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'Sky is the limit' for this year's Red Sox squad

'Sky is the limit' for this year's Red Sox squad

'Sky is the limit' for this year's Red Sox squad
Now comes the fun part for the 2011 Red Sox. Or is it the hard part?

They've been contemplating for weeks how good they can be. But starting on Friday afternoon at 4:05 ET in Texas with a matchup against the defending American League champion Rangers, the Red Sox will be on a 162-game quest of proving how good they can be.

They hope to take it a step further and win another 11 games in October.

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Ever since that frenzied 72-hour period back in December when general manager Theo Epstein traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, anticipation has engulfed Red Sox Nation.

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So now the mission for the Red Sox comes down to this: Living up to the hype.

"That's the game plan, that's the goal," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We want to go out there and work as hard as we can to be the best team we can be. We have to make sure that all of us are unselfish and play the game the right way."

And before assuming that the enormous expectations surrounding this team have all been a media creation, consider that it was right-hander Josh Beckett who said multiple times during Spring Training that a 100-win season was a goal.

The last Sox team to reach triple-digits in wins was the 1946 edition, led by Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr.

More than a half-century later, this group, which boasts 16 players who have been All-Stars, has the potential to be a similar juggernaut.

While the players are aware of the expectations, they aren't trying to hide from them. In fact, they seem to relish the chance to live up to the hype.

"Sky is the limit," said Crawford. "We can go a long way if we play to our abilities. We have big goals for this season."

Crawford played for an AL champion, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. But he doesn't know what it feels like to be the World Series champion.

"I'm really hungry for that," Crawford said. "I don't have one. My friends have them. The good thing is, these guys in the clubhouse are just as hungry as I am so I'm excited about that."

BOSTON RED SOX
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2 2B Dustin Pedroia
3 LF Carl Crawford
4 3B Kevin Youkilis
5 1B Adrian Gonzalez
6 DH David Ortiz
7 RF J.D. Drew
8 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
9 SS Marco Scutaro
Projected rotation
1 LHP Jon Lester
2 RHP John Lackey
3 RHP Clay Buchholz
4 RHP Josh Beckett
5 RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Jonathan Papelbon
SU RHP Daniel Bard
SU RHP Bobby Jenks
MI RHP Dan Wheeler
MI LHP Dennys Reyes
MI RHP Matt Albers
MI RHP Tim Wakefield
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

Gonzalez's postseason experience consists of just four games in 2006. A sustained October run, one that ends with a victory parade, is what he thirsts for at this point in his career.

"It would be an incredible feeling," Gonzalez said. "That's what I'm here for. Hopefully that will be the result at the end of the year."

There isn't a whole lot of ring flaunting that goes on in the Red Sox clubhouse from those who remain from the 2004 and '07 championship squads.

"I've got two rings sitting at home," said third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "I never look at them. For me personally, I want as many rings as I can possibly have, because it means a lot of success and hard work paid off."

If there's a common trait that the stars on this team have, it's the grind-it-out attitude.

Nobody embodies that more than Pedroia.

"We have a team this year with a lot of talent," Pedroia said. "I have to make sure that not only me, but everyone doesn't try to do more than they're capable of doing. We have to go out there and play our game and be ourselves and just win ballgames. That's our job. We have to put everything aside and play winning baseball."

One thing the Red Sox should do a ton of is hit. The top third of the lineup consists of Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia and Crawford. The middle third will be occupied, in some order, by Gonzalez, Youkilis and David Ortiz. J.D. Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marco Scutaro don't figure to be easy outs in the 7-8-9 slots.

"We talk all the time about trying to keep the line moving and not having easy innings," said manager Terry Francona. "I think we have a group of guys that should make pitchers work. We have some speed, we have some power, we have some switch hitters. It's our responsibility to prepare and then go grind it out."

Ultimately, however, the Red Sox might only be as good as they pitch. To be one of the top rotations in the game, Beckett and John Lackey must rebound from their subpar seasons of a year ago. Daisuke Matsuzaka needs to be less of an enigma. The bullpen, plagued by ineffectiveness last year, needs to rebound, and could be in position to do so, thanks to the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.

"If you don't pitch, it's really tough to be a good team," Francona said. "You've got to score runs, and we understand that, but if you go out there and pitch, you give yourselves a chance."

The Sox also need to stay healthy to reach their maximum potential -- something that didn't come close to happening a year ago.

"We're looking good," said Ortiz. "Hopefully God will keep on blessing us and keep all those injuries away from this ballclub so we can fulfill all the expectations people have for us."

Francona will never get carried away by the big picture of how good his team might be. He'd rather focus on the daily process of getting the most out of his club.

That process beings Friday in Arlington.

"Well I don't ever base my optimism on the pundits," Francona said. "I like our team. I like the way we worked in Spring Training. I like our talent. It's 162 games -- it's a long year. A lot of things happen, but we're excited. Now we have to go show it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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