Boston Red Sox: 10 Early Series That Could Knock Boston off Stride to Start 2012

Sean Delorge@@sdelorgeCorrespondent IIIApril 10, 2012

Boston Red Sox: 10 Early Series That Could Knock Boston off Stride to Start 2012

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    The Boston Red Sox have 10 series that they should worry about in the beginning of the season.

    After getting off to a bad start against the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox need to turn things around before fans jump ship.

    The Red Sox collapsed last season and it is important that they get off to a good start this year.

    There are questions about the rotation, the bullpen, the new manager and even ownership.

    All of those concerns will go away if the Red Sox have success in these 10 key series in the first two months of the season.

Apr. 9-11 at Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Blue Jays are the fourth-best team in the AL East, but they could contend for a division title if they were in any other division.

    They are led by right fielder Jose Bautista and their powerful offense. After breaking out in 2010, Bautista improved in 2011. He went on to bat .302, with 43 HRs and 103 RBIs showing that he is more than just a home run hitter.

    The Blue Jays also have a pair of youngsters in third baseman Brett Lawrie and catcher J.P. Arrencibia that are poised for breakout years. In just 43 games last season, Lawrie hit .293 with nine HR’s and 25 RBIs all while playing good defense at the hot corner.

    Arrencibia showed off his power in his first full season catching in the majors by hitting 23 HRs and driving in 78 RBIs.

    Meanwhile the pitching staff has the talent at the top of the rotation in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow along with a solid bullpen to cause the Red Sox some problems.

3 Series—Apr. 13-16, May 16-17 and May 25-27

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    The Tampa Bay Rays are the biggest concern for the Red Sox in the beginning of the year.

    With nine games against their division rival not only are the Rays games difficult, but if the Red Sox can wins the three series they may be able to create separation in the division.

    The Rays have arguably the best rotation in all of baseball. David Price is a dominating lefty and a Cy Young candidate. Their No. 2 pitcher, James Shields, is coming off the best year of his career and would be an ace on many staffs.

    Jeremy Hellickson is in his second full season as a starter and last year lived up to the hype by recording a 2.95 E.R.A. in 29 starts. The No. 4 and 5 pitchers in the rotation Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are both good pitchers with Moore having the potential to become an ace.

    The Rays offense may not be as overwhelming as their pitching, but they are led by their third baseman and MVP candidate Evan Longoria, who despite a dip in his batting average last season is always a thorn in the Red Sox side.

    The Rays brought back Carlos Pena to add more pop to the lineup and have enough scoring potential to go along with their stellar pitching and will be the most difficult matchup for the Red Sox in April and May.

Apr. 17-18 vs. Texas Rangers

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    The reigning AL Champion Rangers are a difficult matchup for the Red Sox because they combine great hitting with a talented pitching staff.

    The Rangers offense doesn’t have an easy out at any spot in their batting order. Former MVP and four-time All-Star Josh Hamilton anchors the lineup with a career .309 batting average and power to all fields.

    The Rangers have an offensively talented infield and their left side sports two great defensive players in Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Beltre continued to show that his time in Seattle was the reason for his drop in production. In his first season in Texas, Beltre hit 32 HRs and drove in 105 RBIs in just 124 games.

    The pitching staff has replaced the departed C.J. Wilson by signing Japanese sensation Yu Darvish and moving Neftali Felix to the rotation. The bullpen is talented and has veteran Joe Nathan replacing Feliz as their closer. Overall the Rangers are one of the elite teams in the AL, and even though they only play two games against the Red Sox, Boston can’t take them for granted.

Apr. 20-22 vs. New York Yankees

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    The New York Yankees had a difficult first series against the Rays, but they are an experienced and talented team and one of the best teams in the AL.

    The Yankees can match the Red Sox offense and have the ace in C.C. Sabathia that can shut the Red Sox offense down for at least one game in the series.

    The Yankees 1-5 hitters in their lineup are arguably the best in the majors. They have two surefire Hall of Famers in Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, two superstars in Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson erupted for 41 HRs last year.

    C.C. Sabathia has support in the rotation after GM Brian Cashman traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees don’t have to rely on their offense to win games because their pitching staff has three guys that can shut you down on a given night.

May 7-9 at Kansas City Royals

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    The Kansas City Royals are the surprise team on my list. The Royals won’t make the playoffs this year, but the Red Sox can’t relax when they make the trip to Kansas City.

    Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon can all hit and won’t make it an easy trip for the Red Sox pitching like it has been in the past. Gordon and Hosmer had breakout years in 2011. Gordon finally showed why he was drafted second overall in the 2005 draft hitting .303 with 23 HRs. Hosmer had a great rookie season hitting .293 with 19 HRs and 78 RBIs in just 128 games.

    The pitching staff has the talent—especially in starters Aaron Crow, Jonathan Sanchez and Luke Hochevar—to make things difficult on the Red Sox hitters. This is a team that can catch the Red Sox off guard. The Red Sox can’t take this road series lightly.

May 18-20 at Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the National League. If the Red Sox were playing them earlier in the year this series would be a lot easier, but they’re not.

    Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are one of the best middle of the order combinations in baseball and will be back in time to face the Red Sox. With Howard and Utley back in the lineup, they can keep up with the Red Sox offense.

    The biggest issue for the Red Sox isn’t the Phillies lineup, it’s their pitching staff. The Phillies will come to Boston and there is a chance that the Red Sox will have to face Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Even if the Red Sox only face two of them the series will be difficult on both the Red Sox hitters and pitchers.

2 Series—Apr. 5-8 and May 28-31 vs. Detroit Tigers

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    After getting swept in the first series of the season, the Red Sox will want revenge when the Tigers come to Fenway Park for the last series in May.

    We saw the potent combination that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will be right away and the only way the Red Sox can have success against the Tigers is if they can limit their production. The rest of the Tigers lineup can produce but not on the same level as Cabrera and Fielder.

    The Tigers pitching staff will also cause problems for the Red Sox. If they have to face reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander again, hopefully they can put together more than two hits over eight innings.

    The Tigers have a good rotation, but at least we have seen that the Red Sox can score once they get to the Tigers bullpen. This is going to be the end of a very difficult stretch to start the season for the Red Sox.