A ton of Boston sports fans woke up this morning with a vicious hockey hangover. It may have seemed like a nightmare, but it was in fact a harsh reality – the Bruins lost in an emotional, heartbreaking seven game series to their arch rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
So what’s left? The Celtics miserable season had already come to a close and the Patriots just drafted a QB in the second round of the NFL draft, signaling a future without Tom Brady that is soon to come. Have no fear…the Red Sox are here! You know, the team that made one of the most miraculous one season turnarounds in history and came together to win a championship last year. Summer is right around the corner, and warm weather means baseball. So if you haven’t been paying attention to the guys on Yawkey Way, here’s a few of the highlights, low-lights and things in between you’ve missed:
• Hopefully you at least got to see the Fenway Opening Day ceremonies where Dr. Charles killed it again with a masterful production and the team celebrated their huge accomplishment from last year. This is also the day that the Sox owners decided to spoil their favorite player David Ortiz and gave him two rings instead of just one.
• Jon Lester said he would take a hometown discount…fans became excited…no agreement came to fruition…a low-ball offer from the Sox was leaked to the media…many signs now pointing to this being the last season for Lester in a Red Sox uniform.
• Speaking of Lester, he’s kept up his end of the bargain and is making a strong case for himself in a contract year. He leads the team in innings pitched with 55.2, leads the team in strikeouts with 66, has an ERA of 2.75 and is clearly still the ace of the staff. After taking the mound over and over again last year well into the postseason, many, including myself, thought Lester might take a step back this year but he hasn’t at all.
• After Lester, there’s John Lackey. Lackey has been crucial for Boston for the last two seasons and provides a solid, veteran presence for the staff. Once you get through Lester and Lackey however, there’s been a bit of a drop off. Jake Peavy is getting older and has been a little inconsistent. Felix Doubront is up and down as well, and rumors of him being bounced from the rotation continue to come up. Then there’s the enigma, Clay Buchholz who hasn’t looked like the same pitcher since midway through last season when a series of ailments derailed the great season he was in the midst of.
• The bullpen has been mediocre. While Tazawa and Breslow haven’t had their same effect, Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara have most definitely been on. Koji has nine saves and a cool ERA of 1.15. They could really use Edward Mujica to get back from injury and provide a role as a steady setup man.
• John Farrell was tossed out of a game after arguing about a decision that came from instant replay analysis after a close play at first, and it was against the Yankees. The instant replay debacle has been a huge story for all of MLB. On this particular night, Farrell let it be known exactly what he thought of instant replay in quite an entertaining way for lip readers.
• Michael Pineda decided to blatantly use pine tar on his hand once and on his neck a second time against the Red Sox leading to John Farrell calling him out on it. In one of the most bizarre scenes of the short season, Pineda literally had pine tar dripping from his neck just begging for someone to take him to task. Pushed against the wall, Farrell called his bluff.
• A ton of young blood on the Major League squad this year has led to some questioning of just what direction the team is heading in. Under Ben Cherington, Boston is trying to walk a fine line between bringing up young talent and signing smart, bang-for-their-buck contracts. This year we have Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks all starting. We’ve also seen Brock Holt for a short time while Middlebrooks was on the DL. They’ve all had their moments, but the struggles have been more apparent. Bogaerts has four errors, some at very costly times. Bradley is hitting .205. Middlebrooks still isn’t hitting for power with only two home runs so far. You can’t be right about every prospect, but you would like to hope that at least two of these guys really emerge going forward.
• The power is still coming from Big Papi and the bearded Mike Napoli. They have a combined 16 home runs and Ortiz is leading the team in every significant offensive stat. Without these two in the middle of the lineup, who knows what this stagnant offense would look like. If Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino can get back to form, the offense will start to click again.
• One of the major issues for Boston has been the lack of typical lead-off man. When Jacoby Ellsbury left for “greener” pastures, he also left a gaping hole in the Red Sox lineup. Farrell has been intent on keeping Pedroia in this role despite the fact that Dustin has said in the past that he is not fan of batting in the one spot. I thought Shane Victorino would take on that role when he returned from injury, but that hasn’t been the case.
• The big headline grabber and talking point for the Sox has been their quest for a .500 record. They currently find themselves at 20-20 and in third place in a down year for the AL East where they are only 1.5 games out. They were within one win of .500 for what seemed like countless times this year only to find themselves on the losing end. Just last week they were able to get above .500 by a game only to even out again.
So that’s where we find ourselves for now, Red Sox fans. Those are just a few of the events and trends after 40 games and there will certainly be plenty more to come. They are 20-20 and barely out of first place in the AL East. Let’s just pretend the season is starting now and a full season is 122 games. We have a clean slate to deal with. Forget about the Bruins and stop crying in your beer…it’s baseball season!