Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Monday, April 9, 2012
Weekly preview: Superpowers on the spot

By David Schoenfield



I'm still trying to catch my breath. What a first weekend of games, from ace starters dominating to bullpen implosions to clutch home runs. The first week of the season is always entertaining for the rash judgments and choleric reactions to a few losses, but there's no denying the big storyline: The Baltimore Orioles are undefeated!

OK, I kid, but we may not get a chance to mention the Orioles too often this year. (Nick Markakis is swinging a sweet stick so far!) No, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are both 0-3, for the time since 1966 when they finished and ninth and 10th in the 10-team American League. I asked ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski, king of projections, how often the Red Sox and Yankees both missed the playoffs in his simulated seasons. The answer: 5.1 percent of the time. And if you want to believe that both clubs aren't as strong as Szymborski originally projected Insider (he had the Yankees at 93 wins, the Red Sox at 89), the odds are even lower. So, it's not absolutely crazy to think both of these teams could fall short of October.

For all you haters out there, however: The 1998 Yankees started 0-3 and won 114 games ... so don't get too excited just yet. Still, attention will be focused on all the hysteria coming out of the Boston and New York camps this week, and deservedly so. But there is much to watch in our first full of week of action.

Series of the week

Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers, Tuesday through Thursday

Matt Moore vs. Rick Porcello
James Shields vs. Justin Verlander
Jeff Niemann vs. Drew Smyly

An intriguing series as both teams are coming off season-opening sweeps. The Moore's anticipated 2012 debut is must-watch baseball. You're telling me you're not excited to see how the rookie attacks Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? We get the two aces on Wednesday, with Verlander coming off a dominant Opening Day performance. Shields didn't face the Tigers last season. Rookie Smyly makes his major league debut on Thursday. The Tigers' second-round pick out of Arkansas in 2010, Smyly made his pro debut in 2011 and posted a 2.26 ERA between Class A and Double-A, with 131 strikeouts and 38 walks in 127.2 innings. He beat out Jacob Turner, the team's top prospect, for the No. 5 job in rotation. A 6-foot-3 lefty, Smyly isn't overpowering but throws strikes and repeats his delivery well. A start this weekend for Toledo didn't go well, as he lasted just 1.2 innings and gave up three hits and two walks.

Three pitching matchups to watch

1. Monday: Hector Noesi vs. Yu Darvish, Mariners vs. Rangers (8:05 p.m. ET)

Umm, I'm sure Noesi has his fans but this is all about Darvish's first start. The Rangers carefully slotted Darvish in as the team's No. 4 starter, allowing him to make his first two starts against the Mariners and Twins. That's called easing him in.

2. Wednesday: Stephen Strasburg vs. Johan Santana, Nationals at Mets (1 p.m. ET)

A crucial NL East tilt! Hey, the Mets are 3-0, don't laugh. Both pitchers were solid in the season debuts, although the Mets would like to see Santana go deeper then the five inning he pitched on Opening Day.

3. Wednesday: Josh Johnson vs. Roy Halladay, Marlins at Phillies (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN3)

These two have faced off three times since Halladay joined the Phillies. Johnson won last year 2-1 while they split in 2010 -- Halladay winning 1-0 with his perfect game and Johnson winning 2-0 (Halladay allowed just one run).

Player on the hot seat: Red Sox bullpen

Closer Alfredo Aceves has faced five batters in two games and failed to retire any of them. Mark Melancon has already been tagged with two losses, as five of the eight batters to face him have knocked out hits. Will Bobby Valentine panic? Will Franklin Morales be moved to closer? Will Daniel Bard return to the pen before he even starts a game? Good times, Red Sox Nation!

Player to watch: Yoenis Cespedes

With three home runs in his first four games -- including a mammoth home run off the facing off the second deck in Oakland on Friday night, a 462-foot blast he stood and admired for a couple seconds -- Cespedes has already displayed the huge power that scouts drooled over. He's also fanned seven times with no walks in 13 plate appearances. As Mark Simon points out, Cespedes has taken 13 swings on breaking pitches and missed on 10 of them, looking especially vulnerable on balls in the dirt. It's been all or nothing but the "all" has been mighty impressive.

Heat map of the week

Clayton Kershaw's slider is one of the most devastating weapons in baseball. In 2011, left-handers went 8-for-58 (.138) with 26 strikeouts and one home run when putting the slider in play (or striking out against); right-handers went 23-for-198 (.116) with 112 strikeouts and just two home runs. What makes the slider so tough isn't necessarily the location, but the movement on it and how he sets it up with his fastball. As you can, the slider is often in a hittable location -- but hitters can't hit it.

Clayton Kerhsaw
Kershaw's slider location in 2011 versus lefties (left) and righties.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Buster Posey
Lyle Overbay learns that you can't assume on getting home against Buster Posey.