July 23, 2013

Tom Caron: First place, gaudy record – Sox fans still nervous

The biggest worry right now is the bullpen.

BOSTON — Has there ever been a first-place team that has so many people worried?

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The Red Sox took two of three from the Yankees over the weekend, and reached the 100-game mark with 60 wins and the best record in the American League. Heady stuff.

So, after losing 93 games a year ago, the Sox should be the toast of the town. Instead, Boston papers and radio stations are clogged with talk of the chinks in Boston's armor.

Certainly, there are issues for this team to deal with if they are going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

But Manager John Farrell has managed to keep this team afloat, and atop baseball's deepest division, in spite of those concerns.

The biggest worry right now is the bullpen. Coming into the season, relief pitching was supposed to be one of the team's biggest strength.

But Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan -- two former All-Star closers -- are out for the season. Andrew Miller, who had developed into a key setup man, won't be back either. Alex Wilson is on the DL. Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves are gone for other reasons.

Ben Cherington, Boston's general manager, has already moved to prop up the pen with the addition of lefty Matt Thornton. He'll probably need to add another reliever before it's all said and done.

He might also need to find a starter by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

On Monday, Clay Buchholz traveled to Florida to meet with noted sports orthopedist James Andrews about his stiff neck. Farrell says he is doing it "to get some verification and clarification" that will hopefully put Buchholz's "mind at ease."

In other words, the 9-0 righty needs to know if he can pitch or not.

So do the Red Sox. If he can't, or won't, any time soon, the team will need to enter the bidding war for a pitcher, maybe Bud Norris.

For now, youngsters like Brandon Workman (Monday night's starter) and Drake Britton will be closely watched in their new role as big-leaguers.

The Sox can always use a bat, but that's not a major concern. They lead the majors in runs, and Mike Napoli's two-homer, four-RBI game Sunday night was a reminder that this lineup's best days could be ahead.

The four-game series this week against the white-hot Tampa Bay Rays will go a long way towards dictating the pecking order in the AL East.

The Rays have top-flight pitching and enough offense to get the job done.

In the meantime, fans are crossing their fingers that a team leading the entire league will remain good enough to bring October baseball back to Boston. Will there be some angst-filled nights -- the good, playoff kind of angst -- ahead?

It's a feeling we haven't had in a while.

 

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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