4 Reasons the Boston Red Sox Will Continue Its Hot Start to the Season

Bryan Shaffer@Bryan_ShafferFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2013

4 Reasons the Boston Red Sox Will Continue Its Hot Start to the Season

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    The 2013 Boston Red Sox are currently on track for a franchise-record 108 wins.

    And fans should expect that pace to continue.

    Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But fans should expect the Red Sox to remain in playoff contention until the very end of the 2013 season.

    Under new manager John Farrell, the team seems to have pulled things together. Their pitching, which had the third-highest ERA in the American League in 2012, has completely turned the corner. They currently have the best starting rotation ERA in the American League.

    The offense has kept pace with the pitching, scoring the third most runs in the American League in 2013.

    With the great play of the new-look Red Sox, fans should keep their optimism, because there are reasons to believe that this team can make a run for the postseason.

A Pair of Aces

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    One of the biggest question marks entering the 2013 season was the state of Red Sox aces, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

    In 2012, Lester showed enormous regression, posting career-worst marks with a 9-14 record and a 4.82 ERA.

    Buchholz, whose 4.56 ERA complemented his 11-8 record, was a bit better, but was still just a shadow of himself from 2010, when he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting.

    Having former pitching coach John Farrell as their new manager has rejuvenated the two star pitchers.

    The Red Sox are 9-0 this season in games started by Lester or Buchholz. Both pitchers have quickly racked up four wins in those starts, which gives them both a share of the American League lead in that category.

    Buchholz has been especially outstanding, leading the league with a sparkling 0.90 ERA. On April 14, he had one of the best starts of his career, when he held the Tampa Bay Rays to just two hits over eight frames, while notching a career-best 11 strikeouts.

    Lester has not quite equaled Buchholz so far, but he has been excellent in his own right. With a 2.27 ERA and 28 strikeouts in his 5 starts, Lester has given Red Sox fans little reason to complain.

    Plenty of encouragement can be found in his Wednesday start against Oakland. Though he was off his game, and gave up six hits and six walks in 5.2 innings, Lester gave up just three runs in the outing. Most impressive was his ability to mitigate the damage of all those base runners; not a single one of the players who got a free pass to first touched home.

    In Lester and Buchholz, the Red Sox have two legitimate star pitchers who can carry them through the long season. Having the pair of them in the rotation will help prevent Boston from going on those prolonged losing streaks which can push a team into a downward spiral in the standings.

Rotational Depth

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    Though Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were not good in 2012, the rest of the staff was horrendous. Of the five other pitchers on the roster who made ten or more starts, only Felix Doubront had an ERA under 5.00.

    The bottom of this year's rotation fills out a lot better.

    As their number three starter, the Red Sox send the reliable Ryan Dempster to the mound. Dempster has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, starting at least 28 games each of the past five seasons, and surpassing 200 innings in four of those years. He has settled into Boston a lot better than his 0-2 record would indicate, as he boasts a great 3.38 ERA.

    Doubront, who tied for the team lead in wins in 2012, comes in as the fourth starter. While he is not a spectacular player, he gives his team a chance to win during most of his starts. The lefty has jumped out to a nice start this year, going 2-0 with a 4.32 ERA during this young season.

    Doubront will benefit from having a full year in the majors under his belt. Last season, Doubront faded during the months of August and September, posting a 6.10 ERA and 1-5 record. He should be able to avoid that kind of declension this time around.

    John Lackey, who is expected to return from his right biceps injury this weekend, will give the Red Sox a solid number five starter. Lackey's failures of 2011 have been well documented, but the right-hander has been consistent throughout his career. Since 2003, Lackey has won double-digit games every season except 2012, which he missed due to injury. There is every reason to believe that he can be at least a respectable big league pitcher, and that is all one can ask for in a fifth starter.

    If any of those guys are unable to get the job done, the Red Sox have several solid options. Franklin Morales, who posted a 3.77 ERA last season, is set to begin rehab soon. He made nine starts in 2009, so he could be slotted into the rotation. Also, Allen Webster, the 23-year-old pitching prospect, made his major league debut on April 21 against the Kansas City Royals, giving up just two earned runs over six strong innings. He could be an effective starter if the Red Sox wanted to slot in a righty to their rotation.

Dominant Bullpen

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    The most telling thing about the wonderful situation that is Boston's bullpen is the fact that a pair of two-time All-Star closers, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, are competing for opportunities to finish games for the team.

    Hanrahan's 11.57 ERA underscores what a train wreck he has been early this season. Some of that might be due to the hamstring injury that landed him on the disabled list earlier this month.

    With Hanrahan set to begin a rehab stint this weekend, the Red Sox will once again have his services in Boston soon enough. Hanrahan has been very successful coming out of the bullpen in recent years, saving 35-plus games and making All-Star games in consecutive seasons from 2011-12 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Whether he is the closer or setup man, he will give the Red Sox a useful arm in the bullpen.

    Bailey has been pitching very well in Hanrahan's stead. He has converted each of his four save opportunities, doing so with 17 strikeouts in 10.1 innings. He is starting to show the talent that won him AL Rookie of the Year in 2009 with Oakland. If Bailey is to remain healthy, he will be baffling hitters all season for the Red Sox.

    One of the few bright spots for the Red Sox in 2012 was the emergence of Junichi Tazawa. The righty made 37 appearances for Boston, posting a miniscule 1.43 ERA, while striking out 45 hitters in 44.0 innings, and walking just five. His 0.75 WHIP and 1.69 ERA so far this season are hardly reasons to think he was a one-year wonder.

    Koji Uehara is another bullpen arm who Boston can depend on. The 38-year-old has not posted a WHIP above 0.95 since his rookie season in 2009. Last year, with the Texas Rangers, Uehara had his best season, striking out 43 hitters in 36.0 innings, to go along with a 0.64 WHIP and a 1.75 ERA. He, too, has jumped out to a nice start in Boston, managing a 2.08 ERA in his first 10 appearances.

    The Red Sox called up pitcher Daniel Bard from double-A Portland on Wednesday. Bard had his struggles with command and mechanics in 2012, but his return to Boston is a good sign. Manager John Farrell feels confident in the work Bard has done to get back with the big club.

    The last three outings, he's been much more consistent. We've made the comment and took the stance in spring training that this was about repeating his delivery. It wasn't so much on the end result, but the results have been there, along with the consistent arm slot and the delivery. With our need to add to the bullpen, he's back here.

    The confidence of Farrell should be highly regarded. It was under Farrell's tenure as the Red Sox pitching coach in 2010 that Bard emerged as a dominant pitcher out of the bullpen.

Proven Veterans in the Lineup

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    Other than David Ortiz, the Red Sox lack those marquee names in the middle of their lineup. Fans are used to seeing sluggers like Manny Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez slotted in the middle of the order.

    Despite that, they have a good order. At the top, they have Jacoby Ellsbury, who, when healthy, is one of the most dynamic players in the game. In 2011, he would have won the MVP, were it not for the Koufaxian season Justin Verlander put together.

    Following Ellsbury are Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, another couple of All-Stars.

    Victorino has already won over the adulation of Red Sox fans, with his hard and exciting play. Along with Ellsbury, he give the Red Sox a pair of speedsters who can put pressure on pitchers and steal some bases. He has gotten off to a good start in Boston, posting a .294 average and .364 on-base percentage in his first 18 games this year.

    Little needs to be said about Pedroia. He has been fantastic over his career in Boston, and will continue the kind of gritty play that won him the affections of Red Sox fans long ago. He is off to another nice start this season, hitting .300, and reaching base safely in all but one game this season.

    Ortiz has come back strong from his ankle injury strong. Over his first four games back from his injury, Ortiz has gone 8-for-16, with three doubles, three runs scored and three RBI. Despite his hot start, he has not hit a home run yet this season, but the Red Sox shouldn't worry about that. Since he joined the team in 2003, Ortiz has never hit fewer than 23 home runs.

    Mike Napoli, who the Red Sox got at a bargain this offseason, has been a wonderful bat in the middle of the order. While his current pace of RBI (he has 26 in just 21 games this season) is unlikely to keep up, Napoli can be depended on as a power bat in the lineup. He has eclipsed 20 home runs in each of the past five seasons, yet only once he played in more than 115 games.

    The rest of the team's order is a little thinner, but that top of the order can be relied on to produce runs all season long. And with the stellar pitching of the Red Sox, there is not as much of a burden on the offense to score runs.