Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Red Sox 2017 Opening Day Thoughts

Opening Day is in the books and the Sox are off to a great start after beating the Pirates 5-3. Lets break down the top stories for your undefeated Boston Red Sox:

--Without a doubt the story of the afternoon was Andrew "Benny Baseball" Benintendi's three run homer that contributed to a five run fifth inning for the Sox. Benny became Boston's youngest Opening Day left fielder since Carl Yastrzemski, which is fitting because all the old timers will tell you he reminds them of Yaz and Fred Lynn. While his swing is very similar to Lynn's Red Sox fans should be careful to temper expectations for this year. There is a lot of hype surrounding Benny but it's unrealistic to expect him to be an All star right away, never mind the fact that Lynn won MVP his rookie season. Benny is the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year right now but in the grand scheme of things 2017 is not going to be the best season of his career. Ultimately a .290 batting average with 18 homers and good defense should be considered a successful season for the 22-year-old. 

--In his first start post Cy Young award Rick Porcello picked up right where he left off. His final stat line - three runs, five strikeouts, one walk in 6.1 innings pitched - isn't anything spectacular but it doesn't do justice to how in control he was for most of the game. Two of his earned runs crossed the plate after Porcello left the game and he had a shutout going through his first six innings. The common thought is that Rick will regress this year and while that's a likely scenario I expect him to be much closer to his 2016 form than his 2015 one. Most teams would be lucky to have Porcello as their staff ace but since the Sox got Chris Sale this winter he becomes perhaps the best "number two" starter in baseball.

--The good news from Craig Kimbrel's first appearance of 2017 is that he didn't walk anyone. The bad news is he gave up a leadoff double and later hit a batter before closing out the 5-3 win. The Sox will take the win but a shaky first outing is the last thing fans wanted to see from their closer who walked an alarming 5.1 batters per nine innings just a season ago. Kimbrel still has the "stuff" to be a top reliever in the league as he was consistently hitting the upper 90s with his fastball Monday afternoon. But just like last year there were pitches where he seemingly had no idea where they were going. His fastball and competitiveness will help maintain his status as a top ten closer but it's time for Red Sox fans to acknowledge that his days of being an elite shutdown arm might be over.

--I like the move of batting Xander Bogaerts sixth. He had a horrible second half in 2016, looked over matched in the playoffs, and then did nothing to inspire confidence in the World Baseball Classic when he played for Team Netherlands. So it was encouraging to see Bogaerts go 2-4 yesterday, particularly since he was turning on pitches and using the whole field. When he first came to the majors he had a tendency to spray singles to right field, which is great. But the key to his monster 2016 first half was pulling balls for power, and while there was no home run yesterday he seemed a little more comfortable in this regard. How Bogaerts responds to batting sixth will be one of the keys to Boston's season.

--The last thing I want to point out is a reminder of how nice it is having two aces on a team. There's a baseball cliche that momentum is only as good as your next days starting pitcher. Red Sox fans know both sides of this saying. In 2015 when Clay Buchholz pitched Opening Day we had zero aces and could never count on any one guy to stop a losing streak or help continue a winning one. Now that the 2017 Red Sox have won their first game we hand the ball to perhaps the best pitcher in the American League for a great chance to start the year 2-0. Anytime Porcello and Sale pitch back to back games this year you have to figure the Sox have a floor of one win and often times should win both. Cue the duck boats!

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