Monday, April 6, 2015

Revamped Red Sox begin title quest vs. Hamels, Phils

The Red Sox and Phillies will resume a rivalry that began when they faced each other in the 1915 World Series with an Opening Day matchup at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.
A more recent connection between the franchises centered on Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Despite spring-long speculation that Boston might trade for the left-hander, he remains in red pinstripes and will start against Boston's Clay Buchholz. First pitch is set for 3:05 p.m.
And there's Shane Victorino, a star of the Phillies run of five straight division championship starting in 2007. Now the Red Sox right fielder, he'll be getting his first at-bats in Citizens Bank Park since being traded to the Dodgers at the Deadline in 2012.
Both teams are coming off last-place finishes in 2014, but enter the new season with dramatically different expectations.
The Red Sox have made extensive roster renovations, not to mention an up-close-and-personal view of what's possible after winning the World Series in 2013 a year after finishing last. To bolster their chances they shelled out $95 million to sign Pablo Sandoval and $88 million for Hanley Ramirez to reinvigorate their offense. The club also signed Rusney Castillo for $72.5 million last year, and the outfielder will start the year in the Minors. Buchholz is the only starter remaining from Opening Day 2014. Rick Porcello was acquired from Detroit and Wade Miley from Arizona in the offseason while Joe Kelly came from St. Louis before the Trade Deadline last season.
"I think there's a lot of excitement, and rightfully so, about the additions [general manager Ben Cherington] has made to our team," manager John Farrell said. "This is a talented group."
In addition to revamping the rotation, the Red Sox have addressed concerns about an offense that had a .684 OPS last season; only the Mariners finished lower in the American League. "There's no question our lineup is much more deep," Farrell added. "It's got more power potential. It's got a chance to be a dynamic-type lineup."
The Phillies, on the other hand, have been upfront that they view this as a rebuilding season.
Club president Pat Gillick candidly said on multiple occasions that he doesn't expect the Phillies to contend in 2015 or '16. "I don't think it's in the cards. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018," he said.
That's why, despite hitting fewer home runs (125) than any season since 1997, the Phillies traded Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, who combined to hit more than a third of them. But those deals netted Minor League pitchers Zach Eflin, Tom Windle and Ben Lively who, the Phillies hope, can help form the basis of their next great rotation.
For the series finale, players from both teams will wear replica 1915 caps, commemorating the centennial of the Phillies first World Series appearance. Even though the opening of a new season is a time to look forward, in this case it will be fun to reflect a little on the past as well.

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