It feels wrong to call this a series, as the Rangers are just in town for two days. But given they have been to the last two World Series, and are currently sporting an 8-2 record, maybe two games in an already-tough April schedule is more than enough.
It's likely the Rangers are the class of the American League once again, so there's no shame in losing to them. But with the Red Sox already 4-6, and coming off of a strong series against the Rays, let's be a little more positive and go for broke. With the pitchers Boston is throwing their way, there's a distinct possibility they'll come out ahead in both contests.
Game 1: Colby Lewis (12-2/3 IP, 15.0 K/BB, 321 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (15 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 176 ERA+)
Game 2: Derek Holland (13-1/3 IP, 4.3 K/BB, 135 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (12-2/3 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 75 ERA+)
Jon Lester has been off to a wonderful start, even if the Red Sox can't score any runs for him. He's got nothing on Colby Lewis, though, who has 15 strikeouts in his two starts, and has walked all of one batter. He's been mostly great since the Rangers brought him back from Japan in 2010, and if he can keep the ball in the park, that will continue. The Red Sox are certainly capable of going yard, but if Lewis pitches like he can, they'll have trouble scoring runs even with their lineup. Of course, baseball's a funny game: you could have said the same about the Rays, and the Red Sox dominated their non-Shields starters all weekend.
Josh Beckett's first start was as alarming as his second one was comforting. His velocity is still a bit down, but his command was infinitely better, and he finished off 30 percent of his batters faced with a groundout. We'd appreciate a bit more of a do-it-yourself approach from Beckett while facing the imposing lineup of his home state, but there's nothing wrong with groundballs if the infield can handle them, either. His opponent, Derek Holland, is coming off of his breakout 2011, and looks to be trying to prove he's worth his shiny new extension all at once. Like Lewis, he won't be an easy target for the Red Sox, but even without Jacoby Ellsbury they feature a potent lineup.
Ian Kinsler is doing the same, as the second baseman is slugging .648 to start the year, leading the AL in home runs with four. Old friend Adrian Beltre mans third base, but here's hoping we don't get to see him go deep from one knee in this midweek tilt. Another former Red Sox, David Murphy, has been spending his time in left field to begin the year, to the Rangers' benefit: he's hitting .286/.323/.536, a 122 OPS+ once park is taken into account. Michael Young (124 OPS+) and Josh Hamilton (194) are as dangerous as ever.
The bullpen is also better than it was last time the Red Sox handled the Rangers. Alexi Ogando is back in relief, now that Neftali Feliz is having his own Daniel Bard Experiment. Joe Nathan has the closer role, and his return from injury has been a mixed, but promising, assortment of appearances. Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, both acquired at last year's trade deadline, are also in the mix. Knocking Lewis or Holland out early doesn't mean a whole lot to this team, unless the Red Sox make it count with early runs.
It's a shame we won't get to see Feliz face Bard in a battle of converted relievers, or get a chance to watch Yu Darvish pitch in Fenway Park, but if you're looking for competitive baseball, it's tough to complain about the two match-ups of this short series. With the number of quality teams in the AL this year, the Rangers will have to run away with the west to avoid being in a playoff discussion with the Red Sox for much of the year.