The Boston Red Sox had quite a few question marks going into spring training and the 2017 season. After Opening Day we’ve learned a few things.
The 2016 season ended on a bit of a dull note for multiple reasons. Getting knocked out is never fun. It’s especially not fun when the team you’re playing against has your old manager calling the shots. It’s impossible to be angry at arguably the best manager in baseball. Terry Francona will always be a favorite in Boston. The other downer was with Mookie Betts getting robbed of the MVP Award. It could have gone either way but most felt that Betts did more to stand out for his team. I certainly did.
After watching Opening Day however, I’m very happy with what I was able to see. Yes, it’s only one game but already the team is continuing their spring training level of play. Of course there were a couple of oops moments but overall a great game. It’s still early and Sox Nation should have faith that we’ve put our foot forth in the right direction with one game now in the books. There are five things to take away from Opening Day against the Pirates.
- Rick Porcello absolutely earned the start for Opening Day
Rick Porcello has long lived in the shadow. From his times in Detroit to coming over to Boston, he was always looked at as the three, four, or five guy. Porcello can be looked at as the one if called upon. Opening Day proved just that. When people said that Porcello shouldn’t have gotten the Cy Young, I questioned their knowledge of baseball. Yes, Porcello had one of the highest run support averages in the game in 2016. He also struck out 189 batters in 223 innings, had a 3.15 ERA and won 67% of his starts.
For those that think wins are not a fair metric in deciding the Cy Young, think again. On Opening Day, Porcello allowed just three hits in the first six innings of work. He also had walked just one and struck out five. Giving the Sox the quality start is a big deal especially when considering the uncertainty of David Price & Drew Pomeranz. Yes the 7th inning wasn’t the cleanest but the bullpen came in and got the job done. Rick Porcello has picked up right where he left off.
- Pablo Sandoval is so far living up to wanting to change for 2017
The Panda had been working hard all off season gearing up for the 2017 season. Sandoval even showed up early to show that he was committed to being a part of the solution in the post-Papi-era. Sandoval did strike out twice but also got the scoring started with a sharp liner that Jordy Mercer was unable to play well allowing for the infield single. Sandy was hustling and the Sox fans could see that giving him an ovation.
Panda wants to play. Sandoval did commit an error in the 6th inning but Porcello erased it getting a fly out and two strike outs. If Panda can put together a few solid games together, it’s almost a guarantee that Sox fans will forget how horrid 2016 ended. After all, we forgave Porcello for beaning Kevin Youkilis right? Hard to believe that happened eight years ago in what was then Porcello’s rookie season. Sandoval showed off his hustle once more by scoring the teams second run on a Dustin Pedroia RBI single to center.
- Sandy Leon is playing smart baseball
The Red Sox took advantage of easy bases several times in Spring Training. If a batter was given the shift to the right, they bunted to the left. That’s smart baseball right there. Gerrit Cole, unable to play the grounder, allowed Sandoval to move up 90 feet. If you’re going to give someone the base, take the base and that’s just what Leon did. Leon went 2/3 on Opening Day. The following batter, Pedroia knocked in a run. If the Red Sox can continue to take advantage of these shifts, one can expect more to come. I definitely think that coaches will try their hardest to take that aspect of the Sox game away but in doing so will allow the Sox hitter to hit it right where he likes to. It’s a win win.
- Andrew Benintendi will continue to crush it in 2017
I said it once and I’ll say it again. Andrew Benintendi will win the Rookie of the Year Award for 2017. Watch his absolute bomb to right field on Opening Day. That swing is just beautiful. At just 22 years old, you’re not gonna find someone that easy with that kind of natural swing and precision. I can happily that we’ll be seeing plenty more of that going forward in 2017. Not bad, not bad at all.
- Craig Kimbrel will have a bounce back 2017 campaign
Last year was anything but consistent for the Sox closer. Kimbrel this season started it off with allowing a double, fanning two swinging, plunking a batter and then getting a foul out to ring in his first save of the season. Kimbrel had seen his ERA rise in consecutive years. From 2014 to 2015 it went from 1.61 to 2.58 and rose again to 3.40 in 2016. His ERA 2012, 2013, and 2014 were 1.01, 1.21 and 1.61. We’d love to see that Kimbrel come back and he’s due. The home run numbers aren’t alarming but the walks allowed number is. These are not the numbers to be expected from someone who’s getting $13 million this season.
Kimbrel had a lengthy span in Atlanta where he flat out dominated and was considered the best closer in baseball opposite Mariano Rivera. A career ERA of 1.43 will do that. Since leaving though his ERA hasn’t been below 2.50. That needs to change especially in a city where winning isn’t just a hope, it’s an expectation. CK only hit four batters last season so I don’t expect this to be a cause for concern. This was merely a brushing the rust off kind of game. We can expect Kimbrel to get the flames back on the heater more consistently going forward. Hopefully he can continue to work on repertoire to become the elite closer he once was in ATL.
2017’s Opening Day for Boston was a success winning 5-3 against the Pirates. The work is far from done as we still have no word on the timetable from Tyler Thornburg and injury. Hopefully he can come back healthy and ready to rock. If all systems are go for the Sox pen, we can expect to see something very special going forward. Just 161 games to go!
Photo Credit – Raj Mehta – USA TODAY Sports