Red Sox Make Their Pitch for AL East in 2009

Aaron StraussContributor IFebruary 4, 2009

The Red Sox have won their two recent World Series titles because they had great pitching. In 2008, they had trouble with their rotation and lost Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) to the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, in 2009, they have revamped their rotation and bullpen.

The rotation will start with Josh Beckett as usual. Beckett was obviously hurt in the 2008 postseason. He should be right back to his old self in 2009. A healthy Beckett won 20 games in 2007. There is no reason he can't bounce back to that level if he is healthy, although he has never been healthy for a full season. Even in 2007 he missed a couple of weeks.

The No. 2 starter should be lefty Jon Lester. Lester had a career year in 2008. It was his first full year in the majors after he left early in 2006 and came back halfway through 2007. Lester was the ace in the postseason and had a chance to win ALCS Game 7. Unfortunately, the offense did not show up for him.

He should continue where he left off. Lester was seen as a guy who walks too many hitters, but after his no-hitter in 2008, he began attacking the strike zone more. As long as he is aggressive, he could be even better than he was last year. Remember, he is still developing.

Next is the "Dice Man", Daisuke Matsuzaka. "Dice-K" was very good in his first two seasons in the U.S. At first, he had trouble adjusting to the American strike zone, which is smaller than the Japanese strike zone. In 2008, he fixed his problem and was one of the American League Cy Young candidates. Dice-K gives the Sox a solid top three to their rotation. Some could argue that Lester and Dice-K are both No. 2-quality starters behind Beckett.

The No. 4 spot is a bit clouded. John Smoltz was signed and will pitch, but he will miss some time rehabbing his arm after Tommy John surgery. Smoltz says he can be ready by Opening Day, but the Sox do not want him to further injure himself by rushing back. Besides, they have Brad Penny.

Penny is also an injury risk, but when he is healthy, he is a very good pitcher. He will take the No. 4 spot until Smoltz returns. If Penny is pitching well when Smoltz comes back, then maybe Smoltz will move to the bullpen to help set up Jonathan Papelbon. Smoltz spent several years as the Atlanta Braves' closer.

Tim Wakefield will more than likely be the No. 5 starter behind Smoltz or Penny. Wakefield is getting older and is not as good as he used to be, but he is still a serviceable starter. He will miss games with back trouble, but he will never have arm problems because he does not throw hard.

There is a small chance Wakefield doesn't stay in the rotation. It is hard to deal with him out of the bullpen because Jason Varitek cannot catch him. Although if Smoltz and Penny are both healthy and pitching well, the Sox may opt to start them both.

Also, if the Red Sox need another starter, they have a few guys to choose from. They still have Clay Buchholz, who they have not given up on. Buchholz has an interesting motion. He brings his arm way up over the top when he throws. This caused his mechanics to get messed up last year. He supposedly fixed his problem in Class AAA last year and pitched very well in the Arizona Fall League.

They also have a couple other options. Michael Bowden is in the minors and he made a start last year. Justin Masterson is going to be in the set-up crew, but if they need him, he can start. If all else fails, there are a lot of good free agent pitchers left to fill the gap.

The rotation will be backed up by a pretty good looking bullpen with the additions of Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito behind Hideki Okijima, Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, and Papelbon.

The main thing the Red Sox need out of their pitching staff is for them to stay healthy. If these guys are all healthy, it will be a powerful staff that can beat any team in the majors. Then they will have their chance to get back to the World Series.