When the Red Sox completed their worst-to-first turnaround last year, culminating in a World Series victory over the Cardinals, they did so on the strengths of clutch pitching and timely hitting.
This year the Sox return a quality rotation, deep with veteran leadership.
At the same time, there are a lot of innings on those veteran arms.
We already saw Ryan Dempster step back from the game.
John Lackey is 35 years old and just a few years removed from Tommy John surgery.
Jake Peavy is 32 and appeared to tire last year in the final weeks of the season.
Fortunately, the Red Sox farm system is ripe with top pitching prospects.
"We’ve got a very good core group, or good young group of, we feel, strong prospects," says John Farrell. "[But] while they’re long on talent, they’re short on experience."
Fans have already seen what Brandon Workman can do, having witnessed several strong performances in clutch situations in last year's playoffs.
Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa also made important contributions last year in Boston.
Seeing the success of those young prospects has further emboldened the next wave of Red Sox pitching prospects - players like Henry Owens, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo.
The Red Sox brought all three of those pitchers to Fenway last September for a training program that would give them a taste of the major leagues.
"The thing that jumped out in meeting with all of them," says Farrell, "[is] when they saw Workman, who was a teammate of theirs earlier in the year, pitching as effectively and consistently as he was in the big leagues, I think it started to draw closer their timeline."
The prospects confirm that it makes the major league dream feel just a bit closer.
"It kinds of adds a little bit of extra motivation for us," says Barnes.
Practically every list of top prospects in baseball includes Owens, Barnes and Ranaudo.
Despite being the youngest of the three, Owens was named the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season.
Between them, these three represent what the Red Sox hope will be years of dominating Red Sox starting rotations. The start of that timeframe is drawing ever closer.