It was a very strange Opening Day for me. I am an unabashed score checker. If I can’t watch a game live, I am checking the score on my phone or computer every five minutes like pretty much every stereotypical man from a commercial in the last 5 years. But yesterday I decided to put aside my primal need to know, record the first official Red Sox game of 2012 and watch it after work. For 2 hours and 55 minutes I did an incredible job avoiding my phone, Facebook and any baseball site that may have a live scoreboard. Then, at 3:55 I got this text from a friend who we’ll call “Mrs. Black”: “Papi J”.
Sheeeeeiiiiiitttttt! I looked at the time again and realized that 2 hours and 55 minutes is about how long it takes for a game to finish the top of the ninth inning. An inning where “Papi” (David Ortiz to the lay women) could easily generate an emoticon. I couldn’t be sure about this, but I was pretty positive that the Sox were winning this game. So I got home and watched the Sox and Tigers trade zeroes until the 7th inning when the Tigers broke through for 2 on Jon Lester. Was I worried? Not at all, I had “Papi J” on my side.
The Sox went down in the top of the 8th with nothing more than a whimper and I became a little concerned. The Sox were down 2 going into the top of the 9th and Papi was due up third. Could he really have hit a 3 run homer to take the lead against the Tigers closer that was 49 for 49 in saves last year and all I got was one “Papi J” text? The inning started and Dustin Pedroia led off with a double. Hmmmmm. Ok. Next, Adrian Gonzalez laced a nice little opposite field single and Pedroia moved on to third. Suddenly, I was back to being very confident in “Papi J” and started looking forward to seeing our new closer, Alfredo Aceves, shut the door on this game. It took the Sox 7 games to break the ice last year, but we were going to get it out of the way early this year. Of course, Papi hit a sac fly to score the runner from third. The Sox were still down.
Though they tied the game two batters later, they would go on to lose when the two headed puppy dog at the back of the bullpen could not keep the bottom of the Tigers lineup off the bases. So why am I telling you this story? Besides the fact that I want to rub it in “Mrs. Black’s” face a bit for getting my hopes up, it leads into my first hasty prediction after 1 game:
- I will never watch a recorded game again. Between text messages, emails, sports websites and social networks, there are way too many places to learn about what is happening in a sporting event. What’s worse, if you accidentally get a small peak at some of this information, it can form a false sense of hope or doom that will hang over the game watching experience.
- 2009-10 Jon Lester is not coming back this year, and may never come back. That version of Lester was a true ace and someone who could legitimately win a Cy Young. He struck out more than a batter an inning and while his walk totals were on the slightly high side, he seemed to walk people more because he was trying for strikeouts than because he was wild. There were a couple at bats yesterday where he just had no control of the ball at all. One in particular was in the 6th inning when he started Miguel Cabrera 0-2 or 1-2 and then threw 3 straight pitches up and away that were nowhere near the plate. This is what he was doing last year when he had the worst walk rate of his career. This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a very good pitcher, but after 2010 there was reason to hope and expect he would be on the level of Felix Hernandez and C.C. Sabathia. If he can’t get his control back, he will be something less than that this year.
- Jose Valverde will finish in the bottom 5 for blown saves this year. After going a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities last year, Valverde blew his first chance this year (though he still “earned” a win. Anyone want to try arguing the merits of pitcher wins after this one?) By saying he will finish in the bottom 5 this year isn’t to say he will have a much worse season than he did last year. It is just a way to point out that it is nearly impossible to predict how a reliever, even an elite one, will do from year to year. On the contrary, it speaks more to the fact that Valverde is a good pitcher and entrenched in his role that he will be able to have enough save opportunities to finish in the bottom 5. The last pitcher to have a perfect save season with at least 40 saves was Brad Lidge in 2008 when he went 41 for 41. The next season? 11 blown saves.
- Miguel Cabrera will lead the league in walks and Prince Fielder will hit less than 30 home runs. Cabrera already got off to a fast start with 3 walks in front of his new bash brother and I think this is going to be a trend. Fielder looks like he can be pitched to if you have enough left handed pitching. With teams having 7 and 8 man bullpens (including the Sox, who would have had Kelly Shoppach as their only bench player if the game went extra innings yesterday), most have at least 2 lefty relievers. Prince can be neutralized be a decent left hander and as soon as AL Managers figure this out (apparently Bobby V already has), Cabrera will be pitched around quite a bit. Welcome to the AL, Prince.
- Jacoby Ellsbury will finish with fewer than 20 home runs and a sub-.300 batting average. I was going to make this prediction before yesterday’s 0-fer. I see a big Willie Mays Hayes in Major League II year out of Jacoby. For those unfamiliar with this sequel, Hayes bulks up in the off-season and begins to think he is a power hitter leading to a lot of fly balls to the warning track and a slow start to the season. After Ellsbury’s 30 homer outburst last year, he no doubt views himself as a power hitter and will start to try and lift the ball too often. This will not work out well. On the plus side, it could lower his demands in a contract extension.
- Michael Bowden will lead the team in saves. Alfredo Aceves is due for a huuuuuge regression this year after leading the league in relief innings last year. Add in the fact that he really has no out pitch and there is no reason to expect him to be able to close games. I bet he sees more work in the 6th inning as the 5th best bullpen pitcher than he does as the closer. Mark Melancon DOES have an out pitch (a pretty sweet looping curve), but he was “turtling” both literally and figuratively. When he goes into his windup his head retreats into the top of his body. Where the hell does his neck go? And then when he gave up that deeeeeep flyball to Ryan Raburn to open the ninth you could see the feces running down his pants. But at least he was smart enough to come out and criticize the new manager for his quick hook in an outing where he barely looked like a AAA pitcher. I fear this could be a Ramiro Mendoza repeat: a formerly successful Yankee pitcher who infiltrates the Red Sox in an attempt to ruin their season.
I was just about to cut this off after the last prediction when I realized they were pretty much all negative. So here are some quick hit positive predictions to close us out…Adrian Gonzalez will win the batting title this year…Mike Aviles will start (and deserve to start) more games than any other shortstop in the organization…Including the Wild Card playoff game…Bowden will not only lead the team in saves, he will become a legit ninth inning guy…Franklin Morales is going to have a strong season as the lefty stopper…Papi will have one more “Papi J” season in him…Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will combine for 48 wins...The Sox will win 93 games. Thanks for stopping by.