April 11, 2022

It’s so good to have baseball games to write about again. Thinking back on a series like is an awesome reminder about everything that’s great about baseball.

The Red Sox and the Yankees opened their seasons against each other this past weekend, and the end result of this series is essentially a draw. We got to see three close, entertaining games from two teams that could not possibly appear more evenly matched.

 

Starting Pitching

Nathan Eovaldi and Gerrit Cole both started shaky and gave up big knocks early, but kept their teams in the game against fearsome opposing lineups before handing the ball over to their bullpens about halfway through.

Nick Pivetta dazzled for five on Saturday, with the exception of one pitch to Anthony Rizzo. The wheels came off in the bottom of the sixth inning, however, when Alex Cora allowed a gassed Pivetta to come back out to the mound and surrender what turned out to be a game winning two-run bomb to Giancarlo Stanton. This was a rare mistake from Cora, who should have allowed Pivetta to hit the showers feeling good about his first start of the season. Spring training was abbreviated for everyone, so there’s no shame in packing it in after five in the second game of the year. Of course, Cora didn’t have the luxury of hindsight about the Red Sox bullpen the way we all do now.

Luis Severino also made only one mistake in an impressive, albeit short performance thanks to Christian Vazquez’ phenomenal 12-pitch at bat in the second. Alex Verdugo’s two-run homer in the second was the lone misfire made by Severino, and his battle with Vazquez to close the inning eliminated the possibility of him pitching past the third.

Like Eovaldi and Cole on Friday, Tanner Houck and Jordan Montgomery had strikingly similar pitching lines Sunday night. Neither made it out of the fourth inning, and both repeatedly pitched in and out of trouble. Houck had little command of the strike zone, which was disappointing considering how much his slider and sinker were dancing. It felt like the bases were loaded the entire time he was on the mound, and the fact that he was able to escape his 3.1 innings with only three men crossing home plate was a borderline miracle. All things considered, you could even call it a gutsy performance.

Then again, you could also say the Yankees simply blew big opportunities and repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

Sound familiar?

 

Hitting

The Yankees lineup did what the Yankees lineup was built to do. They parlayed Rizzo and Stanton each going deep twice and D.J. LeMahieu flicking a big league pop out for a little league home run into two wins. It’s no coincidence that they lost the one game in which they didn’t homer, tallying 11 hits but leaving 11 men on base while scoring only three runs.

The Red Sox, a team that was exceptional at manufacturing runs in 2021, showed even less offensive life on the balance of the weekend.

After Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez roughed up Gerrit Cole for three runs in the first inning of Opening Day, it felt like the Red Sox bats had come out swinging to start the year. Half an inning into the season, the weekend was quickly on track to be a three-day party.

Then the offense froze up for the next 17 innings, after which Boston found itself with a record of 0-2.

It didn’t get much better Sunday, where a Martinez RBI double in the first and a solo home run from my nemesis, Bobby Dalbec, in the sixth were the only non-sac fly runs the Boston bats could muster. As much as I dislike Dalbec’s game, it’s always fun to see someone force the ESPN shills to stop mid-promo in order to call a game-changing play. 

Newcomer Trevor Story has only one hit in eight at bats thus far, and leadoff man Kike Hernandez has zero in 13. Other than Xander Bogaerts, who narrowly avoided a catastrophic hamstring injury late in Friday’s game, Alex Verdugo is the only Red Sox hitter who should come out of the first series of the season feeling happy with his performance.

Verdugo went 5-14 with 3 RBI in these first three games. He’s starting out the season playing like the fireplug that we all came to appreciate in the first couple months of 2021, even coming away with a couple nice defensive plays. Let’s hope those web gems don’t inspire any bouts of the boneheaded hero ball we saw from him too often during the second half of last year.

Considering the lack of thump in their offense this weekend, the Red Sox should feel lucky to have escaped Yankee stadium with a win. Luckily, we all know what kind of offense this team is capable of as the season goes on, the weather warms up, and the stakes get high.

 

Bullpen

None of us expected much from the Red Sox bullpen coming out of spring training due to a serious lack of name value and role definition. Alex Cora never named anybody as closer, set up man, middle reliever, or even mop-up guy. Even Garrett Whitlock, the undisputed best relief pitcher on the team, was announced as merely a guy that would pitch in a non-traditional, multi-inning role.

Not only was Whitlock superb in his new long-relief role, pitching 2.1 sensational innings before being chased by LeMahieu’s pop up, the entire Red Sox bullpen silenced the Bombers this weekend to the tune of 9 hits, 4 walks, 1 earned run, and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.

Jake Diekman became a star in the ninth inning on Sunday, punching out Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo to slam the door on the first Red Sox victory of the season. After an unimpressive Opening Day, the veteran lefty became the first pitcher to ever earn a 3-batter, 3 strikeout save against the Yankees in New York. Diekman set the Yankees’ franchise player and two big-swinging mercenaries down hacking with a deceptively quick fastball and slow, sweeping breaking ball that compliment each other like chocolate and peanut butter. In no way do I see Diekman being named the official closer anytime soon, but he certainly hurled and swaggered like one Sunday night.

Kutter Crawford was the other big revelation from Sunday. With men on second and third with one out in the fifth, Crawford induced a foul out from Aaron Hicks and whiffed Isiah Kiner-Falefa with a devastating two-seam fastball – breaking ball combination. The next inning, he blew away Rizzo on three pitches and Judge on five. With 2 career big league innings under his belt before Sunday, Crawford expertly fought his way out of a tough jam, then mowed down the top of one of the most dangerous lineups in the league.

Hansel Robles, Matt Strahm, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, and Ryan Brasier also delivered scoreless contributions, with all but Brasier looking solid.

The Red Sox relief core is still shrouded in a great deal of mystery regarding when and where each pitcher will be utilized. However, after one series, it’s getting hard to look at the bullpen as this team’s weak link.

 

What a way to start the next chapter of the greatest rivalry of them all. We’ve seen three games between the Red Sox and the Yankees, and we don’t have the slightest clue of who the better team is. That’s the way it should be.

With the Rays and Blue Jays appearing to be even better all around teams than the Yankees, it looks like we’re in for one hell of a year. Major League Baseball couldn’t have drawn it up any better if they tried.

Strap yourselves in.

 

 

By Luke

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