The Pittsburgh Pirates get set to take on the Boston Red Sox this afternoon on Opening Day. We get you prepared for the three game series with the first edition of Matchups to Watch of the season.

Have no fear Pittsburgh Pirates fans, Opening Day is finally among us. After a long offseason and what felt like a never-ending spring training, the Bucs begin the regular season this afternoon at 2 p.m. as they battle the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in interleague action.

Like all series last season, we at Pirates Breakdown will help you gear up for each series with three particular matchups to watch out for.

The opening series of the 2017 campaign will be no different. The Pirates begin the year with a tough task as they get set to do battle with one of the American League’s best teams and an early World Series favorite. There are plenty of matchups to watch in this one, but only three made our list.

3.) David Freese vs. Chris Sale

One of the biggest offseason trades involved the Red Sox starter for game two of this three game set.

The Sox traded away some of their best prospects – including No. 2 prospect Yoan Moncada – this offseason in exchange for one of the best pitchers in baseball in Chris Sale. Sale will make his highly anticipated Red Sox debut Wednesday against the Bucs, a team he has never faced in his career.

Despite his lack of experience against the team, Sale has faced David Freese on three occasions with the Pirates infielder coming away with one hit in three career at-bats against the southpaw.

Freese, who hit .326 in 43 at-bats this spring, was exceptional against left handed pitching last season in his first year as a Pirate. The 33 year old, who will likely get more playing time this season in the absence of Jung Ho Kang, hit .337 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 92 at-bats against lefties last season.

I expect Freese to have yet another stellar season for the Pirates and it all starts in Boston. Sale will be no easy opponent for the Bucs as he sports a career 3.00 ERA in 228 career games and holds batters to a .224 average. However, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top if these two indeed face off.

2.) Jameson Taillon vs. Andrew Benintendi

Jameson Taillon and Andrew Benintendi are two young players that will be entertaining fans for years to come.

Two of the young, up and coming stars in major league baseball, both Taillon and Benintendi will be entering their first full MLB seasons in 2017. Benintendi will be a mainstay in the Red Sox talented outfield while Taillon is amongst the Pirates top three starters.

Benintendi, the No. 1  ranked prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is expected to be a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2017 after putting up stellar numbers in just 34 games last season.

One of the biggest offseason trades involved the Red Sox starter for game two of this three game set.

The man known to many as “Benny Baseball” is coming off of an exceptional spring as he hit .344 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 21 games. The 22 year old lefty has also shown impressive plate discipline, walking nine times and striking out on 10 occasions.

Taillon is also coming off of a year in which he turned some heads. Taillon got his first taste of major league action in 2016, posting a 3.38 ERA along with a 5-4 record in 18 starts.

The former second overall pick walked just 17 batters in 104 innings while compiling 85 strikeouts. Just 25 years old, Taillon had issues with allowing the long ball, but this is something we may see him improve on in 2017.

These two young stars have never faced one another and I’m interested to see how it goes. Benintendi hit .338 off of right handed pitching last season, while Taillon held right handers to a .234 average.

Any fan of the game of baseball would be excited about this matchup as it’s definitely one you won’t want to miss.

1.) Gerrit Cole vs. Mookie Betts

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Gerrit Cole will be the most important piece to the Pirates this season. If he has success, the Pirates will have success.

Cole is coming off of undoubtedly his worst season as a major leaguer. In 2016, the 26 year old battled injuries while posting a 3.88 ERA in 21 starts for the Bucs. Cole will be making his first career Opening Day start this afternoon and is coming off of an impressive spring in which he has looked healthy and ready to rebound in 2017.

Cole will have the pleasure of facing a tough Red Sox lineup, but no matchup will be tougher than the one he will encounter when he goes up against AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts.

Betts put up monster numbers in 2016, hitting .318 with 31 home runs and 113 RBIs in 158 games. The 24 year old also scored 122 runs and stole 26 bases en route to finishing second in the MVP voting in the American League.

Despite what folks might like to think, Cole is still the ace of the Pirates staff. Yes, i said it. It doesn’t matter what he did last year, everyone knows just how good he can be when he’s on top of his game and when he is healthy.

Cole will be an important piece to the Pirates team in 2017 and he will be put to the test right away in beantown.

Cole and Betts have faced each other on three occasions with the Red Sox outfielder picking up one hit in three at-bats along with an RBI.

This is a particular matchup that could go either way and will be one that fans will want to tune in to and check out.

Jose Negron

Jose Negron is a 22 year old journalist from the North Huntingdon area. A recent graduate of California University of Pennsylvania, Jose has written for Rumbunter and Pirates Breakdown for the past year. He is the former Editor in Chief and Sports Editor of Cal U's campus newspaper, the Cal Times. He also covers high school sports for the Mon Valley Independent and serves as a contributor for Pittsburgh Sporting News, covering the Pirates. During the summer of 2015, he also interned with TribLive Radio, writing for their online blog, helping in the production of various radio shows and even appearing on the air.