Patriots on track for playoff bye

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Patriots on track for playoff bye

The Patriots' defense is dotted with guys who weren't here in August. Their offense doesn't much resemble what we saw at the start of the season. Hands wring. Teeth gnash. And yet, they are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race. If you check that handy-dandy link up there, you'll see that NFL.com has all the permutations. Right now, the Pats (7-3) are one-half game behind Baltimore (8-3).
But things look promising for New England. If the Pats win Sunday, they'll go back to the top of the conference because they have a better conference record than Baltimore (6-2 to 5-2). The other 7-3 team in the AFC is Houston, but the Texans are going to be quarterbacked by Matt Leinart now that starter Matt Schaub has gone to IR. Their hold on the AFC South is a two-game edge over Tennessee which, if it overtakes Houston and wins the division, will be hamstrung by four conference losses already (4-4 in the AFC). The Raiders are leading the AFC West and the Patriots have a head-to-head win over them. The fly in the ointment could be the Steelers, who have a head-to-head win over the Patriots. Currently they're 7-3, as well, but they'll have to overtake Baltimore record-wise to win the division because the Ravens beat Pittsburgh twice. Even if Pittsburgh beats out Baltimore, the Patriots will likely get the second seed because they are a division winner. We're forecasting a nosedive from Houston with that scenario. The rumbled-about move for playoff seeding to be done wholly based on record is often broached but hasn't gathered enough steam to be voted on at the NFL Owners Meetings in March. So it's a very real possibility that the Patriots could finish up with a worse recordthan the Steelers -- not to mention that head-to-head loss against them -- and still have Wild Card weekend to rest up while Pittsburgh has to play Houston, Tennessee, Denver or Oakland on the road. Teeth will gnash. Hands will wring.

First impressions: Bradley Jr.'s hit streak comes to an end

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First impressions: Bradley Jr.'s hit streak comes to an end

BOSTON - First impressions from the Red Sox' 8-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies:

 

Just when you think Clay Buchholz may be close to figuring some things out, you realize he hasn't.

The night began well for Buchholz, who retired the first nine hitters he faced, marking the first time since April 18 that he had the opposition scoreless through the first three innings.

But then Buchholz allowed a single and a two-run homers in the fourth. And then did it again in the fifth. And then again in that same inning. That's been the big tease all season -- a few innings of dominance, more than wiped out by big hits with men on base.

He's got a 6.35 ERA. It's hard to find a reason why he should make his next start.

 

You can't say that Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't go down swinging.

He swung at the second pitch of the first inning and hit to the warning track in right, where it was caught.

After a weak comebacker in the third, Bradley crushed a pitch to the center field wall, close to 400 feet. That, too, was caught.

In his final at-bat, with the crowd on its feet in anticipation, Bradley swung at the first pitch and rolled out to second base.

It was nice -- and plenty of fun -- while it lasted.

Now, the attention focuses on Xander Bogaerts, who has his own streak going at 19 games.

 

David Ortiz has had a nice month this week.

Ortiz was at it again Thursday, slamming a two-run homer into the home bullpen in the first, then doubling off The Wall in the fourth.

He finished the night 2-for-5, but for the homestand was 10-for-23. Of those 10 hits, eight were for extra bases -- six doubles and two homers -- and he knocked in 11 runs in six games.

Also, for the first time in his career, Ortiz has knocked in multiple runs in four straight games.

 

Heath Hembree continues to be an important part of the bullpen.

The Red Sox don't necessarily have a designated long man, but Hembree is the closest thing they have to one.

He came in in the sixth and turned in three innings in which he allowed just one run -- and that one was unearned.

This marked the ninth time in 12 appearances this season that Hembree has pitched more than an inning.