BALTIMORE (AP) — The Boston Red Sox won't have the luxury of easing into a new season as defending World Series champions.
Boston will be tested right off the bat Monday, opening on the road against the improved Baltimore Orioles and 16-game winner Chris Tillman. The Orioles were the only team in the AL East with a winning record (11-8) against the Red Sox last season, and Baltimore expects to be even better in 2014.
"This is always a challenge to come into Baltimore, or playing them in Fenway," Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday. "This is a very good team. We've had a chance to see their regular lineup in spring training, and it's deep and powerful. Just another example of how difficult this division can be. This will be a good test for us right out of the gate."
It's also a barometer of sorts for the Orioles, who missed the postseason in 2013. A sellout crowd will fill Camden Yards to see how Baltimore stacks up against the defending champs.
"We wouldn't have it any other way," center fielder Adam Jones said.
Baltimore recently added pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who will start Wednesday night, and slugger Nelson Cruz joins a lineup that led the majors in home runs last season.
"One through nine, obviously very powerful. A lot like the rest of the East," said Boston left-hander Jon Lester, who will make his fourth consecutive opening day start. "One of the biggest things with this club is you try to keep them in the ballpark as best you can. That's where they do a lot of their damage."
A year ago, Lester got the win as the Red Sox thumped the New York Yankees 8-2 in the season opener. It was an uplifting start for a team coming off a last-place finish, and now Lester hopes to provide a similar boost for a squad opening defense of its title.
"It's like we talked about last year during the playoffs — you want to set the tone for the rest of the guys," said Lester, who is 15-3 lifetime against Baltimore. "You don't want to be that weak link in the chain. You want to go out there and get these guys off on the right foot."