It begins Sunday night. Perhaps not the ideal time to start a baseball season, it being Easter Sunday and this being Red Sox/Yankees and all.

These two teams play at a glacial pace, and it should be plenty chilly by the time Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game, probably well after midnight.

Time, tide and the national television contract wait for no man so it’s Game On!

The Sox spent the offseason tweaking the roster, hoping to find the right mix that will send them deeper into October than the team that lost three straight playoff games and went home early in 2009.

The biggest addition to the team is John Lackey. Thanks in large part to his wife, a Mainer who attended UNH, Lackey had his agent contact the Red Sox and convince Theo Epstein that he really wanted to call Fenway Park home.

And so, just like that, Lackey joined Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as the Big Three in Boston’s rotation. It’s a top of the rotation that can match up with any team.

More importantly, it’s a top of the rotation that can be successful in the postseason.

Remember that magical summer of 2004? When the Sox were playing .500 baseball for three months, we still knew they had the pitching to win in the playoffs. They put it together over the final six weeks, and the rest is history.

Of course, that 2004 team scored 949 runs. It was an offense that led baseball in scoring, an offense paced by the one-two punch of Manny Ramirez (43 home runs) and David Ortiz (41 HRs).

This offense will be hard-pressed to lead the league in runs. The Sox lost their biggest home-run hitter, Jason Bay, who also drove in more runs than anyone on the team. They replaced him with Mike Cameron, an outfielder who has driven in exactly 70 runs each of the last two seasons.

Boston believes it has improved its offense at short, and Marco Scutaro should be an upgrade at the plate over Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie.

Adrian Beltre is as good a defensive third baseman as there is, but he’s coming off an injury-filled season in which he hit eight homers and drove in 44 runs.

If the Red Sox are going to succeed offensively, they’ll have to do it with a lineup that is filled with high on-base guys who will grind out at-bats.

One hallmark of the ’04 team was that it would knock top starters out of games by the fifth or sixth inning, running up the opposing pitch count over 100 by midgame.

With guys like Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez getting on base, this offense could rest on the production of Ortiz.

Big Papi was woeful for the first two months of 2009, hitting just one homer and facing the public about his appearance on the 2003 list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. If he gets off to another slow start, he will hear boos well before Memorial Day.

The Sox are once again sound in the bullpen, and Papelbon used the tape of his 2009 playoff collapse to fuel his offseason workouts. There are plenty of arms to bridge the gap between the starters and closers.

Clearly, the Red Sox have the pitching to win in October. The real question is whether they have the bats to get there.

The first answers to those questions will be found on a cold Easter night at Fenway Park.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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