As you can see, the format of the series previews has changed a little bit this season -- and who knows, maybe Matt will be back to doing them next week -- but this template isn't static by any means. Is there something you like? Something that should be added or changed? Let us know!
SB Nation Blog: Over the Monster
Not much, unless you’re concerned with Boston’s 16-11-4 Spring Training record. Oh, and the whole TMZ-esque drama of their late season collapse and subsequent offseason turmoil. Regardless, Red Sox fans will agree with me when I say that on Thursday it doesn’t matter anymore.
One newcomer that I’m intrigued by is OF Cody Ross. Ross had a great spring, tying for the Grapefruit League lead with 6 home runs. Normally, I’d dismiss this, but in Ross’ case four of those home runs came within the last few days of the exhibition season. For a guy that tends to be streaky-as-all-get-out, he seems to be finding his stride at the right time. Still, with Drew Smyly still in the minors for the moment (Ross absolutely kills lefties) and a large expanse of grass in left field, Ross’ damage this weekend should be limited.
Game 1 Matchup: LHP Jon Lester (15-9, 3.47 ERA in 2011) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA in 2011)
As far as meaningless Spring Training stats go, Lester put up a 2-1 record with a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings of work. In his last "real" start (on March 26th), Lester dominated the Philadelphia Phillies to the tune of a 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R line. Even more impressive were the 10 strikeouts, many of which involved the batter helplessly flailing at a well-timed curveball or changeup down in the zone.
One thing that the Tigers have in their favor is that, much like our beloved ace, Lester also tends to start slow in April. His career 6-7 record in April points towards this, as does his relative inability to get strikeouts ("just" 8.0 K/9 innings in April for his career). Lester did not pitch against the Tigers in 2011, but he went 0-2 against them in 2010.
Game 2 Matchup: RHP Josh Beckett (13-7, 2.89 ERA in 2011) vs. RHP Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83 ERA in 2011)
Beckett had a very good spring, allowing just 2 earned runs in 19 innings of work. However, all of the focus recently has been on his health (as usual). Beckett was seen by a specialist earlier this week for a minor injury to his right thumb. Bobby Valentine is confident that Beckett will still make his start on Saturday.
Game 3 Matchup: RHP Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48 ERA in 2011) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 ERA in 2011)
At a glance, Buchholz’s spring statistics weren’t too pretty. A 2-2 record with a 5.23 ERA probably has some of the Boston faithful a little nervous about their rotation, given the relative lack of experience after Buchholz. In his start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, he blazed through the first four innings, but had trouble in the 5th and 6th innings. He was a little "too accurate" with his pitches, so to speak -- basically piping fastballs into the strike zone all game long -- and the aggressive Nationals lineup finally caught up, tagging him with 4 earned runs before he exited with one out in the 6th inning.
Despite all the talk about losing manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein over the course of the offseason, this is largely the same roster that blew a 9-game lead in the AL Wild Card race last season. The losses of Jonathan Papelbon (to Philadelphia) and John Lackey (to Tommy John surgery) might not have much of an impact – and in Lackey’s case, this might actually be an "addition by subtraction" scenario -- on a team that is otherwise stacked from top to bottom. The only real question marks come from the pitching staff: can Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard can hold up the back end of their rotation? What will the bullpen do now that Andrew Bailey is out for half of the year? Will the team’s offensive output mask these deficiencies? The offense seems to be the organization’s undying hope, considering their decision to give Mike Aviles the starting shortstop gig over the promising Jose Iglesias.
If the Tigers’ top-end starters can continue the solid production they gave us in March and keep Boston’s lineup in check, they should be in good shape to come away from the first regular season series of 2012 with a winning record.