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Scattered Thoughts after opening weekend

Some quick hitter thoughts about the Red Sox-Yankees weekend series.

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Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees
Everyone is happy to have baseball back.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Not that anyone cares, and not that anyone should, but this is sneakily the worst time of year to write about baseball. It is about as excited as anyone gets through the season until the last couple of weeks, and people are dying to read about baseball, but, well, there’s typically nothing too notable you can say after three baseball games. They play 162 for a reason, ya know? So to try and get past that extreme hardship (mentally insert sarcasm font here) I’ll go to the scattered thoughts format for our first series of the year, in which the Red Sox dropped two of three to the Yankees.

  • Where else could we start but with the bullpen, which kind of felt like the goat for most of the weekend but, by the end of it, had actually turned into the MVP of sorts. There was some bending without breaking and I think being at least apprehensive about some of the arms there is justifiable, but the fact remains they largely did their job this weekend. Boston’s relief corps threw 12 23 innings across the three games and allowed only three runs, of which just one was earned. Those three runs all came in the opener on Friday, too. Now, just like we don’t overreact negatively to a small sample, we won’t overdo it with the positivity here in terms of looking forward. But they got the job done this weekend, and we saw a lot of the upside that is present there.
  • Having said that, I think the bullpen still had a negative effect in the first two games even if Alex Cora denies it. Especially considering it is the first weekend of the season coming off a shortened season, I have a hard time believing he would have stuck with Garrett Whitlock in game one, or especially Nick Pivetta in game two, so long if he had more faith in his bullpen. The Red Sox always err on the side of caution with pitcher workload, especially to start a season. I’ll emphasize again that this is totally speculation and Cora has denied it, but I’m not buying it. The good news is the results of this weekend should buy him some more trust in the unit leaving New York.
  • I want to highlight a couple of the relievers here, though more were deserving of some love than I’ll mention. We’ll start with Whitlock, who of course signed an extension prior to Sunday’s series finale. He did give up a home run on Friday, but otherwise he looked nasty in his follow up to that incredible rookie run. I know there’s value in multi-inning middle relievers, but watching him again it feels almost like a waste to not have him either starting or pitching in late, high-leverage spots. Kutter Crawford gave up a walk-off hit to the only batter he faced on Friday, but came back Sunday and was throwing darts. Getting up to 97 in the shorter stint, he’s the guy I’m excited to see in that multi-inning middle relief role. And finally, Jake Diekman did the damn thing on Sunday. I was terrified seeing him go up against Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but he got them both on K’s. The strikeout of Judge was particularly impressive after the Yankees star worked a great at bat and fouled off a bunch of hitters, but Diekman never backed off.
  • After Sunday’s game Cora refused to say Diekman was officially his closer, responding to the question by saying he was the closer for that game. I think that’s smart. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him lock down that role at some point, but to me the smartest play is to keep open the possibility of playing matchups as long as possible. Diekman, for what it’s worth, doesn’t much care.
  • Surprisingly, it was the offense that was the biggest concern in this series. They had their chances at times in each of these games to break it open and take real command of the game, but failed. They also had a couple pitchers on the ropes with both Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, but let them get into a groove after that. I’m not really worried about this lineup at all, but just like with the bullpen we have to acknowledge what did happen, and what happened was the offense was the biggest reason they lost two of three.
  • Enrique Hernández in particular stood out for his lack of offense in this series. He did get on base a couple of times with a pair of four-pitch walks, but otherwise was 0-13. ESPN mics (more on this in a minute) did pick up on Hernández betting his salary that he wouldn’t go hitless on the season, so do with that what you will.
  • More positively, Alex Verdugo and Rafael Devers stood out among position players. Verdugo made a couple of big plays in the field in the two losses (and actually made a couple of bad ones in the win) while also getting going early and often with the bat. He’s got a nice floor built in with his offense thanks to his ability to make contact, but since he’s likely stuck as a left fielder now he’s got to improve upon last season. So far so good. Devers, meanwhile, is already great and continues to look like he’s ready to take the next step. He made a ton of hard contact in this series and hit a homer in the first game, while also making a few impressive plays with the glove as well.
Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
  • Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta were kind of just who they were, just an early-season version, but Tanner Houck I do want to talk about. I wrote before Opening Day that I thought he was the biggest X-Factor on the season, and he didn’t get off to a good start. He managed to escape some dangerous situations, but his command was all over the place in this game. Most concerning to me was the continued lack of usage with his splitter. He said before the game he felt good about the pitch, but proceeded to throw just one in the first inning and then we never saw it again. It seemed like he never had a feel for anything in this game for more than a batter or two at a time, so hopefully this isn’t a sign of what’s to come, but I really want to see more confidence in the splitter next time out.
  • In terms of non-game action, I actually really enjoyed the ESPN broadcast for the most part. Some of it is certainly comparing it to the recent booths which have been horrendous, and I’ve come to accept that national broadcasts will never totally cater to hardcore fans, but overall this was an informative group who mostly kept their attention on the field. That’s been rare in ESPN lately. In particular I thought David Cone was a really good listen and I’m actually excited to listen to an ESPN broadcaster every week now. It’s a weird feeling.
  • One thing I did not like was the in-game interview of Enrique Hernández while he was playing center field. They also did this with Joey Votto at first base on Opening Day, which I also didn’t love but it was better with a first baseman. A center fielder is just doing too much on a play-to-play basis for that to be a good idea in a game that counts. I know people did like it, and Hernández is a great personality fit for this kind of thing, but I’d rather see this stuff limited to spring training and the All-Star Game.
  • And finally, why oh why do we need to have the Manfred Man runner on second base again in extra innings? I hate it a lot.