Editor’s note: Welcome to BP Boston’s Game Recap series. After each (well … most) games, we’ll bring you a brief breakdown of the best and worst plays of that contest, according to Win Probability Added (WPA), as well as key moments, trends to watch and a brief look ahead. This is in no way meant to replace game stories or anything of the ilk, but if you do miss a game or simply want a clear look as to how a game was decided, this column is for you!
Top Play (WPA): With the Red Sox leading 1-0 in the second inning, Mookie Betts came to the plate with two runners on and hit a Jordan Zimmermann pitch into the Monster Seats (+.185). This being the top play isn’t a huge surprise, as this was the one that really blew the game open. It was a pretty piece of hitting by Betts, as he took a flat fastball on the inside part of the plate and was able to turn on it and hit it to the last row of seats on the Monster.
Bottom Play (WPA): Despite their 9-4 victory, the Red Sox were also the owners of the worst play of the game. This one came in the first as Mike Napoli popped out to first with men on the corners and two outs (-.042). In this instance, Napoli failed to do what Betts did one inning later, as a big hit could’ve put the Red Sox on their way to blowing the game open. Yesterday’s game continued a mildly troubling trend of weak contact for Napoli, whose single in the third was just his second hit for the season.
Amazingly, the Red Sox also had the the second worst play of the game. This one came earlier in that first inning when Dustin Pedroia flew out to center field with Betts on first and nobody out (-0.33).
The Nationals’ worst play came in the first inning and was really their only chance to make a game out of this one. Jayson Werth came up for his first at-bat of the season with a man on second and two outs and struck out swinging (-.032). This was a huge strikeout for Red Sox starter Rick Porcello, who had just been saved from giving up a home run to Bryce Harper by a leaping Betts. It certainly wasn’t Porcello’s best game, but the offense picked him up after he got a big strikeout in a situation that could’ve changed the entire complexion of the contest.
Key Moment: There were a few to choose from here and, unsurprisingly, most included Mookie Betts. Instead of the home run that produced the highest WPA, I’m going with his amazing double steal play in the first inning. With the Nationals employing the shift, Betts took off for second, saw that no one was covering third, and immediately sprinted over and took the extra base. The play ended up being reviewed, and it was close at both second and third base. Had the umpires decided there was conclusive enough evidence to call him out at either base, there’s no first inning run and no lead for Porcello to work with in the second. It set the tone for the rest of the game and it felt like a Boston win from that point forward, despite the game being scoreless at that point.
The other big moment was the entire bottom of the third. This is when the lead went from a nice cushion to a complete blowout. The inning started with a couple hits batsmen and continued with what seemed like a never-ending series of misplays by the Nationals. Outfielders were losing balls in the sun and miscommunicating. Infielders were bobbling routine grounders. Their pets’ heads were falling off. It was a complete mess, and the inning ended with a commanding 8-0 lead for the Sox. Zimmermann was by no means great, but the defense behind him certainly did him no favors.
Trend to Watch: So, that Mookie Betts guy. He’s pretty alright at this baseball thing. This game was all Mookie all the time, and that was clearly the takeaway from the home opener. He started out right away with that home run robbery of Bryce Harper. It’s just one example of how far he has come as an outfielder in such a short time. Then, he followed that up with a walk and the double steal mentioned above. That alone probably would’ve been enough for me to highlight him in that section, but then he goes and hits a huge three-run home run that wound up being far and away the most important play of the day. There are going to be some slumps this year, as there are for any young player, but it’s hard not to get overly excited right now. He’s been hitting the ball hard to start the year and has shown a real ability to be a dynamic, game-changing player.
Coming Next: The Red Sox passed their first test against the preseason World Series favorites with flying colors. They have two games left against Washington, and the pitching match ups won’t get much easier. Tonight, they’ll be facing off against Stephen Strasburg, with Gio Gonzlaez awaiting them on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley get to follow up on their solid Red Sox debuts. For the latter, it will be his first career start at Fenway. The Nationals are still missing Anthony Rendon, but their lineup should still provide a bigger test for the two newcomers than either Philadelphia or New York.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.smugmug.com