Austin Jackson hits a game-winning single to mathematically eliminate the Boston Red Sox from playoff contention. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
I sometimes wonder about the way sportswriters would write about Important Things. There's a particular voice that goes into a traditional sports column: two parts grizzled beat guy, one part longtime fan, one part condescension, and four parts hyperbole. It's well-suited for the day-by-day, ever-changing world of sports, but it'd get pretty silly pretty fast elsewhere. I keep imagining a cavalcade of sportswriters responding to Pearl Harbor with a series of "America doomed, best to concede the Pacific and focus on rebuilding the coast" stories. (See? Hyperbole! Bloggers can play that game.)
Anyway, as you may have heard, the baseball season started this week. And our beloved Red Sox got things under way in Detroit, battling Justin Verlander. They did about like most teams do against Verlander, but Jon Lester battled well and kept it close into the late innings. The bullpen allowed a run after Lester departed, leaving the Sox in a 2-0 hole, but they rallied against "perfect closer" Jose Valverde to tie the game. Then, of course, to create a perfect storm of narrative awful, the ninth-inning combo of Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves gave up the losing run. The Red Sox now stand one game back of the Rays, Jays, and Orioles with only 161 to play. Hard times in Boston.
Let's recap it.
We'll start with the man under the microscope right now, Alfredo Aceves. Matt Sullivan examined his unusual pattern of release points and whether it has an effect on his success against righties. He also revealed a tiny cluster of release points that seem to come from the left side, which is utterly inexplicable. There's a story here, and we need to figure out what the hell it is. I'm going to snag a pipe, a deerstalker cap, and a glass of whisky while someone more analytical gets to the bottom of it.
We're talking about Aceves so much, of course, because he was named the team's closer by Bobby Valentine on Wednesday. Why? Because as we all enjoyed the nice "spring training's over, time for some real baseball" buzz, the baseball gods saw that we were happy. And the baseball gods are wrathful. Rumors of an Andrew Bailey thumb injury began to swirl on Monday. By Tuesday, it was clear that not only was Bailey hurt, it was a ligament tear requiring surgery, with the likely return date three or four months off. Strangely enough, the Red Sox have a couple of backup options for the guy who's slightly familiar with the DL. Marc Normandin went over those options on Tuesday.
Among the results of Thursday's loss was a chorus of howls for the return of Daniel Bard to the bullpen. Sure, he hasn't yet thrown a pitch in anger as a starter, and sure, starters are vastly more valuable than relievers, but the bullpen blew one save. It's clearly time to change the team's plans entirely. Marc took a look at another long-term reason to want Bard to succeed in the rotation: he's homegrown, young, and cheap. Any time a team can get younger and cheaper in a given spot, it's worth trying. Keeping Bard as a starter has the additional advantage of avoiding a trip into the lower reaches of the organization's rotation depth, a journey which had ill effects last season and which no one's eager to repeat. Matt Kory gave us a reminder of the importance of rotation depth.
Another fun thing that happens as spring training gives way to the regular season is teams giving out insane contracts. The Reds were this year's spenders, handing a ten-year, $225 million extension to Joey Votto. Votto's awesome, of course, but ten years and $225 million is a lot to throw at any one player. Ben Buchanan looked at the Votto extension and the other enormous contracts handed to first basemen of late, and found the Sox' deal with Adrian Gonzalez to be a pretty solid value.
Marc finished up his tour through the AL East with looks at Tampa Bay and New York. Short version: both teams are really good. Neither of them is an unstoppable juggernaut. The Sox can totally take those guys, basically. Interestingly enough, the two teams played each other last night. Tampa won, taking advantage of a blown save by Mariano Rivera. This clearly means that the Yankees are doomed, that they should have gone hard after Papelbon in the offseason, and that it's time to shore up the pen by taking Phil Hughes out of the rotation.
Now, it's possible that sort of thing will come up in the New York media. But it seems unlikely. Say what you will about other cities in comparison to Boston. They're bigger. They're friendlier. They have more theatre or better pizza or cleaner sidewalks. No city can hold a candle to the Hub when it comes to giant overreactions to tiny sample size. Ben gave us a tour of the best we had to offer in the "Aceves blew a save OMIGOD WE'RE GONNA DIE" department.
There's another game in seven hours. Josh Beckett on the bump, up against eternal fantasy baseball tease Max Scherzer. Time for the first win of the year. Baseball season's under way, all. Enjoy the ride.