Red Sox-Brewers series preview

April 04, 2014 - 7:20 am
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It'€™ll be a special day at Fenway on Friday afternoon as the reigning World Series champions return home for the first time since beating the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2013 Fall Classic.

The rings will be distributed, the banner will be displayed and the Red Sox will kick off the first home series of the season, taking on the Brewers.

The ceremonies are set to begin at 1 p.m. and include a helicopter flyover from the U.S. Coast Guard, a performance by the Dropkick Murphys and Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, and of course, the ring ceremony, as well as a tribute to the fallen firefighters who died in the nine-alarm blaze in the Back Bay on March 26.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be emotional," first baseman Mike Napoli told MLB.com. "Boston knows how to put on a good ceremony. I've seen it before. I imagine the atmosphere is going to be amazing and the fans are going to be going nuts. It's going to be a fun day. I'm looking forward to it."

First pitch is set for 2:05 p.m., with the Brewers coming to Fenway for the first time since 2011.

The Red Sox opened the season on a positive note, taking the final two games of the series against the Orioles after dropping the opener. The Brewers, on the other hand, dropped two of three to the Braves despite solid performances from their starting pitchers. This is the earliest in the season the Brewers have ever faced an American League opponent in interleague play. The Red Sox have won seven of the nine interleague contests between the two clubs.

Here are the pitching matchups for the first home series of 2014.

Friday: Jake Peavy (0-0, 0.00) vs. Marco Estrada (0-0, 0.00)

Saturday: Clay Buchholz (0-0, 0.00) vs. Wily Peralta (0-0,0.00)

Sunday: Jon Lester (0-1, 2.57) vs. Yovani Gallardo (1-0, 0.00)

WHO'€™S HOT: RED SOX

-- Xander Bogaerts isn'€™t having much trouble adjusting to his role as the team's everyday shortstop. The 21-year-old has reached base in eight of his 11 plate appearances, going 5-for-9 with a double and drawing three walks in the opening series. Batting out of the 5-hole in the rubber match with the Orioles on Thursday, Bogaerts went 3-for-4 and scored twice. While he'€™s batted either fifth or seventh in the lineup so far, he'€™s making a case for a shot at an audition in the leadoff spot, since there seems to be some uncertainty at the top of the order.

-- Napoli made it clear to the Orioles that he poses just as much of an offensive threat as the hitter ahead of him, singling in two runs (his third and fourth RBIs of the night) after David Ortiz was intentionally walked in the seventh inning of Wednesday night'€™s contest. Earlier that night, Napoli launched his first home run of 2014. Not only has Napoli been getting it done at the plate, he has proven that he reliable defensively at first base. Though he was the only member of the starting nine to go hitless in the series finale, he'€™s come up with some big hits right out of the gate.

-- The Red Sox bullpen turned out to be a major strength in 2013, and 2014 is proving to be no different. The relief corps has been just about flawless thus far, with Sox relievers tossing a total of 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the opening series. Chris Capuano was perfect in his Red Sox debut on Thursday, while Koji Uehara earned his first save of the season in Uehara-like fashion, sending the Orioles down in order on seven pitches in the ninth. Junichi Tazawa is the only man out of the bullpen to appear in all three games so far, giving up four hits and striking out three over three innings.

WHO'€™S HOT: BREWERS

-- It'€™s been a while since the Brewers had a 1-2 punch in the middle of the order. With Aramis Ramirez missing 55 games in 2013 thanks to a nagging knee injury and Ryan Braun battling some injuries before serving his season-ending suspension, the two haven'€™t appeared in a game together since June 8 of last year. Ramirez seems to be enjoying batting behind Braun again, going 5-for-10 with three RBIs to kick off the season. He provided all the offense in the opener (the Brewers' only win so far), hitting a two-run double.

-- Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo was dominant in his fifth straight Opening Day start for Milwaukee, holding the Braves scoreless while allowing  four hits through six innings and earning the win.

-- The Brewers€™ offense has been quiet for the most part over the first three games of the season, but catcher Jonathan Lucroy is swinging a relatively hot bat, though he doesn't have much to show for it. Lucroy is 4-for-10 with four singles, but he hasn't scored or driven in a run. He even stole a base, his first of the year after swiping nine bags in 10 chances in 2013.

WHO'€™S NOT: RED SOX

-- A hot start to the season would be huge for Will Middlebrooks, and while that may not be the case for the third baseman, Thursday'€™s performance was a step in the right direction. Middlebrooks went 0-for-7 in the first two games before driving in a run on a double play in his first at-bat in the rubber match of the series. He finished the night with a 2-for-4 showing, leaving just one man on base after stranding seven in the first two games combined.

-- Daniel Nava'€™s subpar spring showing (9-for-44 in 17 games) may be carrying over into the regular season. Usually an on-base machine, Nava was penciled in at the top of the order for the first two games but went 1-for-9 with no walks out of the leadoff spot. Manager John Farrell opted to give Jonny Gomes a shot at leading off on Thursday, dropping Nava to the 6-hole, where he went 1-for-4.

-- Shane Victorino is not feeling so hot. The outfielder is on the disabled list dealing with a strained hamstring and has been unable to be around his teammates thanks to a nasty case of the flu. Not only did Victorino miss joining the rest of the World Series champions at the White House during Tuesday'€™s off-day, it'€™s possible he may not participate in Friday'€™s ring ceremony. He flew to Boston ahead of the team to receive treatment for the ailing hamstring.

WHO'€™S NOT: BREWERS

-- Despite an impressive spring training in which he hit .417 with a 1.306 OPS with eight extra-base knocks, Braun has gotten off to a slow start in his first regular-season games since last July. The outfielder is just 1-for-11 with a single, walk and stolen base. But at least Braun has the support of his hometown fans in the wake of his suspension related to performance-enhancing drugs in 2013; the former MVP elicited a standing ovation from the Brewers€™ crowd on Opening Day. Red Sox fans might not be so welcoming on Friday, Braun's first road game since the suspension.

-- Big things are expected from outfielder Khris Davis in his first full season after slugging .596 in 56 games during his 2013 rookie campaign. But Davis, who put up lackluster numbers in spring training, struggled in his first two games and was replaced in left field by Logan Schafer for the final game of the opening series with the Braves. The 26-year-old went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in the first two contests of the year while adding a strikeout in one at-bat as a pinch hitter on Wednesday.

-- Jean Segura opened eyes last season when he hit .367/.418/.567 in April, which included going 5-for-11 in his first three games. History isn't repeating itself in 2014, however. The shortstop has yet to collect his first hit of the season, going 0-for-7 with a walk and a run scored in two games.

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