A strong start in April for the Boston Red Sox could set in motion just how the 2018 season will present itself. Here are a few items I will look at.
The Boston Red Sox have a very fortunate schedule for March/April and it starts on the road with six games. Boston travels to Tampa Bay to play the Rays for four games and then down the coast and across the state to play a pair against the Miami Marlins.
The schedule for the opening five weeks is advantageous with only the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels on the calendar that may represent a significant challenge. But the term “trap game (s)” comes up when discussing lesser talented teams.
The cautionary tale is always the weather. April baseball is often not that conducive to a smooth offense, but there is scheduling that limits the weather issue. Games on the road in Toronto, LA, Miami, Oakland and Tampa are either in warm-weather locations or indoors.
Boston will be giving us a preview of what to expect as the opening month is one where some roster decisions have been made, you get a feel for how the injured are recovering, and the lineup and rotation may be beginning to stabilize.
The best case is a fast start so that no games behind holes are being dug. The last two April’s the Red Sox have gone 13-11 (2017) and 14-10 (2016) which is not a sprinter pace, but anything that goes above .500 baseball is a plus.
The player to watch is naturally J.D. Martinez on the offensive side. How is new manager Alex Cora formulating his lineup with Martinez present? Much of what is expected of offensive revival centers on JDM. Will he be the lightning rod that rejuvenates a rather passive 2017 offense? April will be a key to seeing just how the offense will do.
Last April the Red Sox gave an unfortunate preview of what would become the issue for the entire season when they hit a paltry 15 home runs. The Sox also produced 93 runs for the month – a figure that was 12th in the American League. In other offensive categories such as wRC+, SLG, and wOBA the Red Sox were in the middle of the league. A positive was an AL-leading .317 BABIP and third with a .334 OBP. Unfortunately the Red Sox never got untracked for 2017.
Watch those numbers and watch steals. Last April they swiped just 10 and it appears several players – most notably Jackie Bradley – intend to be more aggressive on the base paths. Again, let’s watch how Cora utilizes speed. Last year the Red Sox were aggressive and forced defenses. Will Cora do the same? Personally, I like an aggressive approach and this team has above-average speed and excellent intuitive base running. Will that continue?
Pitching is usually the key ingredient to baseball success and Boston has several on the watch list. David Price should get five starts and just how will those starts go? The go part for me is walking off the mound with an elbow intact. The same will apply to Drew Pomeranz as arm health is a concern for both.
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Will Eduardo Rodriguez show up in April? Will Steven Wright be suspended and for how many games? Both those situations impact the bottom of the rotation and despite four off days the bump will eventually have to have a fifth starter. Based on the spring the apparent front-runner is Brian Johnson with Hector Velazquez as a possibility.
A few home games canceled could alter the rotation and conceivably the Red Sox may escape the month with a four-man rotation, but that only pushes the issue forward to May. The watchful eye will be focused on the rotation regarding pitching. Chris Sale is the ace and Rick Porcello is attempting to put 2017 in the rearview mirror. Will Sale forget about last September? Will Porcello keep the ball in the yard?
The bullpen appears as solid as any in recent Red Sox history, but there is always an indication in April on how the management brain trust will approach getting to closer Craig Kimbrel. Just who will pitch the eighth? Or seventh? Will you see that flip-flop among apparent favorites Joe Kelly and Carson Smith? Just how will Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes be used? Will Johnson work out of the bullpen until a starter is needed?
So, April gives a view of just what to expect as a foundation is built for the rest of the season. Cora’s managerial style will be dissected ad nauseum as will the various player performances. But one thing is sure about the individual performances – it is a long – very long – season and an April dud could be a stud by seasons end. But with the team performance and the resurgent Yankees, it is imperative that April kicks off with 15 wins.