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For starters, is Lester on the outside looking in come playoff time?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  August 9, 2013 10:05 AM

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Playoff rotation. Who ya got?

Yeah, yeah, weíre not even midway through August, but the way Red Sox starter Jon Lester has looked as of late, about as dependable as an í87 Yugo, and with Clay Buchholz continuing to nurse an owie, the discussion is already up for debate. About the only aspect thatís a definite is that Steven Wright is not a candidate. Unless itís the other Steven Wright, because dry wit would probably be more effective than the knuckleball we saw the other night.

If Buchholz is healthy on Oct. 1, which is a supposition right up there with the price of gas, hereís one manís thought about how the postseason rotation should look:

1. Buchholz
2. Jake Peavy
3. Felix Doubront
4. John Lackey

No Lester.

If Buchholz isnít healthy on Oct. 1, which could be as likely as weekend traffic on the Bourne, how does this work?

1. Peavy
2. Doubront
3. Lackey
4. Ryan Dempster

OK, maybe thatís being a little unreasonable, but doesnít it speak to just how unpredictable Lester has been this season that you almost, kind of, wouldnít mind seeing Dempster, who has a team-high 7.27 ERA over the last month. For all the hand-wringing over Lesterís recent starts, maybe youíd be surprised that his ERA over the last 30 days is 3.48, best among starters not named Felix Doubront.

In a perfect world, the rotation would likely be Buchholz, Lester, Peavy, Lackey, which is completely unfair to Doubront, who is only 3-2 over the last month, but with a sparkling 1.97 ERA. A little more luck and some more early-season consistency, and youíre talking about a 12-win or so season thus far. Only five American League pitchers have more than 12 wins this season, including Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer, now 17-1 and on his way to a projected 24-win season, which would be the most by a pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002.

Thatís the guy that gets bumped?

John Farrell simply canít make that decision easily, so maybe the rotation is Buchholz, Lester, Peavy, Doubront, which gives the Sox a pair of lefties. And this, of course is assuming that Buchholz wonít have to toss the play-in game, which could very well go to the likes of Doubront, right?

If either of those situations is the case, do you just give the ball to Peavy, the new guy, in Game 1 of the ALDS? Or is that still Lesterís role to win back over the next month-and-a-half?

Maybe Lackey is the guy that gets the call to the bullpen. In the midst of his redemption season, Lackey could provide early-inning insurance much the way Brandon Workman did Tuesday night in Houston, should the likes of Lester, Peavy, Buchholz, or Doubront falter in his start. To be honest, Iíd have more faith in Lackey coming in during the third inning with the team down 5-0 than I would Lester doing it for Lackey. I know, my world is upside down too.

So, the only thing that is clear is that Peavy is part of the playoff rotation. Thatís as overwhelmingly comforting as it is frightening.

Only the Royals, Rays, White Sox (?), and Tigers have better starter ERAís than the Red Sox (3.87), and yet the No. 1 starter for Kansas City (Bruce Chen, maybe James Shields), Rays (David Price), and Tigers (Scherzer, maybe Justin Verlander) is fairly clear. The Red Sox have five different guys you could throw in a one-game playoff and the first game of the ALDS. Iím not sure thatís something to feel good about or not.

For sure, it is a clear-cut sign of the starting depth that Boston possesses, but the absence of an ace is also glaring. Doubront is probably pitching the closest to a No. 1. You have faith in him in that role as the first man out of the gate?

The truth is, without Buchholz, Farrell might as well toss darts at his roster in making his decisions. In an ideal world, Buchholz is No. 1. No. 2 is probably Peavy, unless you want to split up the rotation with lefties. After that? Good luck.

The good news about Lester is that, when heís not playing Temple Run in the clubhouse, he has looked more like himself than not lately. In July, Lester had one hiccup against Seattle, against which he allowed five runs. Other than that start, the lefty allowed one, three, two, and zero earned runs in each of his other four starts. Thursday nightís disastrous first inning aside, Lester gets credit for settling down and keeping his team in a ballgame that the Sox would eventually lose to the Royals, 5-1.

Maybe the criticism is unjust. Maybe Lester has finally started to even things out in this up-and-down campaign.

Maybe heís still that No. 2 guy behind Buchholz come October. Maybe heís No. 1 if Buchholz canít go.

He has about nine more starts to prove it.

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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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