April 15, 2013

Tom Caron: Stuff champs are made of

BOSTON - Pitching and defense win championships. No one is ready to say the Red Sox are a championship-caliber team, but there's no question they are getting the pitching and defense a team needs to compete.

Ryan Dempster
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Dustin Pedroia, Joel Peralta, Jose Lobaton
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With a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay in Monday's annual Patriots Day contest at Fenway, the Red Sox set a team record by starting pitchers giving up three or fewer runs in each of the season's first 12 games. They stand at 8-4 for their best start since 2007.

The record might not jump out at you; after all, had they lost Saturday's extra-inning game, they would be 7-5.

Well the margin between a great season and a mediocre campaign can be one extra win every 10 games -- and that win can come down to something as simple as an infield single against a five-man infield in the bottom of the 10th.

We've said all along that this team would only go as far as its pitching. And the top of the rotation has led the way. The Red Sox are 6-0 in games started by Jon Lester (1.42 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (0.64 ERA.) Those wins have come against some of the top pitchers in the game -- Lester has three starts this season, all have come against past Cy Young Award winners.

And the pitchers have been performing without much of a safety net. Since exploding for a 13-run outburst in Toronto on April 7, the Sox have scored just 20 runs in six games. They entered Monday's game hitting just .212 as a team on the homestand, yet managed to win four of those six.

Monday's lineup had three players hitting under .200. Stephen Drew (.077), Jonny Gomes (.176) and Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.107) weren't exactly Murderer's Row at the bottom of the order. Yet the offense has had time to find its footing with the Sox pitching their way to victories.

There is help on the horizon. 

David Ortiz has been rehabbing in Pawtucket, and reports on his strained Achilles tendon are good. We all know what Big Papi can do when he's healthy, but this isn't just a case of one good hitter improving the third spot in the lineup.

The presence of Ortiz will provide protection for other hitters in the lineup. Dustin Pedroia will see better pitches to hit ahead of Ortiz, and Mike Napoli should get more RBI chances with Ortiz moving runners along ahead of him.

A struggling offense at the start of the season usually adds to the pressure in Boston, but anemic numbers for the home team at Fenway have largely gone unnoticed.

Pitching and defense helps cure many ailments. And so far the work on the mound and in the field have overcome any issues at the plate for the Sox in April.  

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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Jon Lester
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