It was a frustrating weekend in Detroit, as the Sox dropped all of their first three games of the 2012 season.
Mission not accomplished.
While it wasn’t an exact copy of September 2011, a lot of the same elements were present this weekend. The Sox fell victim to poor pitching when they hit well, and poor hitting when they pitched well. They staged valiant comebacks, only to give the lead right back.
While it’s only three games of 162, fans do have a right to be concerned, particularly regarding the pitching.
After reports surfaced that Josh Beckett might be carrying a thumb injury, he went out Saturday and promptly gave up five home runs. Clay Buchholz, too, struggled in his first start since going out for the season last June. The bullpen, already being scrutinized after the injury to Andrew Bailey, imploded in several key situations.
The offense—though it took two games to get going—looked strong. Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Ryan Sweeney are all off to great starts, and every regular except for Kevin Youkilis recorded at least one hit in the series.
Although the sample size is small, we did still learn several important things about the Sox over the weekend. Here are five of them:
Mark Melancon had a weekend he'd like to forget, giving up a total of four earned runs in his first two Sox appearances.
Things did not go as planned for the restructured Sox bullpen. Yes, there were a few bright spots—namely Vicente Padilla, whose four shutout innings on Sunday gave the Sox bats time to wake up—but the overall performance was putrid at best.
Sox relievers threw a total of 11.1 innings while surrendering 10 earned runs, a horrific ERA of 7.94. The chief culprits were Mark Melancon (4 ER in 1.0 IP) and Alfredo Aceves (3 ER in 0.0 IP), the two men who were supposed to be the primary stoppers at the back end of the bullpen in the absence of closer Andrew Bailey.
Sox relievers obviously need to improve upon their troublesome performance, and fast. With the team’s two most inexperienced starters (Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront) still yet to make their first starts, the Sox’s relievers have likely yet to see their busiest games of this young season.
David Ortiz hit the ball well this past weekend, collecting five hits in the series against the Tigers.
It seems odd to suggest that a team that got shut out in 17 of their first 18 innings of play actually showed they were a potent offensive team. And yet, with their performance on Sunday it is apparent that the Sox should have no problem scoring runs this season.
It’s completely fair to discount the Sox’s opening day performance due simply to the Justin Verlander factor. Verlander has to be considered an MVP favorite again this season, and he was at his best on Thursday. Saturday’s 10-0 spanking, while less forgivable than Thursday, can be attributed to a combination of excellent Tigers pitching and the demoralizing long balls from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
What was encouraging about Sunday’s performance was the balance the Sox attack showed. The Sox got multi-hit games from each of the top five hitters in the lineup, and with the exception of Kelly Shoppach all starters recorded at least one hit.
This depth and balance is the kind that translates to long-term success, and if the pitching was at all indicative of things to come, it is something the Sox will surely need this year.
Josh Beckett was brutal on Saturday, leading many to wonder if his thumb is more injured than has been reported.
As multiple commentators noted, Josh Beckett did not look right on Saturday. His curveball lacked its usual bite, a problem that could potentially be attributed to thumb trouble, and the location of his pitches was way off.
Despite Beckett’s insistence that “physically [he] felt great,” it would be fairly surprising if this were truly the case. Though nobody should root for an injury, it would at least be a bit more satisfying if Beckett’s horrific performance could be explained away by a physical problem rather than a simple lack of execution.
This whole situation as it stands is a lose-lose proposition, though; either way, it creates a huge hole at the top of the rotation. Either Beckett is hurt, which is problematic given the Sox’s lack of pitching depth, or he simply is pitching terribly.
In any case, Beckett will need to get himself right if the Sox want to have any chance of competing this year.
Ryan Sweeney's excellent series against Detroit proved he belongs in the Sox lineup every day.
A bright spot for the Sox in Detroit was Ryan Sweeney. In the first game of the series, his ninth-inning triple tied the game and nearly got out of the park altogether. He collected three more hits over the weekend, and his overall total of five is tied for the team lead.
Sweeney’s performance (at least for now) put to rest any fears among fans that he might not be a true everyday player. Given his struggles last year (a .265 average in 264 at-bats) and limited experience being a regular in the lineup (most at-bats in a season: 484), these concerns are certainly legitimate.
The Sox can expect to see a huge boost in production from their right fielders, a very pleasant change after last year’s futility in that spot. Sox fans should be excited about the prospect of a Sweeney/Cody Ross platoon when Carl Crawford returns from his injury.
Clay Buchholz struggled on Sunday, and he will need to right the ship quickly before the Sox fall out of contention altogether.
Clay Buchholz’s start on Sunday did not go particularly well. In four innings pitched, the right-hander allowed eight hits and seven earned runs. After Beckett’s performance on Saturday, this was not what the Sox were looking for.
In his defense, Buchholz was seeing his first game action since June 16 of last season, and it is certainly understandable that there will be a bit of rust now that the real games have started.
However, given the struggles of Beckett and the bullpen, along with the inexperience of Bard and Doubront, the Sox will be relying on Buchholz early on this season to be a stabilizing presence.
Along with Jon Lester, Buchholz is the only veteran Sox starter who is also 100 percent healthy. If he cannot quickly rediscover his form of 2010—where he finished with a 2.33 ERA, was an All-Star and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting—the Sox could find themselves with an insurmountable deficit in the division.