Red Sox-Rangers Preview

Nolan Ryan is giving himself a little wiggle room this time.

He’s not making a specific prediction on how many games he thinks

the Texas Rangers will win this season.

The Rangers president – and now CEO – still has significant

expectations for the defending American League champions.

”90-95 (wins). I gave myself a little range because everybody

kept pounding me on the 92,” Ryan said with a grin. ”So let’s see

if (fans) hang their sign this year with 90-95 on it. I bet they

don’t.”

Before last season, Ryan made what many considered an overly

optimistic prediction for a Rangers team that hadn’t been to the

playoffs in more than a decade. They won the AL West with 90 wins

in the regular season, then added eight more in the postseason.

Texas goes for its first victory of 2011 on Friday in its

most-anticipated opener. The Rangers raise their AL championship

flag before playing reloaded Boston.

The Red Sox missed the playoffs last season, but are widely

considered the AL East favorite after adding Carl Crawford and

Adrian Gonzalez, two of baseball’s most productive players.

There are some predictions of 100 wins, but like Texas, the Red

Sox are focused on trying to get the first one and building from

there.

”I don’t put numbers out there,” Kevin Youkilis said. ”I just

go out and just play the game and all the numbers and all the wins

will play themselves out after 162 games.”

With the addition of Gonzalez at first base, Youkilis switched

back to third base for the Red Sox, filling a vacancy created when

Adrian Beltre turned down a $10 million option to stay and instead

signed an $80 million, five-year deal with Texas that includes the

likelihood of another $16 million in 2016.

Beltre, a two-time Gold Glove winner, hit .321 with a

league-best 49 doubles, 28 home runs and 102 RBIs in his only

season with the Red Sox. He was an All-Star for the first time in

his 13-season career, and faces his old team in his Rangers

debut.

”It’s kind of a little weird, but it’s just another game,”

Beltre said. ”Hopefully get the first couple of games out of the

way and start the long journey.”

Beltre missed the first two weeks of spring training games

because of a right calf strain, and played only 10 games in

Arizona. But he said he’s ready for the season and an opening week

reunion for him that also includes a three-game series against

Seattle, the team he spent five seasons with before Boston.

C.J. Wilson, who won a Rangers-high 15 games last season after

moving from the bullpen to the rotation, starts the opener against

Jon Lester in a matchup of left-handers.

”I like pitching against good teams and I like pitching in

those kind of big situations,” Wilson said. ”Every victory is

important, but last year I pitched really well against the Red Sox,

so I’m sure they have a little bit of a bone to pick with me.”

Wilson was 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA in his three starts against

Boston last year. The Red Sox hit only .157 against him with 20

strikeouts and only two runs in 21 innings.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona made a couple of tweaks to his

expected regular lineup against Wilson.

Though J.D. Drew is expected to be the everyday right fielder,

Mike Cameron will start in right Friday and hit seventh. Youkilis

will bat fourth with Gonzalez fifth, though Francona plans for it

to be Gonzalez then Youkilis against right-handers.

Lester, who got the opening assignment ahead of Josh Beckett or

John Lackey, has also been pretty good against the Rangers. He

threw eight shutout innings in 100-degree heat at Rangers Ballpark

last August and has a 3-1 record with a 2.94 ERA in seven career

starts against them.

Ryan expects the Rangers to win the AL West again, and likes

that they are opening the season against Boston.

”Well, you might as well start with who you think is probably

the favorite in that division over there,” Ryan said. ”I really

think that they’re going to have the kind of club and the kind of

year we expect, so we know we’re going to see good pitching out of

them this series. So we’re going to have to be ready.”

The Red Sox worked out Thursday in Houston, where they played an

exhibition game the night before, instead of Rangers Ballpark.

Gonzalez made his major league debut with Texas in 2004, and was

traded to San Diego before the 2006 season. Crawford’s last game

with Tampa Bay was the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series

last season against Texas.

The Rangers opener comes exactly five months after San Francisco

clinched the World Series with a Game 5 victory in Texas.

”It’s an opportunity for the team to go out and raise the

bar,” said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger starting his

11th season. ”That’s really what being a winning team is all about

– experiencing some success, getting used to it and finding a way

to get back on top of the mountain. … So we’ll start from scratch

and try to build our way back up.”