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Andy Kirkaldy: On Sox, Tigers, Eagles, Otters, VUHS and Pats

After a hiatus from this space caused in part by a vacation (some play, some homework), it’s time to play some catch-up on a variety of sports topics, from precincts both local and far-flung:
•  It’s become almost fashionable for Patriots fans not to panic after last week’s collapse vs. the Chiefs. Many note that in the previous years New England has lost openers the team has gone on to win Super Bowls, and that peerless leaders “In Bill We Trust” Belichick and Tom “Magic Diet” Brady remain in charge of a program that has produced back-to-back titles in the past.
And maybe they can work their magic one more time. But this team has many new parts to integrate into New England’s well-oiled machine; critical components like defensive end, linebacker and receiver suddenly look scarce; a Patriot defense has never given up that many yards or points during Belichick’s tenure as it did vs. a historically mediocre KC offense; and those previous opening losses came on the road, not in the friendly confines of Foxboro.
We shall see.
•  Could high school boys’ soccer be on the upswing in these parts? Mount Abraham, Vergennes and Otter Valley all opened at 2-0, and Middlebury went 1-1-1 against Division I competition and came within a struck crossbar from a win in one game and lost another only when its first-string goalie was unavailable.
Now all face upcoming challenges that will reveal how far they have come.
Mount Abe, coming off a down season, faces two tough games at Rutland’s annual Loyzelle tournament this week. 
The Commodores draw D-I contender Burlington on the road on Thursday and then visit Mount Abe on Monday before winnable home games next week vs. Mill River and Missisquoi.
The Otters host always-tough Woodstock on Tuesday and then come home dates with D-III Leland & Gray and D-IV Proctor, both typically competitive sides.
The Tigers play Rice on the road on Friday, and then get Rutland and Mount Abe at home next week; no softies there.
Some respectable showings in the next 10 days would do a world of good for all four teams.
•  So the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a valuable top draft pick for Kyrie Irving, and then sweetened the deal with a pair of Air Jordans, an autographed Larry Bird photo and a case of PowerAde.
Too much?
Nope.
I love I.T., but he’s hurt (one writer today said he might need hip surgery), older than Irving, has only a year left on his deal (Irving has two and a player option), and, not necessarily for lack of trying, can’t guard anybody. Crowder is replaceable by about five guys on the Celtic roster. Zizic might be OK. The draft pick has a 10-20 percent chance to produce a player valuable as Irving in four or five years, and the Cs have another half-dozen first-round picks coming up.
And the team that wins this kind of deal is the team that gets the best player.
•  Keep an eye on the Mount Abe field hockey team. Not all the teams the Eagles have played have been the strongest, but a 3-0 record with a 12-0 goal differential heading into a Wednesday road game speaks volumes. And Coach Stetson’s main preseason concern with a seasoned defense and goalie returning was whether her team would score.
• It’s like old times with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both contending for the American League pennant. But put your money on the Cleveland Indians to repeat. Sure, pitchers like New York’s Severino and Tanaka or Boston’s Sale and Pomeranz could get hot in a short series, but the Indians have deeper starting pitching, a more complete offense, and a better bullpen. And Houston still has issues in its starting rotation that adding over-rated Justin Verlander won’t answer.
The real debate between the Yankees and Red Sox is which young outfielder has a better future: New York’s Aaron Judge or Boston’s Andrew Benintendi.
Judge clearly possesses more thump; he has already become the second rookie ever to hit at least 40 homers. Benintendi covers more territory in the outfield; on many teams he would play center field or right field, but the Sox deploy three outfielders good enough to play in the middle. Both draw walks at good rates, Judge more so. Judge’s power and walks give him a much higher OPS (combined slugging and on-base percentages) than Benintendi.
But since baseball’s all-star game Judge’s weaknesses have been exposed. Well-placed high and tight fastballs and down-and-in curveballs from lefthanders in particular make him flail helplessly. His batting average has stayed below .200 for almost two months. Benintendi, meanwhile, just keeps plugging away in the .270-.280 range, while also stealing bases and hitting a respectable number of homers; he’s closing in on 20.
One more factor: Judge (25) is about 27 months older than Benintendi (23). Historically the younger a player achieves success in Major League Baseball the more likely he is to become a star.
Neither team would make the deal. But I wouldn’t trade Benny for Judge. 

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