The Red Sox are taking on the Orioles in a weekend series at Fenway Park. The Sox and Orioles will play each other 7 times in the next 10 games, four at Fenway Park and three at Camden Yards. I expect these to be close ballgames between two good teams. Here is a list of thoughts heading into game one tonight, in no particular order:
- Smokin' Joe Kelly starts tonight for the Sox. While Porcello has had two nice outings to start his Red Sox career, it's Kelly who is the most exciting pitcher in the Red Sox' rotation. Kelly has more electric stuff than any other Sox starter, and when he is able to harness it, look out. On a staff of pitchers who pound the bottom of the zone and induce groundouts, he is a rare guy who can make batters swing and miss. Plus, who doesn't love the swag of a young guy coming into 2015 who hasn't done anything remarkable in his career claiming he is going to make a run at the Cy Young award? The Orioles lineup will be a tough matchup for him. I hope he responds with another crisp outing.
- The Red Sox are starting a stretch tonight where they play nobody but other AL East teams through May 10. That's 22 straight games against AL East competition - 7 against the O's, 6 against the Rays, 6 against the Blue Jays, and 3 against the Yanks. Throw in the 3 we already played against the Yankees and we'll be 25 games into the AL East schedule in just over three weeks from now. The danger of the front loaded AL East schedule is in two decisions the Red Sox have made concerning roster construction: the decision to roll the dice with a rotation of #2-#4 starters and waiting for the trade deadline to potentially add an ace, and the decision to wait on the top two prospects on the RSM Prospect Rankings - Blake Swihart and Rusney Castillo in favor of two veterans who might not be more than league average. If the rotation can't get it done through this 22 game stretch, and if Hanigan and Victorino clog up the lineup and the Sox stumble to the bottom of the AL East, there will be a lot of angry members of Red Sox Nation. On the flip side, this Red Sox team as currently constructed has won the first three series of the year. There's no reason to think that this team can't win 5 or 6 out of the upcoming 7 series against the AL East and stake their claim as the #1 team in the division. If that happens, and the Sox still have a deal to make for an ace and still have Swihart and Castillo to supplement the roster, then Benny C and company will be giving Koji high-fives all around the office.
- Speaking of Koji, watching him close down the 9th on Tuesday against the Nationals with a clean inning and two strikeouts was like watching a graceful figure skater after watching a bunch of four year olds trying to learn how to skate falling on their butts with their legs akimbo. Koji and Taz are the only two guys in the Sox pen who have strikeout stuff. The rest of the guys - Craig Breslow, Tommy Layne, Robbie Ross, Edward Mujica, Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando - fool nobody and miss very few bats. Koji (18.00 K/9 after one inning) and Taz (12.27 K/9 after 3.2 innings) are the only two averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Ogando is just barely at 9.00 K/9, and the rest are somewhere between 8.31 (Mujica) and 5.79 (Ross). Good bullpen pitchers these days need to be able to come in and strikeout at least one guy per frame. The end of every game when we're holding on to a close lead is going to be akin to walking across a thin sheet of ice on a cold Maine pond.
- I think it's safe to say that this offense, along with the Blue Jays and Tigers, is one of the top three offenses in all of baseball. Mike Napoli and David Ortiz haven't really gotten going yet, and we're already piling up runs. This team is going to blast bombs all over Fenway all season long. With the dynamite young duo of the Mookie Conster and the X Man doing young, precocious things on the regular, this is an exceedingly watchable group.
Feel free to add your own thoughts heading into the upcoming Orioles series into the comments section below and we'll get some banter going up in here.