David Ortiz and Stephen Drew are on the Disabled List, the line-up is short of left-handed hitters, the springtime hitting is anemic, and the biggest story is a 22-year-old kid who has hardly made footprints in the Minor Leagues. Are the Boston Red Sox in trouble? Not at all.
It’s all about the pitching, and the pitching is marvelous. Strong, young lefties in John Lester and Felix Dubront, seasoned right handers in John Lackey and Ryan Dempster, and a healthy Clay Buchholz. These are the signs of a brilliant spring, along with a stable bullpen of Hanrahan, Bailey, and Uhehara and an experienced middle relief corps of Aceves, Miller and Breslow. This is the best pitching staff the Sox have fielded since their last title run in 2007.
When was the last time the Red Sox did not begin the Spring depending on the likes of Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield? All good pitchers in their prime, but could we say the last three years were “prime” for any of them? In retrospect anchoring a staff with these three was a hopeless dream. Wakefield was always the heart of the Red Sox, but in the end, “heart” was all he had.
To assume anything without reckoning on injuries with this pitching staff would be reckless. They all have physical problems to overcome, but their conditioning this spring has given nothing but hope. Lester looks like the pitcher he has always been touted to be, Buchholz is developing his stamina, and Lackey looks like the second coming of Tommy John. Dempster and Dubront already look in mid-season form. Try to remember when the Red Sox left Fort Myers with this much promise in their starting rotation?
Perhaps this is what Ben Cherrington was thinking when he abandoned all comers for the managing position, except for John Farrell. Farrell was the last pitching coach to compose a champion pitching staff for the Sox. You can say what you want about Ramirez and Ortiz, but the missing piece was always pitching. More than ever, a healthy, reliable pitching staff is what makes a champion.
So here’s a prediction about pitching. The Sox will have no twenty-game winners, but Lester and Lackey will win thirty-five between them. Buchholz and Dempster will win thirty between them. And there will be 30 more games won by the likes of Dubront, Aceves, and maybe a late-season appearance by Allen Webster. And there will be enough hitting to make the pitching look splendid.