As Boston pounded Philadelphia on Opening Day, churning out eight runs on nine hits, baseball fans were reminded how, despite incessant worries of porous pitching and overcrowded outfields, the Red Sox have a stacked lineup this year that will be extremely difficult to navigate.
Three of the first four hitters, namely Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, combined for seven hits, five home runs and eight RBI, largely off Cole Hamels, one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball. Such a profound offensive barrage sent shock waves reverberating through the American League.
Meanwhile, David Ortiz, playing first base in a National League park, and newcomer Pablo Sandoval, making his Red Sox debut, went hitless and registered six strikeouts between them. The fact that the Sox hammered the Phillies despite two key guys struggling shows just how deep the Boston lineup is, and how frightening it will become when all of the aforementioned hitters, plus Mike Napoli, find their groove.
The hypothetical top six of Betts, Pedroia, Ortiz, Ramirez, Sandoval and Napoli is quite possibly the most fearsome in all of baseball. It forces a pitcher to deal with a wide array of threats, from the speed and dynamism of Mookie to the switch-hitting and raw power of Pablo; from the patience and hunger of Pedroia to the experience and production of Ortiz. Even Hamels, an elite ace, struggled out of the gate on Opening Day, when faced with the prospect of running Boston’s offensive gauntlet, causing many people to sit up and take notice.
This year, the Red Sox’ lineup will wear down a lot of pitchers and, judging by the early results, collect a lot of big hits. Following a dismal 2014 season, during which Boston lurked near the bottom of every offensive category, it will be a welcome relief for fans to finally have hitters to believe in and rely upon.
It must also be a pleasant change for manager John Farrell, who now has the luxurious ability to mix and match his lineup. For instance, if Ortiz struggles to hit for average, Ramirez could easily move up in the order, just as Pedroia could move down to be replaced in the two hole by Shane Victorino or Xander Bogaerts, further lengthening Boston’s attack.
Certainly, the Red Sox stand out as an offensive force in the American League East, and, if healthy and consistent, the string of prolific hitters atop their lineup could negate the lack of pitching depth to make Boston a serious contender, especially playing their home games at hitter-friendly Fenway.
Regardless of how the season ends, be it with celebrations or commiserations, Sox fans can rest assured that the start was explosive, exciting and entertaining. For the first time in a long while, Boston was back in the baseball spotlight, garnering positive attention for an offensive onslaught rather than negative criticism for hitting profligacy.
Quite frankly, Ben Cherington couldn’t have dreamed it up better.