The Red Sox lost, Middlebrooks is better at getting hit than getting a hit, and Boston batters can’t get it done with runners in scoring position.
Ah, Opening Day overreactions, a tradition that all nervous New Englanders can’t help but indulge in.
While it is a bit troubling to see the Sox fail completely with runners in scoring position, we’re reminded that RISP outcomes are as transient as anything else in the sport. Boston was 0-9 today but could go 5-9 tomorrow. Well, they don’t play again until Wednesday, but you get the idea. It shifts game to game, along with our frustrations. Such are the manufactured highs and lows of a 162 game season.
I didn’t write a season preview, so I’ll use my observations from Opening Day to incorporate my overarching thoughts on the season and major story lines.
–It was encouraging to see Grady Sizemore play well, but everyone—the team, the fans, the media—needs to take a Rich Garces-sized step back and put things into perspective. So many people are casually mentioning it or discarding it altogether because he’s looked so good, but, um…He can’t play three days in a row! Maybe people have lost their minds, but in a sport where you sometimes play for two weeks straight without a day off, not being able to play three days in a row is a big deal. It’s possible his body will permit him to do so and the team isn’t allowing him. Regardless of the reason, the fact that he won’t be, for now at least, playing a full series of games is enough to lighten expectations and excitement. It’s a nice story, one I hope continues all season while Jackie Bradley Jr. hones his skills in Pawtucket (it says here that Bradley becomes a strong everyday player by this time next year). Unless he’s able to ramp it up and sit at the big boy table, however, let’s cool our jets on “Grady Sizemore is back!”
–Jon Lester was good, and between the runs he gave up, he was great. Yet, he’s not six years and $144 million great and never has been in his career. If you paid any attention at all during the postseason, you saw one of the 5-10 best pitchers in the game. If you paid legitimate attention to the past five years, you’ve seen one of the 20-25 best pitchers in the game, a guy who will dazzle in consecutive outings and lay an egg the next time out.
The whole “MLB is raking in money, guys get more, this is what he’s worth now!” argument is weak because, honestly, Lester has never been a $25 million guy and he’s already 30 years old. He’s got one top 10 finish in Cy Young voting. He’s never had an ERA under 3.20. He’s worth five years and $105 million, but not much more. There are a handful of guys in the American League I’d rather have today (Price, Verlander, Scherzer, Sale, Darvish, Felix, etc) and a bunch of guys I’d rather have over the next five years (Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Cobb, Archer, etc). Lester’s been durable, and the hope for whichever team signs him is that he’s one of these work horses that doesn’t break down, because he’s got six straight seasons of 190+ innings on his arm. Lester finally pitching in an honest-to-goodness contract year will be a fascinating development, much more so than other “story lines.”
–They played a relatively clean game today, but the left side of the infield is still a question mark defensively. This is not an appeal to sign little Stevie Drew, just a concerned citizen voicing a thought on the two players to the left of second base. Well, our left, their right. Xander Bogaerts seems to be at least a league average defender, but he doesn’t have the calming presence that Drew did. The Orioles’ first run today was a result of a lazy play by Bogaerts, who could have run down the bloop single in left but let the outfielder come in for it. Not staying with the ball allowed the runner on first to go to third and score later in the inning. Bogaerts is by no means a lazy player, but his inexperience hurt him, as he didn’t realize the runner would take two bases while the outfielders came in. If he hustles, retrieves the ball, and makes a throw to third, the runner is out. These are the things he’s got to learn. As for Will Middlebrooks, everyone’s focused on his offense, but I recall some really shaky defense towards the end of last year that needs to be monitored. Or not, because in a year or so his job will be taken by Garin Cecchini or even Deven Marrero (how about Bogaerts to third and Marrero at short?).
–The leadoff spot will be a rotating cast of characters, but you can rest assured that when John Farrell goes with Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia in the top two spots, the opposing pitcher is going to work. The Sox chased Chris Tillman after five innings today, largely in part to Nava and Pedroia fouling off everything in sight.
–Despite that awful showing today with men on base, the lineup looks pretty sturdy. By my count, they’ve upgraded at three positions. Bogaerts over Drew. AJ Pierzynski very slightly over Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Salty got benched in the WS because he couldn’t hit). And whatever Middlebrooks gives you this year because last year it wasn’t much. The health of Shane Victorino (one of the ten best position players in the AL last year) is a factor, but the outfield is deep enough, given the steadiness of Nava/Jonny Gomes/Mike Carp, the emergence of Sizemore, and insurance of JBJ.
If you saw the game today, you saw hard hit balls to all parts of the ballpark, including several drives to the warning track that fell short. Every guy looked comfortable at the plate, something that can’t be said for last year’s team. Again, average with RISP is fluid and will not be as dreadful as it was today, so let’s focus on the positives. This will be a good offensive team that will be in nearly every game.
–Prediction? Psh, they’re 0-1, no way they overtake the Rays for the division now!
Predicting the AL East this year is foolish because it’s the deepest division I can remember seeing. The Orioles, fashioned to finish behind Boston and Tampa by many, play better defense than anyone else and have a deeper lineup (especially once Manny Machado returns) than the Rays or Yankees. The Yankees have improved pitching, even more so if Michael Pineda shows flashes of his 2011 self. The Rays are always there with their loaded staff, and the Red Sox have the balance to remain in the race. And although I haven’t read one thing about them, I’m told the Blue Jays are still in the division. It’s impossible to pick, so I’ll refrain and just say that this season’s AL East should be tight, entertaining, and decided in the final week of the season.