On opening day, the Red Sox fell to the New York Yankees 6-5, squandering three leads and blowing a three-run first inning off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. The loss moved Alex Cora to 0-4 on Opening Day as the Red Sox manager.
Fortunately, a team’s Opening Day performance is not always indicative of their season-long performance. Last season, the Red Sox were swept by the worst team in the American League in their opening series and proceeded to make the ALCS. In 2018, the Red Sox blew a four-run eighth-inning lead, then set a franchise record 108 wins en route to a World Series title.
Despite the loss, Opening Day provided several reasons to believe that the Red Sox will remain a contender this season.
Nathan Eovaldi Looked Sharp
On paper, Eovaldi did not have the best performance, giving up three runs over five innings including two home runs, but outside of a couple of hung offspeed pitches, Eovaldi was extremely effective. He produced a 39% swing and miss rate, which is higher than any game of his last year. His fastball sat at an average of 98.2 MPH while topping out at 100. His splitter had a 70% whiff rate and allowed him to rack up 7 strikeouts in only 5 innings. Lastly, despite a walk, Eovaldi attacked the strike zone, throwing 74% of his pitches for a strike despite facing a tight zone from umpire Laz Diaz. If the Red Sox rotation is going to stay afloat without James Paxton and Chris Sale, they will need Eovaldi to be excellent. Today’s start is a good sign.
Rafael Devers Looks Like An MVP Candidate
After a stellar spring, Rafael Devers continued his dominance, launching a 99 MPH fastball at the top of the strike zone 382 feet to the upper deck in right field.
Devers also looked improved in the field, handling a 100 MPH line shot from Isiah-Kiner Falefa in the second inning.
Devers biggest weaknesses in 2021 were his ability to handle fastballs up in the zone and his defense at third base. If he continues to play as he did on Opening Day, an MVP may not be out of reach.
Alex Verdugo Played Excellent Defense
In 2021, Verdugo had -6 Outs Above Average, a metric that compares the number of outs converted by a fielder compared to an average one. Verdugo was actually a positive defender in left field, with 1 OAA, but his struggles in center contributed to his overall negative defensive stats. After struggling with hamstring injuries for most of last year, Verdugo seems back healthy, which is crucial for his success in the field and at the plate. An outfield tandem of Verdugo in left, Kiké Hernandez in center, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in right could be one of the best defensively in the league.
Garrett Whitlock Continues To Impress
Just like Eovaldi, Garrett Whitlock seemed to pick up right where he left off in 2021. Whitlock pitched 2.1 innings, surrendering only one run on a Yankee Stadium homer to D.J. LeMahieu. Whitlock commanded the zone, throwing 71% of pitches for strikes, generating a 45% whiff rate, and striking out 4 batters. In what will be a shaky bullpen all year, Whitlock will be a pitcher the Sox can count on.
Alex Cora’s Decision Making
Despite moving to 0-4 on opening day games, Alex Cora made two decisive moves in bullpen management that served the Red Sox well. In the 9th inning, Cora opted to walk Anthony Rizzo in order to allow Hansel Robles to face Giancarlo Stanton. Historically, Rizzo is 1-for-3 against Robles with a double and two walks. Stanton, on the other hand, is 2-for-13, and Robles was easily able to strike him out in three pitches.
In the 10th inning, Cora was once able to play matchups to the Red Sox’s benefit. With runners on second and third and only one out, Cora intentionally walked switch-hitter Aaron Hicks to load the bases. Since Hicks is better from the left side, allowing Jake Diekman, a left-hander, to try and attack him would’ve been an understandable move. Instead, by walking Hicks, Cora bypassed the three batter minimum and set up right-handed pitcher Ryan Brasier to get the last two outs of the inning against righties.
Opening Day can be a day of overreactions, and the Red Sox are no stranger to that after the 2018 and 2021 seasons, but, a month ago, we were not sure whether baseball would even be played in April. Nothing says baseball is back like an 11-inning Yankees-Red Sox game, and Red Sox fans have lots of awesome baseball to be looking forward to this year.
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