John Lackey’s Successful Return Punctuates Homestand, Adds Icing to Red Sox’ Delicious April Cake

John LackeyHave they won you over yet?

They have a new look, new feel and new attitude, and with the season about to turn a month old, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball.

The Sox just completed a four-game sweep of the Astros at Fenway Park, which capped off a 10-game homestand in which Boston went 7-3. The Sox now hold an MLB-best 18-7 record, and they’ll head out on the road in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Sunday provided a perfect snapshot of how far the team has come.

John Lackey has been synonymous with instability since joining the Red Sox. Whether it’s his health, his demeanor or his on-field production, Lackey has been a symbol of Boston’s rough patch and a martyr for those looking to point a finger. With a solid effort on Sunday, it’s clear he might also become a big part of Boston’s resurgence.

Lackey struggled in the first inning, giving up a run on two walks and a hit. From there, he cruised until trouble reared its ugly head again in the sixth inning. The Astros banged out three hits and brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth before Lackey settled down to escape the jam unscathed. In years past, Lackey — or any other Red Sox starter, for that matter — might have let the game slip away. This time around, Lackey walked off the mound following a job well done, and that’s icing on what has been a very delicious April cake for the Red Sox.

“A healthy John Lackey and one who’s capable of a career that’s been very good, he gives us a huge boost — not in terms of just innings alone and number of innings he can pitch — but the performance,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Sunday’s win. “When you look back to when he has been healthy, I think we can all recognize the past couple of years have been as much competing against his own body as it has been the opponent. He’s in a good place right now, and there’s no physical issues today. He came out of today fine. But he does give us a seasoned veteran and a very good pitcher in that spot in the rotation.”

And what a rotation it’s been. The Red Sox’ pitching has been dominant through the first 25 games of 2013, leading the majors in a number of statistical categories, and it’s the main reason Boston finds itself in a favorable position as May approaches.

It’s hardly the only reason, though. The offense continues to put up numbers as well, and Farrell was sure to point that out following an 11-hit attack on Sunday.

“I think our overall offensive approach has been outstanding,” Farrell said. “Guys aren’t afraid to pass the baton on to the next guy. They’ll take their walks in key spots. We’ve had good situational hitting. But most importantly, we’ve driven the pitch counts up of starters and have gotten into the bullpen in this series probably earlier than some other series, but still, just a very consistent approach top to bottom.”

Add in the Red Sox’ slick fielding and exceptional base-stealing ability, and it’s clear that Boston is taking the phrase “firing on all cylinders” to another level. The next step is carrying that momentum forward to ensure April’s success is more than just a season-opening hot streak.

“I think for any team, any individual, it’s important to get off to a good start,” Farrell said, while noting the Red Sox still have one more April game on the schedule. “I think this month has been a reflection of the work that all of our guys have done in spring training, and it’s been buoyed by our rotation — to be as consistent as it’s been.”

One good month doesn’t make a season, but it can do a lot to win over a skeptical fan base. With a sell-out on hand for Sunday’s 6-1 win, it’s clear the Red Sox are creeping back to the forefront of Boston sports.

A likeable team is nice. A likeable team that wins is captivating.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here

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