Boston Red Sox: 5 Observations from the First Week
John Farrell-Boston Red Sox Manager
You probably couldn't have drawn up a better first week for new manager John Farrell, who seemed to push all of the right buttons in his debut as Boston Red Sox manager.
The Red Sox faced the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays to open the season on the road, winning four of the six games that they played. Given the way last season ended, the ability to start on the road and win games and play good baseball can't be overlooked.
Everything that was a concern looks to have been addressed this offseason. The bullpen so far has been as advertised, deep and strong. The rotation has looked good one time through everyone's turn. The offense has looked solid, working counts, getting hits and scoring runs. The only losses have come against lefties Andy Pettitte and J.A. Happ, which is surprising given the right-handed nature of the lineup right now.
The other encouraging message that comes from this start is that all of this is occurring without slugger David Ortiz in the lineup. Given the fact that he is expected to be their primary run producer, that is a really good sign for the short-term and long-term for this team.
Nothing has happened to change my prediction that the Red Sox can win the the AL East this season. The division has played to expectations so far, with all of the teams bunched together and the Red Sox in first place.
Looking at the immediate schedule, the Red Sox play a ton of home games early on in its schedule this season, but they have to take back the home field advantage. Last season, the team was a terrible 35-46 at home. This season, Boston will have to win somewhere in the neighborhood of 48 to 50 games at home to have a true advantage.
One week in, there are no complaints — 4-2 record and first place in the AL East.
One week of games and the starting rotation has been the strength of the team. Jon Lester has had two great outings and Clay Buchholz had a great start against the Yankees. Ryan Dempster wasn't sharp against New York, but he kept the Red Sox in the game against a very effective Andy Pettitte. Felix Doubront was still inconsistent, even in a win against the Jays. John Lackey looked great against Toronto until he left with a serious arm injury.
The only real downside to the week was the apparent arm injury to Lackey. The Red Sox have been saying that it was a strained bicep that is showing no sign of a tear, which is great news because initially it looked like another elbow injury for Lackey. The Red Sox can handle Lackey missing a few starts right now.
This is a deeper Red Sox unit, one that has players like Daniel Nava or Jonny Gomes sitting on the bench. Having an experienced veteran catcher like David Ross or a good utility player like Pedro Ciriaco can't be overlooked during the course of a season. Farrell has struggled to find at-bats for Mike Carp, mostly because everyone has been performing well in the starting lineup.
Six games in and no errors. Jose Iglesias has made some amazing plays at shortstop already. Will Middlebrooks has made a number of key plays at third. The outfield defense and coverage has been the best it has been in years. Mike Napoli has been solid at first and the catchers have really controlled the running game so far. Huge improvement from last season.
As bad as Victorino looked during spring training and the WBC, he has looked much better at the start of the season. He has hit from both sides of the plate and driven in runs. Despite being a little over-aggressive on the bases, he has brought much-needed energy to this team and it is showing already on the bench.
Victorino doesn't need to be great this season, but simply be solid and have a positive impact on the clubhouse. So far, so good.
Simply put, Middlebrooks is a star in the making. His defense and power should be very exciting to Red Sox management and fans. He hit three homers on Sunday and barely missed on a fourth, reaching the warning track. Looking at the dugout's reaction to Middlebrooks missing his fourth showed an entirely different team then last season. The players were loose and joking around, something that seemed absent almost all of last season.
I picked Middlebrooks to be the breakout player for the Sox this season and nothing has changed after watching him play for a week. Middlebrooks could be very special.