This was not the opening that either team envisioned. The New York Yankees were swept by the high-output, low-cost Tampa Bay Rays, and the Boston Red Sox were man-handled by the mashing Detroit Tigers. Two teams, perennial post-season @$$-kickers, are now 0-3. It's the first time this has happened since 1966.
Is this a sign of things to come, or a sour patch to start the season?
Of course it's too early to panic, and the games might have swung in different directions. The Yankees were leading the opening game when Mariano Rivera, the ageless wonder, blew a save. It happens (it's happened with some regularity when Rivera faces his nemeses, the Red Sox), but he owned Tampa in the past. Still, hats off to the Rays, who won 7-6. The next game was another close call--the Rays won 8-6 in the end. Either game could have gone the other way. Then the third game was lost 3-0, the Yankees overpowered by returning AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Helickson. Rays sweep, but this was hardly a blow-out. The main cause for concern is the failure of Rivera--at some point his age must catch up with him, but he's such a pro that he will surely bounce back and save another 40.
The Red Sox have many more question marks--as they had before Spring Training. How will they gel under new manager Bobby Valentine? Will Carl Crawford bounce back from his worst season ever (he's still recovering from an injury, and is in extended spring training)? How will the new-look bullpen adjust? That's been the real killer so far. The Sox have done well enough, but the new set-up man Mark Melancon, former Astros closer with nasty stuff, was knocked around in Game 1, and blew the lead in the 11th inning in Game Three, a really tough loss. Couple that with the newly-appointed closer, Alfredo Aceves, who was handed the job when the winter acquisition, A's closer Andrew Bailey, went on the DL with a freak thumb injury, blew two saves, also in Games One and Three. So the problem here is really Melancon and Aceves failing to come through. The rest of the team looks fine. In Game Two you've got to hand it to the Tigers. They blew the Sox away 10-0. Teams will have bad days, and no one on the planet thinks that the Red Sox are 10-0 worse than the Tigers. Give credit where it's due, as Jim Leyland has done, and note that you're playing well and your opponent is having some troubles.
But Games One and Two (a 3-2 loss and a 13-12 loss in extra innings) could have gone either way. The opener was a beautiful pitchers duel between two masters, Justin Verlander and Jon Lester. Both did exactly what you'd hope they would: allowing fewer than 1 run and pitching deep into the game. But you've got to have confidence in your setup man and closer to finish things off. Red Sox leads were squandered in both games.
Much has been said already about the mighty Cabrera-Fielder 3-4 combination (each swatted two home runs against the mighty Josh Beckett, who was well off his game, yesterday). But Detroit catcher Alex Avila has been rockin' it just as hard. Detroit looks scary good, and they should stay that way (just imagine how much scarier when Victor Martinez is back from injury, sliding into the DH spot while masher Ryan Rayburn heads to the outfield).
Bobby V shuffled the Red Sox lineup for the 3rd game against the Tigers. Three starters began on the bench and we saw Nick Punto batting leadoff at 3rd, Darnell McDonald in LF, and Kelly Shoppach behind the plate. And yet there was no shortage of firepower--12 runs scored should really be enough to win any ballgame, don't you think? Nick Punto rewarded Valentine's choice by going 3-6. Mike Aviles went 3-5 and David Ortiz went 3-6. Gonzalez got his first home run of the season. The Red Sox will hit.
There were several almosts that could have won the 3rd game, too, for all of Detroit's prowess. Ellsbury dropped a deep fly ball that bounced out of his glove. Hard to blame him, since it was a small miracle that he made it all the way to the ball to begin with, but still--a run or more would have been saved had he held on. Alex Avila's game-winning home run was just about a foot and a half from being a long double, or an out, as Cody Ross was a hair's breadth beneath it. Baseball is a game of inches, and those inches can mean the difference between a disastrous 0-3 start of the season, and a momentum-building high-octane win.
The conclusion? It's WAY to early to panic for the Sox and tha Yanks. The Sox have more questions and will need to get the bullpen sorted, after a shaky and disheartening first few games. Detroit and Tampa look great and will be a lot of fun to watch. But the season is long...very long, and it's early days.
Noah Charney is the best-selling author of The Art Thief and Stealing the Mystic Lamb. He writes about art history and art crime at The Secret History of Art.