One of my favorite recurring columns for years has been Bob Ryan’s annual state-of-the-Boston-teams report, which he writes every year as the calendar approaches its final days. I can’t do it justice, but with that old imitation/flattery idiom in mind, I figure I can at least do it just because. Hey, at least I haven’t pilfered Simmons’s trade value format yet.
I only wish I’d written this before Bob did this year, since the jayvee is supposed to take the court before the varsity.
My apologies in advance to the professional soccer loyalists for not knowing enough about the local team to opine with any authenticity. Perhaps learning more about the Revolution is a worthwhile resolution.
Regarding the teams I do know, or at least think I do, here goes something …
Of the past four seasons, the Red Sox have finished in last place three times. That other season, they won the World Series.
I suppose those are facts of which you are aware, but there is a reason for pointing them out: If I remember correctly, and I believe I do, the consensus among us seemed to think the least of the eventual champion ’13 team in advance of the particular season.
That serves as at least a circumstantial piece of evidence that making predictions before a season is a fool’s errand in any sport. (The 3,027 ESPN experts who picked the Colts to go to the Super Bowl this season might agree.)
It also offers a reminder that we really have no idea what to expect from the Red Sox in ’16, though optimism seems to be prevailing with the signing of $217 million ace David Price and the bullpen remodeling that included trades for Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, who combined to strike out 179 batters in 129.1 innings last season.
Their two best players – shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Mookie Betts – are 23 years old and everything you want them to be, and if David Ortiz stays in character and in the lineup, he’ll finish his Red Sox-history-altering career with an appropriate flourish. Don’t write off a Dustin Pedroia rejuvenation, either.
But there are questions that carry over from last year’s 78-win entry. How does the rotation slot after Price? Is Rusney Castillo a major leaguer, let alone an everyday player? Will Jackie Bradley Jr. hit? Does Hanley Ramirez own a first baseman’s mitt? Does Hanley Ramirez know a first baseman needs a mitt? They are answers only the spring and summer can bring, but for now, cautious optimism is the way to go. Hey, they got an ace.
Best-case scenario for 2016: Price is Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez or someone emerges as a legit No. 2 starter, Betts and Bogaerts deliver 390 hits between them, the bullpen is lights-out, Ortiz adds 30 homers to his Cooperstown-worthy total, Ramirez gets traded to the Orioles a week into the New Year, and the Sox win 90-plus games and make a deep run into October. Yeah, that’s asking a lot. But the Sox have fulfilled bigger requests before. Just not in the last two seasons.
I’ve loved the NBA since the days when CBS ran Red on Roundball clips at halftime, and I can’t recall ever watching a basketball team quite like this one. I mean that in a mostly complimentary way.
They are at least 10 quality players deep. Their most dependable scorer is a 5-foot-9-inch lefty ballhandler with a resolute two-guard mentality (Isaiah Thomas). Their second-most dependable scorer recently is a 7-foot Canadian with the worst attempted facial hair since Larry Bird’s wispy-stache heyday and a game built entirely on pump-faking finesse (Kelly Olynyk). They play with an admirably relentless style, and that should only be enhanced with the recent return of the most dogged among them, Marcus Smart.
This is not the roster to deliver Banner 18 – a conventional go-to scorer is a must – but some of the pieces are in place, the most obvious one being the unassuming, astute young coach, Brad Stevens, who already rates as one of Danny Ainge’s shrewdest acquisitions.
They’ll win 45-50 games on effort and their coach’s uncanny ability to put his deep collection of useful, determined but imperfect players in a position to succeed. Now, if he could just get Jared Sullinger to stop heaving threes.
Best-case scenario for 2016: The Celtics earn a top-four seed, win their first-round matchup, and scare the hell out of a more talented team in the second round. Also, they end up with the first pick in the ’16 NBA Draft after Jerry Colangelo brings some dignity back to the Sixers while the Nets go 0-51 the rest of the way.
Maybe Claude Julien’s brand of grind-it-out hockey doesn’t jibe with the way you ran your franchise on NHL ’94, but man, if you don’t have respect for his exceeding competence as an NHL coach now, you’ve never intended to give him a fair shake in the first place.
The Bruins will enter the New Year’s Day Winter Classic versus the Canadiens just a point back of their chief rival in the Atlantic Division, a remarkable development considering Montreal won its first nine games of the season while Boston lost its first three and five of eight (including one in OT) to start the season.
Julien and the Bruins have found a nice balance after the slow start. The defensive corps isn’t as deep as it has been in the recent past and could probably use a veteran reinforcement or two, but they have not shirked their responsibilities even as Julien has followed orders to open up the offense a little more. The coach’s compromise has been impressive in its effectiveness, and Patrice Bergeron remains the perfect player to set the example of how everything should be done.
The absence of David Krejci – one of the true unsung stars of this era in Boston sports – will have a significant impact, and it’s still uncertain whether they are as good as they have looked recently. But as the season approaches its midpoint, the Bruins must be classified even among the more restrained critics among us as a rather pleasant surprise.
Best-case scenario for 2016: A Cup run seems beyond the reach of this roster, but bouncing Montreal from the playoffs and losing in the Eastern Conference Finals would be satisfying.
Pretty simple, isn’t it? If they are healthy, they’re probably the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl, which according to my quick research would be their second in a row and fifth since 2001, a mind-blowing run even if you don’t remember those not-that-long-ago comical/bleak days when the likes of Jeff Carlson started at quarterback.
Of course, four words from that sentence matter above the others, and they are not “Jeff Carlson started.’’ If they are healthy, anything is possible. But we have no idea right now how healthy they will be. If there’s a fortunate footnote to the tsunami of injuries the Patriots have endured basically since the revelation that Dion Lewis blew out his knee in Week 9, it’s that many of the injured will play again this season.
We just don’t know who will be able to do what. If Julian Edelman is close to his usual uncoverable self in small spaces … and Sebastian Vollmer can provide some stability at left tackle on the tattered line … and Dont’a Hightower’s knee holds up … and Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty can run with their usual range, speed and purpose … and Jamie Collins contracts no more mysterious viruses … and further attrition does not occur in the Miami finale … they’ll again resemble the one that rolled to 10 straight wins to start the season, rather than the limping battalion that has lost three of its last five. Get to work, docs.
Best-case scenario for 2016: Goodell hands the Super Bowl 50 trophy to Robert Kraft, Robert Kraft hands it to Tom Brady, Brady raises trophy in celebration and vindication, Goodell convulses in a puddle of his own tears in front of 120,000,000 television viewers, and his wife immediately leaves him for Jim Irsay. That is neither unreasonable nor too much to ask. The New Year is a time for hope, after all.
This is how awesome it is to be a Boston Sports fan