Series Recap: April 5th-8th. (0-3, 4th AL East)

It’s difficult to take stock of this weekend’s Debacle in Detroit and try to pull some positives out of the ruins, but being that we’re only three games into the season, I’ll do my best.

2011’s miserly beginning felt altogether different than this year, and with good reason. After spending the offseason being dubbed the kings of the AL, Boston stumbled out of the gate to the tune of an 0-6 and 2-10 start. Pitches were gripped too tight, bats swung too hard, and expectations were set simply too high.

This year, though, Boston is recovering from a grease-laden, hops-fueled collapse which left players with a sour taste (maybe the result of sweet and sour dipping sauce) leading into an extended offseason. The much maligned and listless roster was overhauled through retirements, injuries, and free agency, giving rise to a 2012 roster noticeably different than its 2011 predecessor.  

This season, baseball pundits and stats junkies had much more reasonable forecasts for the Red Sox, and most of them brutally realistic. Even with an expanded playoff, in a deep and talented American League most experts had the Red Sox finishing third in the AL East, and missing the playoffs with the 6th best record.

It was hard to argue with them at the time, as the teams ahead of them (NYY, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Anaheim, and Texas) all bolstered strong 2011 lineups with acquisitions and trades.

After Opening Weekend, it’s even harder to find fault with a prediction that leaves the Red Sox playing out the string in September rather than gearing up for a playoff run.

Following three games in Detroit, the Sox find themselves in an 0-3 hole altogether different than last year.  Three losses, two in Detroit’s last AB, terrible starts by Beckett and Buchholz, and a festering, gaping hole where the bullpen should have been leave a healthy serving of pressure on Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard for this week’s series in Toronto.

While all seems lost with but 98% of the season to play, here are some of the positives and an abbreviated thesis of the negatives from this weekend’s slate of games.

Sunny Side Up–

Jon Lester: Needing to be nearly perfect opposite Koufax Verlander, Lester led off 2012 with a quality start, tossing 7 innings of one-run baseball. He nearly matched the reigning AL Cy Young/MVP award winner through 7, only allowing his run on a well placed double by Alex Avila which Cody Ross narrowly missed tracking down. Starts like this are exactly what this team needs.

Adrian Gonzalez/David Ortiz: Though largely and deservedly overshadowed by the Tiger’s ridiculous Cabrera/Fielder duo,  A-Gon and Papi combined to go 10-25 with 2 2B’s, HR, and 4 RBI’s in the three-game set. While it wasn’t as prolific as the five HR’s combined by the 600 pounds batting 3 and 4 for Detroit, it’s solid early-season production for Boston’s big guns.

Vicente Padilla: Shaking off a rough debut for the Sox, Padilla and his 52 mph eephus saved an already taxed bullpen in the final game of the series, going four innings of two-hit baseball, with four K’s and no walks. Most importantly, he kept the Sox afloat after a disappointing outing by Buchholz, stymieing the Tigers for no runs, allowing the Sox to (temporarily) stage a comeback. His most impressive moment? Getting away with back-to-back 52 mph meatballs to Prince Fielder, eventually getting a line out to McDonald.

Definitively Scrambled

Jacoby Ellsbury: Though he broke out a bit in Sunday’s game with a two hits and a double, the 2011 MVP runner-up managed only a walk through his first two games, and was held without a stolen base in the series. Additionally, after tracking the ball across most of center field in the first inning on Sunday, he allowed a ball to clank off his glove for a three-run double by Jhonny “Don’t call me Johnny” Peralta.

Josh Beckett/Clay Buchholz: In a rotation lacking a true fourth or fifth starter, the Red Sox success this year hinges heavily on the three established starters. Unlike Lester’s performance in game one, #’s two and three had starts they’d like to forget. Throwing a combined 8.2 innings, they allowed 14 runs on 15 hits, while walking three and only striking out five. Beckett allowed five home runs, none of which were cheap.

The Bullpen: Outside of Padilla (and a solid outing by Franklin Morales), the bullpen was, for lack of a more violent adjective, abysmal. Our de facto set-up man Mark Melancon sports a shiny 36.00 ERA (4 ER in 1.0 IP), Matt Albers has 2 runs and 2 hits in less than an inning, and newly-anointed closer Alfredo Aceves has allowed three runs on four hits and a HBP without recording an out. When a team performs so poorly that they leave fans pining for the days of John Wasdin, you can be sure things are not going in the right direction.

_ _ _ _ _

But, with 159 games to play, all hope is not lost. Melancon will not finish the year with a four-digit ERA, Josh Beckett will not allow the 150 he’s on pace for, and Jacoby Ellsbury is going to best .154 for the season.

We just need to hope those trends are righted sooner, rather than later.

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