While the 20-8 start to the regular season is undoubtedly impressive for the Red Sox, many skeptics note that many of the team’s wins have come against the sub-.500 Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, and Astros. In order for these skeptics to become believers, the Sox will have to show that they can compete with the league’s best, starting this weekend in Arlington against the (17-11) Texas Rangers, the team with the second best record in the American League.
The Rangers, who hold a 1.5 game over the Athletics in the AL West, have not yet faced a team with a record above .500 this season, and beat up on below-average teams like the Angels, Astros, and Twins throughout April. Because it will be the first major test for both teams this season, this weekend’s series will serve as an early gauge in determining who the true contenders are in the American League.
In the series opener, lefties Felix Doubront (3-0, 4.24 ERA) and Derek Holland (1-2, 3.38 ERA) will get things underway in hopes of continuing their success from the first month of the season. Holland has had success in his career against the Red Sox, going 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 33 innings of work. Doubront has struggled against the Rangers so far in his career, posting a 0-2 record and 10.32 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. In the middle game of the series, John Lackey (1-1, 2.61 ERA) will oppose righty Alexi Ogando (2-2, 3.38 ERA), who has a career 1-2 record and 5.11 ERA against the Sox. The series finale will serve as the best pitching matchup of the series, as Jon Lester (4-0, 3.11 ERA) will face early-season Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish (5-1, 2.33 ERA). In his only career start against the Red Sox, Darvish struggled, surrendering six runs in 6.1 innings of work while taking a loss on August 6th of last season.
Even though the 2012 Red Sox won only two of eight games against the Rangers, both teams have undergone significant changes since the last matchup in early August. Three members of last year’s Rangers team, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Ryan Dempster, are now with the Red Sox, and the team also lost other major contributors like Josh Hamilton (signed with Angels), Michael Young (traded to Phillies), Mike Adams (signed with Phillies), and Scott Feldman (signed with Cubs). To replace some of the production lost by the subtractions of Hamilton and Young, the Rangers signed first baseman Lance Berkman and catcher AJ Pierzynski over the winter, and both have been very good so far this season. In 23 games each, Berkman has posted a .321 ERA with 2 HR and 15 RBI, and Pierzynski has hit .280 with 4 HR and 11 RBI.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler (.330/5 HR/17 RBI) and Nelson Cruz (.291/6 HR/20 RBI) have led the team in hitting, while former Red Sox Adrian Beltre (.215/6 HR/12 RBI) and David Murphy (.174/2 HR/7 RBI) have struggled mightily at the plate. Texas’ pitching staff has been slammed by injuries so far this season, with Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, ace Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and offseason acquisition Joakim Soria all currently on the disabled list.
While a matchup between the two best teams in the American League is enough of a story on its own, the three ex-Rangers who are returning to Arlington with the Red Sox will surely make headlines this weekend. Most notably, Mike Napoli, who hit .275 with 54 HR and 131 RBI in two seasons with the Rangers, will face his former team for the first time after they failed to re-sign him this offseason. Uehara was stellar in a year and a half with the Rangers, posting a 2.50 ERA in 59 relief appearances over the last two seasons. Dempster, who only pitched in Texas for two months after a trade deadline deal last July, struggled for the Rangers down the stretch, pitching to a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts.
-After missing seven games due to back spasms, outfielder Shane Victorino will return to the Red Sox’ lineup to open the series on Friday night. While he has no physical restrictions, the team will try to ease Victorino back into his starting role instead of starting him every day.
-Closer Andrew Bailey, who has been unavailable for the last few games due to biceps soreness, is available in an emergency for the Sox on Friday night and will not be limited at all this weekend. Joel Hanrahan will likely assume the setup role once Bailey is back.
-After making three rehab appearances with the PawSox, lefty reliever Craig Breslow is close to making his season debut. He may need one more rehab outing with Pawtucket, but will be recalled to the Red Sox sometime early next week. When Breslow is ready, the Sox will have to decide whether to option Alex Wilson, who has been impressive so far this season, or designate Clayton Mortensen for assignment.
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