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Red Sox ace Sale looks to extend mastery of Rays

By Greg Auman, The Sports Xchange
Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (41) pitches against the Houston Astros in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS on October 5 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Eric Gay/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/b9af6ee8c67ad8e6d2592bac7ce56824/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (41) pitches against the Houston Astros in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS on October 5 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Eric Gay/UPI | License Photo

Their teams are in decidedly different places, with the Boston Red Sox coming off a second straight American League East title and the Tampa Bay Rays wondering if they can field a .500 team in 2018.

But Chris Sale and Chris Archer will go head-to-head Thursday afternoon on Opening Day, two of the AL's top three strikeout pitchers opening another year's division rivalry.

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Their histories against the other team are also at opposite extremes -- Sale went 4-1 against the Rays last season, with a 2.66 ERA and 66 strikeouts in six starts, including four outings with at least 12 strikeouts.

"It's a big deal," Sale said of his fourth career Opening Day start. "It's the most exciting day in baseball, other than the playoffs. I'm sure every stadium sells out. You're starting the journey, and you prepare for this during the offseason, during spring training. ... To finally get it under way is exciting."

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Archer wasn't nearly as fortunate against Boston, going 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA, and even that was a personal improvement.

For his career, Archer is 2-12 against the Red Sox, a nemesis of sorts. He won on April 14 last year, holding Boston to one run in 5 2/3 innings, but couldn't get the win in any of his other starts the rest of his season.

Sale was 4-4 against the Rays entering the 2017 season but dominated them in helping Boston win an 11-8 season series. Sale finished 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA.

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Archer (10-12, 4.07) likes to approach every game in the same manner, regardless of opponent, or whether you're on the mound for a fourth straight Opening Day.

"I'm human. Don't get me wrong," Archer said of his emotions entering the game. "I'm not going to say I'm going to sleep perfectly tonight and not wake up early, but I try to make it as normal as possible. ... In order to be a successful team, I talked about having bumps in the road -- the quicker you can put those behind you and turn the page, the more successful you're going to be."

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For Boston's success in winning back-to-back division titles, they have just one postseason win to show for it, getting swept by the Cleveland Indians on their way to the World Series in 2016, then losing 3-1 to the Houston Astros on their way to a championship last year.

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The Red Sox added outfielder J.D. Martinez, who hit 45 home runs last season with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Rays had much more subtractions -- third baseman Evan Longoria was traded to the San Francisco Giants, outfielder Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks and starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins, all for prospects. The replacements are budget-value guys like outfielder Denard Span, first baseman C.J. Cron and outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Tampa Bay went 80-82 last season, but the offseason exodus combined with a rash of pitching injuries would make even that an ambitious goal for success. Both teams get a first chance to set the tone for 2018, starting at 4:10 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field.

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