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That was a tough loss.  A really tough loss.  Not only because we just got swept but also because we could have had it in the bag, and it should have been us celebrating a win.  Again, it was a situation where the two teams were remarkably evenly matched.  The fact that this other evenly matched time is Washington is still going to take some serious getting used to.  Meanwhile, we have nothing to content ourselves with but the hope that we’ll win our next game.

Lester pitched phenomenally well.  Unfortunately, so did Jordan Zimmermann.  Lester pitched seven innings; Zimmermann pitched seven innings.  Lester gave up three runs on six hits; Zimmermann gave up three runs on seven hits.  Lester walked two and struck out nine; Zimmermann walked two and struck out seven.  Lester threw 107 pitches; Zimmermann threw 105 pitches.  Lester threw sixty-seven pitches; Zimmermann threw seventy pitches.

Washington struck first; Lester’s second pitch of the game was hit for a double, which eventually turned into a run on a groundout.  Lester had a great one-two-three second inning and got a crucial called strikeout to end the third with the bases loaded.

We scored our first run in the third; Punto led it off with a walk, Podsednik singled him to third, and he scored on a force out by Pedroia.  Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot into the bullpen on a fastball.  It was a wallop of a swing in classic Papi fashion.  And at the time, it gave us a one-run lead.  Unfortunately it wouldn’t last.

Lester had a one-two-three fifth and sixth.  We had two on base in the fifth with whom we did nothing, and we went down in order in the sixth.  Lester gave up his last two runs in the seventh; he gave up two consecutive singles to start it and then obtained two quick outs before allowing a double that scored two.

We scored our third and final run in the seventh as well; Sweeney and Punto hit back-to-back singles, McDonald hit a sac bunt to move them over, and then Sweeney scored on a double by Podsednik.

Atchison replaced Lester and had himself a one-two-three eighth; so far, so good.  We had two on base in the eighth and did nothing with that opportunity.

And then everything was ruined in the ninth.  Aceves replaced Atchison and blew it completely; he took the loss.  He induced a flyout, a walk, a strikeout, and then a double that scored one.  The inning ended on a popout.  Aside from one walk in the ninth, we didn’t do anything to come back.  We lost, 4-3.  Podsednik went two for five, and Papi went three for four with the double and home run.  Lester received a no-decision, which is fine, because he didn’t deserve the loss.  Aceves deserved every bit of it.

I never thought I’d see the day when we’d be relieved to get on the road, but it wouldn’t be the first time this year.  Sad, sad, sad.

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This is the first time we’ve seen Dice-K pitch in the Major Leagues since Tommy John surgery; his previous start was May 16, 2011.  Let’s keep in mind how low our standards were for him before.  If we do that, it’s easy to be alright with how he did yesterday.  Let’s face it; he wasn’t going to wow us with some sort of complete-game shutout his first time back.  It was going to be something modest and decent and most probably mediocre, since he still has a lot of rust to shake off.  And because we’ve seen how surreally good the Nationals are at the moment, his start was pretty okay.

He pitched five innings and gave up four runs on five hits, one of which was a solo shot to lead off the second.  He walked one and struck out eight, which is a very, very good sign.  Five of the strikeouts were swinging, and three were called.  He threw eighty pitches, so he was as inefficient as ever, but again, we shouldn’t let our impatience with how bad he was before the surgery cause us to not give him his due time after the surgery.  Besides, we’ve seen days worse than this from our healthy starters this year.

He threw both fastballs plus changeups, curveballs, and cutters.  He threw less than a handful of two-seams, but the ones he did throw were awesome.  After that, the four-seam, his most frequent pitch, was awesome as well.  And then his changeup and curveball were really good, and his cutter got by.  He threw twelve pitches in the first, eleven in the second, seventeen in the third, twenty-two in the fourth, and eighteen in the fifth.  Good variation of speeds, tight and consistent release point.

He had two strikeouts and a flyout in the first for a one-two-three inning.  After he gave up the solo shot in the second, he ended the inning with a strikeout, groundout, and flyout.  He had another one-two-three inning in the third with two strikeouts and a groundout.  He got into trouble in the fourth; he gave up a walk and a single to start it, then got a strikeout, then gave up a double and a single that scored his other three runs, and then he induced a double play to get out of the inning.  And finally, he allowed a double to lead off the fifth but then posted two strikeouts and a flyout.  So as steps back from the DL go, we can feel good about this one.

We can feel less good about our hitters’ total lack of run support.  We went down in order in the first, third, fourth, and eighth.  We put one on base in the second, sixth, and ninth to no result.  We put two on base in the fifth to no result.  We finally scored in the seventh.  Youk grounded out to start it, and then Middlebrooks walked, Aviles singled, and Sweeney walked to load the bases with one out.  Salty singled in two.  And then Nava struck out looking and Pedroia popped out to end the inning.  And that was our only show of run-scoring during the whole game.

Meanwhile, Morales held the fort for three shutout innings, and Aceves pitched a shutout ninth.  But we lost, 4-2.  We had no multi-hit games and only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles, one by Papi and the other by Sweeney.  Defensive highlights included Pedroia classic backhand pick and firing to first for the second out of the inning as well as Gonzalez making a sliding catch in right for the second out of the seventh and then firing to the infield to end the inning.

We are also now below .500 for the first time since getting above .500.  I definitely liked the view better from above .500, so let’s get back up there.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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We finally made it! There are no more days to count, no more Spring Training games to play, no more side sessions to throw, and no more simulated games to complete.  There is nothing left.  It’s happening now.  Today is officially Opening Day, our first game of the regular season! As we all know, we’ll be playing the Tigers in Detroit, and Lester will be starting.  As we all know, this season is going to be interesting, to say the least.  Now, the wait is over.  The long, cold winter has come to an end.  The lineup: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Papi, Youk, Sweeney, Ross, Salty, and Aviles, obviously in that order.  Baseball is finally here!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our final two pitchers: Doubront and Bard, respectively.  Since Lester is a lefty, it wouldn’t have made sense to have Doubront be the fifth starter, since then you’d have two lefties starting back-to-back.  Anyway, are we surprised? No.  Should we be surprised? No.  Doubront had a phenomenal spring, and he’s had some experience starting in the Majors before, even if that experience wasn’t always the best.  As for Bard, you and I both know that Bobby V. wasn’t about to move him back to the bullpen after he declared that he was going to train him as a starter.  And that bothers me because unlike Doubront, who as I said had a phenomenal spring and who was therefore awarded a spot in the rotation based on explicit merit, Bard did not have a great spring and seems to have been awarded a spot in the rotation based on potential and possibility alone.  I’m not saying he won’t be a phenomenal starter; I’m saying that I have yet to see consistent glimmers of phenomenalness from him in that role.  Still, he’s shown that he can learn from his mistakes.  He probably picked up that skill while en route to becoming the next elite closer in the Major Leagues; oh, well.

Aceves had a fantastic spring also, and when he did have bad days, he rebounded nicely in his next outing, which is a critical quality for a starter.  At least we can count on him for solid long and middle relief.  And late relief, at least in the beginning, since Bailey will start the season on the disabled list with a thumb issue that will require surgery and that will make him stay on the disabled least until the All-Star break.  This is ridiculous.  He started last season on the disabled list with an arm injury, and he started Spring Training on the disabled list with a lat injury, and now he’ll start the beginning of the season on the disabled list with a thumb injury.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that we had to trade Josh Reddick to get Bailey in the first place.  So Aceves is in line to replace him, in case you were wondering.  Yeah, that gives us huge confidence in our new closer.

And as if that weren’t enough, Beckett apparently is having some sort of issue with his right thumb.  Apparently he’s had this issue for eighteen months.  He was examined and is fine to pitch now, but he said surgery could be inevitable at some point down the road.

In addition to actually knowing who are starters are going to be, we can be happy that Pedroia is healthy, Papi is in shape, and both Bobby V. and McClure have really connected with the team.  We can be unhappy about the fact that Crawford is still out and that Youk, Gonzalez, and Ellsbury haven’t hit a home run all spring.  And we will begin the season with nine guys on the DL.  Before the season even gets underway, we will have nine guys on the DL.  That’s just great.  As if we didn’t have enough to contend with during the start of this year’s season already.  Those nine guys account, in case you were curious, for $59.7 million.  And let’s not forget the fact that Chris Carpenter, the supposedly significant compensation that we were looking forward to receiving from the Cubs for Theo Epstein, is injured and has no command.  He is one of those nine.

Of course, you might say that at least that frees up some roster space.  And that’s true, but that’s only a plus if it’s used wisely.  The twenty-five-man Opening Day roster is carrying thirteen pitchers, which means that Bobby V. only has three backup bats on the bench, one of whom is a backup catcher.

We beat the Twins, 5-1, on Sunday.  Padilla and Atchison both appeared.  Sweeney singled, Ross and Aviles doubled, and Ellsbury tripled.  Since our record against Minnesota this spring has been four and two, we have won the Mayor’s Cup series, which began in 1993.  Since then, the Twins have won eleven series; we have won five of the last six.

We beat the Nationals, 4-2, on Monday.  Cook pitched five innings and gave up one run on two hits.  He walked one, struck out two, and threw forty-three of seventy pitches for strikes.  Padilla pitched the sixth.  Gonzalez and McDonald both singled, and Papi doubled.

We beat the Nationals, 8-7, on Tuesday.  Buchholz retired his first twelve hitters but also gave up a solo shot and a three-run home run.  All told, those four runs were his only runs; he gave up four hits in five and two-thirds innings.  He struck out five and walked none.  Bowden and Aceves both made appearances.  Pedroia went two for three with three RBIs, but the hero was Jason Repko, who ironically replaced Ellsbury and proceeded to hit a tie-breaking double and make a perfect throw home to secure the win.

In other news, the B’s beat the Rangers and Penguins.

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Wow.  Just, wow.  Hugeness this week.  Trust me, there is epicness to discuss.

Beltre and Felipe Lopez both declined arbitration, but there is still hope for the former.  We all know that the A’s are offering Beltre a sweet deal, but he’s taking his equally sweet time in signing it.  He stated publicly that he wants to return to Boston, so he’s waiting to see what Theo’s got.

It turns out that what Theo’s got is a seriously awesome replacement.  Adrian Gonzalez, welcome to Boston! Finally! He went to Boston yesterday for a physical to make sure his right shoulder is on track after his surgery, and he passed.  We’ll be sending Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, and a player to be named later to the Padres, which fortunately shouldn’t hurt our farm system too much because last year’s draft was so successful.  Although it’ll be rough to see them all go.  The important thing to keep in mind about prospects is that you never know.  They could be awesome like Hanley Ramirez.  Or they could be terrible like Craig Hansen.  We already know what Adrian Gonzalez is capable of at the Major League level.

There’s room for a contract extension; Gonzalez is entering the last year of his current deal and we already acquired permission from Major League Baseball to hammer out a new one by this afternoon.  That didn’t happen, so Theo might wait to watch his shoulder in the spring, and of course there are the luxury tax implications.  But he won’t be giving up all those top prospects if he weren’t assured that an extension could be worked out, which would give us stability at all three bags.  Given Gonzalez’s age, anything from five to eight years can be considered feasible.  We offered six, but he wanted eight.  So there you go.

But one thing’s for sure: celebration is indeed in order.  Gonzalez will succeed in Boston.  His lefty swing was practically built exclusively for Fenway Park, and he was able to excel in a quintessential pitcher’s park.  Seriously.  Most of his fly balls in Petco would’ve been out in Fenway.  That’s why I’m convinced that he’ll get over his National League-ness in a hurry.  By the way, he’s got two Gold Gloves at first.  And he started almost every single game for about the last five years.  Without DHing once.  So here’s to you, Theo.  Two years later, you finally closed the deal.  And the fact that the Padres’ general manager and assistant general manager of scouting and player development both used to work with Theo is the icing on the cake that didn’t necessarily work to our advantage since they basically knew our farm system inside-out.  Gonzalez will play first and replace V-Mart’s bat, we’ll move Youk to third, and Beltre, who’s older anyway, will now probably sign with the A’s.  The deal is done on principle.  All they need to do is announce it on Monday at Fenway and that’s it.  The Adrian Gonzalez Era in Boston has begun!

One more thing.  Fundamentally this deal was not about New York; it’s about us, our team, our organization, and our hunger.  But while we’re on the subject, I would just like to point out that, not only is Adrian Gonzalez the answer to Mark Teixeira, but we now have a young infield that’s locked and entering its prime while the Yanks have guys on the downward slope of their careers.  I’m just saying.  I would advise New York to be afraid.  Very afraid.

Tek signed a one-year deal with two million dollars plus incentives; those rumors about him going to the Dodgers couldn’t have been more wrong.  They started circulating because the Dodgers had to decide whether to tender Russell Martin, who’s awesome except for injuries.  We didn’t tender Okajima, given his poor performance last season, but we already tendered Paps and will be making offers to Ellsbury and Taylor Buchholz.  Rumor has it that we made an offer to Mariano Rivera before he signed a two-year deal with the Yanks.  The Yanks seem to be avenging this action by showing interest in Carl Crawford to drive up his price.  I honestly don’t think the offer to Rivera was serious.  And I honestly don’t think New York’s interest in Crawford is serious.  Unless they don’t get Cliff Lee.  If Lee stays in Texas, New York might seriously start looking at Crawford because they could always deal Brett Gardner for a starter.

Pedroia’s foot is almost at one hundred percent.  He’s been cleared to jog and will be ready for Spring Training.  We have officially met with both Crawford and Werth, who, according to Dwight Evans, is the best right fielder in baseball and similar to himself.  This is Dwight Evans, people.  That’s seriously high praise.

Not that that’s going to help anyone.  Not even Werth himself.  Werth is now officially out of the picture and off the deep end.  He signed a deal for seven years and 126 million dollars.  With the Washington Nationals.  I’m not kidding.  That tells me two things: one, he’s not hungry, and two, he’s essentially a fool.  He’s not going to win a ring with the Nats, and seven years from now, when his contract is up, he won’t be starter material, which is obviously something that the Nationals don’t care about.  So his ring with the Phillies will be the last of his career as a starter.  If he wanted security, he sure got it.  He knows where he’ll be for the majority of the next decade, and he’s getting a whole heap of money for it.  To be honest with you, he would have been great in a Boston uniform, but I wouldn’t want someone only interested in money and years to play for us.  Especially not someone who would ever seriously consider both money and years with the Nationals.  I mean, they’re the Nationals.  Not only are they National League, they’re the worst in the National League; in fact, they’re the worst in the Major Leagues.

But wait; it gets better.  He says he’s been considering signing with the Nats since hiring Scott Boras as his agent last season.  Let me get this straight: he hired Scott Boras to get him a deal with the Washington Nationals.  That’s ridiculous.  Why would you hire Scott Boras to cut a deal with the Nationals? Jayson Werth doesn’t need an agent to negotiate a deal with the Washington Nationals; Jayson Werth can walk up to the Washington Nationals, write down a year amount and a dollar amount on a piece of paper, hand it to whoever is spearheading the process, and receive a “yes” to everything in five seconds flat.  He says he’s impressed with the Nats’ acquisition of young talent? Give me a break.  Nobody expects all that young talent to stay there; as soon as they’re able, they’re writing one-way tickets into free agency and out of town.  And then he went on this tangent in which he basically implied that he only signed with the Nationals because they assured him that they’d continue to acquire the talent necessary to compete and win, because that is very important to him.  Oh, sure.  If it’s that important to him, he would not have signed with the Nationals.  So they present their future plans to him and he asks questions about the team.  Great.  Now let’s see the Nationals follow that plan, the young talent stay put, and Werth stay in shape long enough to merit his salary at the end of his contract.  I don’t think so.

We signed starter Brandon Duckworth to a minor league deal.  He was part of the Billy Wagner trade.  We are supposedly interested in reliever Matt Guerrier.

Oh, and I fully expect Mike Cameron to morph into some sort of hitting specialist against lefties, being that many of the AL East’s elite pitchers are lefties and some of our middle bats struggled against lefties last season.  The only potential hindrance to that expectation is playing time.  Cameron has the potential to get rolling, but he can’t get rolling if he never gets going.

The Spring Training schedule is out.  We’re opening with an exhibition doubleheader with Boston College followed by Northeastern.  March features competition with Minnesota, Atlanta, Philly, both New York teams, Florida, Baltimore, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.

On Saturday, Sox Pax and tickets for twenty-one games in April and May will go on sale.

Get psyched.  The Winter Meetings are starting on Monday, and they’re going to be very interesting.  And by interesting I also mean hectic, since most of the important offseason deadlines have moved up.  Theo has his work cut out for him; we have a bat to replace V-Mart, but we’ll need another, preferably a righty, to replace Beltre since he’ll sign elsewhere, and relievers.  Good ones.  We’ve already made a splash; the key is to fill the club’s needs without removing all of our flexibility for next year.

In other news, the Bruins dropped Sunday’s game to the Thrashers, 1-4.  But then we shut out the Flyers, three-zip, and completely decimated the Lightning, 8-1.  Krejci and Ryder each racked up three points.  It was awesome.  If this were baseball, that would be considered a slugfest.  Then we lost in a shootout to the Leafs, but at least we get a point.  The Pats take on the Jets tomorrow.

NESN.com

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We just got swept by the Rays in a four-game series, the last coming on Patriots Day.  We’ve lost all five of our last five.  This is the longest losing streak we’ve had at home since we dropped twelve straight in 1994.  We’re off to our worst start since 1932.  We’re 0 for our last 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  We haven’t had a lead in our last forty-five innings.  Steals against have been successful in twenty-three of twenty-four attempts, ten of which were by the Rays.  We’re six games out of first place.  Only once in club history have we ever been at least five games out of first in April and gone to the playoffs: 2003, and that didn’t end well.  The only team in the last fifty-six years to win the World Series after being more than three games under .500 in April is the ’79 Pirates.  The Washington Nationals have more wins than we do.  And if that doesn’t convey the darkness of our current situation, you might also want to take a gander at the batting averages of the heart of our order: V-Mart is batting .212, Youk is batting .217, Papi is batting .158, and Drew is batting .146.

Pedroia is batting .346 with five home runs and thirteen RBIs; he and Tek have more home runs combined than the entire rest of the team.  This is a team sport.  They can’t carry an entire lineup by themselves.

So what’s the explanation for our epic failure? Everything.  There are three things a baseball team needs to succeed: pitching, offense, and defense.  We don’t have pitching because our pitchers are neither locating nor executing nor mixing nor concentrating.  We don’t have offense because our batters lack timing and rhythm and groove and clutch.  We don’t have defense because players are making errors in the field.  (If the outfield alone were responsible, I’d say that’s a function of new guys acclimating to Fenway Park.  But we’re talking about infielders too, like Scutaro, who apparently is just one more in a long line of defensively incompetent shortstops.)

The best way I can sum it up is with Pedroia’s own words:

When you don’t show up, you are going to get beat.

And we haven’t shown up since mid-September of ’09.

I absolutely refuse to believe that this will last.  I don’t believe it because it can’t last.  We’re not talking about one-dimensional players, the dregs of the Majors, who can only throw or hit one pitch or field in one play.  Our roster consists of the cream of the crop, and sooner or later the objective odds will dictate that bats will make contact, that pitches will find the strike zone, and that balls will find gloves.  This is some of the worst April ball we’ve seen in a very long time; for some of us, this is the worst April ball we’ve seen ever.  But I have a feeling that if we clear this month we’ll see something different.

Anyway, on to yesterday’s pathetic display.  Lackey rightly took the loss after giving up eight runs on nine hits with a walk and three strikeouts in just over three innings.  Gave up a three-run homer to Upton as part of a five-run third inning.  His least effective pitches were, not coincidentally, those he used most: his cutter and his curve.  The only less effective pitch he used was his change, and he only threw five of them.  His release point was looser than usual, and his strike zone was nonexistent.  It was a complete and total disaster.

I hope he apologized profusely to the bullpen for bailing him out.  Atchison, Ramirez, and Schoeneweis pitched the rest of the game and combined to relinquish three hits, two walks, and two strikeouts over five and two-thirds.  The one thing we have seen in this miserable losing streak is some groove-finding in the bullpen, which is very good news when you consider the fact that the starters for the most part could stand some improvement.

We collected five hits in the entire game, one of which was a very powerful, very deep, and very nice two-run dinger by Hermida in the seventh.  Those were our only two runs of the game, and that plus Drew’s double were the only extra-base hits we managed.  Hermida also made a fielding error.

And to make matters worse, Ellsbury’s timing is completely up in the air at this point.  It’s possible he may just end up on the disabled list.  Great.  That’s just what we need now: our possible catalyst to be ruled out.

So all of that begs the question of what we need to do to get ourselves out of this misery.  The answer is remarkably simple: the pitchers need to start pitching, the hitters need to start hitting, and the fielders need to start fielding.  That’s it.  That’s really all there is to it.  How each of them does that is something they’ll have to figure out for themselves because, as we’ve seen, every ballplayer works differently.  The point is that we needed to start winning last week, so we need to pick it up because we have a lot to make up for.  The Rangers are coming to town tonight.  I propose we win this one and go from there.

The Bruins won! Again! 2-1! This is actually going much better than I thought.  I’ve really liked the way we’ve played these last few games.  Maybe we’ve finally found what we’ve been looking for all season long.  Next game tomorrow.

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