After sweeping both Northeastern and BU, the Boston Red Sox faced off against their first major league foe of spring training, the Minnesota Twins. Josh Beckett took the mound for this game, giving an early sign as to who might be at the top of the Red Sox starting rotation. The Red Sox got a good performance out of their starter and some timely hitting gave the Red Sox the victory, 2-1. It was the first step in the annual battle for the coveted Fort Myers cup.
Hot at the Plate
The best hitter of the night by far was Dustin Pedroia. He had two hits on the night and an RBI. Other big hitters were Josh Reddick (two hits and a run scored) and Mark Wagner, who drove in the winning RBI in the 8th inning.
Hot off the Mound
Josh Beckett went two strong innings, giving up a run in the first but none in the second. What followed was an ungodly performance from the Red Sox bullpen. The bullpen went seven strong innings, giving up only two hits and striking out three. Daniel Bard had the single best inning of work. He set down the batters he faced in order 1-2-3, including striking one of them out. The winning pitcher was Scott Atchinson, while the save went to Joe Nelson. Though early in the season, the bullpen made a statement tonight: we’re ready, so come and get us.
Preparing for the Season
There are still many questions about this Red Sox team, and no matter how well a Grapefruit League game goes, it’s not going to answer all of them. Some of our questions seem to have been answered. The starting rotation should be fine. They have a plethora of pitchers, and one inevitably goes down to injury, so that’s never a bad thing. The bullpen looks like it has the makings of dominance, and it looks like it has the depth to survive shorter outings from starting pitchers (which is always a concern with some of our starters). But we remain unsure as to where the offense is going to come from this season. Dustin Pedroia certainly seems ready for the season. He is a very hard worker who clearly has spent all off-season making sure he does not skip a beat when it’s time to get back to work. But of the starters, he was the only one to get any hits. In fact, the only other starter to even get on base was Jacoby Ellsbury, who drew a walk. We can get the first part of our lineup on base, but someone’s got to be there to drive them in, and after tonight’s game we still don’t know who that’s going to be.
As I said before, this is the very first Grapefruit League game of the season. It’s way to early to be drawing conclusions, making predictions, or worrying. There is still a month of preseason for Boston to figure its lineup and rotation out, and I have no doubt that I will. The most we should draw from this is merely that baseball season has started again and the Boys of Summer will soon be back at Fenway Park. I can already smell the sausages.
The Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats met up Wednesday night at the TD Garden. The Celtics were coming off of a tough road win against the Detroit Pistons. What they got was exactly what they needed: an easy win. Boston built a nine point lead in the first half and kept the pressure on in the second half. Good shooting by Boston and poor Charlotte shooting led to a 104-80 victory.
The Celtics on Offense
The big scorer of the night was Paul Pierce. He put up 27 points, made 4 three-pointers, and was perfect from the free-throw line. He was the key to the starting line-up’s offense, just as Nate Robinson was the key to the bench’s, putting up 16 points. This was a very balanced offense, which is always a good sign for these Boston Celtics. They tend not to do well when one player is scoring in bulk. Their strength lies in their ability to pass and vary it up between shooting in the paint and perimeter shooting. And that’s exactly what they did tonight, balancing 44 points in the paint with 30 from beyond the arch. They played offense with good rhythm and flow, and both the starters and the bench pitched in. This enabled the C’s to actually build on their halftime lead. When the starters excel and the bench at least holds its own, these Celtics are almost indomitable.
The Celtics on Defense
Three-pointers, three-pointers, three-pointers. When the opposing team is draining treys, Boston loses. When the three-point shot is successfully defended, Boston wins. Wednesday night it was the latter situation. Boston held Charlotte to zero successful three-point shots. Not only did they defend the three-point play well, they also had the stamina to run with Bobcats all night long. The Celtics allowed just 11 fast-break points, as opposed to the 22 they themselves put up. The Celtics played fast, tough defense, and were rewarded for it. Overall, Charlotte managed to shoot a meager 36%. Keep a team to scoring just once in every three shots and you have a sure-fire way to beat them. The one knock against Boston’s defense was that it gave up 13 offensive rebounds. The Celtics once again got out-rebounded, 44-38. This continues to be one of the Achilles’ heels of this team, and unless they find a way to improve at it’s going to come back to haunt them come the playoffs.
The View from the Cheap Seats
Watching this game from balcony of the TD Garden, it was interesting to observe how the recent woes of the Celtics would affect the fans. This was certainly an unusual game by recent standards. After countless blown leads and bad losses, a good old-fashioned blowout came as a surprise for the fans in attendance. They were quiet at first, and it took them a long time to get into the spirit of things. It was as if they were EXPECTING the Celtics to blow the lead they were building and building. When they didn’t, the crowd got more into it, cheering, dancing along with Gino (making a rare appearance), and generally getting into the moment. There may be a relationship between the Celtics’ home struggles and the dispassion of the fans. One can’t help but play down to a crowd that doesn’t seem to care, just as one can’t help but cheer down to an underachieving a team. The challenge to both is to power through this midseason slump (one which we may finally be seeing signs of ending) and come out the other side strong than ever. It is the opinion of this writer that that is more than possible.