Red Sox End Improbable April – What Awaits?

Caution and optimism.  The two go hand-in-hand, and can be a good mantra to apply to most situations that seem too good to be true.  That is the philosophy I will be imparting on the 2013 Red Sox season.  Look into the raw numbers, and the history of this franchise, and you see every reason to be happy with the way things are going, yet dread what could be awaiting as we close the door on April.

The Boston Red Sox just finished one of the best months in team history, going 18-8 for the best record in the League, and surprising many nay-sayers (this one included) with a pitching staff that has topped many categories – and expectations.  After nine runs allowed Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Sox stood at fifth in the AL with a 3.58 ERA and led the league in strikeouts, compiling an amazing 255 in just 231 innings!  They also held batters to a league-low .224 batting average.  As anyone can attest to, pitching wins championships and if 2013 continues the way it has been, the Sox will be in the hunt come September.

 Then there’s the offense which has been tougher to figure out.  Boston is currently third in runs scored, all the while seeing Dustin Pedroia put up just six extra base hits (all doubles).  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been frustrating to watch, Shane Victorino has seen even less extra base tallies than Pedey, Jackie Bradley was demoted after failing to show the promise he garnered in spring, and Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks have slumped badly.  And did I mention they are THIRD in runs scored?  David Ortiz came off the DL a man on a mission (.500, 3 HR, 15 RBI) and Mike Napoli has provided run production that has been keeping pace with the Miguel Cabrera’s and Prince Fielder’s of the world.  

It’s certainly been an unbelievable transformation to watch, which brings us to the caution part of this tale.  The last time Boston started this good was in 2002 as they set the league on fire to a 40-17 start.  It didn’t take long for the bottom to fall out, however, and even at a respectable 93-69 conclusion, still finished 10 1/2 games behind the Yankees (And six out of the wild-card spot).  So why the worry on this 2013 team?  Why am I trying to rain on the parade here anyways?  Well, 2002 had plenty that this team just does not.  Grady Little’s Sox had a still-in-his-prime Pedro Martinez (20-4 2.26 ERA 0.923 WHIP) and a dominant Derek Lowe (anyone else remember that 21-8, 2.58 0.974 line he put up?).  The lineup, pre-Ortiz, was also very good with Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez powering the middle, as well as a nice trade-deadline pick-up in Cliff Floyd.

Ortiz

While the Lester/Buchholz duo has been lights out thus far, there’s every reason to just remain grounded when considering the recent track record for both in inconsistencies and injuries.  Can Lester regain his 2006-2011 form?  Can Clay finally pitch himself over the 200 inning mark and sustain his dominance in a pennant race?  And what of the rotation behind them?  Felix Doubront has been shaky, and John Lackey is still a major question mark.  

The Red Sox need to face tougher opponents to really gather real intelligence about who they really are.  Of the 18 wins, 12 have come against teams with a losing record, while they are 6-6 in games against teams over .500.  A big test will come Friday as they begin a three-game set against the Texas Rangers, then later in the month on the road vs. Tampa – who are starting to look much different from the team they swept two weeks ago.

There’s every reason to stay hopeful of what this team can do.  They are very much a reincarnation of the Dirt-Dogs that once roamed the Fenway grounds. The question is whether or not that fight and grit can be enough to beat some of the more talent-laden clubs.  If so, this could be one of the greatest redemption stories Red Sox Nation has ever witnessed.  Perhaps fans of this generation will sip a few beers long into the night with their Grandfather and debate: Which was the best season?  The 1967 Impossible Dream, or the 2013 awakening of a long, long nightmare?

Jay Coorey – MLB Contributor – Title Town Sports

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