Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz Setting Tempo, Turning Red Sox’ Rotation Into Consistent Unit

Jon Lester, Clay BuchholzThe Red Sox kicked off their home schedule in a big way on Monday.

Fenway Park has been known to give the Red Sox a major home-field advantage over the years, but last season was much different, as Boston struggled mightily in front of the home crowd. Fenway was bumping on Monday, though, and it’s clear that this year’s team is already winning folks over.

And how could it not? The Red Sox are off to a 5-2 start, and they’re playing with the type of passion and energy that Boston fans appreciate. We’ll have to wait and see if they can sustain this success throughout the season, but there are plenty of positive vibes going around the Red Sox’ clubhouse.

Now that the Red Sox’ home opener is in the rearview mirror and the season is officially in full swing, let’s dive into another edition of the mailbag.

Is the Red Sox’ pitching actually reliable enough for a playoff appearance this year?
– Eric Morin, via Facebook

It certainly looks that way early on, so until we see otherwise, I think it’s more than reasonable to be optimistic.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have each looked like front-end starters through their first two starts, which is a continuation of the success they enjoyed during spring training. It’s obvious they’re both in a much better place mentally now than they ever were in 2012, and the adjustments they’ve made have them poised to maintain a level of consistency this season.

That consistency out of the top two spots in the rotation will help set the tempo for the rest of the staff — as manager John Farrell alluded to after Monday’s home opener — and it should have a trickle-down effect. In many ways, it’s as if we’re looking at a friendly competition among the team’s starters, with each one trying to pull his weight. That bodes well for Boston.

The bullpen, meanwhile, should continue to be one of the team’s strengths. There’s no shortage of talent within the unit, meaning Farrell has options when it comes to bridging the gap to closer Joel Hanrahan.

On Opening Day in New York, the Red Sox needed a big out in the seventh inning. Understanding the importance of that seventh-inning at-bat, Farrell turned to Andrew Bailey for just one batter. Ideally, Bailey will control the eighth-inning duties this season, but with the surplus of quality arms, Farrell knew he could afford to use Bailey in that key situation instead of trying to hold onto him for the eighth.

The pen’ has depth, versatility and talent — not a bad trio to have at your disposal.

Ultimately, the Red Sox’ pitching success will come down to health, though. That’s so often the case in sports, but juggling acts rarely yield favorable results.

Why is Alfredo Aceves still on the Red Sox? He’s clearly awful. He’s allowing runs like there’s no tomorrow, blowing games, and he has a temper that puts everything in jeopardy.
–Ben, Victor, N.Y.

There are a lot of Alfredo Aceves haters out there. He still has a role on this team, though, so until the Red Sox no longer require his services, he’ll be sticking around.

There was a point during the offseason when Aceves’ future was somewhat up in the air, but Franklin Morales’ injury really put the Red Sox in a bind. Morales figured to be Boston’s long reliever who could also start, as he thrived in such a role last season, but his back issue meant the Sox needed to look elsewhere. Aceves was the logical choice, and now with John Lackey potentially missing a couple of starts, the Red Sox need the polarizing right-hander to step forward.

There are some quality, up-and-coming arms down in Pawtucket in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, but the Red Sox have made it clear that they’d like each to spend some more time in Triple-A. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see either pitcher in the majors later on this season — perhaps as early as June — but until the Sox are ready to pull the trigger on those call-ups, they need a veteran capable of logging some innings. Say what you want about Aceves, but he’s really the best option they have at this point.

Check back later in the season.

John Lackey, Jose Iglesias, Alfredo Aceves and a prospect or two to try and get Felix Hernandez?
– Roger Craft, via Facebook

Unless someone has nude photos of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik or something, I think you’re out of luck with that trade proposal.

What are your thoughts on the Toronto fans chanting “FARR-ELL?”
– Brian Girard, via Facebook

Is baseball back in Toronto? Whatever floats their boat, I guess.

Why is it a question of letting Stephen Drew play when Jose Iglesias is on such fire?
– Chris Taylor, via Facebook

You’re not alone, Chris. Plenty of Red Sox fans want to see Jose Iglesias stay in the lineup, but the fact is that it simply isn’t happening. With Stephen Drew making $9.5 million this season, he’ll be the starting shortstop.

Is that the right move? Well, I will say this. Drew has the potential to win over Sox fans in a hurry, so the decision may be looked at more favorably in a few weeks. He is the superior offensive shortstop — regardless of Iglesias’ early-season batting average — and the Red Sox will want to see what they have in the veteran.

We should also keep in mind that Iglesias hasn’t exactly been smoking the ball all over the ballpark, as he’s benefited from a few well-placed infield hits. That isn’t to take anything away from what he’s accomplished early on this season, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

It’s obvious Drew will be under a lot more pressure now than perhaps the Red Sox anticipated, though.

Is there some reason why the Red Sox can’t keep two shortstops on the major league roster? Both can hit, and I also think Stephen Drew could be a Gold Glove recipient.
– Bucky Macmillan, via Facebook

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep Jose Iglesias up in the majors if he’s not going to get consistent at-bats. He’s still only 23, and the biggest improvements he needs to make are offensively. It’s hard to make those strides if he’s not playing every day.

Plus, the Red Sox would have to make a corresponding roster move to keep Iglesias in the bigs, and there just doesn’t seem like a logical one. Pedro Ciriaco is out of options, and it’s not worth losing his versatility right now.

As far as Drew’s defense, I think you’re overrating it a bit. His range has suffered since his major ankle surgery, and while he’s slouch with the glove, the Red Sox will definitely see a considerable drop-off from Iglesias.

Stephen Drew at third, Jose Iglesias at short and Will Middlebrooks at first. Thoughts?
– Neal Wesloski, via Facebook

Where would Mike Napoli play? Why should we assume Will Middlebrooks would be willing to move to first? Or Drew to third?

There are too many questions to even consider that idea. I dig the creativity, but it’s grasping at straws and creating unnecessary problems.

Why is Will Middlebrooks such a boss?
– Daniel Shapiro, via Facebook

Wake and rake. It comes with the territory.

At what point will Jackie Bradley Jr. be sent down if he continues to struggle?
– Bryan K Dunn, via Facebook

My guess is that Jackie Bradley Jr. will remain with the big league club until David Ortiz returns, and then he’ll head back down. It sounds like Ortiz isn’t too far away, and that would be a logical time to make the move.

That being said, Daniel Nava has looked comfortable at the plate. Nava, a switch-hitter, has typically fared much better as a lefty against right-handed pitching in his career, but he’s becoming much more consistent from the right side of the dish. If Bradley continues to struggle, and John Farrell ultimately thinks Nava gives him the best chance to win, then maybe the Red Sox consider sending the rookie down sooner. I would say it’s unlikely, though.

Is aggressive baserunning a good idea for the Red Sox?
– Matthew Wilson, via Facebook

The Red Sox have definitely been aggressive on the bases. It has and will continue to yield mixed results, so it’s simply a matter of taking the bad with the good. Overall, I’m OK with them continuing to push the envelope, though.

After all, isn’t that what being “relentless” is all about? In the words of Herm Edwards, you play to win the game.

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

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