It’s fitting that the first legitimately nice day of the year in New York, the kind of day with a high in the mid-60s where those without jackets won’t get funny looks, also happens to be MLB Opening Day.
We’re still waiting on MLB to nix the opening Sunday night game so we can have an honest to goodness Opening Day featuring all 30 teams. Then again, seeing overconfident Cubs fans knocked down a few pegs while being introduced to the real Jon Lester was worth the pageantry. At least Northsiders will have Kris Bryant’s extra year of service time to cling to when Lester is laboring through four inning starts in 2020.
Here in Gotham, the popular debate is, for the first time in 15 years, can the Mets register a better record than the Yankees? The irony of it all is that when the Mets did outperform the Yankees over the 2000 season…the Yankees beat them in the World Series. Pretty handily, too. It says here the Mets finish above .500 for the first time in Citi Field’s history. The Yankees are tougher to predict because while the roster ain’t what it used to be, Joe Girardi might be a miracle worker. Seriously, how can anyone confidently predict a win total for a team starting Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and Stephen Drew?
Both the AL East and Central could feasibly be won by four different teams (sorry Rays and Twins). Last year nobody picked the Orioles to win the AL East outside a few pundits and probably Buck Showalter’s family, and they won 96 games and swept the heavily favored Tigers in the ALDS.
The Blue Jays should be better, an annual phrase that’s become more premonition than prediction. The Rays still have a strong rotation but won’t outslug anyone and will dearly miss their old Svengali of a manager.
Yes, the AL East foreplay is all leading up to the Red Sox and what the hell to make of a team that went from worst to first to worst.
Rational Red Sox thoughts don’t exist, so here go a few ramblings to break down what we’re about to go through over the next six months…
–Pace of play is a hot topic amongst MLB circles, and passed through New England’s orbit in the form of David Ortiz saying he won’t change his routines, fines and suspensions be damned. To Sox fans hoping the rules shorten games this year, keep dreaming. And I mean that somewhat literally, because this season’s games will last so long you’ll be well past REM sleep by the 7th inning.
The reasons are, simply, that the Red Sox offense will score a lot of runs and their pitching staff will yield almost as many. The offense will be dynamic, and that’s before guys like Rusney and Swihart come up. The pitching staff and bullpen will be mediocre. More runs, plus more pitching changes, equals longer games.
–Something about the Hanley and Panda signings never sat well. It’s tough to figure if it’s a dislike of both entirely, or just partial dislike that combines to make the synchronous signings blend together and become a day the Sox may have seriously stepped in it. It’s an odd pair, too. The ripped guy who looks like he’s auditioning for the next Expendables movie is somehow always hurt, though he’s dominant when healthy. The fat guy who looks like he’s auditioning for a reboot of Tommy Boy (with Sox hitting coach Chili Davis in the Brian Dennehy role) is usually healthy, but never close to dominant.
–Speaking of Sandoval, he shouldn’t be fat-shamed. However, if his numbers continue to decline, he should be OPS-shamed.
–Again, the offense will be great. But what if Hanley’s hurt? Oh, they have Village Market favorite Daniel Nava and his .380 OBP ready to go. Or Allen Craig, apparently reborn this spring. What if Victorino is hurt? Oh, they have $70 million man Rusney Castillo chomping at the bit. Infield depth isn’t as strong, but where as Brock Holt played 10 positions and over 100 games last year, he’ll be lucky to see half that action this season. 850 runs looks like a safe bet, with the outside chance to hit 900.
–Something tells me Matt Barnes could be closing by May. It’d require Koji to remain on the shelf and Mujica to implode. There’s no telling when Koji will feel better, but it isn’t hard to envision Mujica losing the job. Barnes closing games at some point this season can serve as a “bold prediction” if you really want one.
–Can’t see any way Rick Porcello isn’t the best starter on the team. Buchholz has the highest ceiling, sure. Masterson may bounce back. Kelly throws hard. And Miley, um, works quickly. Coming off his best season at age 25, Porcello’s in his prime and playing for a contract. Not so bold prediction: He has a big year (15 wins, sub 3.50, 120 ERA+) and gets a big contract from someone other than Boston. He’s young, but has been throwing 160+ innings since age 20. Durability is one thing, but the potential to flame out by age 30 is another. Sox fans will thank Porcello for a great year and then get in line for their Brian Johnson t-shirt jerseys.
–It’s been a long time since the Sox have been a sure thing, for better or worse. 2010 was the “bridge year” where they actually won 89 games in a loaded division, outperforming expectations. 2011 was the “best team ever” that submitted a choke job for the ages down the stretch. 2012 was about redemption for the chicken and beer boys, not to mention guys like Crawford and Gonzalez. That went to hell before Cinco de Mayo and the Sox won fewer than 70 games. Nobody bought the 2013 redemption story on the heels of Bobby V and 2012, so of course Boston went out and won 97 games, not to mention the World Series. Assumed to be the divisional favorite in 2014, they finished last.
The past five years of Red Sox results should be enough to temper all preseason thoughts. They have good hitting and bad pitching, only no one truly knows which is going to mask the other. They could win anywhere between 75 and 95 games and no one would blink. By that logic, 85 is the likeliest number, but I’m feeling optimistic, so let’s say 88.
–It’s baseball season, people. Let’s all agree to ignore low ratings and long games and try to enjoy the weird, wacky game for all it’s worth.