The Red Sox first series of the season is in the books and they now find themselves sharing the lead of the AL East with a 2-1 record. Small sample sizes can be misleading, but for our purposes they can also shed some light on what to expect for the rest of the season. Here’s some observations that were made clear during the first 3 games of the season, and could end up keeping the Red Sox on top of the AL East for the next 159.
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First up is #1
One question looming over everyone’s head all off season was the reliability of Clay Buchholz as the number one starter in the rotation. Were the Red Sox going to get a 2013 Buchholz, who posted a career high W-L% (.923) and a 1.74 ERA, per Baseball-Reference, or a 2014 Buchholz, where his numbers fell faster than the Red Sox playoff hopes. Fans finally got their answer. Buchholz looked like his 2013 self on Monday, striking out 9 while only giving up a walk and 3 hits over 7 innings.
What can we take from this? Not as much as we’d want. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Philadelphia Phillies are projected to have the worst record in Baseball this season – this really skews the small sample size we’re working with. But, Bucholz handled the Phillies righty mashers, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, with ease and it looks like he’s coming out of the gate healthy. If he can keep his HR/9 as low as it was in 2013 (.33%) then his strikeout rate will surely follow. His next start will be his true test for reemergence, as he faces off against Masahiro Tanaka in a classic Sunday Night Baseball game against the Yankees.
Mastering the contract year
Mar 15, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson (63) warms up before the start of the first inning of the spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Another pitcher with an off-season marred by questions of declining talent showed us what he had, and came out with a win against the Phillies last night. Justin Masterson struck out 7 over 6 innings of work, while only giving up 2 earned runs. Masterson had all facets of his game working, especially his groundball rate (65%) which is something we can expect to stay right around 55-60% for the rest of the season. His current 10.5 K/9 rate is 3 points above his career average of 7.54, and inflated due to sample size, so dont expect him to reel in 7 strikeouts a night, but 5 or 6 a night with his high groundball rate will keep the game close enough for the Red Sox offense to pick up the slack. The contract year is a well known term in the sports community, and Masterson is in it. He’s receiving $9.5M for his one year deal, so you have to hope that he’s going to try and have a stellar season so he can lock in a long term deal.
When it rains, it pours
There’s one thing everyone knew before the start of the season – these guys can hit. The Red Sox have one of the most feared lineups in all of baseball and they should be able to keep their mediocre pitching off the waiver wire.
Apr 8, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez (13) waits on deck against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Hanley Ramirez looked worth every penny of his $88M deal, knocking in two homers, including a grand slam, opening day. He came about 20 feet short of tying up the ball game in the seventh inning of their second game against Ken Giles. Ramirez looks to have quelled the injury concerns and his 1.126 OPS supports it. This is the drawback of the small sample size – his OPS will certainly drop over time, but if he can keep it close to his career average of .874 then he could be in line for a monster season.
Though the whole lineup has the ability to go yard, the crux of the offensive will rely upon the 2-6 hitters, with Ramirez being a central figure. The Red Sox have put themselves in a unique position where if one of their all-stars has an off day, another one can pick up the slack. This is a far cry from the run-starved lineup they sported last year.
The Betts to gamble on
Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts aren’t the only young prospects on the team this year, but they will be the most important. Betts responded to the opening day nod at lead off by hitting a solo shot in the third against Hamels. Betts had a great year last year before being called up to the bigs – he sported a .345 average combined across AA and AAA ball. Look for him to try and keep his average above .270 while he still adjusts to life as a leadoff hitter. The longball potential is there and he could be the center fielder the Sox have been missing since Ellsbury left.
Apr 9, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) singles against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bogaerts had a mediocre year last year, but we can’t forget his pedigree as one of the most highly touted prospects in baseball. Last season was mess for him and the Red Sox as they moved him all around the left side of the diamond. This season he has no competition for shortstop and should feel more comfortable at the plate without all the off the field nonsense. We can’t expect 3 hit, 3 rbi games every night, but the fact that he’s showed the ability to do so this early in the season can’t go unnoticed. Many thought last season would be his breakout season, but it’s looking like 2015 will be the year Bogaerts makes the jump from prospect to all-star.