TORONTO – It’s the first week of the baseball season so you can’t rush to any conclusions. There are only snapshots to be seen and trends to watch for.
The new slide rule at second base is plain awful and needs to be immediately rethought. A rookie named Trevor Story is doing a Babe Ruth impression in Colorado. The Orioles seem better than we thought. The Braves, Phillies and Padres are as abysmal as we expected.
Meanwhile, at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have played back-to-back fascinating games that have certainly raised a few eyebrows.
The Sox overcame a 7-2 deficit to win Friday’s home opener, 8-7, and then withstood the first two home runs of the season by Jose Bautista to pull away for an 8-4 win Saturday. The Sox are 3-1, getting contributions up and down their lineup and stellar work from their bullpen. The Blue Jays are 2-4 and have suddenly lost four straight because of a wonky pen and an offense that’s been surprisingly silent.
Saturday was the day David Price was supposed to pitch for the Red Sox against his former team but the rain and cold of Cleveland forced two postponements in Boston’s first series so he’s going to throw in the Fenway Park opener on Monday. Price did, however, speak to the media here Saturday and prompted the day’s first aha moment when he confirmed that new Blue Jays management led by president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins never made him an offer after his triumphant stint with the team last fall.
“They had to make a decision for the organization and I wasn’t in those plans and that’s OK,” Price said. “That’s part of what we do.”
The lingering feeling here, of course, was that former general manager Alex Anthopoulos had not given up hope of keeping Price. It may have been a pipe dream, given that Price eventually signed a seven-year, $217-million deal with the Red Sox. But perhaps an early offer from the Blue Jays could have meant something. Instead, Anthopoulos took the exit door stage-left when he didn’t like the team’s new operating structure and the Blue Jays moved on from one of the game’s best left-handers.
“I think if Alex would have still been here, then it might have ... been a little bit different,” Price said. “But it was a new front office with a lot of new guys. For them to not make that offer, I get it. I understood it.”
Price’s new team is coming off back-to-back last-place finishes but has gotten out of the gate nicely. The Sox got six innings from starter Rick Porcello on Saturday after the bullpen had to throw six innings in relief of Joe Kelly on Friday. The staff has completely shut down the Toronto offense in the late going of these two games, as Blue Jays batters are a meek 2 for 31 in innings 5-9 this weekend.
The Sox have scored 28 runs in their four games this season, are batting .289 with 19 extra-base hits and slugging .503.
“And it’s seemingly different guys every day,” correctly noted manager John Farrell.
With a day game after a night game, Farrell gave David Ortiz the day off, started Rusney Castillo at center field for the first time this season, moved Brock Holt into left field and gave Pablo Sandoval a shot at third base. The clearly overweight Sandoval embarrassed himself by popping the belt off his pants on a swing (seriously) and was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
But Castillo had two hits in his first start of the season, with his compact swing proving to be a good antidote for Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
“My main goal was to just make contact at the plate,” Castillo said through an interpretor. “Dickey is a very unorthodox pitcher and everybody knows he’s difficult to hit against but I was able to make contact and put the ball in play.”
Brock Holt is batting .412 with eight RBIs. The embattled Hanley Ramirez is at .389. Ortiz (.385) has homered twice and has a 1.000 slugging percentage. Travis Shaw is at .357 and Dustin Pedroia’s three hits Saturday put him at .316. The Sox have scored six-plus runs in the first four games of the season for the first time since 1995.
“With the lineup that we have the job they’re doing right now, our job is to just keep us in the game as long as possible,” Porcello said. “You face some tough lineups and that can be a challenge but we’ve got a tough lineup too and some great defense.”
Dickey had an utterly bizarre outing. He lasted just five innings and threw 101 pitches. He struck out nine, allowed eight hits, seven runs, forced two passed balls upon catcher Josh Thole, threw a wild pitch and had a throwing error on a toss to second. About the only thing missing was the partridge in the pear tree.
“Believe it or not, it might be the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen him have,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “It was everywhere.”
Everywhere is kind of how the Blue Jays’ first week has gone. They won the first two games in Tampa Bay and have now lost four straight. The bullpen blew a lead in three straight games for the first time since 1985 and Gibbons ran afoul of social media when he said “maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow” after the Jays lost Tuesday’s game on a replay review of a Bautista slide.
The offense is batting just .220 while the bullpen has allowed nine of 11 inherited runners to score, including eight in a row. Gibbons said Friday night his pen is in a rut and that may be true. Things get magnified at the start of the season instead of, say, mid-June.
But the Jays are in a stretch of 10 straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox. This is a time for early message sending. Boston is doing just that.
“We were down 7-2 in the fourth and there was no panic, there was no quit,” Price said of Friday’s game. “We understood that we could turn the game around ... in their place on Opening Day. That was pretty special. We get a better win than that this year, it’s going to be a very good win.”