The Red Sox, on Friday, embark on one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory. The team that takes the field in Texas will be facing great expectations. Already, there is talk of a magical 100-win season.
They'll also be facing the defending AL champs. For the third straight year. First, the Rays, then the Yankees, and now, the Rangers.
The Sox will be put to the test right away, but that's what happens when you're facing the ace of a championship staff on Opening Day. C.J. Wilson was 3-0 against the Sox last season, with a 0.86 ERA. The lefty threw 21 innings against Boston, striking out 20 Sox batters while walking only eight. He is particularly tough against left-handed hitters like David Ortiz and J.D. Drew.
One win or one loss does not make a 162-game season, but you can learn a lot about a team on Opening Day, especially when the team is testing itself against the reigning champs. Last year, the Sox faced the Yankees on a balmy Easter Sunday night at Fenway Park. It was a thrilling evening, with the Sox holding on for a 9-7, roller-coaster win over the World Series champs.
Tough to find a downside in a win over the Yankees, but the seeds of a frustrating season were sown that night. Josh Beckett couldn't make it through the fifth inning, giving up five earned runs (two home runs) while facing 24 batters. The Boston offense got him off the hook, but Beckett was on his way to a disappointing season in which he would win only six games and post the highest ERA of his career.
The bullpen showed early leaks. Ramon Ramirez gave up two earned runs while recording just one out. By August, he was gone.
Dustin Pedroia (two hits, three RBIs) and Kevin Youkilis (three hits, two RBIs) led the offense for the Sox. The pair combined with newcomer Mike Cameron for seven of the team's 12 hits.
The three would spend the bulk of the season on the DL.
Two years ago, the Sox opened up at home with another win over the AL champs, beating Tampa Bay at Fenway. Beckett was once again the Opening Day starter, and he pitched beautifully. He struck out 10 Rays over seven innings, on his way to a 17-win season and a 3.86 ERA. Pedroia hit a home run in his first at-bat as reigning AL MVP. Boston won 5-3, the first of 95 wins for the playoff-bound Red Sox.
Beckett won’t be the Opening Day starter Friday. In fact, he won't even pitch in Texas. He'll get the nod Tuesday against a weak Cleveland lineup, a tune-up for a Sunday night showdown with the Yankees at Fenway on April 10. He turned in an ace-like performance Wednesday night in Houston, a much-needed shot of confidence and swagger for a man who must rebound from 2010 if the Sox are to live up to the hype this summer.
It's Jon Lester making the start Friday afternoon, and rightfully so. He is the ace of this staff and will have to pitch like an ace against a Rangers lineup featuring Josh Hamilton and 2010 Red Sox MVP Adrian Beltre.
A good outing by Lester and an Opening Day win will undoubtedly crank up the expectations surrounding this team; a loss will lead to a long Saturday morning on sports talk radio in Boston.
In the end, one game won't determine what happens to this team in 2011, but it will give us some pretty good clues as to what we can expect. And we expect a lot after Theo Epstein's impressive offseason.
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