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The Red Sox lineup is the key to the rotation

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The answers to all of Boston's rotation's question marks lie within the lineup.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of question marks in the Red Sox rotation. Even if you’re more optimistic about the group than most, you have to at least acknowledge that point. There are so many possible outcomes for every arm that it’s impossible to have complete and total confidence. That doesn’t necessarily mean the unit won’t be good enough to anchor a contender. It just means we have no idea what’s going to happen. That kind of uncertainty has led to some (including yours truly) suggesting the need to go after a true top of the rotation arm. While they may still need that, the potent offense that Boston has is going to be this pitching staff’s best friend.

Before we look at how important the lineup is for the pitchers, let’s take a look at just how good it is. Since signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the majority of the focus has been on the rotation, so it’s easy to forget how fun the offense will be to watch. There are five players in the middle of the lineup who have a realistic shot at making the All-Star team in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Sandoval and Ramirez. All but one position on the diamond could produce offense at an above-average rate, excluding only the catchers. I’m not as confident in Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts being above-average right away, but I believe there is some combination of the two of them and Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig that results in above-average offense at both spots. Long story short, this lineup is going to score runs in bunches, and will likely end the year near or at the top of the runs scored leaderboard.

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Now, what does that have to do with pitching? The first and most obvious answer is that the pitchers have a much lower bar to live up to. Not getting destroyed whenever you go to the mound should grab these starters - and in turn, the team - a solid win total. We all dream of Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz or Justin Masterson to pitch like an "ace" this season, but the reality is that they won’t have to on most nights with the run support they’re going to get. Even with PECOTA’s low projections for the pitching staff, the Red Sox are projected to finish in a tie for first place in the division because of their bats.

Even beyond the simple fact that they’ll be able to win games on their own, the potent offense’s most important role is buying the front office some time to see what they have. By the end of May, we’ll all have a much better idea on what kind of pitcher they need to bring in via trade, if they need another one at all. They’ll be able to figure out if Porcello’s past mediocrity was truly a product of Detroit’s horrid defense, or if 2014 will be the outlier in his career. They’ll be able to see what version of Clay Buchholz shows up this year. They’ll be able to see how Wade Miley adjusts to the American League. They’ll be able to see if Justin Masterson’s struggles were because of injuries. They’ll be able to see if Joe Kelly can find some consistency. It's hard to have a clear picture of how the rotation stacks up right now. Having a lineup this good will keep the team in contention into June, when the front office will have a much clearer picture of how good their starters are. From there, they can go and make the necessary additions.

It’s not only the current rotation they’ll be looking at, either. It’ll also give them some time to see what they want to do with their prospects. As much as everyone wants to keep Blake Swihart, he could be a very valuable chip during the season, whether it’s in a Cole Hamels deal or something else that pops up. If Christian Vazquez takes big strides with his offense, Boston would surely be more willing to trade Swihart and hold on to Vazquez as the future catcher. If Xander Bogaerts shows improvement on the defensive side of things, dealing Deven Marrero becomes a lot easier.* The front office will also be able to see how the AAA rotation performs. Which pitchers do they see as future rotation members, and which can be used as trade chips? There are a lot of performances this season that will dictate how the Red Sox approach their future, and they’ve found a way to buy themselves time to watch them unfold.

*Not that it should be a deal breaker right now.

For all of the deserved praise Cherington has gotten in rebuilding his rotation, the best thing he did this winter for his pitching staff was put together a potentially dominant offense. Not only will it take pressure off the arms having to win 1-0 games, but it also buys them time to figure out the next move. Even with an average pitching staff, the offense should make the Red Sox an easy contender. Midway through the season, they’ll have a better idea of what kind of pitchers they should be going after, and what they’ll be willing to part with to acquire it. The 2015 Red Sox will be taking "The best defense is a good offense" to it’s most extreme, and it could pay huge dividends.