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.
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.