In what seems to be the most obvious move not made yet obvious officially by manager John Farrell, Jon Lester should take the hill Friday afternoon, when the Red Sox host either the Cleveland Indians or Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. That, logically, means John Lackey in Game 2 on Saturday.
For whatever redemption Lackey, once the most disliked figure on a Boston team that is just now rising from the ambers of chicken, beer, and Bobby Valentine, earned for himself in this rebound season, after missing all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, I still don’t trust him. Sure, Lackey’s PR team will make you believe that he’s a key component in this Red Sox rotation as they leap into the playoffs, and granted, Lackey couldn’t have been much worse than he was in 2011, so anything less than disaster in 2013 was a bonus. But Lackey on the mound in Game 2 of a playoff series? Downright frightening.
The popular thought behind starting Lackey in Game 2 at Fenway Park is that his home-road splits are something akin to Bruce Banner and The Hulk. Lackey was 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 starts at Fenway during the regular season; 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 16 starts on the road. Lackey finished the season with a 4.98 ERA in September, the highest he boasted in any month by almost two runs, despite having pitched three of his five games at home, including a masterful, two-hit complete game against the Baltimore Orioles in his penultimate start.
But he wasn’t good in his final start at Colorado, a 13-10 loss. He was suspect in a no-decision against the Yankees, and he was awful in another start against New York, allowing seven earned runs over 5 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 7.
On Saturday, he’ll also be pitching on 10 days rest.
If it’s indeed the favored Rays who emerge from Wednesday’s one-game playoff against the Indians, the prospects become even more daunting from Boston’s perspective. Matt Moore would likely be slated to start Game 1 against Lester, and all he delivered this season against the Red Sox was a 2-0 record with a 1.80 ERA (Lester was 2-1 with a 4.32 ERA against Tampa in 2013). If the Red Sox drop Game 1, that means it’s up to Lackey to face Rays ace David Price, who is coming off a dominating performance against the Rangers in Game No. 163 on Monday, and was 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA against the Sox. Lackey? He hasn’t faced Tampa since June, but he was 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA over two starts against the Rays this season, albeit both in Tampa.
The point is, Clay Buchholz, from a talent and chance to win perspective, should be slam-dunk to start Game 2, but Lackey’s road deficiencies make it impossible for Farrell to do so.
The worst-case scenario would be having to trot Lackey out, down 0-1 in the series, to face Price. If that’s the case, this magical season of 2013 could come to a rapid end. And of course, John Lackey will again be in the middle of trying to figure out where it all went wrong.