The Red Sox predictably put away Northeastern in an exhibition game this morning, which was nice. It wasn’t televised or broadcast over the radio, which was a disappointment.
Real baseball, though, was a boost to an otherwise wintry day west of Fenway.
A lot of attention will be paid to the elite Big 3 starting pitchers for Boston in the coming weeks. Same can be said for Mookie Betts, and what I anticipate will be an overly forced forced storyline as to whether or not Hanley Ramirez can fill the shoes of David Ortiz.
The following, though, are the three storylines most interesting to me over the next five weeks or so:
It Takes Five To Fill A Rotation
Yes, Boston has three elite-level starters to lead off its rotation. I’ve already voiced my concerns Chris Sale will be in for either a down year, or potentially the beginning of the decline of his career. I can’t stress enough how much I want this to not be true. However, his mechanics, his age, his overall exposure in the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to the new market have me projecting that he simply won’t be what we’re all hoping he will be.
I am hoping David Price is due for a Rick-Porcello-like rebound after an at-times shaky first season. He grew stronger as 2016 wore on, and seemed, at points, to settle into a rhythm.
Rick Porcello was as close to a sure thing as there was to be had in the American League last year. He wasn’t flashy, but he was efficient and consistent. And he brought home a Cy Young Award because of it.
So, basically, I am viewing Boston’s Big 3 as a Solid 1 … maybe 1.5. Hopefully 2.5
That’s not the biggest concern, though.
Those final two rotation spots, those are troubling.
On paper, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright make for an amazing round out to the rotation. But they’re both coming off of injuries, and neither one looked particularly great over their final appearances last year — that, understandably, likely due to fatigue and injury. But there is no guarantee they’ll bounce back into All-Star form.
If you’ll remember, Wright — who without any secret on my part, is my favorite current Red Sox — wasn’t even within a whisper of the starting rotation when he took the mound against Northeastern to lead off last year.
His rise was incredible, and well deserved.
But, outside of a stellar complete-game shutout of the Dodgers in August, he was average at best from July onward. He averaged nearly four earned runs and seven hits per start over his final nine starts before injuring his shoulder on a freak pinch-running dive into the bag.
In short, to me, hitters were beginning to figure him out.
Pomeranz, after turning in one of the top first halves in the National League for the Padres, was basically ‘OK’ once arriving in Boston, only making it into the seventh inning of a game once. Again, fatigue, and the newness of the market could have been contributing factors.
Regardless, though, neither pitcher is a sure thing coming into this year. Both may be great. Both may be terrible. Both could be somewhere in between.
It leaves the door open, though, for the most enigmatic potential starting pitcher on the roster — Eduardo Rodriguez.
He’s been all over the map during his tenure in Boston — good, bad, ugly, injured …
But when he is on, he might be one of the best in the game. One wonders if he puts everything together, what kind of boost he could give to the rotation.
And if not him, and in the absence of Wright or Pomeranz, you can’t discount another out-of-nowhere rocket streak spring from a guy like Brian Johnson or Henry Owens. Again, guys with a ton of potential and upside who haven’t really shown what they can be just yet.
It’ll be fun to see how the Red Sox fill that rotation. Probably the biggest question mark of the spring.
If I had to make a bet right now, I’d say that come July, your rotation will be Sale, Porcello, Price, Pomeranz and E-Rod with Johnson earning his way on deck for if Sale (or any of the others) gets hurt.
Who’s On Third?
I’ve written already that Pablo Sandoval is the potential difference between a great team and a World Series championship team. But that difference will largely begin to be defined these next couple of weeks. Clearly, nothing is being given to him with Brock Holt ready and able to take over if the Panda falters at all. Rafael Devers is likely still a good two seasons away from being ready, but a big spring could shorten that timetable considerably.
Every Pablo at bat this spring carries a large amount of intrigue. It’ll keep those late-spring split squads a bit more interesting.
The way this offseason played out further confirmed that Boston’s front office sees Sam Travis ultimately as the source it hopes will eventually replace David Ortiz’s production.
Mitch Moreland is a temporary hire brought in to keep the seat warm until Travis is ready.
My belief was that, sans injury, Travis was due in the majors last Fall at the latest. That brings aboard a new question — will he make the jump this year? And, if so, when?
I’m betting on June. If there is an injury to Hanley, Moreland, or even an outfielder, I could easily see him coming up earlier.
Sam Travis is special. He’s also the most interesting player on the Sox roster to watch this spring.