Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five most anticipated series of the 2011 Red Sox season

Red Sox fans are already excited for the upcoming season and they won't have to wait long to watch their team face off in some of the most compelling series of the season.

Most of the most highly anticipated match-ups start right off the bat in the first two months. Below are five of the most anticipated series for the coming year:

Honorable Mention:
San Diego Padres, Fenway Park, June 20-22.
After trading Adrian Gonzalez away to the Red Sox, San Diego's general manager Jed Hoyer told the media that Adrian would be a "monster" in Boston's historic ball-park. It won't take long for Padres fans to see for themselves as Gonzalez will face off against his former team in just the third month of the season.

The Red Sox have never lost a series to the Padres -- facing them in 2002, 2004 and 2007 and winning 2-1 each time. The Sox faced Adrian Gonzalez in a Padres uniform for their first and only time in 2007, holding him to only one hit and five strikeouts over three games.

San Diego isn't likely to be much of a contender anymore without him, however, it's a big deal whenever someone faces off against their former team. Especially this soon. Expect plenty of hype for this series.

5.) Detroit Tigers, Fenway Park, May 18-19.
This case of a player versus his former team hits a little closer to home for Red Sox fans. The departure of Victor Martinez in the off-season was lamented by many in Sox Nation. Though the signings of Crawford and Gonzalez have surely subdued some of that, there are still those who criticize the Sox for letting Martinez go and picking up Ortiz's option.

This series will be the first time the Red Sox will face their former teammate. While Victor's stay in Boston was short-lived (only 1 1/2 seasons) he endeared himself to fans because of his ability as a hitter. Last year, Martinez hit .302 with 20 home runs, 79 RBIs and a .493 slugging percentage. If Victor has some big games against the Red Sox, it's likely to leave some Boston fans grumbling.

4.) Philadelphia Philles, Citizens Bank Park, June 28-30.
From a national perspective, this has to be one of the biggest series of the year. In all likelihood, it could be a preview of the 2011 World Series.

The Red Sox and Phillies came out of the off-season as the two clear-cut winners in free-agency. Boston made their splash by, of course, trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford. Philly meanwhile swooped in behind the Yankees and Rangers to sign Cliff Lee -- giving them indisputably the best starting rotation in the Majors. In addition to Lee, the Phillies will have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. With most of the starting nine from their two World Series trips still intact, they will be very tough to beat.

Come June, it will be must-see TV to watch the Philadelphia pitchers face off against the Red Sox-revamped lineup.

3.) Tampa Bay Rays, Fenway Park, April 11-13
This is by far the biggest case of players facing their former team. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were two of the biggest contributors to the Red Sox championships in 2004 and 2007.

Damon's caveman look will forever be branded into the image of that 2004 Red Sox team and his grand slam in Game 7 of the ALCS comeback against the Yankees will live on forever in Boston lore. However, so will his signing with New York just a season later.

Manny Ramirez always made headlines in Boston. Good or bad. Whether it was hitting his 500th home run in a Boston uniform in 2008, winning the World Series MVP in 2004, or leaving the field to use the rest room in the middle of the games Manny was always doing something to give fans something to talk about.

Now the two of them have joined Boston's newest rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. The storyline of these two Red Sox heroes turned enemies now signing with the Rays has made such a huge splash that when this series comes around, it's likely to even overshadow the fact that Carl Crawford will be playing against his former team.

After the Rays lost some of their big contributors like Matt Garza and Crawford, there didn't look like there'd be much interest in their games with the Red Sox. However, Ramirez and Damon changed all of that. Now, the Rays games will be some of the most highly hyped all season.

2.) New York Yankees, Fenway Park, April 8-10.
The Yankees haven't gotten much better this off-season. After losing out on Cliff Lee in free-agency, they haven't added any big names. Their biggest signing has been bringing back an aging Derek Jeter. In fact, with Andy Pettite retiring, they've likely gotten worse.

However, it's always a big deal when the Yankees and the Red Sox square off and it should be no surprise that these are some of the most expensive tickets on the market right now.

In addition to it being the first Sox-Yankees series, it will also be the home opener for Boston. The Red Sox will want to showcase their new weapons in Crawford and Gonzalez to their rivals in New York. It will be the first test for the new additions. Everyone in Boston is anxious to see how they perform in one of the oldest and biggest rivalries in professional sports.

1.) Chicago Cubs, Fenway Park, May 20-22.
Not a big rivalry but certainly a big deal. Right now, the cheapest seat you can buy will cost you $119 at stubhub.com.

If you think Sox fans waited a long time to win a World Series, it's been even longer since the Cubs have played a game at Fenway Park. Nearly a century. The last game the Cubs played at Fenway was in the 1918 World Series. Babe Ruth was still on the team, there was no curse yet. Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and nearly every Red Sox legend had yet to even be born.

The last time the Red Sox faced the Cubs was in 2005 at Wrigley Field, a series they lost 2-1. However, right now the Cubs are a team in transition. They aren't likely to be much of a threat to the Sox in this series (except for the night they put Sox-killer Matt Garza on the mound). Despite the fact that they may not be great games, when two storied franchises are squaring off at Fenway Park for the first time in 92 years, it has to be the most anticipated series of 2011.

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