Friday, April 1, 2011

Texas Rangers vs Boston Red Sox: C.J. Wilson, Jon Lester Battle in Arlington

Though Major League Baseball officially opened their season on Thursday with six games on the schedule, the rest of the league will open their 2011 season on Friday with 11 games on the slate.

One of those will take place in Arlington, Texas as the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers will begin their defense of their league championship. The team they're hosting, the Boston Red Sox, have been talked about as the best team in not only the American League but the entire Major Leagues.

It's been an interesting off season for the Rangers. Losing out on Cliff Lee, who decided to depart for Philadelphia, the signing of free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, the trade demands of Michael Young, and their former CEO Chuck Greenberg stepping down. Needless to say there's been no shortage of news coming from the team while they were in Surprise, Arizona for spring training.

On Friday afternoon, right hander C.J. Wilson will take over as the team's new ace of the starting rotation. He'll take the mound at Rangers' Ballpark to take on young Red Sox right hander Jon Lester.

Wilson became one of the surprises for the Rangers last season as he stepped up to be the number two man behind Lee and made several big starts for the team when they needed them the most. He made 33 starts for Texas in 2010 finishing 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA.

As for Lester, he came up one win short of a 20-win season and looks to be one of the best young pitchers in the game today. In 32 starts for Boston, Lester finished 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA.

This is the beginning of a long road for both teams. While we can talk about what the Rangers and Red Sox can or will do on paper, a lot of things could change between now and October.

As most say, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Here's a preview of today's game, players to watch, keys for the Rangers and what they need to do to get off to a good start to the 2011 season.

C.J. Wilson (career against Boston) 15 games, 32.1 IP, 3 starts, 3-1 1.42 ERA

Jon Lester (career against Texas) 7 games, 49.0 IP, 7 starts, 3-1 2.94 ERA

Key Offensive Players:

Against Jon Lester (hot): Adrian Beltre (.364, 4/11), Josh Hamilton (.313, 5/16), Elvis Andrus (.333, 4/12), Nelson Cruz (.400, 4/10), Mike Napoli (.500, 3/6), Michael Young (.391, 9/23)

Against Jon Lester (cold): David Murphy (.222, 2/9), Ian Kinsler (.125, 2/16)

Keys to the game:

C.J. Wilson needs to stay in front of the hitters. He's going to be facing arguably the strongest offensive lineup in baseball. Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, and Kevin Youkilis just to name a few.

The moment he falls behind, he's going to be forced to throw pitches these hitters are going to be looking for. Gonzalez is going to be his biggest problem. He's one of the best hitters in baseball and can put an outside fastball into the right field seats and take an inside fastball and crush it to left. Don't feed him fastballs he's too good for that.

Gonzalez is going to struggle when the ball is up in the zone. Keep the ball at the letters or higher and don't get him a chance to extend his arms. He's the one guy who can make your day miserable. If Wilson can keep him off the stat sheets and keep his pitch count down, he should be able to keep his team in the game.

Beltre and Hamilton need to lead the offense. Assuming they start Kinsler at second they have to assume his struggles against Lester are going to continue. They have the power to beat the young right hander but they need to work the count.

Swinging at first pitches isn't going to get it done. Lester is not going to be an easy pitcher to deal with no matter which team is facing him. He has a career .244 batting average against, .245 against left handers and .248 against right handers.

The Rangers' offense is going to need to pick their spots and make sure they take full advantage of any mistakes. Miss one chance and you may not get another one.

This will be a telling sign of where the team is regardless of the fact it's the first three games of the season. Winning two of three would be huge for this team.

Follow Todd Kaufmann @T_Kaufmann on Twitter or find him on Facebook

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