Dave O’Brien said he is tired of going to Home Depot.
Joe Castiglione has cleared out his closets, but doesn’t mind putting the attic on hold.
The two veteran Boston Red Sox play-by-play announcers, who have regularly visited Bangor for an annual Hot Stove Banquet during the winter, are excited to get back to calling games beginning on Friday when the Red Sox entertain the Baltimore Orioles to kick off the abbreviated 60-game schedule.
The 60-game schedule came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and breakdowns in negotiations between the owners and the players union. A normal regular season consists of 162 games.
O’Brien and Castiglione both feel the shortened schedule will help the Red Sox, whose starting rotation will be without Chris Sale (surgery), David Price (traded to Los Angeles Dodgers) and Rick Porcello (signed with the New York Mets).
Both said the Red Sox’s lack of pitching depth would have been exploited over a 162-game season, but not as much in a 60-game season.
“The offense will be ahead of the pitching this season and the strength of this team will be its lineup,” O’Brien said.
“They will score runs, even without Mookie [Betts],” Castiglione, referring to the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player who was traded to the Dodgers with Price, said. “[Managing pitching staffs] are going to be a juggling act for every manager and pitching coach this year.”
Betts, Price and some cash went to the Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo and two prospects: catcher Connor Wong and shortstop Jeter Downs.
O’Brien predicted that Verdugo will become a fan favorite at Fenway Park.
“He’s very strong and he’s a fiery kid,” he said.
Both said it will be imperative that the Red Sox get off to a good start because of the short season.
“If they can get off to a good start with their bats, they can remain in the [playoff] hunt all season,” Castiglione said. “With only 60 games, there isn’t going to be much separation between the teams.”
The health and performance of lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez will be a “huge key,” O’Brien said.
Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and is quarantined although he is working out on his own, was 19-6 with a 3.81 earned-run average a year ago and is 32-11 over his last two seasons.
Castiglione pointed out that injury-prone righty Nathan Eovaldi has looked very sharp in the intrasquad games.
“He has great stuff,” Castiglione, who added that staying healthy will be paramount for Eovaldi, said.
Eovaldi hasn’t thrown more than 155 innings in a season since 2014 and is coming off an elbow problem in 2019.
One thing the Red Sox pitching staff is going to have to improve is its control, O’Brien said. The Red Sox walked 3.7 hitters per nine innings a year ago and only three teams walked more.
He expects new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom to address that situation because Bloom spent the past 15 years in the Tampa Rays organization and their pitchers are taught to attack the strike zone. The Rays issued the third-lowest number of walks per inning a year ago (2.77).
The Red Sox will have a new manager in 63-year-old Ron Roenicke.
“He’s very experienced and a very even-keeled guy. He will be a calming influence. And he’s really highly-regarded,” Castiglione said.
One of the biggest obstacles for the Red Sox will be their schedule, said the announcers.
The Red Sox will play 10 games apiece against their American League East rivals and four against the National League East teams.
Four of last year’s 10 playoff teams came from the American and National League East, including the world champion Washington Nationals.
“It is the toughest division, by far,” Castiglione said, referring to both he American and National League East.
There have been a number of rule changes implemented and both announcers favor them, at least for this season.
The National League will join the American League in using the designated hitter; a runner will be placed at second to start every half-inning in extra innings; and each relief pitcher who is brought into a game must face at least three hitters.
“All of these rule changes have a chance to help the game be more appealing to the fans,” O’Brien said. “We need to do everything we can to speed the game up.”
He said baseball is ‘“losing a foothold” in the sports market due to the exceedingly long games.
They both like the idea of relievers having to face at least three hitters so managers can’t keep changing pitchers after facing one hitter which slows the game down.
They like putting a runner on second in extra innings to prevent teams from taxing their pitching staffs this season although Castiglione admitted that long extra-inning games are “exciting.”
Castiglione has been a proponent of the DH for both leagues but O’Brien likes having a rule that separates the two leagues.
Both were irritated at the haggling between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners during negotiations.
“It’s a shame they have to air their dirty laundry [in the media],” Castiglione said. “Other sports don’t. It’s a shame. Hopefully, they all learned a lesson from it.”
O’Brien called it “embarrassing” but pointed out that one of the sticking points was the health concerns of the players and he liked the fact that the players association and owners were able to agree on the rule changes.
“That was very positive and bodes well for the future,” O’Brien said. “This will be a great opportunity to experiment with some things and see how they work.”
Their broadcasts will be different this season, as neither one will be traveling with the team.
Castiglione, who will be in his 38th season calling Red Sox games on the team’s (WEEI-FM) radio network, will be doing all games, home and away, from Fenway Park in Boston. O’Brien, in his 14th season doing Red Sox games, on radio first and now on television on the New England Sports Network, will be broadcasting from the NESN studios in Watertown while watching monitors.
Neither has done a game just by watching a monitor before.
There won’t be any fans at the games and the crowd noise will be pumped into the broadcasts via technology.
“It’s going to be different. It’s going to be challenging. But we will have a lot more technology available,” O’Brien, who would love to see MLB put microphones on players to enhance the broadcasts, said.
“It’s going to be unusual. I’m going to miss the people and the face-to-face connection. But I am used to empty stadiums. I did Cleveland Indians games with 3,000 fans in an 80,000-seat stadium,” Castiglione said.
They would agree it certainly beats going to Home Depot or cleaning out your attic.