Yup, it’s that time again. Time for my annual State of the Teams evaluation.
I promise not to lecture.
I won’t remind the sports fans of New England that we have been America’s luckiest set of professional sports enthusiasts, having been gifted with 10 opportunities to trot out the duck boats for a public celebration since the new century began and we did not suffer any ill effects from Y2K (remember that?).
I won’t go there. It’s just too upsetting for some folks in the rest of the country, especially when they see Kevin McHale thoughtfully provided Danny Ainge with Kevin Garnett or are forced to witness the latest letter-of-the-law (as opposed to the spirit of the game) application benefit the local football team.
So, nah, we won’t gloat over the 10 championships or the fact that in addition to having the most championships in the 21st century, we are the only municipality to have thrown parades for every one of the four most popular team sports, and that’s before going into the NCAA hockey titles won by both Boston College and Boston University.
Nope, we’re not going there.
Now, as always, we examine the franchises in alphabetical order.
They’re kind of the flip side of the Celtics this season. They started slow but now appear to be finding their true selves under Bruce Cassidy.
It’s pretty clear that while Claude Julien was a good coach, good enough to preside over a Stanley Cup, the time had come for a change, and a change that would showcase the talents of the players on hand, as well as some of the kids they had coming along. Of course, health is always paramount, and any time Patrice Bergeron is not in the lineup the Bruins are significantly diminished. It’s also helpful when there’s a fully functioning David Krejci.
The defense is playing well enough to make it unclear what the returning Adam McQuaid’s role will be. And speaking of defense, how interesting is it that the two leaders in ice time are 40-year old Zdeno Chara and just-turned-20 Charlie McAvoy? Gotta love that.
Given the hallowed nature of some past Bruins defensemen (thinking of numbers 4 and 7/77), we need to put a curb on the superlatives for young Mr. McAvoy, but it is very possible he is the Next Big Thing around here, and this is a town with a whole lot of Great Things to rave about.
Everyone wants titles. We all know that. But a far more reasonable request is that a team prove itself worthy of investment, both emotional and even financial. The Bruins are becoming just that.
Ever hear of the phrase “market correction?” That’s what is happening to the Boston Celtics.
The 16 straight after that 0-2 start was exhilarating . . . and misleading. The Celtics are likable and they’re good, but not that good. They are 50-something-win good, not 60-win good, and they are still a player or two away from legit title contention. But that little joyride in November and early December sure was fun, huh?
Before anyone can start thinking about knocking off Cleveland next spring, or frankly even defeating Toronto or Washington, the Celtics need something. And that something is an individual who puts down on his IRS return under the heading “Occupation” the following: “Registered Professional Jump Shooter.” They need whoever is the next closest thing to Lou Williams, ’cause Doc Rivers is not going to give them Lou Williams. They could also use someone whose IRS occupational listing is “Certified Backboard Cleaner.” The rebounding was better during The Streak, but of late it has again been a major minus. I was pained the other day to see the list of the NBA’s top 30 — 30! — rebounders and see no Celtics.
Look, the Celtics are good, and they have a bright future with such young assets as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier. And then there’s that old guy Kyrie. He’s 25.
And, best of all: Next year they get Gordon Hayward for real, so no matter what happens this year, Celtics fans can look forward to next season with relish.
I don’t know that there is anything new to say. The Patriots just keep on being the Patriots.
That dreadful night against Kansas City seems like centuries ago. History teaches us that when the Patriots take a punch in the mouth they don’t go home crying to momma. They go back to work and fix whatever ails them.
Bill Belichick never changes. This is good. Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia have had challenging years, working around an endless rash of injuries that began when Julian Edelman was lost for the season in the third exhibition game against Detroit. And we can be sure that Patricia wishes he had Dont’a Hightower back. But here they are, on the verge of yet another first seed in the playoffs, and this with a 40-year-old quarterback who really is more mobile than he was five years ago, and who doesn’t appear to have lost any brain cells.
The Patriots are never going to prevail in the national Court of Public Opinion, OK? They have been the beneficiary of some really troubling rules interpretations, and people elsewhere smell a rat emanating from the league office, which is clearly ridiculous. But they do. Of course, what their critics seldom acknowledge is that the Patriots almost always capitalize on the physical and mental errors of their opponents in a manner no other team matches.
The playoffs will not be easy. Pittsburgh can play with them and so, too, I believe, can Jacksonville. I wouldn’t overlook KC if that’s the case, either. But whatever happens, it’s been another great year for the most successful 21st-century franchise in American sport.
Sorry, America, but that’s the gospel truth.
4. Red Sox
The Red Sox won the division this past year. Why doesn’t it feel like it?
Does having won three World Series in the past 14 seasons raise the bar eternally high? All I kept reading and hearing last summer was how they weren’t really very entertaining. But somehow this “dull” bunch won 93 games.
Agreed, their individual numbers were often quite oddly disappointing. We expected more from Xander Bogaerts than a .746 OPS and 62 runs batted in. We keep wanting the hot-and-cold Jackie Bradley Jr. to be more consistent at the plate. We expect more pop from Dustin Pedroia, who at age 34 is now officially injury-prone (and who will miss the start of the 2018 season). Hanley? Don’t ask. Even the laudable Mookie Betts appeared to struggle en route to his 102 RBIs.
Thank God for Andrew Benintendi, right? Surely his nice rookie numbers (e.g. 90 RBIs) will go up, correct? Year 2 for Rafael Devers should likewise be interesting.
Everyone from Fort Kent to Falmouth knows they need a major bat in the middle of the order. Mr. Dombrowski, we’re waiting.
I’m not sure what to make of the pitching staff. Chris Sale was brilliant until he wasn’t. Rick Porcello fell off the earth. Drew Pomeranz shocked us in a positive manner. Craig Kimbrel came within one whiff of striking out 50 percent of the men he faced, which is absurd.
There is a new potential colossus making itself known some 200 miles south of here. Is this team capable of competing with it?
It’s a good question, and I do not have the answer.
Brad Friedel arrives here with an impressive portfolio.
He is an all-time American goalkeeper who took his talents overseas long ago. He played 84 games for the United States national team and he also played for four Premiership clubs. He will make his professional coaching debut as the replacement for Jay Heaps, who was let go in September.
The task is formidable. The days when the Revolution were on the verge of a title are long gone. Critics claim the current pieces don’t fit well together. But general manager Mike Burns is on record as saying at the time of Heaps’s dismissal that the team was, in his view, underachieving.
One amazing Revolution factoid: Diego Fagundez will turn 23 on Valentine’s Day. He is a seven-year veteran.
Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s hope the duck boats are in good repair.Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at Robert.Ryan at Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBobRyan