Opening Day – The Bobby V Era Begins

Well, Opening Day of the 2012 Baseball Season has finally arrived!  After a long offseason–particularly for Sox fans–hope springs eternal again!  And with Bobby Valentine at the helm, this season will certainly not lack in entertainment… But more on that in a sec.

Game 1: Brief Re-Cap

Unfortunately, my Sox lost their Season Opener in a pitcher’s duel in Detroit.  Not the best way to kick off the new season, but with 161 games yet to play, it’s all good (for now).  Can’t win ’em all, as they say.  The good news is Lester went toe-to-toe against the reigning AL MVP/Cy Young winner and the offense didn’t quit, managing to overcome a 2-run deficit to tie the game in the 9th.  Led by the ever-resilient Pedroia and Sox slugger A-Gon, the Sox got the rally started with a double and single, respectively.  Following a Papi sac fly, newly-acquired RF Ryan Sweeney drove in the tying run with a triple.  Unfortunately, the pen was unable to hold off the Tigers in the bottom half with new addition, Melancon, and newly-anointed Closer Pro Tempore, Aceves, falling short.  Sure, it stinks to lose the opener, especially with the wounds from 2011 still fresh, but I’m going to stay optimistic for the time being.



Contrary to public opinion, it was the lack of pitching depth, not fried chicken and beer, that ultimately did in the 2011 Red Sox, IMO.  By June of 2011, the Sox had lost 2/5ths of their rotation as well as a reliable reliever, Rich Hill, who underwent TJ surgery after suffering a season-ending elbow injury.  And Bobby Jenks, another FA Theo Epstein signed before the 2011 season to fortify the pen, did anything but, suffering one setback after another last year, pitching a grand total of 15.2 innings in 2011 for a cool $6 million bucks.  (BTW, Jenks, who the Sox are set to pay yet another $6 million in 2012, has already spent 2012 recovering from multiple offseason back surgeries, one which allegedly resulted in the development of an infection setting Jenks’ recovery time back by months.  Compounding his health issues, Jenks got himself arrested for an alleged DUI while in Florida in March.  Needless to say, Jenks doesn’t look to be anywhere near to toeing the rubber for Boston right now despite the sizable investment the Sox made in this guy.)

Getting back to my main point, the failure of the Sox to obtain quality replacements eventually caught up with the 2011 team.  This year, the Sox face challenges not only to their rotation, with two untested starters at the back-end, but right out of the gate they’re facing the loss of their new closer, Andrew Bailey, for possibly 4 months as he recovers from surgery to treat a thumb injury.  Talk about a tough break.

The Bullpen

Looking ahead, the bullpen, IMO, could be this team’s Achilles Heel, at least in the early going.  With Paps shipping out to Philly, and the Sox now losing Paps’ replacement to a freak thumb injury, the Sox have had to scramble quickly to fill the closer void.  They did so by anointing Alfredo Aceves as the team’s closer.  Time will tell if this was the right decision.  Of course, many have suggested Daniel Bard be switched back to the pen to close out games.  Tempting though this may be, it is probably not fair to Bard to switch him back and forth from starter to reliever like a human yo-yo so early in the season.  They’ve already committed to making him a starter, therefore, at least give him a chance to succeed at it.  If it doesn’t seem to be working after 4 to 6 weeks or so, transition him back to the pen.  Fortunately, the Sox have some potential pitching depth in AAA available to slide into Bard’s spot in this scenario.

The instability of the pen was magnified on Thursday with Melancon, another candidate to close out games, and Aceves both failing to hold the Tigers at bay in the 9th.  (And of course, Paps just had to nail down his 1st save for the Phillies on Thursday, just for good measure.)  All in all, the bullpen may be the weakest link on this team, at least at the outset.  As a result, I think we will see a lot of fluctuation with the pen this year.

The Rotation

Another potential weakness is the back end of the starting rotation.  Bard, one of the most dominant set-up relievers the past 2 seasons, will be the team’s 5th starter.  Can Bard successfully make the transition from ace reliever to quality starter while handling the increased work load?  And is the apparent downgrade of the pen as a result of Bard’s absence worth the potential benefits of moving him to the rotation?  In addition, the Sox have entrusted the 4th spot to a talented, but untested lefty, Felix Doubront.  The Sox are really high on the Venezuelan 24-year-old, but he’ll be cutting his teeth in the cauldron that is the AL East.  I’m actually really excited to see what these guys can do, and cautiously optimistic, but there is a good chance this could all blow up in the Red Sox’s face.

Overall, the Sox seem to have a lot more pitching depth this year with vets like Aaron Cook (optioned to AAA, but with a May 1st opt-out clause), Vicente Padilla (in the bullpen currently), and even Andrew Miller (optioned to AAA), who showed occasional flashes of potential last year, all capable of starting/relieving for Boston.  Overall, I’m optimistic that, in spite of the potential risks the 2012 starting rotation will be a bit better–and possibly much better–than last year’s when the team ultimately struggled to overcome the twin loss of Dice-k and Buchholz, as well as fan-favorite John Lackey’s consistently awful starts.  There’s also the possibility that Dice-K will be back by June/July, which could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the Dice-K we get.  All in all, I think the rotation is in decent shape for now.  Like the bullpen, we will probably see some changes in the make-up of the rotation, depending on how well Bard and Doubront adjust to their roles.

Despite the pitching challenges, I’m not pushing any panic buttons yet.  Let’s see how things work out.  I suspect Ben will give himself a couple of months to assess the pitching staff, among other things, and exhaust all internal options before pursing any trades and/or signing a Roy Oswalt and moving Bard back to the pen.

The Offense

As for the offense, I think the Sox are in good shape.  Even if we accept the fact that Ortiz and Ellsbury will experience a drop from last year’s stats, they’ll produce if healthy.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect A-Gon to contribute as well if not more this season, given his increased familiarity with the AL and the fact that his surgically-repaired shoulder has had over a year to fully heal.  On the flip side, Youks could be poised to have a much better year following an injury-riddled 2011.  Same with Pedey, who was likely still recovering from his 2010 foot injury last season.  Crawford is the wild card.  After an awful year last season, his first in Boston after signing a lucrative contract, I’m optimistic Carl will have a much better 2012.  He’s been too good for too long not to bounce back.  Unfortunately, he’s already starting off the season on the DL.  Here’s hoping Crawford has a terrific season.

The Defense

Right now the infield defense, particularly at SS, is below average with Aviles manning the hole between 2nd and 3rd base.  By all accounts, defensive whiz Jose Iglesias will be the Red Sox SS of the near future.  Jose’s chance to flash his glove full time in Boston may finally arrive this season depending on how the Aviles at SS experiment works out.  That said, at this stage, his bat still leaves a lot left to be desired.  So long as Aviles’ offense offsets his defensive shortcomings, Aviles will likely remain the starting SS.  However, I really hope Jose uses the time at Pawtucket to refine his approach at the plate.  Of course, realistically, no one will ever mistake Iglesias for a young Nomar in his prime.  However, if the kid can get himself on base at a reasonable clip while providing Gold Glove caliber defense at SS, I could live with that.  While run production is desirable, run prevention is nothing to scoff at, especially if the kid is surrounded by a solid offense.  Monitoring the Iglesias Watch will be an interesting side note to the season.

The New Skipper

Ah, Bobby V….  What more can be said about the guy that hasn’t already been said?  We all know he has an ego the size of, well, New York.  He loves being the center of attention and is not afraid to speak his mind, no matter who is offended in the process.  His naysayers need look no further than the deal he just signed to do a weekly radio chat with 1050 ESPN New York Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show”.  Yep, that Michael Kay…  And of course, Sox fans all over have gotten their underoos in knots over this.  Personally, I think the fuss is overblown.  (Perhaps I’m biased, given that I live in NYC!)  Seriously, though, the way I see it, this is about market share.  1050 ESPN NY can be heard not only in NYC, but Fairfield County, CT, a large regional market that the Sox are clearly vying to dominate.  And don’t forget, Bobby Valentine is himself a Stamford, CT native, something Lucchino likely appreciated when the Sox were contemplating new managers.  Anyway, I think the Sox execs see this 1050 gig as a chance to further expand Red Sox Nation in a region typically dominated by NY teams.  Now, why does any Sox fan really care about this?  Do you seriously feel slighted that he’s doing a show based in NYC?  And if so, why?  I understand he’ll be doing WEEI Boston shows as well.  Do fans seriously think this radio gig will somehow affect the team’s play?  Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see the problem.  Yes, it’s unusual, but will it be a detriment to the team?  Not in my opinion.  But of course leave it to the media and cutting edge “analysts” like Curt Schilling to make this out as something Sox fans should bemoan.  Really??

And to be fully honest, I was skeptical of hiring Bobby V as Sox skipper.  I really liked Terry Francona and admired his managing style.  He always struck me as loyal, tactful, measured, and even-keeled, as well as a pretty smart coach in his own right (especially when you consider his predecessor).  And the guy did win 2 championships as Boston’s skipper.  Bobby, on the other hand, seems much more divisive, self-centered, cocky, and too quick to speak honestly regardless of the potential adverse consequences of doing so.  And yet, even Bobby’s biggest haters will acknowledge that not only has he the “pedigree”, but a high “baseball IQ” to go with it.  He has also shown the ability to succeed in the pressure cooker of NYC, leading a largely inferior Mets team (no offense, Mets fans) all the way to the World Series against their intercity rivals in the 2000 Subway Series.  The question, IMO, is whether Bobby’s positives substantially outweigh his potential negatives.  And I just do not think this can be answered yet.

Regardless of your opinion of Bobby V, I think “analysts” like Schilling need to relax.  If you didn’t know already, you assuredly know now that there is no love lost between Bobby V and Big Schill.  Schill claims that players already “hate” Bobby.  Really? In Spring training?  I’m a bit skeptical, to be honest.  Schill has further compared the Sox to the ill-fated Titanic.  (He has since backpedaled a bit.)  IMO, Bobby V is right: “Consider the source.”  Other than Francona, who Schill has always respected, who hasn’t Curt blasted?  He is honestly the last guy who should be passing judgment here.  But Schill being Schill, he will always have an opinion and will always share it, solicited or not.  And now he gets paid to do it for ESPN.  Look, I will forever appreciate Curt’s pitching efforts in 2004 and 2007, but I’m going to take these comments with a grain of salt at this stage.

My suggestion is Sox fans give Bobby V a chance to manage a few real games before we render him “DOA”.  Sure, it’s possible the Bobby V Era will end tragically (can it honestly end any worse than last year?), but it’s also quite possible the man will lead the Sox back to the promised land, if things break the right way.  Though his approach might touch the nerve of many of us New Englanders/Sox fans, like his predecessors, history will ultimately judge Bobby V by how well the Red Sox produce on the field.  And I’m rooting for their success.

Concluding Thoughts

So right out of the gate, the Sox face a plethora of challenges.  Externally, the AL East will be as tough as always with a very good Yankees team.  I also expect the Rays and Jays to be solid threats to any NY-Boston hegemony.  And the AL West has only gotten better, with the Angels and Rangers, in particular, making some of the biggest offseason splashes.  So how will the Sox make out?  I honestly have no clue.  I’m cautiously optimistic, though.  The extra Wild Card should help, but I’m not banking on it.  As always, a lot will come down to injuries–to the Sox and to other teams–and how well they respond.  It’s a long season of ups and downs.  2011 only re-emphasized that.  For these Red Sox, however, they face the additional challenge of playing under the guidance of a new manager who has already inspired controversy, real or imagined.  One thing is for sure: the season promises not to be boring.  So sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the Bobby V Era , Red Sox fans!  Go Sox!!


4 Responses to “Opening Day – The Bobby V Era Begins”

  1. 1 Carlos April 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Good stuff. I’m hoping that Bard call pull off the Derek Lowe bullpen-to-starter act.

  2. 3 Jon April 7, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Excellent analysis. I think our relievers will be okay. They will be streaky, but I think eventually they will gel. Everyone needs to remember that this is essentially the same team that experts picked to make the series last year. We will be okay. It is only April.

    • 4 7thinningstretches April 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Thanks, Jon. I agree. Though I do think the current rotation and early bullpen issues make this team hard to compare to last year’s team right now. And the competition for the Wild Card spots and division will be tougher with the improvements around the AL. Despite the opening wknd disaster, I’m not YET panicking. lol.

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