It was all about pitching for the Yankees last October, as they won the World Series. It was all aboout pitching and defense for the Red Sox all offseason, as they spent their free agent money on John Lackey and upgraded the left side of the infield and the outfield defensively. So when the two rivals toook the field last night we naturally got...a classic Red Sox-Yankees offensive game featuring grinding at-bats and a game length that can't leave any fan feeling like they didn't get their money's worth. Josh Beckett had nothing. His location and command were awful from the second inning forward. C.C. Sabathia looked a little sharper, but wore down quickly. Boston won 9-7.
Looking at it from the perspective of this series, the loss was more damaging to New York. Not only did they have leads of 5-1 and 7-5, but the pitching matchups get progressively
worse for them. Jon Lester-A.J. Burnett on Wednesday is still competitive, but not nearly as good for New York as having C.C. on the mound. In Thursday's nightcap, John Lackey has a decided edge on A.J. Burnett. The situation is set for Boston to open up 2010 with a sweep and it would certainly be a huge disappointment the home team to not take the series (at least as huge a disappointment as anything can be this time of year).
Minnesota starts the season on the west coast with a four-game set in Anaheim, the other AL series that involves two expected contenders. With the LAA bullpen being a weakness and the Twins having to replace Joe Nathan, these games are going to heat up from about the sixth inning forward. LAA has a pitching edge tonight with Jered Weaver facing Scott Baker. Minny has the better arm on Tuesday when Nick Blackburn goes against Joe Saunders. Wednesday is the battle of disappointments, as Carl Pavano faces Ervin Santana. Call
Kevin Slowey and Joel Pineiro a wash on Thursday. LAA's offense is vastly superior, they are playing at home, there's no obvious area of strength for Minnesota to exploit without Nathan at the end of the line. Let's say the Angels start off with three wins here.
And the key matchups in the NL...
Cubs-Braves: This series won't get the ink of Red Sox-Yankees, but it's one of the really good matchups of the first part of Week One. Both teams are bona fide contenders, and more importantly, I think both are teams that need to get off to a good starts the first couple months. That's especially important in Chicago, where the negativity stemming from the organization's many disappointments can become a cancer if they take too long to get started. Winning this series per se certainly isn't a requirement, but a winning record at the end of April is. But for this one, I'm picking Atlanta. Like the Cubbies to pick up the win Wednesday when Ryan
Dempster faces Jair Jurrjens, but see the Braves doing it this afternoon behind D-Lowe and the Thursday finale between Randy Wells and Tommy Hanson should be a good one between pitchers that we should hear a lot more about between now and the stretch drive.
Cardinals-Reds: You never like to take on St. Louis in a spot where they have Carpenter and Wainwright set to go back-to-back, but I'm leaning toward the Reds to take this series at home. The crowds will be enthusiastic, and Cincy is one of the teams I like to surprise people this year. The third game on Thursday leans strongly the way of the home team when Johnny Cueto takes on Brad Penny. The Reds have the offense and bullpen to win games where they have a pitching advantage. It basically boils down to whether they can find a way to beat one of the two aces. Between Aaron Haranga and Bronson Arroyo I think they can get a split of those games and win the rubber match.
It's the best
day of the sports calendar, as baseball opens up and college basketball finishes. I'll have thoughts on Butler-Duke over at The College Basketball Notebook later this afternoon, so be sure to check back. And The Baseballl Notebook will be back again on Wednesday.