Oh … is there anything more glorious?
Having been a frequent visitor of Opening Day at Fenway Park years past (including my most recent one in 2005, when the ring ceremony was held for the 2004 World Series title) there’s nothing sweeter than seeing the Red Sox lined up all on the first base line, ringing in a new season. While I won’t be at Opening Day today (but I’ll be there tomorrow for Dice-K mania on Wednesday!), I can at least dream of the festivities. Because I can’t watch. Why? I’ll be at work, and MLB.tv will black me out. Never mind that there are no TVs at work. Never mind that I can’t take the day off. MLB.tv is blacked out!
What are the storylines going into the return of baseball at Fenway?
Daisuke Matsuzaka will be at the forefront of attention the day after the home opener, when he takes on the Seattle Mariners and kicks off his Fenway career against Ichiro Suzuki. Matsuzaka is the dominant storyline all season, which must relieve many around baseball, as if there was no Dice-K, the dominant storyline would probably be what A-Rod would end up doing.
Matsuzaka is coming off an impressive debut, whiffing 10 Royals and going seven innings, which was the longest by a Sox pitcher until Schilling matched him on Monday night against the Texas Rangers. Can he keep it up? Assuming he sets down the Mariners easily, his next start (Patriot’s Day) will see him take on Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels, and then he’ll host the Yankees at Fenway that Saturday against a potent offense. From the Royals to the Mariners to the Angels to the Yankees, the difficulty level arises. How he performs in each start will be interesting. (He’ll get the Orioles the turn after, missing the Bronx by one game.)
J.D. Drew is off to a rip-roaring start, sitting at .391/.440/.478. Drew seems to be exhibiting a fine understanding of the strike zone and puts quality swings on the ball. His power should soar as the weather warms up (Do you think Manny cares his two shots would have been homers in July?) and he’s looking like an all-around bona fide player – one of the rare five-toolers in baseball today: those that can run, hit, field, throw and hit for power.
Drew has his weaknesses, and his injury history is a big knock against that. It’s concerning every time someone goes down with injuries as often as Drew does. However, the Red Sox have protected themselves over the injury that concerns him the most, and the only serious injury he has experienced in the last three (four counting this year so far) years is a broken hand from an errant pitch in 2005 (Nomar experienced a similar thing). Drew should get a warm reception from Red Sox fans today.
David Ortiz finally put all of our hearts to ease with a two-homer game on Sunday. He absolutely smoked another ball that was stolen from him by the shift and now leads the team with two homers. The team has only three homers to date, tied for second to last (as of midday on Monday, that could change) with the Twins, Mariners, Cardinals and Rockies experiencing similar outages and the Athletics and Giants hitting only two. The league lead belongs to the Brewers, Braves and … Devil Rays. Hopefully the Red Sox can wake up from their putrid .654 OPS, good for 25th in the majors.
Ortiz will be a big part of that. He will undoubtedly get a hero’s welcome at Fenway, but the issue springs to mind: how many more times can he raise the level he is at? Consider:
2003: .961 OPS
2004: .983 OPS
2005: 1.001 OPS
2006: 1.049 OPS
What does he have in store for us? A Pujols-esque (1.102 last year) OPS? A Barry Bonds circa 2004 OPS (1.421 – goodness!)? Who knows? All I know is that he keeps going higher … and higher … and higher … and while Ortiz may be “old” at age 31, he’s certainly got many more years of productivity ahead of him. What he does this year will be very interesting for me.
Coco Crisp is not looking good. He has fine range in center, but his offense is struggling right out of the gate. With the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies interested in a long-term centerfielder and Wily Mo Pena, David Murphy and Jacoby Ellsbury in the minors, Crisp really needs to turn it around. It’s a shame this has happened to him, because he was enjoying success in Cleveland, and he seems like a good guy. Hopefully he turns it around, but a .150/.227/.200 line is not cutting it. I realize the foolishness of depending on this line, especially since he’s only had 20 AB so far this year, but he has simply not looked good in those ABs.
Sean O recently posited that there should be a poll on how long Coco Crisp will remain starting OF. Ask, and ye shall be receive. The poll on the right asks this very question. I think it’s far too early to start talking about replacing him, but if he keeps this up through April, we’ll have no choice but to start seriously considering it. If he keeps it up through April, I have no interest in rushing Ellsbury to the majors. Let him come at his own pace. I’d start Pena in center field – I’d leave Drew in right.
Why? Well, Pena seemed to handle center pretty well last year, and Drew is already adjusting to the AL’s pitchers, style of play, and outfields. Moving him to center (and possibly back to right later in the year) would not help him. It would get Pena his beloved at-bats, and we could move Crisp or have him be a fourth outfielder until he got back on the right track.
Dustin Pedroia has been incredible as well. Despite showing no power to date, he is hitting .313/.389/.313 and as the cold weather turns warmer, may start ringing some doubles. One thing we need to understand, however, is that this man is a rookie, and he’s doing about as well as we could hope for. Alex Cora will be spelling him from time to time, and as a matter of fact, did so Sunday, making him the final bench player of the Red Sox to make an appearance. As we get into more of the grind, you can expect to see Pena, Hinske and Cora a lot more often.
Results of the poll:

Dustin Pedroia has 5 hits in 10 AB. What’s the deal?
* He’s really good, and he’s going to have a breakout season for us.
20% of all votes
* He’s not a world-beater, but he’ll be solid for us.
66% of all votes
* Aberration. He’s nothing more than a backup infielder.
9% of all votes
* Fluke! He’s going to be out of baseball in three years.
6% of all votes

The bullpen has been solid so far. Only J.C. Romero’s stinker against Texas stands out, but other than that, everyone’s been solid. I’m willing to give Pineiro a mulligan on his 2 BB appearance on Texas, because he got squeezed like criz-azy against Ian Kinsler, and he just looks downright filthy. The Red Sox have an ERA of 3.50 from their reliever corps, 13th in the major leagues in 18 IP. (The Yankees rank a stunning 4th, with a 1.16 ERA in 23.1 IP. If you can believe it, San Diego has 18.2 IP of … 0.00 ERA. Pittsburgh [0.90] and Cincinatti [1.10] round out the top three.) Obviously, it’s early. Obviously, it’s a small sample size. Still, it’s markedly better than last year’s number of 4.51 for the Red Sox.
Jonathan Papelbon … really. What is there to say? He’s nails. He’s a great closer. And he will always come to the rescue.
Pineiro looks good, Romero looks like he could do damage if he’s used as a LOOGY. Mike Timlin is here for character and leadership as much as he is for talent. Javier Lopez has looked surprisingly decent, and J.D. Durbin can ply his trade for a day or two. Okajima has looked more than solid (2.25 ERA) and so has Kyle Snyder, but the jury is out on Brendan Donnelly, who has only pitched an inning so far.
A big storyline going into the opener has to do with the fifth starter slot. Julian Tavarez was pitching well until a J.D. Drew two-base error made him hit a wall. He was unable to recover, and Devern Hansack just happened to whiff 10 batters in Triple-A, Jon Lester threw a gem for Single-A Greenville (hitting 96 mph on the gun) and Kyle Snyder has impressed thus far in relief. Tavarez’s next start comes against Angel ace John Lackey. How long will Tavarez get a chance to pitch if he keeps failing? He impressed last September, but we’re not expecting the world out of him.
I say he gets all of April.
Those are the top storylines heading into Fenway Park.
Enough of that. Time for Fenway Franks! Enjoy the game! (Thanks to Boston.com for the picture.)