And So It Begins…

Hanley Ramirez celebrates his second homer of the day, this one a grand slam, as the Red Sox cruised to a 8-0 opening day victory over the Phillies.

The revamped Sox offense was out in full force on opening day. Five home runs, including a grand slam from old friend Hanley Ramirez, propelled the Sox to their first win of the 2015 season. Relive opening day with a few emails between Greg and I as we get our hopes up and try to contain our excitement after a convincing win in Philadelphia to start another season full of unknowns.

Pat Morey: It appears Farrell abandoned his work the count approach in that first inning. Hard to argue with the results.

Greg Habeeb: Agreed. The guys were being aggressive from the get go, and it paid off in the short term with a home run.

Really great to see DP go yard right away. If he’s healthy and motivated, there’s no reason for him not to return to his usual .300 hitting ways.

PM: And the team needs that Pedey, not the get hot for two weeks at a time Pedey. There’s a lot of big bats in the middle of the lineup, but they need help from the top and bottom if this offense is going to work. If Pedey is locked in with Papi, Hanley, Panda, and Napoli behind him, look out.

Also, I hate opening the season in the NL. This offense has been hyped up, and I want to see it at its full capacity on opening day. Be better, MLB.

GH: I know i thought that was bizarre. Interleague sucks in general, so I’m definitely not a huge fan of that whole situation.

Speaking of guys who need to get healthy, there goes the Flyin’ Hawaiian walking and stealing bases like it’s 2013. He could be an X-factor this year.

PM: They really missed him last season in the outfield and in the lineup. Gold glove caliber defense and a terror on the basepath. The battle for right field between him and Castillo could get really interesting, though, if he doesn’t find that 2013 form. That outfield is getting crowded awfully fast.

Speaking of the outfield, right on cue is MOOOOOOKIE!!

GH: MOOKIEEEE!!! How awesome is it that he earned his spot in the lineup by absolutely raking this spring? I’m all in on Betts. If you told me he was going to hit .350/.420/.500 this year i would believe you in a heartbeat.

PM: I’ll always hold a little grudge with Mookie since he probably gave Jackie Bradley Jr. his final push out the door, but man is it exciting to have a superstar prospect look so great. Should we just give him MVP now or…?

GH: Maybe we should wait another game or two.

Meanwhile it’s the fifth inning and we have now hit 4 home runs after Pedey and Hanley “The Incredible Hulk” Ramirez just went yard.

It’s really encouraging to see guys get good swings on a top tier pitcher so early in the season. If everyone can stay healthy, the Sox are going to rake this year, theres no doubt about that.

PM:PEDEY EATS FASTBALLS FOR BREAKFAST

Also, I love how Clay is attacking the strike zone. He was virtually unhittable a couple years back when he could throw strikes and force batters to swing at that ridiculous curve.

GH: It’s encouraging to see him not stink up the joint (at least so far), but just remember it’s against a Phillies team that might not win 60 games.

PM: It’s baby steps with Buchholz. Pitching well against a sucky team is a good start. He couldn’t have done this last year.

Regardless of whatever happens with our questionable rotation, I find it hard to think this offense won’t be a juggernaut. There’s power and on base guys everywhere you look. They should fill up some ludicrous box scores this year.

GH: It’s also encouraging that Buchholz is locating and has movement on all of his pitches. That is important no matter who you’re facing.

Hamels is done after 5 innings. Victorino is leading off against righty Garcia, and he hasn’t flipped around to bat left handed. I guess he’s ditching the switch hitting thing after all.

PM: Victorino can bat with his eyes closed for all I care as long as he keeps getting on base like this.

I would’ve liked to see a little hit and run there with Victorino on first and X up to bat with Hannigan and Buchholz on deck. Do you think they wanted X to swing away or they don’t trust him to make contact?

GH: I’m sure it had more to do with it being early in the season and winning the game than anything else. I feel like you want to let guys get their swings in early on in the season. There will be plenty of time for situational baseball in the coming months.

Buchholz finally ran into trouble here in the bottom of the seventh, but he worked his way out of it. Again, the 2015 Phillies aren’t exactly the ’98 Yankees, but it’s still good to see Clay executing pitches in tough spots.

PM: Totally agree. It was nice to see him pitch out of that jam, especially with a 3 pitch strikeout to end it. Like you said, it’s tough to get too excited given the subpar competition. But after a season and a half of seeing those same jams turn into 5 run innings faster than a coked up Ricky Henderson, it’s nice to see him put his pitches when he needs to.

GH: In other news, Mets-Nats is on ESPN right now. Watching Bartolo Colon pretend to hit is the highest of high comedy.

PM: Bartolo Colon is now and forever will be my spirit animal.Uh oh, now it’s time for the bullpen. I guess Tazawa is a more than serviceable first option, but after him and a breaking-down Uehara, yikes.

GH: Yeah, when Robbie Ross Jr. is an 8th inning option you probably have issues out there.

I still can’t believe that the Red Sox didn’t trade Uehara at last summer’s deadline. It’s a non-move that looks even worse now considering his injury status coming out of spring training.

Did the front office really expect a 40 year old reliever with a history of injuries would be a reliable option all season long?

PM: Keeping Uehara befuddled me. Not only could they have grabbed an asset, but they probably would’ve worked harder in the offseason to get a backup, also. Now close games will be in the precarious hands of Edward Mujica

If he’s healthy, I trust Uehara. But that’s a HUGE if.

GH: Hey look! Allen Craig with a single up the middle! He lives!

(By the way, I’ve said this already but Napoli’s weird mullet/flow thing he’s growing on the top of his head looks and will continue to look absolutely ridiculous)
PM:Craig lives! He’s a sneaky good fit on this team as a utility guy who can play first and outfield. At worst he’ll give you what Nava did these past few years, but with much more upside. If he disappears again or struggles, Nava is right behind him anyway.
GH: GRAND SALAMI!
PM: HULK SMASH!!!
With a broken bat, nonetheless. I guess all of his gains in the gym this offseason weren’t just for show. I think he’ll be happy to have the green monster for 81 games once again.
I certainly don’t want to overreact to one game, which everyone will be doing today, but it feels like these guys are really locked in this year.
GH: 162-0 HERE WE COME!
But in all seriousness, you can’t ask for a better start to the season than that. I know the Phillies are a crap team, but there aren”t a lot of bad things to say about 8-0 win to start the year. Hopefully this is a sign of more things to come this season and not just an above average team crushing a terrible one.
Anything else you want to add to wrap up Opening Day?
PM: I’m just happy to have baseball back. Every spring we get our hopes up and get excited over what this team could be. We’ve been lucky over the past decade, but there’s also been a lot of disappointment. I honestly think this season could go either direction. Win or lose, though, after today, it’s clear this team won’t be boring. And that’s a good start.
GH: I agree. Last thing: Thoughts on Porcello’s extension?
PM:I guess they liked what they saw in spring training. That’s a rather hefty price tag for an above average pitcher yet to really establish himself as a legitimate top of the rotation guy, especially one who hasn’t even thrown a single pitch yet in the regular season. I think he has plenty of potential, but with a contract like that, we’re gonna need a lot more than just potential from him.
Porcello’s shiny new deal also begs the question, where was this money in the Lester negotiations last spring? Seems like a deal Lester would’ve gone for back then. I have to think there were larger Lester concerns in the Sox front office than just his asking price, because they certainly didn’t shy away from throwing out big bucks on a pitcher with a far less proven track record.
GH: I agree that it was a strange move to make in the wake of the Lester debacle that took place this past winter. But at the end of the day Porcello is almost exactly five years younger than Lester. By the time his contract is up, he’ll be entering his age 31 season, which is the same season Lester is entering this year. It’s a lot of dough to be sure, but that’s the going rate for relatively young, effective pitchers these days.
If the Sox really are that averse to offering pitchers over 30 long term deals, it makes sense to lock up Porcello now. He’s only 26 years old after all, and his ERA has gone down in each of the past five seasons. If you assume that the Red Sox are better defensively than Detroit has been over the last half of a decade, you can expect Porcello to pitch more in line with his FIP (3.70 over the last 3 seasons) than he had before he had better luck in last year’s breakout campaign. In Lester’s last three full seasons with the Red Sox (2011-2013), his average FIP was 3.84.
I’m not saying that Porcello is better than Lester, I’m only saying that the extension makes sense, especially if the front office feels that Porcello still has room to grow and improve.
PM: Well put, and hard to argue now that you broke out the advanced metrics. I think this just about wraps it up. Always a pleasure, my friend. One down, 161 to go.
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Hot Stove Shuffle

While things may have cooled down at the moment, the Red Sox certainly have had a busy offseason so far, busy enough at least to prompt an email chain between Greg and Pat. Here’s what we had to say about the Sox winter so far:

Greg: STUFF HAPPENED. Also, let me be the first to welcome you to the blog!

Pat: I KNOW (and thank you).  Well, sort of. I was working full time last semester, and apparently checking Twitter and doing research on baseball-reference is frowned upon in the corporate world. Wanna fill me in on the latest Sox moves?

Greg: Ah, the joys of Co-op, Anyways you’ve only missed a few major moves, and by a few I mean three. The Red Sox shored up their pitching staff by first shipping Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster off to Arizona for starter Wade Miley (a move I really liked) in mid-December before turning around around the next day and finally trading Yoenis Cespedes along with Alex Wilson and minor league right hander Gabe Speier for Rick Porcello (a move I REALLY liked). Oh and they picked up Justin Masterson by inking him to a one year, incentive laden deal. It was a busy few days to say the least.

Pat: Nooooooo Rubby! Loved that guy, thought he was going to be mini-Pedro. Solid pickups, though, so maybe it was worth it.
I was really worried about the rotation -never mind the bullpen, which is too frightening to think about- going into this offseason, especially after the losing out on Lester. But those moves were a huge step forward. Porcello can be dominant at times, Miley is a workhorse, and Masterson has had some sneaky good stretches over the past couple years.
Though the moves last month helped, I still don’t think the rotation is where it needs to be. You can’t win in October with just a solid rotation. You need at least one, preferably two, elite blue-chip starters on your staff. Is Clay Buchholz really going to be our elite guy? Can Porcello take a big leap? I doubt it. If only there was an ace lefty on the market who loved Boston, was loved by Boston, and publicly said he’d love to be here…

Greg: We’d offer him the same amount that we offered Josh Beckett four years ago!I agree that the bullpen could use some work. Koji looked tired at the end of last season and as he hits 40 he isn’t getting any younger or more effective. Tazawa is still here, but Breslow is gone (though he never recovered from his World Series meltdown anyway), Miller is gone, even Wilson gave some solid innings out of the ‘pen. I guess it’s going to be Burke Badenhop time! Get excited!

Seriously though, while Miley and Porcello  aren’t #1 starters, their peripheral stats indicate they could have success in Boston. Both guys are sinkerball, grounder inducing types who pitch to contact. Both were in the top 25 among qualifying starters last season for groundball to flyball ratio, with Miley (16) posting a 1.99 mark and Porcello (T-25) posting a 1.80 mark.
Although Miley’s ERA went up nearly a full run from 2013 to 2014, he duplicated his 3.98 FIP, meaning he might have just had some poor luck. He also posted a career best in K/9. Hell, Fangraphs pointed out that his stats since 2012 aren’t that far off from Jeff Samardzija. If nothing else, he’s a solid #3 starter who’s ability to keep the ball on the ground is going to be useful with Hanley Ramirez patrolling left field.
As for Porcello, he’s coming off a career year and is only 25, so needless to say I’m pretty psyched about that. But you’re right, unless Clay Buchholz decides to A) pitch 200 innings this year (if you believe that I have several bridges to sell you) and B) look like the guy from the first few months of 2013 and not whatever the heck that was that took the mound last season, the Sox seem like they might be a pitcher short.

Pat: No matter what happens with Buchholz, I still am pretty content with the current state of the rotation. For as long as I can remember, depth and consistency have been the Sox’ biggest issues when it comes to their starting five. This was more evident than ever last year. The Sox had nine pitchers start ten or more games. Now, trading away 3/5 of their starting rotation certainly had a lot to do with that, but the lack of reliable arms was frightening. Of those nine pitchers, all but Lester and Lackey had an ERA well above 4.00. Four of them had an ERA over 5.00. Yikes.

To put that putrid pitching into perspective, their AL East counterparts featured rotations such as the Orioles (six starters with over ten starts, only one with an ERA over 4.00), the Rays (six starters over ten starts, only three with an ERA above 4.00), and the Blue Jays (five starters over ten games, only two with an ERA above 4.00). The Yanks similarly had nine pitchers with 10 or more starts, but when looking at their top 7 pitchers in regards to amount of starts, only two had an ERA over 4.00, and three of them had a sub-3.00 mark. You just can’t compete in a division with that type of pitching when you’re counting on guys like Allen Webster and Brandon Workman to be pillars of your rotation.

Barring any injuries, they now have a solid core of pitchers with proven track records to build around. Yes, they are in desperate need of an ace, but at least we won’t have to flip to NESN at 7:00 each night without having the slightest clue whose turn it is to give up 4 runs and 7 hits in 5 innings. They still have some work to do, but there are plenty of big names available on the free agent/trade market (see: Hamels, Cole or Shields, James “Big Game”). Even if they strike out in free agency, the Sox have a surplus of offense to trade away this offseason or sometime before the trade deadline. With a stable of both young and veteran position players, the Sox should have a few viable options to find their head of the rotation and shore up their pitching staff.
Greg: I’m glad you brought up the Orioles, because that’s a rotation that I actually point to with regards to the way this Red Sox staff could potentially perform next season. Who was the “ace” of that staff last season? Chris Tillman? Wei Yin-Chen? Bud Norris? Kevin Gausman was great in his 20 starts, but he didn’t exactly carry the staff. Generally speaking,Orioles starters outperformed their peripherals by a wide margin, and that solid performance coupled with an offense that led the American League in runs scored despite injuries to Machado and Wieters and a no show year from Chris Davis was enough to push them to the ALCS.

I know I might be being a little bit pessimistic here, but even with the acquisitions of Ramirez and Sandoval I’m worried about the offensive side of things. Ortiz is pushing 40, Pedroia’s OPS has been steadily declining since 2011, Ramirez has struggled to stay healthy (and isn’t exactly the best guy to have around in the clubhouse),  Castillo is a huge question mark…it feels like a lot is riding on Mookie Betts to improve on what we saw from him last year (which, granted, was impressive) and Xander Bogaerts to improve on a disappointing rookie season.

Pat: The Sox offense has A LOT of variables, but plenty of upside. Given Ortiz’s age, the only hitter we can safely say for sure will produce is newly acquired Sandoval. Even if Papi does what he usually does, that leaves 7 big question marks in their lineup. Not great.
Good news is, though, just like the rotation, the Sox have plenty of options in their lineup. Just take the outfield for example. Hanley, Castillo, Craig, Nava, Betts, Bradley Jr., Victorino. That’s six, SIX, major league capable players. The veterans have injury issues and the young guys are unproven, but that’s a really solid mix of veteran and young talent that I’m hopeful Farrell can figure out how to use. I’m thinking the opening day lineup will be Hanley-Castillo-Victorino, but given age and performance, I think all 3 positions are up for grabs throughout the year.
I’ll let you tackle the infield and catchers, but one quick word about Pedroia. I’m terrified. He looked straight up below average last year, and the sad thing is, it doesn’t appear to be an anomaly. As you pointed out, he’s been trending steadily in that direction. If this was Mike Napoli, I’d say whatever, replace him with Nava or someone and we’ll be fine. But this is our de facto captain and the heart and soul of our club. Our Jeter. With Betts waiting in the wings and not much room for him in the outfield, how much time does Pedey have left? Does he make through this season as an everyday starter? I honestly don’t know.

Greg: I’d be shocked if Pedroia isn’t the starting second baseman by season’s end as long as he’s not injured. I think what Betts gives the Sox is flexibility, because he can not only play the outfield (and I believe he should start over Victorino, who’s coming off back surgery), but he can also sub in for Pedey when the latter is feeling banged up, which is especially useful considering Pedroia’s tendency to play through injuries whether doing so is actually helping the team or not.

Other than that, the infield will likely look similar to last year except for third where Sandoval’s slightly above average production and solid glove will be a massive upgrade over what the Sox got from that position last year. Holtmania is looking like an odd man out, Bogaerts will hopefully be manning shortstop full time after being inexplicably usurped by Stephen Drew in the middle of last season, and Middlebrooks has been exiled to San Diego for veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan (playing the David Ross role this year) after another lost season at the plate.
Losing Middlebrooks for nothing hurts, not only because of the potential he flashed in 2012 before suffering a wrist injury or because of the constant butting heads with Red Sox coaching, but because now this means we lost Jenny Dell for nothing.

Pat: At this point, all we can do is speculate how this team is going to piece together. Are guys like Pedroia and Ortiz going to start REALLY showing their age? Can young studs Mookie and Xander take a leap forward? Can you compete in October with just a “solid” rotation? Or are the Sox still looking to land an ace? Who knows.

We’ll obviously tackle these questions and much more as the offseason progresses, but for now, I think it’s safe to say we’re a lot better off than we were in September after a disastrous title defense. I’m excited to see where this team can go. We certainly have the major league talent and minor league trade bait to field a legit contender. And if the baseball gods conspire against us once again, at least it can’t be as bad as last year, right? Right?
Greg: Right. And even with Scherzer off the market as of yesterday, there are still a plethora of pitching options to be had, either on Scherzer’s new team or elsewhere. Like you said, the pieces are in place for a solid foundation, and if nothing else it’s good to see that the team is at least being proactive this offseason. We’ll have to wait and see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s one more move to come before pitchers and catchers report.