AL East powerhouses have reason to worry

Although three games of an MLB season are insignificant, the opening series of a season is always important to fans. The storylines of the opening weekend included the surprising 3-0 start by the Mets and Orioles, the impressiveness of the Detroit Tigers’ lineup and Yoenis Cespedes’ freakish power. Above all else, however, the biggest storyline of the opening weekend came out of the American League East.

For the first time since 1966, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have dropped three consecutive games to open up a season. A powerful Detroit Tigers team swept the Red Sox while AL East rival Tampa tripped up the Yankees.     

Certainly, three games mean virtually nothing in the context of a 162 game season, and both teams lost to quality opponents who are projected to make the playoffs. Still, both the Red Sox and the Yankees wanted to get off to fast starts after suffering disappointing finishes in 2011.   

So which team sitting at 0-3 is in the most trouble?

New York’s worst loss of their three game opener was on Opening Day, when Mariano Rivera blew a ninth inning save and served up a walk-off hit to Carlos Pena.

Rivera, now 42 years of age, was a topic of conversation in the offseason among the media, specifically how effective he can be in what is projected to be his last season in pinstripes.

The early results aren’t positive, but it’s hard to imagine Rivera not putting up great numbers. After all, just a year ago Rivera posted a 1.92 ERA and recorded 44 saves.

The other two losses were less painful for the Yankees, who struggled against dominant Rays’ pitching. David Price went almost seven innings and allowed two runs on April 7, and Jeremy Hellickson fell one short of a three hit shutout on April 8.

New York’s struggles were less in focus than the strengths of the Rays. Both Tampa and New York are elite teams that will battle for the division crown all season. New York shouldn’t be too worried about their 0-3 start, as they will likely play .500 ball against Tampa all season.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have fans in Boston anxious after suffering three loses to Detroit in a dreadful fashion. On April 5, Justin Verlander shut down the Red Sox offense for eight innings before scoring two runs in the ninth off Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde to tie the ballgame.

In the bottom of the ninth, however, the Red Sox bullpen recorded just one out before allowing an Austin Jackson walk-off hit. On April 7, Josh Beckett was roughed up for seven runs – including five home runs – in less than five innings as the Red Sox were shut out 10-0.

Easter Sunday, however, was by far the worst Boston loss of the young season. The Red Sox held a three run lead in the bottom of the ninth before Miguel Cabrera blasted a game-tying three run shot off Alfredo Aceves. After taking a one run lead in extras, Mark Melancon served up a walk-off home run to Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila.

After suffering the worst collapse in Major League Baseball history, the last thing the Red Sox needed was an opening series sweep.

In watching the Red Sox thus far, two things are evident. The depth of starting pitching is alarmingly thin and the bullpen is mediocre.     

After Jon Lester, there isn’t a sure-armed pitcher in the starting five. Josh Beckett hasn’t put together back-to-back quality seasons since posting sub 4.00 ERA seasons consecutively in 2004-2005. Clay Buchholz – who allowed seven runs in four innings against Detroit- is coming off an injury that limited him to just 82 innings in 2011.

The four and five spots in the rotation are made up of former reliever Daniel Bard and young lefty Felix Doubront.

As thin as the starting rotation is, the bullpen for Boston is a disaster.

Andrew Bailey’s injury is the most significant, as Boston’s ability to close out games will be questionable for most of 2012. Alfredo Aceves has yet to record an out as Boston’s closer and after him, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales and Matt Albers won’t cut it.

Both the Yankees and Red Sox are sitting at 0-3, but you get the feeling that the Red Sox are in far worse shape moving forward.

The Yankees’ rotation will get a boost when Michael Pineda gets healthy, and may even get quality innings from Andy Pettite. Their bullpen is stacked and a blown save from a 42-year-old Mariano is expected every now and again.

The Red Sox have no answers for their bullpen and their rotation. Bailey is out until August and the rotation will rely heavily on young and inexperienced arms.

 The Red Sox need to get off to a good start more than the Yankees in order to wash away the bitter taste of 2011. But after the first weekend of the year, Boston looks to be in serious trouble.

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