If this is what the Red Sox can expect every fifth game from Clay Buchholz, he can help put some of those rotation concerns to rest.
Without overreacting to a single game against a pretty bad Philadelphia Phillies lineup, the fact is that he did about all that could reasonably be asked of him. He walked just one, allowing three hits and no runs in seven innings of work. And he struck out nine batters in the victory.
Buchholz has to be one of the trickiest pitchers in baseball to predict, after putting up Cy Young Award-quality numbers before injuries shortened his 2013 campaign, and then being terrible in 2014. Sure, he was better than his numbers suggested last year (4.01 FIP1 vs. 5.34 ERA), but he wasn't good by any stretch. But if he's closer to what he was two years ago, and if he can stay on the field, this team has its ace.
Boston's bats came to life Monday, making quick work of Cole Hamels, who was mentioned frequently over the offseason as a potential Red Sox trade target. The Sox tagged the Phillies' ace for four solo home runs to left field, including two by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, one by center fielder Mookie Betts and one by left fielder Hanley Ramirez. They knocked Hamels out after five innings, over which he gave up five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Pedroia, like Buchholz, is looking to bounce back after a rough 2014. He underwent thumb surgery at the beginning of the offseason, and those two homers were certainly a positive sign.
What they got off of Hamels was all the offense the Sox needed. But it wasn't all they got. Ramirez doubled the tally with a grand slam off Jake Diekman in the ninth.
Back in 2005, it appeared that Ramirez would hit a lot of home runs in a Red Sox uniform. A decade later, this seems likely again. If he stays healthy, he should produce a lot of runs in Boston.
The pitfall of overvaluing 1/162nd of a season cannot be overstated, especially when facing a bad team. Whether Buchholz and the rest of the pitching staff can perform well over the course of the season remains to be seen. And as great as the eight-run outing was, the team's hitters weren't without their holes. Pablo Sandoval, for example, went 0–5 with three strikeouts.
The truth is that we can't accurately analyze exactly what this team, or any team, is until much later in the year. But the Red Sox could not have hoped for a stronger start.
1 FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, is a metric that attempts to remove luck from ERA. A pitcher has little control of whether a batted ball that does not leave the park turns into a hit or an out. FIP uses strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit-by-pitches, along with a constant to put it on the same scale as ERA. FIP can be a better predictor of future performance than ERA, and comparing the two can show whether a natural regression - positive or negative - is likely.