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Baseball gets underway in Tampa Bay


04/04/18



 Hard to believe the baseball season opens today (Thursday, March 29) with the Red Sox in Tampa taking on the Rays. This year begins with a surprising lack of buzz, which seems strange when you consider they’re coming off a 93-win season when 17-game winner David Price missed virtually the whole season and Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello was dreadful all year. Plus The Nation’s human punching bag John Farrell was dumped in favor of “it” young manager of the day Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski added 40-plus-homer threat J.D. Martinez to fill the gigantic power vacuum left by the retired David Ortiz. Finally, after major moves in the Bronx the great but lately dormant rivalry got a major jolt of electricity. 

But still, no juice, making the biggest question going into 2018, how come?  
My friend Pete (below the) Tarrier (line) says it has to do with no Ortiz. Maybe that’s the case for others, but not for me. Leading a long list is beginning on March 29. That’s just too early. Don’t want to go all back-in-the day on you, but when I first followed baseball the season started around tax day. Now it’s three weeks earlier when fans freeze in the stands for a month and hits on the hands sting forever. Second, baseball’s not the only sport starting earlier and ending later than, ah, back in the day. The seasons now just run together. The Super Bowl disappointment isn’t even two months old and the playoff runs of the in-between-football-and-baseball Bruins and Celtics, if they have any players left by then, are still three weeks away. Bottom line, they’re giving us no breather. Finally, the Patriots are now New England’s favorite team. That’s further dimmed by the short- and long-term prospects of what lies ahead for the Celtics and the surprising Bruins. And before you say the Celtics will never usurp the Sox, the Bird-led Celtics owned the city in the ’80s and the Bs did in the ’70s when Bobby Orr and Espo were in full bloom.   
However, winning cures all. So a fast start and an expected pennant battle with the Yanks should have the masses into it as the season goes along. Now, here are a few of my biggest questions as baseball gets started. 
What’s Got You Jeeped? For me it’s that they finally will drop the (hated by me) take-the-first-pitch mantra to get deeper into pitch counts. Instead the plan is to aggressively swing at the first pitch. I have always thought that Theo-inspired philosophy was insane, because it reduced the chances to take a rip at the easiest pitch and it put hitters on the defensive by usually being behind in the count. That especially has killed Xander Bogaerts. Long live Alex Cora for this. 
Can The Kids Rebound? This is the year we find out what Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley really are: the All Star-caliber players from 2016 or the good but nothing overly special guys from 2017. I do think the freedom to rip that first pitch will be big for all three. I’m betting the first two will respond, and that JBJR is more wait and see. But thankfully Cora gets he’s better hitting ninth in front of the lumber where he sees more good pitches to hit. 
What About J.D. Martinez? From Jack Clark to the Panda and Hanley and a litany of other free agent busts I treat supposed slam dunks with skepticism. What I like is by going 23-38-22-45 in homers and 76-102-68-104 in RBI he’s mostly trending up. What I don’t like is tying up $25 million per for a guy with just two big years. So get back to me in years 4 and 5. I also don’t like hearing people say he should yank it over the wall, when he hits best going with the pitch to right-center. Sluggers trying to pull it over the wall instead of going with the pitch is a big reason why the Sox once went 86 years without winning. It also messed up Nomar. Having said that, delivering as expected will make everyone better.  
Will The Nation Still Hate David Price? Given the overwhelmingly fickle nature of Red Sox Nation, Price is 100 percent correct in saying, “If I pitch well I’ll get the fans back.” If he wins 20, last year’s Dennis Eckersley dust-up that caused an overblown ruckus will be waved off by revisionists as a nothingburger caused by Eck’s on-air insensitivity. Price, instead, was a leader who had everyone’s back. If he wins 10, they’ll double down on what a creep he is. That’s how it works around here. I say 18 wins and all is forgotten.  
What’s With All the Lefties? The last time I remember a good team having four lefty starters was the 1980 Yankees with Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Rudy May and Dave Righetti. A lot of people will be wringing their hands over the match-up issues. But I’d rather have starters who just get people out regardless of where they throw from. So I’m good with a staff of Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz and E-Rod, in part because those Yanks won the AL (lost to L.A. in the Series), so it can work.    
Key to the Season: A rebound from Rick Porcello. That was quite a triple for him in 2017 when he led the majors in doubles (54), homers (34) and losses (17). I’m not sure how a guy makes a U-turn from winning the 2016 Cy Young to last year’s clunker. Talk all you want about the Yankees’ power, but great pitching still beats great hitting. And if he is more 2016 than 2017, with Sale, Price, Pomeranz and him at the top of the rotation and Craig Kimbrel at the back end they have better pitching than the Yanks. So if he can, I have Boston over New York.  
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.  





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