Posted by: Staff | 04.28.2009

Sox Season Opens With Some Uncertainty

WILLY TUCKER ’10     

           Birds are singing merrily in the trees, flowers are breaking through the now-thawed ground, and David Ortiz continues to struggle.  Welcome back baseball, we’ve missed you.  The offseason was filled with teases of megaton deals, but delivered, with the exception of Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito, just a handful of grizzled veterans and bargain bin washouts. While the winter months were in no way a total failure, it’s nice to get back to the action.  Opening their season against the dangerous Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox struck first in the battle for the American League East.  In a moment transcending just baseball, ailing Senator Edward Kennedy threw out the first pitch to Hall of Famer Jim Rice. After that, however, it was time for business, as Josh Beckett delivered a real gem.  He gave up one run over seven strong innings, striking out ten.  

 

 

 

Josh Beckett, in the midst of dominating Tampa on Opening Day

Josh Beckett, in the midst of dominating Tampa on Opening Day

 

 

 

 

             Unfortunately, it’s been a rollercoaster for the Red Sox ever since Opening Day.  Having played nineteen games, the Sox are sitting happily at the top of the American League East, something that may surprise those who predicted disaster after a slow start.  Boston has won eleven games in a row after their 2-6 start, which seems to bode well for the rest of the season.  There are some concerns brought up by the earlier games, however.  First and foremost, can the Sox stay consistent?  A problem area in the past, consistency is more or less the key to the whole season. 

 There are question marks all throughout the Red Sox roster.  Their starting pitching, oft-touted in the preseason as the best in the American League, has been shaky.  Jon Lester pitched a seven inning shutout in one start, but gave up eleven runs over eleven innings in his first two.  Daisuke Matsuzaka compiled a 12.79 ERA in two starts before being placed on the 15-day disabled list, after a repeat MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic.  Many blame the stress from the WBC for his sub-par start to the season, and it remains to be seen if he can return to full strength.  Brad Penny, the fifth starter for the Sox, has shown mostly signs of weakness, not strength.  Even Josh Beckett, the primary starter, has not looked particularly dominating.

The Sox lineup, just like the starting pitching, has been very inconsistent.  Early season struggles, particularly those of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, have given way to offensive showcases (for example, the 12-1 thumping of the Orioles on Patriot’s Day).  However, it is clear that such displays will not manifest all season.  There will be games when the Sox will not be hitting as well, and it’s in those games that the finesse of the offense will be tested.  What is most worrying is the lack of a defined offensive spark.  When Jacoby Ellsbury reaches second base, it seems entirely reasonable to expect a run to follow shortly thereafter.  However, he has shown anything but consistency early this season, and without him the Red Sox need the 2-3-4 batters to come through with some power.  What’s the concern?  The third batter, David Ortiz, is not the same player he once was.  If Terry Francona doesn’t see increased production out of Ortiz, he shouldn’t be afraid to make some changes.

 Luckily for the Red Sox, their bullpen has been a real bright spot throughout the season.  During one stretch, Sox relievers gave up only 2 runs over 29 1/3 innings.  Ramon Ramirez has been the new centerpiece of the bullpen. His performance so far has been more than enough to convince Red Sox Nation that trading Coco Crisp was a smart move.  If Ramirez can keep up a solid level of dominance and act as an effective bridge to Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox are looking to have a great bullpen all season long.

 Even if the Sox can pull together all the inconsistencies, injuries are a huge concern.  David Ortiz, JD Drew, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, and Jed Lowrie have all spent a lot of time on the DL throughout their careers.  In fact, Jed Lowrie and Daisuke are both currently injured, leaving Nick Green, the third string shortstop, and Justin Masterson, a reliever, to take their respective places.  As a nice surprise, they’re both doing rather well.  On the downside, Jed Lowrie may be out for the season. If he were to miss the whole year, the Sox would lose a lot of stability at shortstop.  Hopefully the roster stays intact and healthy, but it seems entirely likely that more than a few players won’t make it through the season unscathed.

 All things considered, the Red Sox have been winning games as of late.  It’s a trend that may continue, or may not, and with 143 games remaining, there’s plenty of time to find out.

Captain Jason Varitek returns to the dugout after belting a solo home run.

Captain Jason Varitek returns to the dugout after belting a solo home run.

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