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Aces wild

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  August 9, 2010 09:13 AM

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Remember Jon Lester's last win?

You're excused if you can't. It was one month ago today that the Red Sox lefty beat the Toronto Blue Jays to run his record to 11-3 on the season.

He's 0-4 with a 4.47 ERA since.

Today, Lester takes the hill seeking to break that drought, and launch his team back into some semblance of feeling good about themselves at Yankee Stadium, where Boston has lost 10 of 12, its own Brokedown Palace.

Ten of its last 12. When does Daisuke pitch again?

Only in this increasingly odd, enjoyable, and frustrating Red Sox season can one consider Daisuke Matsuzaka a team ace, but that's precisely what Boston has atop the rotation with both Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. I'd list the major league pitchers who have performed better this season than John Lackey and Josh Beckett, but we'd be here for the four years both have remaining on their deals.

Still, if you started a playoff series today, Lester would be your slam-dunk to get the nod in Game 1. Despite his lost month, Lester hasn't pitched terribly, just not well enough to spark some concern.

That needs to change, oh, in a few hours.

It's in spots like these, today at Yankee Stadium, that Lester needs to step up if he's to wear the tag of "staff ace." Buchholz did it Friday night in a game his team desperately needed to win. The twin Texas tools didn't, particularly Beckett, who was atrocious during last night's fifth inning, The Sox are seven games out of first, but just 4 out of the wild card thanks to the suddenly free-falling Rays.

As things stand, the Red Sox are actually a win better than they were on this date a year ago (63-49 vs. 62-48). So, that's encouraging. They also have two fewer wins than they did on this date in 2006, which is, you know, not.

After all they've gone through, that is a remarkable feat and despite the fact that a good portion of the fan base have purchased their official Red Sox Nation white flag, a 4 -game deficit isn't an insurmountable task to overcome over the final 50 games. If it takes 95 wins to seal a playoff spot, the Sox need to go 32-18 the rest of the way, a .640 winning percentage.

Is that too much to ask, especially after losing Kevin Youkilis for the season? If it means repeated viewings of Kevin Cash, probably. If it means Carlos Delgado is able to swing a bat effectively at the major league level, Jacoby Ellsbury shows up at some point, Felix Doubront can be the lefty the Red Sox haven't seen all year from Hideki Okajima, Dustin Pedroia returns sooner rather than later, and J.D. Drew begins to materialize (You don't hear Theo Epstein crowing about Drew's OPS these days, considering Eric Patterson, Daniel Nava, and Jed Lowrie all have better second-half OPS numbers than Drew's .628) then perhaps they've got just as good a shot as the Rays and Twins.

That's largely based on the pitching staff, which we assumed to be the class of the AL East heading into the season. But on the whole, both New York and Tampa have been better. Heck, after the last two games, Toronto is on the cusp of being better (Red Sox starters: 48-34, 4.15 ERA Toronto: 43-35, 4.18 ERA). These days if it isn't Buchholz or Matsuzaka, you don't know what you're going to get. And yes, my brain just cramped writing those words.

You used to be able to say that about the man on the hill today, Jon Lester, ace of the Boston Red Sox, a tag that he needs to back up today.

Matsuzaka pitches tomorrow in Toronto. Can't wait.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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