The Red Sox have left New York to head for Toronto, in order to take on the Blue Jays in their second series of the year. Boston finds themselves in first place -- for whatever little that is worth this early on, it certainly beats the recent past -- while the Blue Jays, after dropping two of three to the Indians, are in what constitutes last place three games in.
Game 1: Felix Doubront vs. Josh Johnson
Doubront makes his first start of the year against Johnson, whom the Blue Jays acquired this off-season in their mega-trade with the Marlins that also brought Jose Reyes and assorted other over the border. While Johnson is attempting to prove that he can be both healthy and effective at the same time, Doubront's goal in 2013 is to show he can be efficient enough -- and productive enough -- to not be the first piece removed from the rotation once one of Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, or Rubby De La Rosa is ready for big-league duty.
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Johnson posted a 3.81 ERA last year, which looks decent enough on the surface. However, it came in the NL, and in a park that favor pitchers, so his ERA+ was just above the league average at 104. While that's not bad -- the Red Sox could have used something like that the last two years -- it's not quite season-changing for Toronto like a return to Johnson's glory years would be, such as when he posted a 151 ERA+ from 2008 through 2011. Johnson had a strong spring, for whatever that's worth, and on Friday night the Red Sox will see if he can carry that over into games that count against competition that matters.
Game 2: John Lackey vs. J.A. Happ
John Lackey makes his return to the mound for the first time since September 25, 2011. While you might have forgotten by now, Lackey actually pitched well in that game, giving up three runs to the Yankees in Yankee Stadium over six innings while the Red Sox were desperately trying to maintain their lead for a playoff spot. All this while his elbow was in a condition that would necessitate Tommy John surgery once the regular season ended, too. Yes, he did contribute to the September disaster, as well as plenty of other poor starts during the year, but keep in mind that this had more to do with the front office not having a replacement for a clearly injured pitcher more than it does with Lackey himself.
He's 18 months removed from Tommy John now, though, and while he wasn't as sharp in the spring as you'd like, that's to be expected. Hopefully his command can settle in sooner than later, and he can keep the Jays' bats quiet enough to let the offense take Saturday's game.
Lackey will be facing off against J.A. Happ, who ended up in the rotation after the Jays demoted Ricky Romero to keep him from fixing his own command issues in games that count in the standings. Happ is a lefty, so expect to see Boston's lefty-crushing lineup. One that will likely have more success against back-end starter Happ than it did against Andy Pettitte, who somehow has still got it at 41.
Game 3: Jon Lester vs. R.A. Dickey
In Sunday's contest, we've got the first repeat starters of the year in Lester and Dickey. The latter was part of the other huge trade the Jays made this off-season, in which they brought in the missing ace they needed atop their rotation to complete their transformation from disappointment to potential contender. His first start didn't go all that well, with four walks and four strikeouts over six innings earning him a loss against Cleveland. Lester's went better, with the lefty going just five innings, but punching out seven against two walks while limiting the Yankees to two runs in those frames.
The Jays can certainly hit, and they were the club that destroyed Lester late last July, finally leading to Boston changing the lefty's preparation in between starts in order to figure out his mechanical issue. Another good start on Sunday to close out the series would help along the idea that Lester is back as Boston's top arm once more.
There is more to this series than the pitchers, of course. It's John Farrell's return to Toronto, which should be fun assuming Boston wins and Blue Jays fans get to have a big ole sad about it. Jose Bautista might be hurt, as he has a twisted ankle, so if he's absent or less than 100 percent it could make things tougher on Toronto. Plus, this is the first meeting between two teams who did the most to upgrade in the AL East, if not the entire AL, this off-season. Seeing them begin what should be the first of many important 2013 series is significant, as each and every victory and loss could mean the difference between playoffs or no playoffs come October, given this division's nature.
You know, no pressure or anything.
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