Clay Buchholz has been out of action since June 9.
With just over five weeks to play in the 2013 MLB regular season, the Boston Red Sox are on course to secure the team’s first playoff berth since 2009. It’s been an incredible run in what was supposed to be a transition year, but the “pleasant surprise” label has worn off and fans now expect this team to compete.
But can they do it without Clay Buchholz?
Their No. 1 starter, who has been out of action since June 9, was having a career year before he got hurt. He had a 9-0 record along with a 1.71 ERA over his 12 starts, looking like the best pitcher in the American League, if not all of baseball.
While Buchholz is reportedly on track to return in early September, according to MLB.com’s Ian Browne, given all the setbacks the right-hander has had, the Sox cannot take that as a sure thing. They need to start thinking about alignments of their four-man playoff rotation, and they need to realize that Buchholz may not be a part of that.
Ryan Dempster will almost surely be the odd man out; not only has he been the Sox’s worst starter this season, but he also has had an outstanding run as a reliever, something the Sox need now and certainly will once the playoffs start.
Given all that, let’s take a look at five potential playoff rotations without Clay Buchholz:
This rotation would give the Sox nice lefty-righty balance in the rotation and would give Lester at least two starts in a seven-game series (assuming no sweep). Lester’s clutch performance in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series may just be his lasting legacy in a Sox uniform, and he holds a solid 2.57 overall playoff ERA.
This alignment would also mean that Lester would be the starter for Game 5 of the Division Series, which is obviously a key spot and one that you’d want your “ace” to be on the hill for.
Leading off with the right-handed Peavy would be a risk, but the way he’s thrown for the Sox so far (two or fewer earned runs in three of four starts), he might be worth the upside. Having Doubront go second would also be a nice bonus, as the left-hander has been remarkably consistent for the Sox all year long.
Putting Lester at the back end of the rotation would ease some of the pressure on him and likely give the Sox a highly favorable pitching matchup deeper into a series.
This alignment would allow the Sox to have their three most reliable pitchers working three games in a row, and it would ease the pressure on Peavy to perform in the playoffs (where he has made only two starts). It would also give two starts to Lackey, who to this point has been the Sox’s best starter overall.
Lester has also been in good form lately, posting a 2.76 ERA over his last seven starts, and if you eliminate his poor outing against Arizona on August 2, that number goes down to 1.74. If he keeps on this current path, he also should have multiple starts in a series.
It’s kind of amazing that we’re even having the discussion of John Lackey as a potential playoff No. 1 starter for the Sox, but this is the world we now live in. Lackey has been the team’s most reliable pitcher all season long, posting a 3.22 ERA and pitching at least six innings in a remarkable 18 of his 22 starts (and one of those he left with an injury in the fifth).
He also has the most playoff experience of anyone on the Sox’s staff, making 14 appearances (12) starts and putting up a 3.12 ERA as a member of the Angels. Of all the pitchers on the Sox’s staff, Lackey is the one best prepared for the big stage.
Who knew that a Doubront-Lackey one-two punch might be the Sox’s best chance at playoff survival? The two starters are the Sox’s leaders in ERA (3.22 for Lackey, 3.79 for Doubront), and both have been remarkably consistent all year compared with the up-and-down season of Jon Lester.
While Doubront lacks any playoff experience, he also has demonstrated time and again that he is incredibly resilient on the mound, salvaging numerous quality starts out of seemingly impossible situations. Having Lester and Peavy as the second two starters would also give the Sox a huge advantage in pitching matchups, and it would allow them to potentially put a stranglehold on any series by feasting on their opponent’s weaker starters.