. . . and five reasons they won't

. . . and five reasons they won't
April 1, 2013, 7:00 am
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NEW YORK -- We've given you five reasons the Red Sox will contend this season.

Now here are five reasons they won't:

1) The starting pitching hasn't improved enough.

Yes, we know we listed starting pitching as a reason they Sox will improve. But here's the flip side of that coin: The Red Sox had the 10th-best starters' ERA in the American League last season . . . and 60 percent of the rotation is returning.

Jon Lester's strikeout ratio has declined the last three seasons in a row. Clay Buchholz has never pitched more than 181 innings. Felix Doubront continues to battle conditioning and efficiency issues. The two other starters are John Lackey, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, and Ryan Dempster, who was a bust in two months with Texas last year, an indication that he isn't cut out for the American League.

2) Too much of the offense revolves around David Ortiz, who's injured.

Ortiz is the most significant piece in the Red Sox' lineup -- when he's available. And he hasn't been available, except for one game, since last July 20.

Eight months after Ortiz suffered an Achilles injury, he's still dealing with the after effects. The Sox are hopeful he can return later this month, but even if he meets that timetable, there's no guarantee the Achilles won't turn into a chronic condition that has to be managed throughout the season.

And even if he makes it back, Ortiz is one of only two hitters in the lineup who's ever hit 30 homers or knocked in 100 runs in a season. (Jacoby Ellsbury did it in 2011.)

3) The Sox signed four position player free agents -- and all but one are coming off an injury-plagued or down season.

The Sox had plenty of cash to spend last winter and earmarked character guys who could be had on (relatively) short-term deals. But there's a reason those players didn't warrant longer investments. Stephen Drew was still dealing with a gruesome ankle injury. Mike Napoli saw his OPS dip from 1.035 to .812. Shane Victorino posted the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentages of his career.

How likely is that all three rebound, and in their 30s, have bounce-back seasons? Not very.

4) The division is too competitive.

The Red Sox may well be better than a year ago. They could hardly be worse, after all.

But even if the Red Sox pick up an additional dozen wins, that would get them only to .500. And given the talent that Toronto added, the Tampa Bay's pitching, the Yankees' experience and the Baltimore's core of  nucleus players, a .500 record could well have the Red Sox right where they were at the end of last September -- in the division basement.

5) Depth is a problem.

Injuries are a fact of life. Just ask the Sox themselves, who had 27 players spend time on the disabled list last year, the most of any team in the game.

If those same injuries take place -- or, the current ones involving Ortiz, Drew,and Franklin Morales linger - the Red Sox don't have sufficient major league-ready talent to replace them.

Should Will Middlebrooks go down again, who plays third? If Dustin Pedroia gets hurt, who do the Red Sox turn to at second? Or if Napoli's hip condition flares, where do the Red Sox go for a replacement at first and his right-handed power in the lineup?