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Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Jon Lester vs. Justin Verlander

04.05.12 at 5:15 am ET

After the sharp sting of the 2011 season, the number of major changes made to the organization in the offseason and all the eager hours of anticipation, the Red Sox will take back to the field as they kick off their 2012 season Thursday against the Tigers in Detroit. Both teams will look to get their respective seasons started on a winning note by wheeling out their premier starting pitchers, as the Red Sox will throw Jon Lester against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander.

Lester will be making his second consecutive Opening Day start, as he got the nod last year when the Red Sox lost 9-5 to the Rangers. In that start, Lester went 5 1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits, three of which were home runs.

Even with a less-than-ideal start to open the season, Lester emerged as perhaps the team’s most reliable starting pitcher. In 31 starts in 2011, Lester went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 75 walks. His 15 wins were the most of any Red Sox pitcher and his ERA was bested by only one Red Sox starter (Josh Beckett). In spring training, Lester has shown no signs that his production will deteriorate, as he threw 18 innings and went 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA.

With the game scheduled for a 1 p.m. start, Lester will be pitching in two situations in which he thrived last season. Despite just a 5-5 record in 13 starts at Fenway Park last season, Lester went 10-4 on the road with a 3.47 ERA. In day games, he was 7-3 with a 3.25 ERA.

None of Lester’s 18 road starts last year took place at Comerica Park and Lester has not pitched there, or against the Tigers at all, since the 2010 season. In two starts against the Tigers that year, Lester struggled mightily, going 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA. One of those starts was at Comerica, a game in which Lester pitched seven innings and gave up four earned runs in what turned out to be a no-decision. Lester owns a 5.89 career ERA against the Tigers, his highest mark against any American League team.

The Tigers lineup that Lester will face Thursday is expected to be one of, if not the best in Major League Baseball this season. Last season, the Tigers, as a team, batted .277, which ranked them third among MLB teams, trailing only the Rangers and Red Sox. Additionally, Detroit was fourth in hits, RBIs and runs, making it one of the most accomplished offenses in the league. The Tigers were only 11th among MLB teams in home runs, but that can be attributed to playing half of their games at cavernous Comerica Park.

What was already a potent Tigers offense was upgraded immensely in the offseason with the addition of prized free agent Prince Fielder. Last season playing for the Brewers, Fielder was among the leading candidates for the National League MVP, batting .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs. He ranked second in the National League in home runs and RBIs, trailing Matt Kemp of the Dodgers in both categories. Detroit, however, will be without catcher Victor Martinez for the entire season due to injury.

Staring down the Red Sox on the mound, though, will be a different challenge entirely as the team’s offense will have to do its best to produce runs against one of the game’s best pitchers in Verlander. The 29-year-old is coming off of a banner 2011 season in which he posted a 24-5 record, a 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts and 57 walks. For his performance, Verlander won not only the American League Cy Young, but also the American League MVP, making him the first pitcher to win the league’s MVP since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

Verlander’s mastery last season extended to the Red Sox. In two starts against the Sox, one of which was at Comerica Park, Verlander pitched 15 2/3 innings, going 1-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Continuing his outright dominance from last season, Verlander remained sharp in spring training, starting six games and going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA.

Despite the sour note on which the 2011 season ended for the Red Sox, the team actually sported one of the most accomplished offenses in baseball last season, one that could present some challenges to Verlander. As a team, the Red Sox batted .280 and led the majors in runs (875), hits (1600) and RBIs (842).

However, Verlander was his best at home last season, going 10-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 16 starts at Comerica Park. Furthermore, Verlander excelled in day games in 2011, going 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 10 starts.

Red Sox vs. Verlander

Carl Crawford (29 plate appearances): .310 BA/.310 OBP/.310 SLG, 9 hits, 2 strikeouts

Nick Punto (29): .154/.241/.154, 4 hits, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 10 strikeouts

David Ortiz (21): .278/.381/.667, 5 hits, 1 double, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts

Kelly Shoppach (20): .222/.300/.500, 4 hits, 2 doubles, 1 home run, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (20): .300/.300/.600, 6 hits, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 2 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (16): .214/.250/.286, 3 hits, 1 double, 1 RBI, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Mike Aviles (10): .300/.300/.300, 3 hits, 1 strikeout

Adrian Gonzalez (10): .143/.400/.575, 1 hit, 1 home run, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (10): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts

Ryan Sweeney (10): .200/.200/.200, 2 hits, 3 strikeouts

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (6): .000/.000/.000, 4 strikeouts

Ryan Kalish (3): .000/.000/.000, 1 RBI, 1 strikeout

Tigers vs. Lester

Delmon Young (30 plate appearances): .240 BA/.300 OBP/.240 SLG, 2 RBIs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts

Jhonny Peralta (21): .235/.381/.588, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts

Miguel Cabrera (12): .500/.583/.500, 5 hits, 2 walks

Gerald Laird (11): .182/.182/.273, 2 hits, 1 double, 4 strikeouts

Austin Jackson (8): .143/.250/.143, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Brennan Boesch (7): .286/.286/.571, 2 hits, 1 triple, 2 RBIs, 4 strikeouts

Prince Fielder (4): .333/.500/.333, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Ryan Rayburn (3): .333/.333/.333, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts

Danny Worth (3): .500/.667/.500, 1 hit, 1 walk

Read More: Dennis Eckersley, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, justin verlander
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