The Red Sox will face off against the Tampa Bay Rays as Fenway Park opens its gates for the first time in 2012.
Unfortunately, much like last year, the Sox will enter Fenway for the first time as a disappointing team. Holders of a 1-5 record, the bats have gone completely silent but for ninth innings and the third game against Detroit. Add in inconsistencies in the bullpen (to be nice about it), problematic starts from Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, inconsistent defensive efforts, and questionable in-game decisions from Bobby Valentine, and you've got a real mess on your hands.
However, this is right around when the Sox turned things around--or at least started to--last year. And they did so in part with a series win over an A.L. East rival in the Yankees.
Of course, then the Rays came into Fenway and swept the Sox in a rain-shortened series, so perhaps it's best if we don't look back at history for today.
Unfortunately for the Sox, if they were hoping for a series to wake their bats up, they couldn't have chosen a worse opponent. While the Rays have had some difficulties in the runs allowed department to start the year, there's no denying that they're one of the best teams in the game at keeping them off the board. With the Sox set to face a veritable murderer's row of young pitching talent in Price, Hellickson, and Moore, this could get ugly.
Boston Red Sox (1-5) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (4-2)
Friday, April 13, 2:05 p.m. EST
Josh Beckett (0-1, 13.50 ERA) vs. David Price (1-0, 2.84 ERA)
Blame the weather, blame the lineup, blame the thumb if you like, there's no changing the fact that Josh Beckett's first start was a wreck. Home run after home run left Josh Beckett and the Red Sox down big in a hurry, and if Beckett wants to avoid a repeat against the Rays, he's going to have to find his secondary stuff. A starting pitcher can rarely survive on his fastball alone, and with Beckett not even doing a particularly good job of controlling that, it's no surprise what happened to him last Saturday.
David Price, on the other hand, had no problems working his curveball and changeup into the mix in his first start against the Yankees. While Price would get a little wild during his start, he managed to avoid harm for much of the game, but had to leave the game up to the bullpen in the seventh, which nearly led the team into extra innings. The good news for Price is that right now these Sox don't seem interested in working long at-bats at the plate.
Saturday, April 14, 4:05 p.m. EST
Clay Buchholz (0-0, 15.75 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
While Clay Buchholz' start was a little more flukey and a little more defense-dependent than Josh Beckett's, there's still no question that he struggled in his return from injury. Hit hard, failing to put batters away, and losing control in bursts, Buchholz was saved from the loss only by big offensive contributions behind him.
Jeremy Hellickson, however, needed almost no offensive help after throwing 8.2 innings of shutout ball. Still, it was vintage Hellickson in ways both good and bad. While the runs stayed off the board, the four walks and four strikeouts suggest that he's still being made by his defense more than anything else. While there's something to be said for playing to your team's strengths, it means the Sox should be able to at least put some bats on some balls. While so far that hasn't been resulting in much in the way of runs for the Boston offense, it's still a risky way to play against a team with so much power in its lineup.
Sunday, April 15, 1:35 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront (0-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (0-0, 2.70 ERA)
Felix Doubront was able to perhaps allay some fears about the Red Sox rotation with his admirable performance in game four, earning the Sox their only win of the season so far. While he'll need to repeat that success to show Sox fans anything real, he's looked very good ever since the start of spring, and it won't be too large a leap to bring popular perception back to where it was in 2010, when Doubront was seen as the next guy up out of the minors, possibly ready to start in 2011.
Matt Moore has less to prove, entering the year as the top prospect in all of baseball depending on who you ask, but his first game this year was very Hellickson like--only worse. Allowing more walks than he recorded strikeouts, and giving up fly ball after fly ball, Moore none-the-less managed to avoid much in the way of damage in his 6.2 innings of work. Still, you get the feeling that if it had been Moore on the mound last Saturday instead of Josh Beckett, Moore may not be looking so good right about now.
Monday, April 16, 11:05 a.m. EST
Daniel Bard (0-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. James Shields (1-0, 5.54 ERA)
And here's the mismatch of the series, as the Rays turn to their ace against our fifth starter in Daniel Bard.
While the ERAs are lopsided, ironically it was Bard who had the better debut this season. Throwing five innings of five-run ball doesn't sound good, but oh what a day it could have been with a competent defense behind him. Flashing his best slider and keeping the fastball velocity up throughout his outing, Bard was hurt by ground ball after ground ball finding a hole, or going for infield singles. It was a pathetic showing from the men who are supposed to back him up on a day where Bard threw maybe two questionable pitches.
Shields, on the other hand, seemed to struggle a bit more on Opening Day against the Yankees, but quickly righted his ship when he faced the Tigers. It's hard to argue with eight innings of two-run ball against that lineup, and with five strikeouts, one walk, and more balls on the ground than in the air, he's got the peripherals to legitimize it.
4 game series vs Rays @ Fenway Park
|Sat 04/14||4:05 PM EDT|
|Sun 04/15||1:35 PM EDT|
|Mon 04/16||11:05 AM EDT|