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Rotation will dictate Boston's success

The SportsXchange

For the first time in more than a decade, the Red Sox enter spring training unburdened by lofty expectations, the usual hype replaced by a touch of apathy.

After a 93-loss season in 2011, few pundits are calling the Sox a playoff team.

General manager Ben Cherington disagrees.

"I believe we will contend," Cherington told the Boston Herald. "There is no reason we shouldn't contend in 2013. But we also want to build something really good for a long time. We're confident we will."

Much of the team's fortunes will depend on their starting pitching. Last year, the starters posted a 5.19 ERA, fourth-worst in the majors. Of that group, only right-hander Ryan Dempster was added during the offseason.

The Red Sox are counting on bounce-back seasons from lefty Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buchholz, both of whom fell far short of their ace-like potential last season. They're also banking on right-hander John Lackey making an impact as he returns from Tommy John elbow surgery. Lackey didn't pitch last season.

While the rotation features questions, the bullpen is a source of strength. With the addition of closer Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey shifts into a set-up role. New manager John Farrell has several seventh- and eighth-inning options, including Bailey, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and possibly Daniel Bard.

Elsewhere, the Red Sox have undergone an extreme makeover, with as many as five potential newcomers in the lineup on any given day. First baseman Mike Napoli, shortstop Stephen Drew, right fielder Shane Victorino, left fielder Jonny Gomes and catcher David Ross all signed as free agents.

Napoli could make the greatest potential impact, assuming he stays healthy. He was diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition that caused the Red Sox to reduce his contract to a one-year, $5 million deal after an initial three-year, $39 million offer. As a power hitter, he slots into the middle of the order and could provide a right-handed complement to lefty-swinging David Ortiz.

Mostly, though, the Red Sox are seeking a return to normalcy after the tumultuous Bobby Valentine era. He has been replaced by Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach, who has a strong working relationship with Cherington.

"We acknowledge the expectations may be different, for good reason coming off the year we had," Cherington told the Herald. "But in a way it's less important to us. 2012 was sobering. It sort of gets you back on track. We're more uber-focused on what we need to do to get things right for the long term than we are worried about what everybody is saying."
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