Sox face daunting opening hurdles

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Sox face daunting opening hurdles

DETROIT -- In each of the past two seasons, the Red Sox missed out on qualifying for the post-season. In 2010, decimated by injuries, they finished six games out of a playoff spot.

Last season, they fell a mere game short, thanks to a blown lead in the last inning of the last game of the season.

But those two seasons have something else in common: the Sox started poorly both years. The Sox kicked off 2010 by going 6-10 and didn't get get over the .500 mark until May 10.

A year ago, they were a disastrous 2-10 and didn't have a winning record until May 16.

In both seasons, the point could be made that a better start might have enabled them to reach the post-season.

This year, the need to get off to a better start is even more acute, thanks a more balanced American Leauge. But getting out of the gate strong will be made more difficult because of the early-season schedule.

The first 15 games the Sox play this year come against teams who were .500 or better a year ago. Of those 15, 12 are against playoff teams from last fall.

The gauntlet:

Three (currently) against the Detroit Tigers, who reached the ALCS last October, then added one of the game's best sluggers, Prince Fielder, to their already-formidable lineup.

Three against the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished 81-81 last season, but are considered one of the game's budding powers with a deep farm system.

Four against the Tampa Bay Rays, who overtook the Red Sox in Game No. 162 last September, qualifying for the post-season for the second straight year and third time in the last four seasons. The Rays probably boast the deepest starting rotation in either league.

Two against the Texas Rangers, who have won the American League pennant in each of the last two seasons. Enough said.

Three against the New York Yankees, who won the East last season, led the American League in victories and have capture the division title 11 times in the last 14 seasons.

If the Sox can survive the first 2 12 weeks, things do get easier in terms of competition.

Starting April 23, the schedule almost completely reverses itself, with a string of series against teams not expected to do much damage in 2012.

From that date, when the Sox begin their second road trip of the season, they'll play the next 22 games against Minnesota (three games); the White Sox (four games), Oakland A's (three
games), Baltimore Orioles (three games), Kansas City Royals (three games), Cleveland Indians (four games) and Seattle Mariners (two games).

In fact, the Sox will go 3 12 weeks matched against teams who aren't expected to contend.

Getting there in good shape, however, will be a challenge.

Thomas won’t play Friday night vs. Raptors

Thomas won’t play Friday night vs. Raptors

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Celtics are about to hit one of the toughest stretches of the season and they’ll have to do it for at least one more game without their leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas. 
 
Thomas, who suffered a right groin injury on Monday against the Houston Rockets, did not play on Wednesday against Orlando and said that he will not play in Friday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors. 
 
“It’s day to day. I want to play. I want to be out there but it’s the smart decision to hold out and wait until it’s 100 percent,” Thomas said during a Season of Giving event for children of the Military Friends Foundation held at the Celtics’ practice facility. “If it was a playoff game I would be out there for sure.”
 
However, after consulting with a number of medical personnel, Thomas decided the best thing for him and the Celtics was to sit out Friday’s game which, along with Wednesday in Orlando, will be the first two he has missed since the 2014-2015 season. 
 
Thomas said there’s no specific timetable for his return, but he said he is planning to travel with the team to Oklahoma City for their matchup against the Thunder on Sunday. 
 
“It’s eating me a live to sit, but I have to do what’s best for my body, I have to do what’s best for this team,” Thomas said. “I need to be 100 percent healthy to give this team what I can give them.”
 
The Celtics are hoping for similar success they had Wednesday in Orlando (a 117-87 victory) on Friday against Toronto.
 
“They played a hell of a game last night,” Thomas said. “They’ll be ready tomorrow.”
 
The fact that Thomas intends to travel with the team is a good sign that the groin injury isn’t too serious. 
 
If he doesn’t play at Oklahoma City, that likely means he’ll return to action on Wednesday at San Antonio. 
 
“I’m going to do what I can to get back out there on the court,” Thomas said. “I gotta be smart about this. I don’t want this to linger on this season.”
 
Replacing Smart in the lineup against Toronto will most likely be Marcus Smart. 
 
Smart, who has been a replacement starter at small forward and point guard this season, had 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals against the Magic. 
 

Mitch Moreland fancies himself an ideal fit with Red Sox

Mitch Moreland fancies himself an ideal fit with Red Sox

Mitch Moreland put up mediocre numbers and won a Gold Glove in a walk year. For his efforts, he received a one-year, $5.5 million contract on the open market. 

That’s not a lot. Maybe his .233 average stood out to teams more than his 22 homers, but either way it’s somewhat surprising that a one-year deal on low money is the best he could do given the fact that his career average was .258 prior to last year and he’d hit .275 or higher in two of his previous four seasons. 

The contract might not be a major score for Moreland, but he said choosing Boston was. 

“I had a couple options, but really just the whole fact that it’s place that I really wanted to play,” he said of Boston. “Getting an opportunity to come here and be a part of a winning environment, being part of a winning environment and having a chance to go out and play for a championship is huge to me, personally, and this is a great option. 

“What they were able to do last year, you know you were in for a fight when you were playing these guys. It was a gritty group of guys that had a ton of talent. I like to think of myself as that type player, as a gritty type player and hopefully I felt like I could fit in here and move forward and try to help out and make that goal happen of winning a championship. 

“That’s the main goal as far as playing this game for me. I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity here, and that was before the [Chris] Sale news broke, too, you know? So seeing that also, it just shows you that we’re in it. We’re in it and trying to go all out to make that happen. I’m happy to be a part of it.” 

It doesn’t hurt that his batting average is higher at Fenway Park than it is in any other stadium in which he’s had at least 30 at-bats. Moreland has hit .341/.378/.683 with four homers and eight RBI in 41 career at-bats at Fenway. Asked to explain his success in Boston, he noted that “comfortable” was the only word that came to mind. 

So what is the Red Sox’ plan for the former Rangers first baseman? To play him at first against righties and let Hanley Ramirez DH, John Farrell said. 

Farrell did also point to Moreland’s recent work against lefties. Last season was one of two in his career (the other being 2013) in which Moreland had a better average against lefties than against righties. Moreland hit .277/.320/.479 against southpaws last season, with .221/.293/.407 marks against righties.

“Against right-handed starters, Mitch will be the first baseman,” Farrell said. “That gives us the flexibility to DH Hanley in that spot. One thing I also mentioned to Mitch is we’re certainly open to his at-bats growing in number against left-handers, last year was his best year against left-handers in his big league career.

"With Mitch, getting everyday at-bats against right-handed starters at first base and Hanley moving to the DH slot, that alignment, we also have the ability against quality left-handers, where Hanley would go back to first base and then we’ve got the ability to rotate some guys through the DH slot. 

Added Farrell: “His strengths as a player are many, but we feel this is a very good fit in a number of ways, and positionally first and foremost.”