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Trying to find the brightside for the Red Sox

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Trying to find the brightside for the Red Sox

With 1.8 percent of their season in the books, the Red Sox are already beyond repair.

They've got no bullpen. No starters. No heart. No chance. They've picked up where they left off in September, and it's only a matter of time before the clubhouse explodes and ownership plants pills in Bobby Valentine's locker.

We're only three games in, but the Red Sox yacht is already sinking!

Everyone abandon ship!

But please be careful on your way out the floors can get slippery.

Ahhh . . . isn't it amazing what one weekend can do?

Isn't it amazing what one team can do?

In only three games, the Red Sox have turned Boston into an asylum. They've driven us mad; certifiably, Julian-Tavarez-after-10-tequila-shots insane. They've left so many fans without hope. Inspired so many snarky eulogies and bad beer and chicken jokes. They've taken any chance there was to leave last season in the past, and replaced it with forecasts for an excruciating summer filled with bickering, backstabbing and weekly visits with Michael Kay.

Ladies and gentleman, the Red Sox are back!

Ladies and gentleman, the Red Sox are dead!

In lieu of flowers, please send charitable donations to Liverpool FC.

OK, I'm done being an idiot.

Because the truth is that I don't believe it.

I don't believe the Red Sox are screwed. I don't believe they're a pathetic bunch of overpaid saps who aren't worthy of our time andor respect. I don't believe that they don't have heart.

Could I be wrong on every single count?

Yup, but one bad weekend on the road against one of the best teams in baseball is not enough to convince me otherwise.

Do they have problems? Yeah, sure. They've got problems. First of all, the back of their bullpen is a mess. They haven't found a reliable closer.

But at the same time, if we're going to write off Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon as viable options, don't we also have to assume that Franklin Morales will be unhittable against lefties, and that Vincente Padilla will be the most devastating long-reliever in baseball? Doesn't it have to work both ways?

Yes, it does. So on every level, let's just wait and see.

Especially with Aceves. After all, it wasn't too long ago that he was the most reliable guy in a bullpen that included Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. No one exuded and inspired more confidence than Aceves did last season. You felt like he had the physical and mental makeup to do anything that the Sox asked of him. And for the most part, he did. Now, obviously things couldn't have started off any worse for him this season, but are two outings enough to convince you he's not worthy to handle the ninth for a few months?

On Thursday, he was put in an awful position, hit a guy, and then gave up a choppy walk-off single that barely snuck by Boston's drawn-in infield. Yesterday, he came in and gave up a single, then a weak infield single and then a home run to Miguel Cabrera. It was unfortunate and beyond frustrating. But it was also pretty unlucky. And no matter how awful he was, you can't judge a guy's season on 14 pitches. If so, Franky Mo might not want to make any plans for this year's All-Star Break.

So, if the bullpen is one problem, the starters are another.

Now, I'm not saying we give Clay Buchholz a complete pass, but considering it was his first start in almost 10 months, that it came against a devastating line-up and that if Jacoby Ellsbury holds on to that ball in center field, the entire trajectory of Clay's afternoon would have changed, I say we give him one more try before throwing him to the wolves.

And as for Beckett? If you want to throw him to the wolves, that's fine. I can't defend him, and don't really want to, but I will say this: He's no stranger to slow starts. In fact, Saturday marked his fourth awful "first start" in the last five years.

2011: Five innings, five hits, three runs, four walks, four strikeouts.
2010: 4.2 innings, eight hits, five runs, three walks, one strikeout
2009: Seven innings, two hits, one run, three walks, 10 strikeouts
2008: 4.2 innings, three hits, five runs, four walks, six strikeouts

Is that incredibly uplifting? Not really, but I'm just saying that some guys are slow starters, and Josh Beckett is one of them. The reasons why are up for debate, but the facts are the facts.

And here are a few other facts from these past three games. On Opening Day, your heartless, worthless Boston Red Sox erased a two-run deficit in the ninth inning against a closer who hadn't blown a save in over a year. Yesterday, they fell behind 4-0 in the first inning, before fighting back to take a 10-7 lead into the ninth. And then, after that comeback was wasted, they fought back again to take a two-run lead in the 11th.

Call me crazy, but is that not heart? Does that not take a little bit of fight, and pride and determination? Does that not give us a little glimmer of hope that this season will not play out as painfully as last September and that these universal declarations of death are wildly immature?

I think so.

I think they've played 1.8 percent of the season, and that giving up and jumping to grand conclusions is easy, but overall, pretty stupid.

As stupid as I'll look if the Sox don't turn this around.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


 

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.

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McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.