Only a few days till Opening Day on Monday. Today, mostly sunny but only around 45. Clam Chowda, anyone?
The chowder at Fenway is actually very good, by the way. But how will they look? This is the 6th straight year I've gone to spring training in Ft. Myers. I've seen games at jetBlue Park, which is a fabulous place for a spring training game. Great weather, relaxed atmosphere, you get a look at some of the rising stars. The field, of course, looks 98% like Fenway with all the nooks and crannies, the faux Monster with the hand-operated scoreboard.
This, by the way, is the actual scoreboard that was in the Fenway Wall from 1969 to 2003. It was replaced by a look-alike that also includes National League scores when the net was removed and the Monster Seats were added. I've also been to the Twins ballpark, Century Link Sports Complex, also in Ft. Myers, Ed Smith Stadium, the Orioles park in Sarasota, Charlotte Sports Park, the Rays park in Port Charlotte and the Blue Jays park in Dunedin, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Couldn't they come up with someone better for the naming rights? Maybe Waffle House Park??
jetBlue is easily the best, but it sells out every game so you see a fair number of snowbird Red Sox fans at all the parks. It's especially fun on St. Patrick's Day when they wear green unis.
After 6 trips, you understand things better.
Early on, like when Daniel Bard was supposed to be the new closer, or the next year when Andrew Bailey was supposed to be the new closer, or Koji the last few years, I'd wonder why John Farrell would bring them in for the 5th or 6th inning? Try scoring a game by hand (which I do all the time) and you'll figure that one out. By the 6th or 7th inning almost no starters are still in the game. It's the "scrubs" wearing #80 with no name on the back who are getting some playing time but have no hope of going north with the big club. Why waste an outing by your closer by having him pitch to Single A guys?
The old pitching excuse.
Every year you see one of the five projected starters have a bad 3-inning outing and after the game they say, "I wasn't really trying to get anyone out...I was just working on my mechanics." Oh, so that's why you were horrible. Got it.
But the established starters are actually doing that. David Price was shut down so I didn't see him, but I saw Eduardo Rodriguez (I refuse to call him E Rod, just on principle) look very good for two or three innings, then lose his way a little. Chis Sale had a dicey first inning, then was excellent.
Steven Wright looked very good. Gave up no runs in his first four appearances. Drew Pomeranz was a B-minus. Rick Porcello was also shaky at first (ERA over 7), then settled down and looked more like the reigning Cy Young winner. After two straight years of signing 8th inning setup guys who are on the DL (Carson Smith last year and Tyler Thornburg this year) it looks like Joe Kelly can handle it just fine.
Not so for the guys on the bubble.
Three guys competing for the final two starting slots, or several middle relievers really fighting to make the club. You feel badly for them when they have a couple bad outings in a row. That's what happened to Henry Owens and Brian Johnson. They've both been up a time or two and have a lot of potential, but don't do themselves any favors when they can't find the plate. Both were sent to Pawtucket to start the season. Noe Ramirez is another one. I don't trust him at all on the mound. When he was up with the big club last year he'd give up four straight hits and I'd ask myself why Farrell is leaving him in? He must see something I don't. He pitched 1/3 of an inning on St. Patrick's Day and gave up 5 hits and a walk leading to 4 runs, an ERA of 6.14 and a bus trip down I-95 to Pawtucket. Kyle Kendrick was one of the more effective pitchers in camp, but the Sox already have six starters for five slots so he's been sent to Pawtucket as well.
Well, two of them are on fire.
Andrew Benintndi, the #1 prospect in all of baseball, looks like he'll live up to that. Hitting over .300 with power, great baserunner. Mookie, last year's runner-up for MVP, looks great and is well over .300. Jackie Bradley shows his excellent D, but has had a slow start at the plate. In 2013 he crushed it in spring training but couldn't get up to the Mendoza Line during the regular season and was sent down. Maybe this year will be the reverse. He does have his hot spells, like last year's 29-game hitting streak and he's picking it up more toward the end of spring training. Add Chris Young as the fourth guy and you have an outfield that projects to be as good as Williams-Piersall-Jensen or Rice-Lynn-Evans. Didn't get to see Bogaerts as he was off playing for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
.The other hitters?
The Pedey laser show is in high-wattage. Panda, while still a rotund guy, is in much better shape than when we last saw him pop his belt on a swing-and-miss. Lighter, much more agile, and hitting .350 with homers from both sides of the plate. Hanley has yet to pick up his firstie's mitt, but he's hitting .310 as DH. Mich Moreland, the new supposedly part-time 1st baseman, is hitting .317. The lineup sure looks like it can repeat scoring the most runs in baseball.
Catchers.Three guys looking for two spots. Sandy Leon projected as the starter, as he hit .310 as the starter last year from June on. That was mostly fueled by his .467 in June and his .355 in July. By September he was down to .280, but that's still way higher than Christian Vasquez has ever hit. But Vazquez is an excellent defender. Calls a great game and has a cannon. Threw out runners at 2nd, 3rd and home a couple of days ago. Then there's Blake Swihart, the best athlete of the three and easily the best hitter (.325), but he lost almost all of 2016 and needs to work on blocking pitches in the dirt. Plus (big plus) he has minor league options and the other two guys don't. So Farrell opted for defense over offense behind the plate and Blake is on that bus down I-95. I think he'll be back by summer. I'm also hoping to see Josh Rutledge and Brian Johnson on the big club along with Joe Kelly and Chris Sale, as all of them played for my local Cape Cod League team, the 3-time champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
I'm excited and very optimistic.
Of course, I always am when it comes to Opening Day. One of my top 5 favorite days of the year. Now if we can get a forecast that says "Sunny and 68"...