All posts by baseballworldbjt

About baseballworldbjt

Carl Johnson writes a weekly column entitled Baseball World for the Biddeford Journal Tribune in Biddeford, ME. The column features current and historical articles about Major League Baseball. He has just released his latest book LIFE AFTER BIG PAPI which reviews the Red Sox first year after David Ortiz retired and projects the future for the Sox. His popular series, THE BASEBALL BUFF'S BATHROOM BOOKS, VOLUMES 1-3, which each contain fifty articles about major events and players in baseball., both historical and contemporary are available on Amazon, Kindle and in local book stores throughout New England.

PLAYERS’ WEEKEND MAKES NO SENSE FOR MLB

The weekend before last, baseball had Players’ Weekend. The Major League Baseball Players were allowed to wear their nickname, instead of their surname, on the backs of their uniforms. They were also allowed to decorate their baseball shoes as they saw fit. ( I assume their were some restrictions on both the shoes and shirts to ensure that no minority would be offended by the sight of the name or the decorations.)

Major League Baseball has been doing this to allow the player’s to express themselves and, as Antony Castrovince reported on the MLB web site on August 23d ‘It’s an opportunity for fans to get a little wider window into the personalities of the players.’

More accurately expressed, by me here, It’s Major League Baseball’s latest misguided attempt to make baseball more attractive to its supposedly dwindling fan base.

In addition, players were allowed to wear decorated or different colored batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves, catcher’s masks, and bats and each uniform had a patch on the sleeve where a player could write the name of a person who aided their career. The jerseys and other equipment were auctioned after the weekend to raise money for the players charities.

As Castrovince went on to say, ‘This is the game’s embrace of individuality, charisma and creativity’. Can you imagine being a Major League Baseball player, making anywhere from the minimum salary of $545,000. to $23 million or more a year, standing in the batter’s box or on the pitcher’s mound almost every day in front of 20-50,000 people in the stands and hundreds of thousands more on television, all focused on you, and still having a need to express your individuality?

Aside from the contribution to charity made through the auction, it is hard for me, as a baseball fan to understand how anyone, except possibly the players, benefit from this annual fiasco. The fact that it occurs during the final weeks of the season, when the pennant races are heating up and players don’t need another distraction makes it even more ridiculous to me.

As Castrovince went on to say, this weekend and ‘the vibrant, non-traditional alternate uniforms,…., were inspired by uniforms you would typically see in Little League, tying into the theme of the youth involvement that Commissioner Rob Manfred has invested in since taking office ahead of the 2015 season.’

Somebody should tell that Idiot in the Commissioners’ Office that those youths that he is trying to attract to the game DON’T COME TO THE GAME ALONE. They come with parents, grandparents or other adults who want to see the game themselves and, therefore, want to have their kids, grandchildren, etc., enjoy the game as they did as kids. If the adults are not interested enough to come themselves, the kids will not get there.

As someone once said about the economy, it’s the demographic stupid. Does he expect that the kids will run away from home and spend money they don’t have to buy a ticket so they can go to the game alone. Baseball’s challenge is not to attract the younger generation to the game. Baseball’s challenge is to entice the adults to bring the younger generation to the game. Once they are in the ballpark, the game will attract them to come back.

Promotions like every child under 12 gets in for $5. with an adult admission on select dates will do that. And, once they’re in the ballpark, kids will generate as much, if not more, in concessions sales than adults do. A good number of the ball parks are half full anyway, why not fill those empty seats with kids and develop future customers?

Give the adults back the entertaining game that I watched as a kid because my father loved the game and the kids will come to the game, with the adults. Give them the Lou Pinellas and Billy Martins arguing with the umpires over a bad call instead of sterile conferences of umpires waiting for a call from New York to say whether the call was accurate or not.

Give them collisions at home plate and at second base where players protected themselves on their own before the rules were changed and the bases clearing brawls that happened when Pedro Martinez or some other head hunter decided a player needed a closer shave. Take away the shifts that are the main reason we have so many home runs and strikeouts instead of hit and run plays, stolen bases and bunts.

Do they really think that football would be more attractive to fans if they did away with the bone crushing tackles and instead had to pull a flag out of the ball carrier’s belt? Professional sports are entertainment at its best and, like Oklahoma would be without music, baseball is being hurt by its reduction in entertainment value.

Enough complaining. HOW ABOUT THOSE RED SOX? At the close of play on Thursday, they were 97-44 after a sensational sweep of the National League East’s leading Atlanta Braves. After a brief slowdown, the juggernaut was rolling again.

The biggest problem the Red Sox have the rest of the way, is deciding who among the position players is not going to make the team. Assuming they need to carry at least 12 or 13 pitchers, they have a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 13 slots for position players.

Anything can happen between now and Playoff time but, as it stands right now, Sale, Price, Rodriguez and Porcello should be the four starters with, of course, Kimbrel as the Closer. That leaves seven or eight slots for relievers. Eovaldi, Kelly, Barnes, Brasier, Workman, Wright, Velazquez and Johnson would be my choices if they go with eight with Thornburg and Pomeranz left off the roster.

Picking the the 12 position players looks easy to me. The two catchers would be Leon and Vazquez, with Moreland, Pearce, Bogaerts, Nunez and Holt as infielders and Betts, Bradley, Benintendi and Martinez in the outfield with Holt also available to back up in the outfield when needed. As much as I like Swihart, I cannot see him making the roster in place of a pitcher and, as committed as the Sox are to Devers’ future, the same is true of him.

We are still three weeks from the Yankees at Fenway for the last game of the season, so anything can happen. If the team I would name to the Playoff roster stays healthy, Alex Cora is going to be the second Red Sox first year Manager to win a World Series in the last six years.

 

 

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DEAR BASEBALL GODS, CAN WE HAVE A TALK?

The Red Sox were able to come back on Tuesday and stop their second straight three game losing streak before it became their first four game losing streak. At the time, they were the only team in baseball without a streak of at least four consecutive losses. Much had been made over the fact that the 1903 and 2013 Red Sox were the only Red Sox teams ever to go a season without a four game losing streak and both had won the World Series that year.

On Tuesday, they had come from behind, against the lowly Miami Marlins, after being ahead early, to score three in the bottom of the eight and forge ahead again 7-6. With Craig Kimbrel coming in to pitch the ninth, Red Sox fans figured the game was all wrapped up. Kimbrel proceeded to allow the Marlins to score the tying run on two walks and a single, blowing his fifth save of the year.

Of course, the Sox then got one in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 8-7. Despite blowing the save and almost causing the Sox to lose their fourth in a row, Kimbrel was the beneficiary of J. T. Riddle’s error that cost the Marlins the win.

When the Sox came right back in the last of the ninth to win the game in walk off fashion, albeit on an error, Kimbrel, having pitched last for the Sox, was the pitcher of record and therefore, after blowing the lead he had come in to protect, he got credit for the win. Kimbrel, at that point, had had a magnificent season with 37 saves, a 2.55 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 53 innings but he was terrible on Tuesday night.

This is the second time this month that Kimbrel has blown a save and gotten credit for the win when the winning run was scored after he had pitched his one inning. On August 7th, he came on in the ninth against the Toronto Blue Jays with a 5-4 lead and blew the save, giving up a homer to Justin Smoak, tying the score and sending the game into extra innings. When the Sox got five in the top of the tenth to win and, even though Tyler Thornburg relieved him in the last of the tenth, Kimbrel got the win to go with his blown save.

This occurs throughout baseball all the time, not just to Kimbrel and the Red Sox, but that does not make it fair or right. It just doesn’t seem right that a pitcher should fail miserably and still get credit for the win but that’s the rule and this type of inequity occurs regularly. Why not allow the official scorer to award the win to the most deserving pitcher when this happens? After all, the scorer makes judgment calls between hits and errors during a game all the time.

Wouldn’t it be more equitable to give the win to Brandon Workman, who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief and left with the Sox ahead 3-1, or Brian Johnson, the reliever who started the game and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings and left ahead 3-1?

( You certainly couldn’t give it to Matt Barnes, who gave up three runs on four hits in 1/3 an inning after coming in with a 4-1 lead and leaving with the score tied 4-4.)

While I’m on the subject of inequities in baseball, how about the unwritten rule that says if an outfielder misjudges a ball allowing it to fall without being touched there is no error? How many balls have you seen that should have been routine outs that fell for a double or triple because an outfielder started in on a ball that then went over his head for a triple? Eduardo Nunez got an inside the park homer on opening day this year on such a play. He got awarded a homer on a ball that should have been caught by Tampa Bay center fielder, Kevin Kiermaier and didn’t even roll as far as the wall and Nunez came all the way around to score. Rays’ pitcher Chris Archer had a homer and two earned runs added to his statistics because of this misplay. Again, why not let the common sense of the official scorer determine if it was a hit or an error.

And how about the scoring rule that says you can’t anticipate a double play in scoring? On the play that ended the game Tuesday night, Nunez grounded to Riddle at short who tagged the bag for the force but his throw to first went wild allowing Martinez to score the winning run. If Martinez had not been at third and scored, the terrible throw that Riddle made would not have been charged as an error even if Nunez would have been out easily on a good throw.

Because Martinez advanced a base on the wild throw there was an error charged but, if he had thrown wild with no runner on third and Nunez had stopped at first, there would have been no error charged. Again, substituting the scorer’s judgment for the ridiculous rule would be fairer to all involved, especially in the age of instant replay where the scorer can easily determine if the runner would have been out or safe without the error.

These three situations are easily fixed and would make the records more accurately reflect what happened in a game and would penalize or reward the responsible defensive player while accurately reflecting what the offensive player did.

While the Baseball Gods are considering my suggestions, they might think about charging a pitcher with a walk when he hits a batter, after all they have the same result and it would accurately show how many times a pitcher allowed a batter to reach base without putting the ball in play.

Enough of my rant about my pet peeves for today. In my former work life, when asked why we did something we did the way we did, we would say it was anthropological, we do it that way because we always did it that way. I am reasonably sure they will be doing it all the same way 100 years from now.

THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT LANGUAGE OF BASEBALL

Over the Fourth of July Holiday and the subsequent weeks, we have had a constant stream of relatives visiting and staying in our home. I don’t mean anything negative by

that as we truly enjoy the company and are sorry to see them go, most of the time.

Extra people means extra consumption and extra consumption means more waste and items to dispose of. As a result, we found that between regular collection days, we had accumulated enough to require an extra visit to the City of Sanford Transfer Station. I packed everything up and headed off to do my duty.

While there, I ran into an acquaintance and we discussed, naturally, baseball in general and those amazing Red Sox in particular. On the way home from the Transfer Station, I got to thinking about the way our society has ‘softened’ our language. The place I had just visited was the ‘dump’ for the first fifty years of my life, then began to be called things like the ‘Refuse Recovery Area’ and now is the ‘Transfer Station’. (George Carlin would have had fun with that wouldn’t he?)

We don’t use kleenex anymore, we use ’tissue’, the people that sell you this tissue are not clerks but ‘sales associates’ and the people in public buildings that dispose of the waste tissue are not janitors but ‘Maintenance Specialists’. I could go on and on but the point of this article is to recognize the fact that baseball is an island in this sea called the ‘Gentrification of our Language’.

When it seems that every day a word has to be removed from our vocabulary because it might offend somebody or may have offended somebody years ago, the language of baseball has basically remained unchanged for the almost 200 years it has been played.

We still use words and terms like ‘stolen base’ even though that might be offensive to someone whose house was robbed or was the victim of another type theft. As far as I know, no one in, or from, Texas is offended by the fact that a Texas Leaguer is a kind of weak, often lucky, hit, that falls between fielders.

No one has started a movement to change ‘double play’ or worse yet ‘twin killing’ to a ‘multiple out event’ or some other more politically correct term. And, the only person I know who ever objected to the term ‘bunt’ or the act of bunting was C. C. Sabathia when he felt it was being unfairly used against him.

Even though the term foul has a negative connotation in everyday life, baseball still uses it to denote the area outside the baselines as ‘foul territory’ or a ball hit in that area as a ‘foul ball’. Even the most sensitive among the language cleaner uppers don’t consider those terms ‘foul language’.

Even though those helicopter little league parents still refuse to recognize that their darling has struck out and still call a strikeout a ‘nice try’ or ‘good job’, the rest of baseball still recognizes that a strike out is not a good outcome but a ‘grand slam’ is as good as it gets.

How about a ‘bean ball’ or ‘high hard one’? Obviously, the word changers would never acknowledge that someone might throw at another person on purpose so it would have to be changed to ‘an inadvertent near miss’.

And how about those nicknames. You couldn’t say ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, for fear of stigmatizing poor Joe. George ‘Shotgun’ Shuba’s nickname would have been removed as too violent by the same people whose kids play those ‘shoot ’em up’ video games all day.

And poor Jim Grant, the fact that he was called ‘Mudcat’ because he was as ugly as a Mississippi Mudcat, would drive the language changers crazy.

Can you imagine the outrage if brothers, two of the best pitchers in baseball, were called Dizzy and Daffy? There would be Congressional Hearings and threats to shut down the game. Carlton Fisk or Ivan Rodriguez never objected to the nickname ‘Pudge’ but these people could see a whole class of citizens locking themselves in their rooms for weeks if they even heard the term.

Then there was ‘Wee Willy’ Keeler who would be the poster child these days for discrimination against vertically challenged people and Mordecai Brown’s nickname ‘Three Finger’ would be cause for rioting in the streets.

Of course the term ‘homer’ is close enough to ‘Homey’ to be confused and could cause distress to any number of minorities or majorities depending upon your location and orientation.

They have attacked names like the Indians and the Braves as being offensive to Native Americans, surely the ‘Bronx Bombers’ must offend someone and be changed to ‘Long Hitters’ or some other euphemism.

How about the potential damage to a player’s psyche if he were called a ‘banjo hitter’ or a ‘Punch and Judy’ hitter, terms used regularly to denote a hitter with little power?

So far, despite the rules preventing collisions and the instant replay that eliminates those unseemly arguments with names being called and dirt kicked, baseball has avoided the gentrification movement. Wait until they decide that, in our kinder, gentler society, it’s unfair to make those weaker hitters bat at the bottom of the order and start to petition for better treatment for them.

Believe me, they’ll get to it yet and someday in the future a team as bad as this year’s Baltimore Orioles or Kansas City Royals will be awarded a Participation Trophy.

SECOND GENERATION BIG LEAGUERS NEW HAMPSHIRE

We have all heard the old saying that ‘ the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, meaning, according to the Cambridge dictionary, that ‘a child usually has a similar character or similar qualities to his or her parents.’

Often, the child of a school teacher becomes a school teacher, the accountant’s kids become accountants, etc.. In the case of my family, for example, my brother and I were both Police Officers, two of my sons became Police Officers and a Grandson just received his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and is beginning a law enforcement career.

Of course, there is the old argument over nature versus nurture, the accountant’s child who has no natural interest or ability in math, will probably never be an accountant but the odds are pretty good that the accountant’s son who is a math whiz, who is also exposed to the world of accountants, will end up in that field.

In the baseball world, there have been many examples of children following in their fathers’ footsteps. Cal Ripkin, Jr. and Sr., come to mind, as do the Ken Griffey, Jr. and Sr. and Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds, to name a few.

For a baseball player to make it to the Major Leagues requires a tremendous amount of physical ability which allows those players to work hard and home those skills to a level that allows them to perform effectively on the big stage. Obviously, there must be some genetic transfer of things like eye/hand coordination, exceptional vision, speed of foot and hand, etc., etc., etc. In addition, young children of Major Leaguers are exposed to the life and rewards of playing Major League baseball, receive instruction and encouragement from their Big League Dads and sometimes their Big League Brothers.

Still, only a very small percentage of those players in the Major Leagues come from families with Major League experience. The Boone family, with Grandfather Ray, his son Bob and his sons Aaron and Ray are one example of a multi-generational baseball family.

The Toronto Blue Jays have put together a unique group of players in their AA, New Hampshire Fisher Cats organization who play in the Eastern League and were in Portland to face the Sea Dogs this past week. The third baseman on that team is Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. As of Wednesday of this week, Vladimir was hitting .426 in 47 games for the Fisher Cats and had hit 11 home runs and driven in 53 runs in that 47 games. He was on a 10 game hitting streak in which he had hit .500 with 19 hits in 38 at bats.

In case you don’t recognize the name, he is the son of Vladimir Guerrero who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year after a 16 year career, in which he played for four different teams, averaged .318, hit 449 home runs and drove in 1,496 runs. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 when he hit .337 with 39 homers and 126 RBI’s. The younger Guerrero, who will be promoted to Toronto in the near future, was signed as a Free Agent for $3.9 million at the age of 16 and hit .323 in Class A last year.

The shortstop on that Fisher Cats team is 20 year old Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, who played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues for five different teams, including a year and a half with the Red Sox and had a career batting average of .299. In 1995, Dante led the America League in hits with 197, homers, 40, runs batted in 128 and finished second in the MVP balloting. He was a four time All Star. Bo was hitting .269 through his first 48 games with the Fisher Cats and last year, in A ball, batted .362 in 110 games with 14 homers and 74 runs batted in.

In addition, Bo’s brother Dante, is the third baseman with the Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League and was hitting .270 through Wednesday.

The second baseman on the Fisher Cats is a 23 year old named Cavan Biggio, son of Craig Biggio who, in a 20 year career as one of the Killer Bees, with the Houston Astros, batted .281 with 291 homers and 1,175 runs batted in and was a seven time All Star. Cavan hit .308 with 12 homers and 40 runs batted in in his first 47 games this year since being promoted from Dunedin in the Florida State League to start the season.

The Fisher Cats have a unique situation in that three of their starting infielders are the children of prominent former Major League players, but it could get better.

The first baseman for the Dunedin team, the Blue Jays entry in the Florida State League is a young man named Kacy Clemens, son of Roger Clemens, who just happens to have been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. I don’t have to quote his statistics to Red Sox fans but his son Kacy was hitting .222 with Dunedin in his first 19 games at A ball.

If Kacy should get promoted to the Fisher Cats before Toronto decides they need one of the other three at the Major League level, it could mark the first time in baseball history that an entire infield has been made up of sons of former prominent Major Leaguers.

The Fisher Cats will entertain the Sea Dogs at Manchester’s New England Delta Dental Stadium for four games from June 25th to 28th and will come to Portland for four games from July 12th to 15th. A chance for local fans to see this unique infield at work.

STICK WITH POMERANZ??

Red Sox fans are concerned about Drew Pomeranz who started the season on the disabled list and has not looked like the Drew Pomeranz who finished the season 17-6 for the Sox last year.

In his first eight starts since coming off the disabled list, he has won one game and lost three, has a 6.81 earned run average, giving up 28 earned runs in just 37 innings. In the meantime, Steven Wright has been in nine games in relief, giving up just four earned runs in 16 innings for an ERA of 2.25.

Should the Sox replace Pomeranz in the starting rotation with Wright? Remember, as a starter, before injuring his shoulder, Wright won 13 and lost six with a 3.33 ERA in 2016.

Looking back at 2017, Pomereanz, in his first eight starts of the season, won three and lost three, with a 4.97 ERA and, for the rest of the year, looked like a different pitcher and was 14-3 with a 2.85 ERA. It may be too early to think about replacing him in the rotation but the Sox will have to bite that bullet in the near future if he continues to under perform.

EVALUATING SOX START

Red Sox fans and the media that cover them are a difficult bunch to keep happy. The Sox came home to Boston Thursday from 50 days in Florida, including all of Spring Training and six regular season games against the Rays and the Marlins, two teams not exactly the cream of the crop in either the American or National League. They won five of the six games and were in first place, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and a game and a half ahead of the New York Yankees.

Alex Cora had started out with a better record, five wins and one loss, after his first six games as Manager of the Sox than the Red Sox had had in any of the three seasons they won the World Series in this century. In 2013, under John Farrell, their future World Champions were 4-2 after six games, in 2007, under Terry Francona, ( some Red Sox fans would genuflect at the mention of his name ), they won three and lost three and were in second place, one game behind the Blue Jays, and in 2004, the year they broke The Curse, Francona’s boys were three and three, tied for first with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

The 5-1 record after six games was the best start the Sox had had since 2006 which was the only other year in this century when they were also as good as 5-1. That year, with Francona at the helm in his third year, the Sox finished in third place with an 86-76 final record. What is it they say as a disclaimer in financial management advertising, past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Let’s hope that this team fares better in the long haul than that team.

Cora’s team started the season with three of their top six starting pitchers, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list and, in those first six games, with young Hector Velasquez and Brian Johnson in the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation, the starters had given up just four runs in 35 innings for a 1.03 earned run average.

The offense had been weak to say the least. They were 14th in all of baseball in batting average, .240, 17th in runs scored, 21 (3.5 per game), 16th in slugging percentage, .373, and had just four home runs, 21st, and one of those homers was Nunez’ pop fly that was misplayed from a single to an inside the park homer.

Aside from the first game where Joe Kelly was, by his own admission, ‘pathetic’ and Carson Smith no better, the bull pen had been magnificent. Cora is intent on not having the kind of melt down at the end of the season that the Sox have seen the last two years and has instituted a policy of resting position players frequently to save them for the long haul. He has also started his pitchers, particularly Sale and his other starters, off slowly for the same reason.

In the first six games, Betts, Benintendi, Devers, Ramirez, Bradley and Martinez have all been given days off. I am sure that part of the reason for him taking this position is the fact that he has more than adequate numbers of quality players everywhere and resting them allows him to give more people playing time, a nice solution to a wonderful problem to have.

Whether this will pay off on the long run, only time will tell but he has a plan and is sticking to it. His team was 5-1 and had come within a whisker of being 6-0 when it came home.

Two old adages come to mind when you think about this first road trip of the year. The first is ‘ A 1-0 win counts the same as a 14-0 win.’ In the five they won there were three one run games and two two run games, one of them a 13 inning game, while only scoring 17 runs. The other adage is ‘ Pitching is the name of the game. ‘ They have plenty of pitching, with three more quality starters set to come off the disabled list soon.

Branson Carusille in Fansided, on line, asked Wednesday morning ‘ Should Cora be sitting players so early in the season, especially when the lineup hasn’t produced? ‘ The media criticized Cora for not using Craig Kimbrel in the first game when they blew a 4-0 lead and Cora responded ‘ For what we are trying to accomplish here we need him for the long run not just for one out on Opening Day.’

Whether you agree with his plan or not, you can’t refute the evidence that he used to develop his plan. The Sox won 93 games in each of the last two years, won the American League East and then were knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs.

The one thing Alex Cora has learned early on is that Red Sox fans, who went without a World Series win for 86 years and have been spoiled by three in the past fourteen years, are not going to be happy without a World Series win. The other thing that he is aware of is that this team knows they have the horses to at least go deep into the Playoffs and he and his players seem happy with his plan to get them there.

As Scott Lausen of ESPN said after the disappointing loss in Game 1 ‘There will be other difficult days, probably more than Cora wants, but that’s life as the Manager of the Red Sox.’

What Alex Cora has to keep in mind is that, if he motivates his players to produce at the level they are capable of producing, those fickle Red Sox fans and their media will not care if it’s pitching or hitting that wins the last game of the World Series or whether they won 2-1 or 16-0. In Boston, as in many big league cities, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. Welcome back to Boston, Alex.

SOX READY FOR SEASON

We’re almost there. This Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2018 regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in Florida. They have four games there and then go south 250 miles to play two against the Marlins in Miami’s Marlins Park starting Monday.

Opening up in stadiums with roofs, in Florida, in March, against opponents who are both predicted to be among the weakest in baseball, is a mixed blessing for the Sox. The good news is, they won’t be opening outside in the cold north and they will be facing weak opposition, as Dave O’Brien would say, right out of the gate.

The bad news is that they will not be given the extra day off in the first two series that teams who open in the north are generally given in anticipation of weather delays. For example, the Orioles open at home in Baltimore, which can be as cold as Boston in March, and, after playing Opening Day against the Twins, they have the next day off. If weather should require canceling Opening Day, they have the next day to do it.

Having to play the first six days without a break doesn’t sound like a big deal until you start to look at the Red Sox starting rotation. With three of their anticipated top starters, Drew Pomeranz. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright recovering from injuries and most likely unavailable to start the season, that extra day off in the first week would make a big difference in Alex Cora’s plans for scheduling his pitchers.

The plan, if nothing changes between now and Opening Day, is for Chris Sale to open against the Rays’ Chris Archer, who, despite his 10-12 record and 4.07 earned run average last year, is a much better pitcher than that record indicates. Sale seems to have suffered just a minor bruise when hit with a ball on Saturday. David Price, who has looked good in limited action in the Spring, will start Game number two in Tropicana Field. Price said this week that he is in better condition at this stage of the preseason than at any time in his career.

Rick Porcello who, coming off his Cy Young season in 2016, struggled to an 11-17 record last year with a 4.65 earned run average, has had the same kind of troubles he had all last year in Spring Training. He is scheduled to start the third game at Tampa Bay. In two of his first three starts in the Spring he gave up runs early, two in the first against Baltimore and one each in the first and second against the Twins reminiscent of last year. He gave up six runs on 13 hits in his first 11 innings of the Spring. As last year, he has gotten more effective as the outing went on, giving the Sox a lot of innings but resulting in a lot of losses as well.

After Porcello, everything depends on who is healthy and available to start Game 4. On Thursday of this week, Alex Cora told the media that both Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright were ‘in play’ as far as Game 4 at Tampa Bay. Rodriguez, coming off right knee surgery has been recovering quicker than expected and could be available. Wright, recovering from left knee surgery, could also be ready but neither has had any amount of actual game time and using them could be dangerous to their long term physical health.

Pomeranz, who was a major factor in the Sox regular season success last year with his 17-6 record, suffered a flexor strain in his throwing arm on March 2nd and had not pitched in a Major League Spring Training game as of Thursday of this week.

Realistically, Brian Johnson will probably start the last game of the series at the Trop. Johnson, despite giving up three runs to the Rays in one of his four starts, did not give up a run in his other three starts and has looked good and may find himself the sixth man in the rotation as the season progresses.

If there was a day off in that first series, the Sox would be able to come back with Sale in the first game in Miami and Price for Game 2. As it is, if none of the three injured starters are available, the starter for the Game 1 in Miami is up for grabs.

Don’t be surprised if Hector Velazquez doesn’t start either the last game in Tampa or the first game in Miami if Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Wright are still unavailable. He was 8-4, with a 2.21 ERA, at Pawtucket last year and spent some time with the Sox, going 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA. The 29 year old, right hander has not had a great Spring but may be the answer to their interim problems.

The other good news is that, assuming Pomeranz, Rodriguez and/or Wright are able to return in the first few weeks of the season, the Red Sox have, potentially, one of the strongest starting rotation in all of baseball.

As far as the rest of the team is concerned, it looks like Alex Cora’s two biggest problems are which of the talented non-starters to keep. With talent like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero vying for one or maybe two positions, it’s a good problem to have.

Once that is done, how does he divide the playing time to give all his talent enough of it? With J. D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez all available for DH and Moreland and Ramirez for first base and Martinez expressing a desire to play the outfield when you already have the best defensive and, potentially, the best all around outfield in baseball out there, this may not be so easy to resolve.

Eduardo Nunez will fill the second base hole until Dustin Pedroia is available, but what do you do with him when Pedroia returns? By the same token, if you keep Swihart, who can catch or play the outfield, where you don’t need him, what do you do with Sandy Leon as Christian Vazquez is your first string catcher?

Lots of decisions and potential problems facing Alex Cora as his first season at the helm looms. Most people would say that they are all good but the fact is that each of them will have a positive or negative effect upon the team’s season.

Everybody in Red Sox Nation is expecting great things from their defending division Champions who may be one of the three or four best teams in baseball on paper. After two 93 game winning Division Championships under John Farrell, Red Sox fans will not be happy with less than a trip to the World Series in Cora’s first year.