Last season, I put together a recap following each Red Sox game. This season, I’ll take a look at the Sox games and post a recap at the conclusion of each Boston series.
The brightest spot of the early season for the Sox was Josh Beckett and his opening day start. Beckett racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only one run on two hits. Beckett had an average season last year, compiling a 12-10 record with a 4.03 ERA while averaging almost exactly a strikeout per inning pitched. But, by the standard of the 20-win campaign he had in 2007, he fell far short of expectations. He does look poised to return to his 2007 form, and we have to remember that Beckett started last season injured. He was held out almost entirely from spring training, which is vital for starting pitchers. A good indication of where Beckett is this season in comparison to last season is his reliance on only two pitches. He had to go to his change-up last season and a two-seam fastball, which is not Beckett’s game. He is effective if he can go through a start using his fastball and curveball 65-70 percent of the time. He threw very few change-ups on Tuesday.
Today’s starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, got off to a less desirable start of the season. Although putting up solid raw numbers with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA, he finished a distant fourth in Cy Young voting and received no first place votes. This was due mostly to his relative inconsistency on the mound, which led to a very high number of walks (94 in 164 IP). The high walk total combined with the fact that Matsuzaka is a strikeout pitcher led to high pitch totals and short outings (He average a little under 5 and 2/3 IP per start). Although he has very good stuff, it seems that this is simply the type of pitcher Matsuzaka is. He will nibble at the corners, rely on his breaking pitches, and only go after hitters when he must. Today, however, the Sox would have gladly taken last season’s version of the Japanese import. Matsuzaka was leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone, and the Rays hitters had many aggressive swings off of him. No pitch seemed to be working, and he gave up home runs to Evan Longoria (slider), Matt Joyce (fastball) and Shawn Riggans (slider). Walks were not an issue, but Matsuzaka’s pitches were very flat and up in the zone. Although he had significant work in winning his second consecutivce World Baseball Classic MVP award, Matsuzaka looked today like a starter who was not quite ready for the regular season.
The bullpen has lived up to its billing through the first series. Tabbed by some as the best in baseball, the Sox have finally put together a clear path for the middle innings to get to Jonathan Papelbon. New addition Ramon Ramirez was effective today and will play an integral part of getting to the ninth.
A few things about the offense:
-Kevin Youkilis has gotten off to a red-hot start. He had record eight hits in his first 11 at-bats this season, and he continues his recent string of productive Aprils. Although there are question marks with David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Vartiek in the lineup, Youkilis is the most pivotal member of the big part of the lineup. Depending on his production, it will affect how teams pitch to Ortiz and other members of the lineup.
-Speaking of Varitek, I hate to be the bearer of unwanted news, but I am hearing a lot of talk about Varitek having a good solid comeback year in which he puts up numbers such as a .250 BA, 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. GM Theo Epstein made a great move bringing back Varitek this off-season, he did not re-sign him because of his offense. Varitek’s numbers will be startlingly similar to his numbers from the 2008 campaign, which were .220-13-43. If the Sox had wanted more offense from their catcher, they would have kept Josh Bard. It is a great sign that he has two home runs in the first three games, and both left-handed, but any offense from the catcher’s position is gravy.
The A.L. East is by far the toughest division in baseball this season, with some speculating that the top three teams in all of baseball are in that division. No one is writing off the Rays, but it seems that most have them finishing third behind the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays however should not finish lower than second. They have the same team as they do last year, and have added a big bat in Pat Burrell. David Price is waiting in the wings, and he will be called up sooner rather than later, ala Longoria last season.
Check back after the series finale Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (All recaps will be posted here .)
Keep the Faith.
(P.S. I am also in the market for a new avatar, as mine was also a casualty of the wonderful new restrictions set forth by cbssports, so if anyone has ideas, I’d appreciate them.)