For all their early-season struggles, the Boston Red Sox are a playoff-calibre team. With 407 runs scored, they have the second-best offense in the league, behind only the Texas Rangers. The Sox also own the league's eighth-best bullpen ERA, and since June 1, they have the best mark in the game.
Their relief corps struggled in April and the offense has been through slumps at times but generally, both have been excellent. However, the team's starting pitching has been terrible from start to finish. The second game of the season saw Josh Beckett destroyed to the tune of five home runs by the Detroit Tigers. Monday night saw the shortest outing of Daisuke Matsuzaka's major league career.
Only four teams have a worse starting rotation, judging by ERA. Boston's starters are below average in innings pitched, as they struggle to make it deep into games. The bullpen's recent successes have mitigated some of the potential damage from unreliable starters but the rotation is still the primary reason Boston is third in the AL East and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Not only have the starters struggled, but they have infuriated too, as many have shown flashes of dominance.
Aaron Cook threw a complete game, two-hit shutout last time out, but owns a 4.32 ERA on the season. Beckett has looked like the pitcher who dominated for stretches of last season but has mixed in the occasional seven-run nightmare.
Daisuke has looked like a new pitcher at times but succumbed to bad innings far too often. Daniel Bard was reasonably impressive in his new role as a starter early in the season but by the end, every opposing batter was fearing for his life.
Would you trust any Red Sox starter in Game 7 of the World Series?
Really, it's a shame that Boston, whose rotation on paper is mightily impressive, is being held back by their starters. Their offense is good enough to carry them to one of the wild-card berths but from there, the Sox will need pitching. What they especially need is an ace.
Jon Lester has been the Opening Day starter each of the last two years but he has been nothing like an ace this season. Beckett and Clay Buchholz have been too unreliable and Felix Doubront, at one point their best starter, has taken a few steps back of late.
Almost every other competitor has a big-game pitcher. The New York Yankees have CC Sabathia, the Los Angeles Angels have CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver, the Tampa Bay Rays have James Shields. Boston have no one to rely upon in a big game, and not a single pitcher who has started more than three games has an ERA below 4.00.
Boston have the offense, bullpen and, by and large, the defense of a very good team. But their starting pitching, if it continues like this, will reduce the Red Sox from a World Series contender to a team struggling to stay above .500.
Adam MacDonald is a Scottish journalism student at GCU. He has been a featured columnist for the Boston Red Sox since October 2010. You can follow him on Twitter, or tell him how awesome/terrible this article was by clicking here.