With one more game to go on the first road trip of the year, here are few thoughts about the first five games.
With the 4-1 start the Red Sox are off to their best start since 2006. Now the skeptics may say the Sox have not been challenged playing two clubs that may well be last place teams (you can book that for the Phillies, I still think the Rays will be last in the AL East). But a component of any successful season is to beat up on the weaker teams.
If the Red Sox can maintain the fast start it could be very beneficial to grabbing the AL East lead. A look at the Sox schedule has them playing 31 games through May 10 (barring postponements). The schedule shows six inter league games: the three already played in Philadelphia and the three games with the Washington Nationals to begin the home campaign, starting tomorrow. The other 25 games through May 10 are all with the AL East opponents. Seven are with Baltimore (all in April), perhaps the other top contender for the division (and defending AL East champs). And six with each of the other division rivals (three home and three on the road with all). Throughout the rest of May, June, July, and August the divisional games are sprinkled here and there, then the end of the year mirrors the beginning. From August 31 through the last day, October 4th, 25 of 31 are in the division ( the other six are three versus the Phillies at Fenway and the last series of the season is in Cleveland for three).
The offense has so far been close to as advertised. The cold April weather has cut into some of the power (and may have caused the only loss of the year, by the wind robbing Hanley Ramirez of a potential game winning grand slam in the second game). The depth also came as advertised, especially in New York, where Brock Holt came off the bench Saturday and contributed four hits and three RBI while playing center field. Backup catcher Sandy Leon also showed off his arm, which actually compares favorably to the injured Christian Vazquez, by throwing out speedy Yankee Brett Gardner trying to steal second by plenty. Warmer weather and the ending of a slump or two (hello, Mike Napoli) will boost this offense even more.
After a 8-0 Opening Day win in Philadelphia there was already a glow over Red Sox Nation and this was made even brighter that night when the Red Sox unexpectedly announced a contract extension for Rick Porcello. The terms of the extension were four years, 82.5 million dollars. Porcello is already signed for this year at $12.5M, so in effect he is now signed for five years at $95M. A signing bonus of $500,000 followed by annual salaries of 12.5M, 20M, 20M, 21M, 21M. There is of course risk signing any pitcher (or player for that matter), but the parameters of this deal fit the Red Sox' philosophy and Porcello's needs to a T. The Sox have stated over and over they prefer not to give big money to pitchers over 30. They also have shown a propensity to raise the annual amount in order to shorten the term of the deal. Examples include Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Ryan Dempster. This contract takes Porcello to age 30, meeting the Sox wishes to pay for prime years not 30+ seasons and allows Porcello to become a free agent at age 30 and likely cash in big if his years in Boston have been productive.
Porcello is really much younger than a lot of fans realize due to his already pitching six seasons in Detroit. Porcello just turned 26 last December 27th. Porcello is two years younger than the top two finishers for the 2014 AL rookie of the year, Jose Abreu and Matt Shoemaker. If you look at the Mets young pitching phenoms, Jacob DeGromm (the '14 NL rookie of the year) is six months older than Porcello and Matt Harvey is just three months younger. Porcello has won ten or more games in all of his six seasons in Motown. The only other pitchers to have six seasons of double digits wins before age 26 are Dennis Eckersley and Bert Blyleven- two Hall of Famers. Porcello is the right kind of guy to sign to the type of contract just agreed to.
One time through the rotation of course screams small sample size, but all five pitched well. Led by the Opening Day seven shutout innings from Clay Buchholz and yesterday's seven inning one hit performance from Joe Kelly. Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley all gave good opening outings as well. Miley, in particular, could be very interesting just based on his pace on the mound. And even with Miley's reputation for being a ground ball pitcher, he had 183 strikeouts for Arizona in '14. The only lefties with more K's in the NL last year were Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Cole Hamels.
Speaking of Hamels, will they or won't they? Will the Red Sox trade for an "ace" later in the season and will it be Hamels? The results of the current five man rotation, as well as the Pawtucket rotation's progression, will in large part answer these questions. One thing is perfectly clear, if it is Hamels, there is no way in hell Philadelphia is getting Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart.
If the very, very early games mean anything is it possible the Sox will not miss the injured Christian Vazquez nearly as much as feared? I have already mentioned Sandy Leon's arm as a backup and the starter Ryan Hanigan has been very strong behind the plate and okay at the plate adding in a number of walks to boost his OBP (Hanigan is only three walks shy of AJ Pierzynski's 2014 total for Boston).
The bullpen. Well. The 19 inning marathon Friday night/Saturday morning in the Bronx was caused by a failure of current closer, Edwin Mujica and two blown saves by eventual winner Stephen Wright. But Wright is already back in AAA and it is quite evident that Mujica is not going to be this team's closer for long (if ever again). The rest of the bullpen pitched very well that game and they ALL got to pitch. The reports are real closer Koji Uejhara will be activated for the home opener. His performance at closer will go a long ways in determining how the year goes and/or how soon the Sox bring in or bring up additional bullpen arms (Matt Barnes?). The more immediate question is who goes when Koji is activated. The likely candidates seem to be one of Robbie Ross, Jr. and Tommy Layne.
Tonight's game in New York is the first ESPN Sunday night game of the year for the Sox, and then back home for the Fenway opener versus the Nationals, the consensus pick as the best team in baseball, but who are off to a 1-4 start. After Washington comes the long AL East stretch mentioned above. Here's hoping for the continuation of a strong start for the Sox.