The Red Sox opened 2012 just like they ended 2011 with some heart-breaking, gut-punching losses this weekend in Detroit. There are 159 games to play, so there's plenty of time, but after just three games, there certainly isn't a good feeling around this club right now.
Even after only three games in April, there's plenty to break down both in Boston and around the bigs. What better time to break out the 6-4-3? Every week in this space, we'll look at six of the biggest story lines from the Red Sox, check in for four observations from around the majors and look ahead to three things for the upcoming week.
Without further ado, the 6-4-3.
Six Red Sox Thoughts
1. The Bullpen Is a Mess Right Now
You have to start with the bullpen, right? It hasn't been pretty so far, and the stats only make things worse. In just 11 1/3 innings of work, the Sox relief corps has surrendered 10 earned runs — a 7.94 ERA. On Sunday, between Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon, the pen blew two saves, coughing up a combined five runs. Aceves' ERA, for what it's worth, is now infinity. Seriously. The only somewhat bright spot was Vicente Padilla who is the the proud owner of the bullpen's only two 1-2-3 innings this season.
2. The Starting Rotation (Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz) Wasn't Much Better
Josh Beckett did nothing to quiet his critics on Saturday afternoon with quite possibly the worst start of his career. The right-hander's velocity was down and his location was off, and the result was a barrage of Tigers home runs — five to be exact. Clay Buchholz was called upon to be the stopper on Sunday, and he wasn't any better really. Buchholz's stuff was actually pretty decent, but he made too many mistakes. He was the victim of a pair of unacceptable 0-2 doubles, and he couldn't get the shutdown innings when the offense bounced back in an attempt to bail him out. Jon Lester is exempt from this criticism after an Opening Day gem that featured only one mistake — a pitch left up in the zone to Alex Avila — in a loss to reigning MVP/Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.
3. There Could Be Competition in the Starting Rotation Sooner Than You Think
Padilla was actually something of a bright spot Sunday sandwiched in between Buchholz and the disasters that followed his middle relief. Four innings of two-hit ball from Padilla helped the Sox get back into the game. If he had it his way, he'd be in the rotation, and depending what happens with Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard, Padilla could make a case for a spot. So could Aaron Cook. The veteran right-hander was fantastic in his debut at Pawtucket, and he could also be a candidate for a call-up and a place in the rotation if shuffling of the arms is needed. He also has a May 1 opt-out clause, so keep an eye on that. Then there's also Roy Oswalt…
4. It Wasn't All Bad…
If gloom and doom isn't your cup of tea, there were a couple of bright spots over the weekend. Adrian Gonzalez showed no power in spring training, but he hit an absolute bomb, a go-ahead shot, on Sunday. That capped a 5-for-13 weekend for the first baseman. David Ortiz also had a big weekend, going 5-for-12, as did Ryan Sweeney who had a 5-for-11 series at the plate.
5. The New Guy Went (Relatively) Unnoticed
For as much as we heard about Bobby Valentine coming into this season, it was a pretty uneventful weekend for the new skipper, at least when it comes to being second-guessed for decisions. Valentine didn't have to make too many pressure-packed decisions, and his choice to make Nick Punto the leadoff hitter Sunday actually paid off, as the utility man went 3-for-6 with three RBIs. Valentine was also rather reserved in his postgame comments, despite a rough weekend. But, like with everything else, it's still very early.
6. The Pressure Is on Daniel Bard
It's tough to argue that Bard shouldn't be moved to the closer role after the way things went down in Detroit. However, he's going to get to show what he's got as a starter first. Bard will make his first career big league start on Tuesday in Toronto, and he'll have plenty of pressure on him. If Bard struggles, the call for him to return to take over as closer will only get louder, especially if the aforementioned Padilla and Cook continue to excel.
Four Observations Around Baseball
1. Prince Could Lead Miggy to Triple Crown
Much will be made in Boston about how poorly the Red Sox played, but give credit where credit is due: The Tigers looked really, really good. Aside from Max Scherzer's stinker on Sunday, it's tough to find anything to complain about in Detroit. Verlander was out of this world, and it's clear that the Miguel Cabrera–Prince Fielder combination is on par with the David Ortiz–Manny Ramirez combo that is familiar to Red Sox fans. There's just no getting around Cabrera — arguably the best right-handed hitter in the game — with Fielder behind him. Don't be surprised if Cabrera makes a push at the Triple Crown this season.
2. The AL East Standings Look Really Weird
When the sun came up Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Oriole were tied for first place, while the Red Sox and Yankees sat three games back in the basement of the "toughest division in baseball." The O's got some stellar pitching performances en route to sleeping the lowly Twins, while the Rays' supposedly anemic offense clubbed the Yankees into submission down in St. Pete.
3. Let's Go, Mets Go
It's still early, but Mets fans have hope again, for now at least. The other team from New York opened its season with a three-game sweep against Atlanta, thanks in large part to a stellar 6-for-9 series from David Wright. If he can finally conquer Citi Field, the All-Star could play a big role in helping the Mets surprise some people this season.
4. Ozzie Guillen Finally Went Too Far
The new Marlins manager is 1-3 to open the season, but that's nothing compared to the backlash he's going to feel after his latest comments. The loudmouthed manager went too far in an interview with Time when he said the he respected Cuban dictator Fidel Castro because "a lot of people have to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here." That won't go over well in any city, but it borders on a crime in a city like Miami.
Three Things to Watch This Week
Japanese sensation Yu Darvish is set to make his big league debut on Monday night against Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners. It will be a fascinating matchup to watch after a pretty impressive spring for Darvish. He only gave up six runs in 15 spring training innings, and he struck out 22 batters in that time. Eleven of those came in his spring finale, a six-inning effort against Colorado where he struck out All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez three times.
2. Begin the Birthday Bash
Fenway Park open its 100th season Friday, whether the Sox are playing better or not. The actual 100th anniversary isn't until April 20, but the old ballpark opens for the summer on Friday against Tampa Bay. Beckett is scheduled to take the mound. It's safe to say there will be some attention paid to that game.
3. Cy Young Throwdown
There will be a potential playoff preview in Detroit starting Tuesday when the Tigers welcome the Rays to Motown. Pitching fans will need to stop everything they're doing and turn their attention to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon. That's because Verlander will make his second start of the season against Tampa ace James Shields. The latter proved to be one of the game's best arms in 2011, finishing just two spots behind Verlander in the AL Cy Young voting.
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