Opening Day Winning Streaks, a Rare Slow Start for Kevin Youkilis and Seven Other Red Sox Thoughts

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Opening Day Winning Streaks, a Rare Slow Start for Kevin Youkilis and Seven Other Red Sox Thoughts OK, we don’t need to tell you what’s going on with the Red Sox right now from a results standpoint. You know their start is historically bad. You also know they host the New York Yankees in the home opener Friday, right? Thought so.

As you prepare for the renewal of the rivalry and wait for that first addition to the win column, here are nine other items to chew on, our weekly edition of the Red Sox lineup.

1. This return home is going to have a bit of everything. Not only are the Yankees in the other dugout, but the fact that Boston enters with an 0-6 record pretty much ensures that the fan reaction to the team will be varied. The die-hards will offer their support but there is no doubt that a few in the disgruntled camp will want to take their shots.

Once the game gets going, those reactions will only intensify. Perhaps knowing that it will be an emotional crowd itching to either see that first win or to let the players know how they feel about those first six losses, the Red Sox rallied the troops on Thursday after the loss in Cleveland. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were among those that said they hoped (maybe even expected) to get a warm reception, speaking as if they needed it.

One thing that will help is if the club continues its dominance in home openers. Boston has won six straight of those by a combined margin of 46-17. They’ve destroyed opponents in such affairs, with one of the only close contests coming in a 9-7 win over the Yankees on Opening Day 2010.

2. One of the more disappointing aspects of the losing streak is that it has completely prevented Terry Francona from being able to utilize the bullpen in the way he would want. That was the focal point of the offseason overhaul, regardless of the star power in the batting order. But a Red Sox reliever has yet to enter the game with a lead, totaling a span of 14 2/3 innings. Daniel Bard is the only reliever on the team to even enter a tie game. He’s done it twice, and has given the lead to the opponent both times. Jonathan Papelbon has pitched just once in the six games.

It would be nice to get them all lined up one of these games, just to see what it would look like.

3. Although it has been overshadowed from time to time by other issues, the club has shown some poor fundamentals on the defensive end, one of the aspects of spring training that everyone felt was a real positive. Of course, not much overshadowed the lapse by Jason Varitek in the loss at Cleveland on Wednesday. However, there have been other small gaffes here and there, from Carl Crawford missing a cutoff man, to Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s wayward throws to Dan Wheeler not getting out the words in time to tell Varitek that a tag play was on. They will never be perfect, but cleaning it up this weekend at Fenway will go a long way toward getting the fans on their side. During last year’s 4-9 start, several errors brought out the critics early and often. Then again, that was in the wake of the whole run prevention thing.

4. Boston and Tampa Bay own more wins than anyone in the AL except the Yankees from 2008-10. They have three of the last four AL East titles. Yet, they are the only remaining winless teams in baseball. And while the Red Sox had the expectations, the Rays’ 0-6 start may actually me more shocking, simply for the severity of the team’s offensive struggles. In fact, Tampa Bay’s .145 team average is 36 points lower than Boston’s and its appalling .217 on-base percentage is 52 points below that of the Sox. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are a combined 2-for-36 with one walk. The club’s 52 strikeouts are an AL high. Hard to imagine these two teams fighting it out in the futility department.

By the way, Boston hosts Tampa Bay on Monday in a game that could possibly feature two 0-9 teams.

5. One player who should come around for Boston is Kevin Youkilis, but he was also one of the few regulars who seemed to be struggling to put together quality at-bats all spring long. If you add his slow start to what he did in March, Youkilis is 12-for-76 (.158) since games began to be played. Most of those were spring training at-bats, but it just seems as if he has not driven the ball much at all. Plus, Youkilis is one of the few members of this lineup who has consistently performed well early in the season. He is a .316 career hitter in March and April and a .335 hitter in May, but has started this year 2-for-19.

6. The lineup hasn’t clicked as of yet. That much we know. But it finally had some very similar looks in the Cleveland series with Carl Crawford settling into the No. 2 slot and Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez behind him. The Sox are in a stretch in which they face five straight right-handers. That ends Sunday when CC Sabathia pitches for the Yankees, at which time we will see if Francona drops Crawford once again. The manager said he might play around with Crawford when left-handers are on the mound. Much will depend upon how guys are hitting at the time, but Crawford could be batting seventh again when Sabathia takes the hill. Then again, Crawford is a .296 career hitter against Sabathia. Dustin Pedroia, who would probably slide back into the second spot if Crawford is dropped, is 1-for-22 (.045) with eight strikeouts against the Yankees’ ace. A lot of tough calls for Francona when guys like Sabathia are on the hill, and it seems to hinge on where he puts Crawford.

7. Dennys Reyes may have etched his name into Red Sox lore, but for the wrong reasons. His outing Wednesday in Cleveland was historically bad, as he threw just one of 12 pitches for strikes, hit two batters and walked another. The awful outing caused some to wonder if Reyes had already worn out his welcome, but don’t expect any rash moves just yet. The club kept Reyes because he was out of options and Hideki Okajima was not, giving them flexibility in terms of any roster moves they want to make down the road. Perhaps Okajima will be in that spot eventually, but Reyes would most certainly get scooped up on waivers if he the club tried to send him down. The organization will want to make sure of things before it saps its depth in the bullpen.

Update, Friday, 11:15 a.m.: The Red Sox have actually decided to designate Reyes for assignment.

8. Because we could all use some perspective these days, it’s important to note some charitable work on behalf of Daisuke Matsuzaka. For the second straight year, he will donate $500 for every strikeout to the Red Sox Foundation, an initiative that resulted in a $66,500 donation last year. This season, some of what Matsuzaka pledges will go toward relief efforts in his native Japan, reeling from the earthquake and tsunami that hit last month. If you want to chip in a little something of your own, go to redsoxfoundation.org.

9. On the subject of Saltalamacchia and his throwing, it has been rather spotty so far. After having three errors in spring training, he has air-mailed multiple throws to second in the early going. Seemingly, all of his throws, whether on target or not, are trending to the second-base side of the bag. Saltalamacchia has been credited with three caught stealings already (against six successful steals), but two were on pickoffs by the pitcher and the other required a sparkling pick on the short hop by Dustin Pedroia, who scooped a poor throw and made a tag in one motion. Opponents have begun to run on Saltamacchia a bit more, and until he gets more accurate, they will continue to do so.

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