Red Sox

Ridley, Green-Ellis not battling each other

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Ridley, Green-Ellis not battling each other

FOXBORO -- The case of Stevan Ridley v. BenJarvus Green-Ellis continued Sunday.

Ridley got the start -- just his second in 16 games -- over Green-Ellis and racked up 81 yards on a 15 carries against Buffalo. It marked the third straight week he led New England in rushing. He also had more total snaps for two consecutive weeks (Ridley: 28, Green-Ellis: 11 versus Dolphins).

Green-Ellis had his say, though.

He scored both of New England's rushing touchdowns. In fact, just when you thought Ridley was doing all the work -- like in the second quarter, when he ripped off a 21-yard gain on his second of three straight carries -- Green-Ellis came in as the goal-line closer. And when Ridley fumbled on a third quarter second-and-10, who do you think got the ball on the next drive? Green-Ellis. He took Tom Brady's short second-and-10 pass and gobbled up 53 yards on the gain.

Green-Ellis said he's not looking for a fight.

"I don't even really look at it like that. Whenever we're in, whoever is in -- me, Danny Woodhead, Stevan, Shane Vereen, Kevin Faulk or Lou Lousaka Polite -- we go out there and try to make plays for our team and make us better. Its a team effort.

The stats could be volleyed all day.

Ridley has just nine carries for no gain on 87 attempts.

Green-Ellis has almost 100 more carries and 10 more touchdowns.

Ridley has five carries over 20 yards. Green-Ellis has zero.

Is this really a case for one over the other? The Patriots aren't worried about figuring out a pecking order or applying definitive theories on how the running game works. What's important is that it's working. New England is finding success in offensive balance. It's also developing young talent. This is why you're seeing Ridley get more carries as he earns them.

"He's just like a lot of us," said veteran guard Brian Waters. "He's got a lot of areas that he can grow in and get better in. The potential's definitely there for him to be a great back."

If he can tack some tough playoffs yardage to the resume, he'll be on his way.

With hellacious slider, Chris Sale is actually getting better

With hellacious slider, Chris Sale is actually getting better

Chris Sale is on more than just a good run. The best pitcher in the American League has actually gotten better.

Sale’s ability to light up the radar gun has been noticeable. He hit triple digits once again in the All-Star Game — now a regular occurrence, although he maxed out at just 99 mph on Sunday. After his third straight Midsummer Classic start, Sale attributed the recent boost in velocity to multiple things, including the Red Sox strength and conditioning staff. As pitching coach Dana LeVangie has said at different points, Sale came into this year with a plan, and is executing it wonderfully.

What stands out beyond the velocity is the slider.

Per Statcast, 46 of the 99 pitches Sale threw on Sunday vs. the Tigers were sliders. He’s using his breaking ball more this year than he ever has in his career as a starter, for good reason. 

The big jump in usage came from 2016 to 2017. But in movement? This season has been tremendous. He’s getting about eight inches of movement on the pitch, up from about 5 inches in 2016 and 5 1/2 inches in 2017, per BrooksBaseball.net's measurements:

That was heading into Sunday. Peek at the Statcast numbers over at BaseballSavant.com, and what do you find: more and more spin on the slider as the years have gone on.

The slider in 2015: an average of 2,206 RPM. The next year, 2,251. In 2017, it was 2,395. This year, 2,478.

In the seven-start stretch leading into Sunday’s start, the number was 2,525. 

How? The Red Sox think part of it has to do with how square Sale’s hand is at the point of release. A better spin axis means more of the spin can translate to movement. Pitchers very often don't maximize their spin.

Sale's vertical release point is also lower overall in 2018: not to a huge degree, but as low it’s been basically since 2013. There's a belief  that finishing his delivery lower, towards his knee rather than his hip, may be helping the extra movement.

At the end of the day, Sale is a phenomenal athlete who thrives on rest that the Sox are fostering and an intense routine. He was already awesome, and with some help from the Red Sox coaches and staff, he’s only making himself better as he marches toward his first Cy Young award.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Third in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

Figure the Patriots will keep five wideouts (not including special teams ace Matthew Slater) when they enter into Week 1 of the regular season. Even with Julian Edelman scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the year, even with that slot opening up the potential for a receiver on the bubble to make the club, this figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp. 

 

 

Chris Hogan will be relied upon thanks to his experience and versatility. And figure Cordarrelle Patterson has a place on the roster as the entire league ventures into a post-kickoff rules change world. 

 

After that? Hard to say. 

 

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP - Gimme s'more: New additions to keep an eye on

 

Jordan Matthews should have the inside track on a role for an offense that will likely be looking for some help on the inside. He's the most experienced slot receiver on the roster after Edelman, but Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron could make a run themselves -- particularly if the punt-return work is up for grabs and they snatch it. 

 

On the outside, the competition is tougher. There may not be room for Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell on the same roster even though their skill sets differ. Britt has the size and athleticism to make good on the potential he showed as a first-round pick in 2009. Will being paired with Tom Brady help him finally break through consistently? Dorsett's size and speed may make him the closest thing on the roster to Brandin Cooks. Do the Patriots feel there's room for him to grow now that he's back for Year 2? For Mitchell, the question is always the same: Will he be healthy?

 

 

How those three questions are answered could determine who has a place in New England and who doesn't. The way their contracts are structured, none of them are locks. It'll come down to how they look during what Bill Belichick annually refers to as a "competition camp." Spring practices were for learning. Now it's time to go.