One series down, 53 or so left to play. While Opening Day proved to be everything we could have hoped for to kick off the season, the remainder of the series belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Early season series against top flight division rivals are always difficult to measure. It’s been said time and time again that the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees are likely to play themselves all around .500 against each other by the time this season shakes out and the team that outperforms against the rest of their schedule has the upper hand in the race for the division. That said, it’s never easy to swallow being beaten in your own house by a team you’ll be battling with all season long.
Given that it was the first three games of the season, a whopping 1.9% of the full slate of regular season games, it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions without being beaten over the head with comments about sample size. But as it is the regular season and no longer the fruitless analysis of in game Spring Training analysis, it is fair to point out a few things that were both good and bad omens, directionally speaking.
What good can possibly come out of a series loss to Tampa Bay at home to open the season? There were a few performances that I think we can feel good about.
Josh Beckett: Beckett’s Opening Day performance brought everyone back to October of 2007 immediately. Beyond his ten strikeouts and pinpoint control, the most singular thing that stands out to me about Beckett’s outing was his velocity. Want proof that Beckett is healthy again and any issues that may have offset him last year are in the past, look no further than the radar gun.
graph via Baseball Prospectus Unfiltered
Beckett’s fastball settled easily within the 94-96 range on Opening Day. With his control and that velocity, he is a dynamic force and a Cy Young candidate.
Kevin Youkilis: Are you kidding me? He’s only been on base 70% of the time he’s taken the plate so far this season. Only eight for twelve to start the season? I expect perfection! Seriously, Youk’s start validates how far he has come as a hitter over the last few years. Sure, he’s not Manny behind Big Papi. At the same time, however, a start like this guarantees that pitchers can’t pitch around Ortiz without taking notice of the person in the on deck circle.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: We wondered if Daisuke were an enigma in the offseason as we looked at his component stats and hoped beyond hope that he could pull off another season defying the odds. In many ways, yesterday was vintage Daisuke Matsuzaka. The problem is, vintage DiceK, as far as Major League Baseball goes, only harkens back to his rookie season where he gave up 25 home runs instead of the 12 he allowed last season. It’s only one start, but a sure sign that even Daisuke can’t fight the law of averages too long without getting burnt.
The Youngsters: Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie will be fine this season, but they didn’t look like it this series. Often times looking over matched, they were a combined 3-24 with nine strikeouts.
The Tampa Bay Rays: Yes sir, they are for real, again. I don’t think anyone expected them to fall off a cliff this season, but you could see that lineup being more dangerous than it was a season ago. Evan Longoria is an offensive force in the middle of that lineup and to think, they did it all without B.J. Upton. Scary. At the same time, Matt Garza took down the Sox for a second straight outing, looking every bit as dominant as he did in Game 7 of the ALCS. If the Rays get that type of pitching from Scott Kazmir and Garza with David Price in the wings, we could be looking at a 95+ win team vs. the low 90 win team I expected to see this year. Statement made.
Sure he only had two hits in twelve at bats, but he hit two home runs and did not strike out once. I think you have to be encouraged with the way Jason Varitek looked at the plate this series. I feel confident that he’s made corrections at the plate this offseason that will yield improved results vs. his horrid 2008 campaign. He may not hit more than .250, but his line won’t be nearly as shallow as it was last year and coming out of the nine hole instead of the seven spot he found himself in much of last year.
So one series is in the books. Is there anything that you think we can take away from these three games (positive or negative)?
Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka Jacoby Ellsbury Jason Varitek Josh Beckett Kevin Youkilis Tampa Bay Rays