calls were to throw the ball to Austin Collie and then to Matthew Slater deep down field. Those are head-scratchers, it seemed like they were trying to be to cute there. Also, a running play on the two point conversion was iffy in my mind too. At that point, keep the ball in Brady’s hand.

The one call I didn’t mind was going for it on 4th and 3 in the 3rd quarter. I know they would’ve need a field goal eventually but 3 points seemed like nothing with the way the Broncos offense was going. They need touchdowns, not field goals.

I can’t help but think what this game would’ve been like if the Patriots had better weapons at receiver. The game is most likely played at Gillette Stadium for one. And that Denver defense could have been had with more talent. Even just a healthy Gronkowski could have made a big difference. I think everyone had flashbacks to 2006 when Brady was throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Jabar Gaffney. I thought that would be the last time that Brady would have such little help around him. Austin Collie and Hooman aren’t going to cut it.

And how about Wes Welker’s replacement? Danny Amendola – 0 catches, 1 drop, 0 difference in the game. He’s an easy target, I know.

The injuries were too much for the Patriots to overcome and it looks as if Talib’s injury was the last straw. If only he was healthy for either AFC Championship game in the past 2 seasons. Without him, opposing offenses just feast.

You can’t really look at this season as a disappointment, at least not in my eyes. The Patriots made it the final four, suffered many blows along the way, and lost to a team with the best offense in the history of the NFL. Too much was stacked up against them and they just didn’t make enough plays. I wonder if we’ll see an offensive overhaul in the offseason like the one that got us Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth.

AFC Championship Preview

In case you haven’t already heard, there’s a pretty big game coming up this Sunday. The Patriots vs. the Broncos in the AFC Championship game. It’s Brady vs. Manning for the 15th time, with 3 of their past bouts coming in the playoffs.

The Patriots enter the game as underdogs and probably rightfully so. They’ve had a ton of players go down to injury, the defense has looked suspect at times, Brady doesn’t have the weapons he used to and they’re on the road facing Peyton Manning and possibly the best offense in the history of the NFL. Yet they are only 4 point underdogs. So you’re saying there’s a chance.

There’s a lot of questions coming into this game. One of them is how the Patriots should run the ball against the Broncos. Denver has a good run defense which is a cause for some concern but I still think New England will be able to get some yards and big plays off of them. Baltimore had a very good run defense and the Patriots ran the ball pretty well against them on the road.

I think the most important aspect of a good running game on the road is that it can take the crowd out of the game and agitate them. Watching an opponent run the ball constantly for positive yardage can be very frustrating. That’s one way to neutralize the crowd.

Even if the running game isn’t a huge success, it can help to set up play action later in the game. So if the Patriots aren’t running the ball effectively, don’t worry, there’s a method to their madness. Also, running the ball can wear out a defense too.

The last thing I’ll mention about the Pats running the ball is that it has been huge for them in the red zone. Since Gronkowski has gone down, the passing game has struggled in the red zone but strong runs can help have a more balanced attack down there.

Onto the passing game, it looks like the 4 main weapons will be Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and Kembrell Thompkins. Dobson’s presence should help because he can stretch the field. Also, now that “flugate” is over, there should be no questions about Tom Brady’s health.

Against this Broncos defense, Brady has had relatively no problem putting up points. In his last four games against Denver, the Patriots offense has put up 34, 31, 45 and 41 points. This time around, Denver’s D won’t have All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller or #1 corner Chris Harris. I don’t see scoring as a huge issue in this game, even though Brady has less targets to throw to than in the past.

Onto the Broncos. They run the ball pretty well, in part because opposing defenses have to respect the pass so much. Knowshon Moreno and Monte Ball are solid running backs that are capable of making big plays. They certainly have to be accounted for.

Everyone knows about Denver’s arsenal attack. Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas. This group set every offensive record imaginable this year You can’t stop this offense, you can only hope to slow it down, and keep it out of the endzone.

Here would be my gameplan on defense. Run a 4-2-5 defense which would mean taking out a linebacker (Dane Fletcher) and bringing in another cornerback, assuming Denver uses their slot receiver a lot. Aqib Talib gets Demaryius Thomas, Alfonzo Dennard get Eric Decker, Kyle Arrington gets Wes Welker, and Jamie Collins gets Julius Thomas. And Logan Ryan subs for corners as needed. I think you have to play a man defense because Manning will find the soft spots in a zone defense.

For me, there are two keys to this game (and yes, there pretty obvious). One is limit the turnovers. Both QBs are too good to give extra possessions to. The second is red zone efficiency. If Denver drives down the field but only gets 3 points out of it, that’s a win. And for the Patriots, when they’re close to the end zone, they have to punch it in.

I expect this game to be very close. If either team wins by more than a touchdown, I’ll be very surprised.

Here’s a shocker, I’m picking the Patriots to win. A large reason for this is believe that this game will come down to the two QBs and Brady has had more postseason success than Manning.  To steal a quote from Scott Zolak “You can have your Manning, I’ll take my Brady”.

Patriots 31 – Broncos 27

Patriots-Colts Thoughts

With their 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots are heading back to the AFC Championship for the 3rd consecutive year. The Patriots never trailed in this one and looked like the better team for much of the night.

The first thought has to be about the Patriots running game. For the 3rd straight game, New England ran right over their opponents. LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards, Stevan Ridley ran for 52, and Shane Vereen tacked on another 17. The team combined for 234 rushing yards while Tom Brady threw for 198.

Blount just looks like he can’t be stopped right now. He has the power to break tackles and extend his runs while having the speed and shiftiness to elude tacklers in the open field. Plus, he has to be running with high confidence. Until the opposition finds a way to stop him, keep handing him the ball.

It’s pretty impressive when the Patriots continuously run the ball, the defense plays to prevent it, and the running game is still a success. A great running game helps control the time of possession and tires out a defense in addition to setting up the play action pass. That was evident when Brady hit Amendola on a big gain when they faked the run. The safeties cheated in, bit on the fake, and Amendola was able to get behind the defense.

Speaking of the passing game, when’s the last time this offense, or any other one, has scored 6 or more touchdowns, all on the ground? Brady only threw the ball 25 times, with no TDs and the team still scored 43 points.

On to the defense, they only gave up 20 points (not including the safety) to an offense that scored 45 the week before. They completely stopped the run, allowing only 69 yards on the ground. Indy isn’t a great running team but this defense has been prone to giving up some rushing yards yet they didn’t on Saturday night.

Andrew Luck threw for 331 yards but his four interceptions was the stat that stands out the most for him. You can’t turn the ball over 4 times on the road in the playoffs and expect to win, not against a good football team at least. I have no doubt he’ll be a great quarterback but 7 interceptions in two playoff games is something that can’t happen. Nonetheless, he did make some eye-popping throws that show the hype about him is well deserving.

The three best defensive players for the Patriots weren’t even on the team two years ago. Alfonzo Dennard, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins all had terrific games. Dennard had 2 interceptions, including one on the Colts first series of the game which set up an easy touchdown run. Collins had 1 pick, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses. Hightower quieted his critics with 1 interception and 8 tackles. It’s nice to see these young players stepping up in big games.

And you can’t mention players stepping up without mentioning Stephen Gostkowski. After Ryan Allen got hurt, Gostkowski filled in as a punter and did a pretty decent job, you certainly couldn’t have asked a lot more from him. He had 5 punts, including a 53-yarder, and pinned the Colts inside their own 20 twice. And how about Brady holding snaps for the first time since his college days too.

All in all, this was a very good win for the Patriots. They took care of business at home and are now heading out to Denver for the AFC Championship game. It’s Brady v. Manning with a shot at the Super Bowl on the line. Is it Sunday yet?

Breaking Down The Patriots Potential 2nd Round Opponents

The Patriots went 12-4 in the regular season and that was good enough to get a 1st round bye in the playoffs. They’re the #2 seed and will face the highest seed left in the AFC in the divisional round of the playoffs next Saturday night. Their three potential opponents are the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, and Kansas City Chiefs.

New England is most likely to face the Cincinnati Bengals, seeing how they’re the #3 seed and should have an easy win against San Diego on Sunday. The Bengals handed the Patriots their first loss of the year this season back in Week 5. That was by far the most poorly game played by the Pats offense this season, putting up only 6 points. The Patriots defense only gave up 13 points while forcing 6 punts and 2 turnovers. I thought New England lost this game more than Cincinnati won it.

Despite the Week 5 result, the Bengals may not be a bad opponent for the Patriots to play. Cincinnati is a completely different team on the road. They were 8-0 at home but 3-5 away. Marvin Lewis is 0-4 in the playoffs as the head coach of the Bengals and their quarterback Andy Dalton has had two forgetful games in his two postseason appearances. These facts line up well for the Patriots who were 8-0 at home this season.

One thing to consider however is that the teams who have recently beat the Patriots in the playoffs are teams that play very physical (Ravens x2, Giants x2, and Jets). The Bengals are very physical and have a very good defense. If you hear the names Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap a lot, it’s not a good thing because that means they are putting pressure on Tom Brady. Cincinnati has a few very good cornerbacks as well.

Next up are the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck brought his team back to the playoffs and now he looks for his first postseason win. There’s a decent chance he’ll get it since he’s playing the Kansas City Chiefs and he already beat them on the road by 16 points a few weeks ago. Now Indy will host the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon.

The Colts passing game took a big hit when Reggie Wayne tore his ACL, but the offense has continued to play well. T.Y. Hilton stepped up and had over 1000 receiving yards while Luck’s college teammate, tight end Coby Fleener, has had a nice season as well. The running game isn’t all that strong, which allows opposing defenses to focus heavily on stopping the pass.

Defensively, the Colts are one of the worst teams when it comes to stopping the run. They give up 125 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots have run the ball well recently and that could be a big advantage for them if these two teams meet. When it comes to the defending against the pass, Indy has been slightly above average compared to other teams. Robert Mathis can still be an effective pass rusher and the secondary has some talented players.

The team the Patriots are least likely to face is the Kansas City Chiefs and that may not be a bad thing. I’m not sure whether to consider the Chiefs a real contender or not. They have a lot of talent but this is the first year that this unit has been good. Will they be just a good regular season team like the Falcons and Texans of the past few seasons or are they legitimate? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

One of the main reasons I don’t want to play the Chiefs is because of their running back Jamaal Charles. Charles led the team in rushing and receiving yards this season which is very impressive. The Patriots have had trouble stopping the run and covering quick receivers in the open field. If the Patriots can’t contain Charles, it could be a long game.

KC’s quarterback is Alex Smith. The ex-49er has played well in his first season with his new team. He’s a system QB that takes what the defense gives him. He won’t wow you with many throws but he usually won’t cost you the game either. Besides Charles, he has a few weapons at his disposal including WR Dwayne Bowe.

Their defense has a lot of talent but gives up a lot of yards as well. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston both had 11 sacks this year and need to be accounted for. They have some big guys on the defensive line, including nose tackle Dontari Poe. In the secondary they have two pro bowlers, CB Brandon Flowers and SS Eric Berry.

The Chiefs started the year off 9-0 but then lost 5 of their last 7 games. They have a lot of good players including 8 Pro Bowlers so talent isn’t an issue. It’s just a matter of whether this team can get out of their down stretch and have postseason success.

With all this being said, I think the best match-up for the Patriots would be the Colts and worst match-up would be the Chiefs, although I would still like New England’s chances in that game. The Bengals wouldn’t be an easy win either but having them come to Foxboro is a big advantage for the Patriots.

Red Sox-Tigers Series Preview

The Red Sox are four wins away from the World Series. Just let that sink in for a second.

The team standing in their way is the Detroit Tigers, who beat the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS last night. When you look at Detroit’s roster, you see a lot of star power. In their lineup, they have Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson, and the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera. Their top 4 starting pitchers are very good as well. This team doesn’t have a glaring weakness, which probably shows why they’ve made it this far.

The Red Sox haven’t announced their full rotation for this series yet. John Farrell announced that Jon Lester will start Game 1 and Buchholz said today he is pitching Game 2. My guess would be that John Lackey then starts Game 3 and Peavy starts Game 4. The starters looked pretty good for the most part in the ALDS but they will be going up against a much better offense this time around.

When looking at how the Red Sox starters have done versus the current Tigers hitters, you don’t see numbers that you’re very excited about.

The current Tigers hitters combine for a batting average of .374 off of Jon Lester. Some of Detroit’s best hitters have staggering numbers against Lester: Cabrera (10-19), Avila (3-6), Hunter (11-23) and Martinez (6-13). Despite the high averages however, the power numbers are relatively low. Only 5 homeruns given up in 155 at bats.

John Lackey hasn’t had great success versus Detroit’s lineup either. The team has a .306 batting average against Lackey but again, the power numbers are down. Just 4 homeruns in 196 at bats. Here are some of the hitters with success against #41: Cabrera (.333), Dirks (.400), Fielder (.444), Jackson (.375),  Martinez (.407) and Peralta (.355).

Not every Sox starter struggles against Detroit’s lineup however. Clay Buchholz has limited their hitters to a .229 batting average. Only Avila and Peralta have had sustained success against him. As for Jake Peavy, he’s only allowed the Tigers lineup to hit .258. Torii Hunter hits .438 off him and Miguel Cabrera has 3 homeruns off him but that’s about all they have going against Peavy.

Also, Peavy has spent parts of 5 seasons pitching in the AL Central in which he faced the Tigers a lot so he brings a lot of familiarity to that lineup with him.

We know that Anibal Sanchez is pitching Game 1 for the Tigers but nothing has been confirmed after that. I’m just guessing, but I’d assume the Tigers would have Max Scherzer go in Game 2, Justin Verlander in Game 3, and Doug Fister in Game 4. It matches up pitchers with the proper days off and it allows Detroit to use their two best pitchers, Scherzer and Verlander, in Games 6 and 7 if necessary.

Only 5 Red Sox hitters have ever faced Sanchez, who has spent most of his career in the National League. Out of those 5, only David Ortiz has had success. In three at-bats, he is 3-3 with 2 homeruns.

In Max Scherzer’s career against Boston, Sox hitters have a batting average of .282. The 21 game winner pitched in Boston in early September and did well (7 IP and 2 ER) but was bested by Jon Lester and the Sox won. Four Boston hitters have had success versus Scherzer: Ellsbury (5-9), Gomes (2-6), Ortiz (7-15 and 2 HR), and Saltalamacchia (5-12).

Justin Verlander has been able to shut down the Red Sox over the past few years. The team only bats .194 against him and only one player with 10+ at-bats has had any good fortune and that’s David Ortiz (10-27). Verlander looks to be a tough match-up for the Sox and they may have to face him twice.

The last starter for Detroit is Doug Fister. The Sox hitters have a .317 batting average against him.  While many players don’t have a lot of at-bats against Fister, they have had success in a small sample. Ellsbury hit .375, Middlebrooks hits .400, Nava hits .417, Saltalamacchia hits .455, and Victorino hits .800. Fister will most likely go in Game 4 and it looks like that’s a game the Sox should win.

When looking at the breakdown of the Tiger’s pitching staff against the Red Sox hitters, it looks like there’s one constant and that’s Ortiz having a lot of success. For Boston to make it to the World Series, David Ortiz will no doubt have to come up big this series. He was effective against the Rays and hopefully that continues.

It looks like each team has two starters that pitch well against their opponent and two pitchers that struggle against their opponent. With that being even, and both teams having a lot of good players, it seems like this well be a very close series.

I wasn’t sure that the Red Sox could beat Tampa Bay in the ALDS given the Rays starting rotation and I was wrong. I feel the same about the Red Sox against Detroit’s pitching staff but after seeing how well Boston played as a whole against Tampa, I’m picking the Red Sox to win the series in 6 games. There is just a special feeling about this team.

Red Sox-Rays Series Recap

3 wins down, 8 wins to go.

When the teams the Red Sox could face in the first round was down to Cleveland, Tampa Bay, or Texas, it was the Rays that I wanted to play the least. Their pitching staff is very good and they have two aces at the top of their rotation. Offensively, they’ve been known to struggle but I thought they had enough clutch hitters to put up a good fight. Either I gave them too much credit or underrated the Red Sox, I hope it was the latter.

Heading into the series, I thought the Sox going back to Tampa with a 1-1 series split would be ideal. I didn’t think it’d be realistic to expect them to beat Matt Moore and David Price on back to back nights but that’s exactly what happened. They started the series off strong and wrapped it up in four games.

One of the keys to the Red Sox success this season was seeing a lot of pitches and wearing the opposing starters and bullpens down. That’s exactly what happened in Game 1. Matt Moore lasted 4 1/3 innings after throwing 106 pitches and giving up 8 runs (7 earned). Meanwhile, Jon Lester continued his second half hot streak and shut down the Tampa Bay lineup with the exception of two pitches that resulted in homeruns. His stat line was 7 2/3 innings, 3 hits, 2 earned runs, and 7 strikeouts. I believe that his dominating Game 1 performance set the tone for the series.

In Game 1, the Sox got down 2-0 but battled back like they have all year. They took advantage of the Rays mistakes in the field and cashed in with three big offensive innings. Every player in Boston’s lineup got a hit and 7 of them collected at least one RBI. It was truly a team win.

In Game 2, it was David Price vs. John Lackey. Price had been on a roll as of late and Lackey had been dominant of Fenway this season. The Sox hitters impressed again by getting 7 runs off of Price in 7+ innings. The big story in this game was David Ortiz getting two homeruns off the Rays starter. The Sox bullpen was very impressive in this game as they went 3 2/3 innings while only giving up 1 hit. Breslow, Tazawa, and Uehara combined to lock down the win.

Game 3 was a dogfight and you could expect nothing less from a Rays team that was on the brink of elimination.  Clay Buchholz went 6 innings while making only one mistake, an inside pitch to Longoria in the 5th inning that went for a 3 run homer. It erased the 3-0 lead the Sox had and gave Tampa Bay some life. The Rays took a one run lead in the 8th but Boston battled back in the top of the 9th to tie it back up. Unfortunately. a half inning later Uehara gave up a walk-off homer to Jose Lobaton and the Rays lived to see another day.

That game certainly had the most controversy. Using Franklin Morales in the 8th inning was questionable and the move proved to be bad when Morales couldn’t find the strike zone. Breslow has been the Sox 2nd best reliever but he has commonly been used earlier in games. Pinch running for David Ortiz in the 8th inning was debatable although I agreed with that call. The problem was, if he wasn’t pinch run for, he would’ve been up with runners on and 2 out in the top of 9th inning but instead it was Mike Carp, who struck out looking. The last call that was debated was not pinch-hitting Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew in the 8th inning when a lefty reliever was in. Drew struggles mightily against lefties while Bogaerts has good success against them. Drew had a bad at-bat and ended up fouling out to Longoria.

Despite the Game 3 second-guessing, the Red Sox got the job done in Game 4.  Jake Peavy was brilliant and allowed just 5 hits and 1 earned run while going 5 2/3 innings and throwing just 74 pitches. The Rays starter, Jeremy Hellickson, was pulled before he could record an out in the second inning. Joe Maddon showed he was willing to do whatever it took to win the game and he tossed the kitchen sink at the Sox. He used every reliever he had but that wasn’t enough. The Rays scored a run in the bottom of the 6th but the Sox came back and scored 2 in the 7th by playing small-ball and running the base paths extremely well. They tacked on one more run in the top of the 9th and won 3-1, clinching a spot in the ALCS.

There were a few keys to the win in Game 4. One was Peavy pitching very well despite not playing in a game since September 27th. The next was Breslow pitching 1 2/3 innings of great baseball that spanned across three different innings. Xander Bogaerts this time pinch hit for Stephen Drew when the same lefty reliever was in the game. He ended up with two walks and two runs scored. In the end, Koji Uehara recorded the 4 out save and finished it off with a strikeout of the Rays best hitter, Evan Longoria.

I was very nervous about this series heading in but the Red Sox just looked like the superior team. It was an encouraging sign and now everyone’s hopes are up for a deep playoff run. The Sox will face the winner of tomorrow night’s game between the Tigers and Athletics. I’ll be rooting for the A’s in that one.