Playoff rotation. Who ya got?
Yeah, yeah, we’re not even midway through August, but the way Red Sox starter Jon Lester has looked as of late, about as dependable as an ’87 Yugo, and with Clay Buchholz continuing to nurse an owie, the discussion is already up for debate. About the only aspect that’s a definite is that Steven Wright is not a candidate. Unless it’s 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, here’s one man’s thought about how the postseason rotation should look:
2. Jake Peavy
3. Felix Doubront
4. John Lackey
If Buchholz isn’t healthy on Oct. 1, which could be as likely as weekend traffic on the Bourne, how does this work?
4. Ryan Dempster
OK, maybe that’s being a little unreasonable, but doesn’t it speak to just how unpredictable Lester has been this season that you almost, kind of, wouldn’t mind seeing Dempster, who has a team-high 7.27 ERA over the last month. For all the hand-wringing over Lester’s recent starts, maybe you’d 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 you’re 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.
That’s the guy that gets bumped?
John Farrell simply can’t 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 won’t 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 Lester’s 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, I’d 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. That’s as overwhelmingly comforting as it is frightening.
Only the Royals, Rays, White Sox (?), and Tigers have better starter ERA’s 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. I’m not sure that’s 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 he’s 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 night’s 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 he’s still that No. 2 guy behind Buchholz come October. Maybe he’s No. 1 if Buchholz can’t go.
He has about nine more starts to prove it.