Welcome to the inaugural 2011 edition of my "Dead Red" column!
There isn't much debate as to why the Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs and dropped all the way to a disappointing third place finish in the heavily competitive American East division (behind the division-winning Tampa Bay Rays and Wild Card-winning New York Yankees), though an 89-73 record isn't something to be ashamed of. The culprit was injuries, injuries and more injuries (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek and Jacoby Ellsbury to name a few). Plus, lousy seasons by former Sox ace Josh Beckett, closer Jonathan Papelbon and former Anaheim Angels ace John Lackey (who is now entering the second season of his five-year $82.5 million deal with Boston) didn't help the cause.
Now, with everyone healthy and ready to go, Sox manager Terry Francona has named his starting rotation for the first week of games of the 2011 regular season. Jon Lester, one of the best southpaws in the game, rightly gets the honor to take the mound on Opening Day on April 1 against 2010 AL champs the Texas Rangers. It will be his first ever Opening Day start but should be his second in a row, as Francona chose Beckett to be last year's Opening Day starter and many (including myself) thought that was the wrong move, since Lester was without question the better pitcher.
Lackey will get the home opener against the Yankees a week later, and with some weight loss over the offseason and more familiarity with the AL East, he hopes to regain ace-like form. Beckett too, with his back problems in ineffectiveness the past few years, has something to prove as well, as he drops all the way to fourth in the starting rotation to start the year, with Clay Buchholz getting the third start and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fifth spot. Poor Tim Wakefield gets shut out and left for the bullpen as emergency starter and inning-eating reliever.