McAdam: Red Sox face real test on road vs. Rangers

McAdam: Red Sox face real test on road vs. Rangers
May 3, 2013, 12:00 pm
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TORONTO -- Now comes the hard part.
     
At 20-8, the Red Sox sport the best record in all of Major League Baseball, a stunning turn of events for a team which lost 93 games last year and finished in last place in its division.
     
But through the first 4 1/2 weeks of the season, the Red Sox have been the beneficiaries of a relatively easy schedule. Of their first 28 games, 16 came against teams who now have a losing reocrd. In those 16 games, the Sox are a stunning 14-2.
     
Matched against teams with winning records, however, the Sox are a less impressive 6-6.
     
None of which takes anything away from what the Red Sox have accomplished. They have no control over the schedule, or when they play teams.
     
Moreover, some of the teams with winning records now -- say, Kansas City, which took two-of-three in a series at Fenway last month -- may not have them in a month or two. And some teams which are currently under .500 -- like Tampa Bay -- are unlikely to remain that way.
     
Nor should the Sox apologize for beating up on the likes of the lowly Houston Astros, whom they swept in a four-game series at Fenway last week.
     
Good teams -- or teams that aspire to be good -- take advantage of soft spots in their schedules. Similarly, the Sox are lucky to have had two series with the the Blue Jays at a time when the Jays are clearly not at their best.
     
Starting Friday night, the Red Sox play a three-game series, on the road, against the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have won two of the last three pennants and began play Thursday tied for the second-best record in the American League.
     
Despite reaching the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and qualifying for the post-season again last year, the Rangers are a team in transition, having lost Josh Hamilton (Angels) and Mike Napoli (Red Sox) to free agency.
     
One of the game's most potent offenses the last three seasons, and playing in one of the best hitting ballparks in either league, the Rangers are seventh in the A.L. in runs scored and tied for seventh in home runs.
     
Moreover, they've been hit hard by injuries to their pitching staff. Matt Harrison has undergone two back surgeries and Colby Lewis is recovering from elbow surgery. That represents 40 percent of their rotation from a season ago.
     
Worse, the Rangers are also without Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery) and highly-touted prospect Martin Perez (fractured forearm).
     
Still, Texas has pitched exceedingly well, with a league-best 3.20 ERA. The Sox will face three starters this weekend, and none has an ERA higher than 3.38.
     
And though the offense isn't as formidable as it has been in recent seasons, a lineup with Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler isn't to be regarded lightly.
     
The Red Sox have won each of their first four road series of the season, something they hadn't previously done since 1982. If they can make it five this weekend, however, they'll have taken a big step toward convincing everyone that their hot start isn't a fluke.