MANCHESTER, N.H. – Want to know a few things about this Portland Sea Dogs team that comes back to Hadlock Field tonight?

They have won 23 of 38 games, the best start of a Portland team since it became a Red Sox affiliate, just ahead of the vaunted 2005 club (think Papelbon, Lester and Pedroia). That team was 22-16 through 38 games.

At 23-15, the Sea Dogs lead the Eastern League East Division by two games over the Binghamton Mets, the team that visits Portland Friday.

And this team could be getting better, if a 15-4 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats is an indication.

“I don’t think we’ve clicked and hit on all cylinders offensively,” Portland Manager Kevin Boles said before this series in New Hampshire.

“With the guys we have, once they get going it could be an interesting lineup.”

They got interesting on Thursday, to the tune of 18 hits.

“Guys are rolling,” leadoff hitter Peter Hissey said.

“This team is special. With this pitching staff, whether the offense is going or not, we’re in it. It’s been special winning those 2-1 games, but also awesome when we can put 15 runs on the board.”

HISSEY HAS been a catalyst, batting .282, with a .378 on-base percentage.

Leading the team is Michael Almanzar, who has sustained his solid start, batting .304 with his sixth home run coming Thursday.

BRANDON WORKMAN may not have shown his best stuff on the mound Thursday (seven hits, three runs), but he still lasted six innings.

It’s been a trademark of this deep starting rotation. The top four starters have not only combined for 16 wins, but they usually keep their pitch counts low.

“Felt like I did a good job at the end, getting back under control,” Workman said.

Boles enjoyed it. He only needed one reliever (Miguel Celestino) in the blowout.

A good starting rotation usually means rested relievers.

“We’ve been able to shorten up our bullpen and manage our bullpen,” Boles said.

MATT BARNES GETS the start tonight with a chance to continue his amazing May. After going 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in four April starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA this month in three starts.

Barnes has allowed two runs in his last 17 innings, striking out 21.

CATCHER CHRISTIAN Vazquez got the night off Thursday. He not only is improving at the plate (.392 on-base percentage), but his defense continues to draw raves. Scouts here said he can catch in the majors now. It’s just a matter of his offense continuing to improve.

Vazquez has thrown out 18 of 37 potential base-stealers, a league-leading 49 percent.

Not only are teams not running on Vazquez, they don’t get a good lead of the bases because Vazquez’s ability to pick off a runner at any base.

DANIEL BARD may be the most talked-about name on the Sea Dogs right now, but not in a good way.

Bard’s struggles this season hit a lowlight Wednesday, when he threw 30 pitches, but only eight for strikes.

He faced eight batters, walked five and allowed a single. He threw two wild pitches.

“It hasn’t looked good. I’m not immune to that,” Bard said. “But it’s a process.

“The last week’s been tough, but the early work (before the game) has been good. I need to figure out what I need to do to carry that work into the game.”

Boston Manager John Farrell told reporters in St. Petersburg, Fla., that there is “concern,” but Bard, who is 27, will continue relieving for the Sea Dogs.

Bard knows every outing will be critiqued by fans. But he has to stay with the process.

“I’m not letting this beat me up too much,” Bard said. He believes he can work his way back to the Boston bullpen.

“I’m confident it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. I’m healthy. Everything feels good. It’s a matter of when, not if.”

TONIGHT IS THE first game of a seven-game home stand. There will be fireworks after the game. A sellout is anticipated.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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