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Finding Positives for Five Winless Teams

Posted By Paul Swydan On April 9, 2012 @ 4:21 pm In Braves,Daily Graphings,Giants,Red Sox,Twins,Yankees | 24 Comments

After three games, five teams — the Braves, Giants, Red Sox, Twins and Yankees — are 0-3. You can hear the hair pulling and consternation all over the land. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine poured a tanker of gasoline on to the “Daniel Bard going back to the bullpen” story, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy is already benching Brandon Belt, using the old “we haven’t won a game yet” rationale as his reasoning. But even in a weekend of seeming disasters, positives abound for each squad.

Several hitters with question marks had good weekends. None were more encouraging perhaps, than Justin Morneau. After posting just a 69 wRC+ in a second-straight injury shortened campaign in 2011, it was an open question as to whether or not Morneau would ever be right at the plate again. Now, three games against the Orioles are not going to erase doubts, but Morneau showed positive signs. He tallied a hit in all three games, including a double each on Saturday and Sunday. Down in Atlanta, Jason Heyward didn’t collect a hit in all three games himself, but he made his two hits count, as both went for extra bases. Heyward also drew two walks, and looked very much like the guy Atlanta needs him to be this season.

Down in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez brushed the dirt off his shoulder with a great weekend. When we last saw Rodriguez, he was fanning on a 94-mph fastball from Jose Valverde to end the Yankees’ season. Then he flew to Germany for the same surgery that Kobe Bryant had. As a result, it was fair to wonder whether or not the train had run off the rails a little bit, but the very early returns show that that is not the case. On Opening Day, Rodriguez did more to put the Yankees in a position to win than anyone else on the team, as he reached base four times in five trips. He would reach base in the subsequent two games as well, giving him a robust .449 wOBA for the weekend. Again, it’s too early to draw conclusions, but it was a positive first step for the Yankee great.

Buster Posey may have them all beat though. While Posey’s failure to stand on home plate allowed the winning run to score for the D-backs on Sunday, Posey had himself quite an opening weekend. While he went 0-for-4 on Saturday, Posey reached base three times each on Friday and Sunday. Perhaps most importantly, he got his first home run out of the way early, taking a Josh Collmenter pitch to the deepest part of Chase Field on Sunday. That was particularly nice to see, especially after Posey’s 2011 season ended with him slugging just .389. Again, one homer doesn’t foretell a rebound to a .500 SLG, especially when you consider that it only took him six games to homer last year, but in a weekend of lowlights, it was a highlight for the Giants.

The Red Sox didn’t have any trouble scoring runs this weekend, nor should they all season, but they did have trouble keeping runs off the board. Mark Melancon was bad, and Alfredo Alceves turned into “LOLfredo Blownceves,” as he became the first Red Sox pitcher since 1966 to not record an out in either of his first two appearances of the season. But there were positive performances. Vicente Padilla and Franklin Morales each recorded a shutdown over the weekend. After Clay Buchholz slowly threw up all over the field on Sunday (his 27.9 pace score currently stands as the slowest in baseball), Padilla and Morales combined for six innings of shutout baseball, stabilizing the game and putting the Sox in position to win.

Both pitchers are interesting cases, and should not be overlooked should the team choose to bail on either Aceves or Melancon as a late-inning option (and they shouldn’t do that). Padilla might be the first reliever in a long time to throw seven pitches out of the bullpen — yesterday he successfully threw two straight eephus pitches for strikes. And Morales, who was Baseball America’s eighth-best prospect in 2008, was a revelation after coming over from the Rockies last season. Among left-handed relievers who threw at least 40 innings last season, only Matt Thornton, Rex Brothers, Chris Sale and Jonny Venters had better velocity on their fastball than did Morales, and Venters’ edge was a scant 0.1 mph. Morales has always had the stuff, but has had trouble harnessing it. He made progress last year, and if he continues this year, the Red Sox will have a fantastic late-game weapon on their hands.

Three games are three games. In October, three games can mean the world, but in April, it rarely means anything. Last season, the Mets won at least three straight games on 12 different occasions, and still finished eight games under .500. Last season, Baltimore won their first four games, and six of their first seven. They would only win 63 of their next 154. Would it have been nice for Atlanta, Boston, Minnesota, New York and San Francisco to win a game this weekend? Sure. But each team still had positive takeaways, and even if some of their respective front offices are exuding a little early-season panic, doesn’t mean you have to join them.


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