Boston Red Sox Rotation Issues: A Penny for My Thoughts

E ASenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2009

After dropping last night's game to the Rangers 4-2, the Red Sox have now lost four straight. Even worse than the Sox just handing over the division lead to the hated Yankees, the losing pitcher for the Red Sox was Josh Beckett.

Until Tuesday night's game, Beckett was undefeated when pitching after a Boston loss.

After getting crushed by Texas Monday night, Beckett finally faltered, and the Red Sox lost—again.

Since the All-Star break, the Sox have been horrible—1-4 to be exact.

They have lost to pitchers of all types. On Sunday, they fell just short in a pitcher's duel between Jon Lester and Roy Halladay. Last Saturday, they were handled by Toronto rookie Marc Rzepczynski.

Now, in Texas, the opposition continues to get the best of this slumping Sox squad. Kevin Millwood outworked John Smoltz on Monday, and in the most recent loss, the Red Sox were once again owned by a rookie. This time it was Tommy Hunter.

Lately, the offense has been a big problem, but that's not what I want to rant about today.

No, instead, there is the issue (that none of us expected to be an issue) of the terrible trio: Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny.

Dice K: 1-5, 8.23 ERA, 34-18 K/BB in 35 innings pitched

Smoltz: 1-3, 6.31 ERA, 22-2 K/BB in 25 innings pitched

Penny: 6-4, 5.02 ERA, 65-30 K/BB in 98 innings pitched

Combined: 8-12, 6.52 ERA, 158 innings pitched

With the news that Tim Wakefield will be shut down with a lower back strain, fans from all corners of Red Sox Nation will be dripping with happiness, as it essentially leaves the Red Sox with two great pitchers and two who are performing horribly.

At least Dice K is on the DL, or it would be even harder to watch the Red Sox surrender the division lead to the Yankees while dropping close games to run-of-the-mill teams.

In each of their past starts, Smoltz and Penny have dropped the ball.

Both were on the hook for six earned runs in five innings of work in their last starts. Penny was manhandled by Toronto, and Smoltz was pitching well until the sixth inning, when he completely imploded.

Boston Dirt Dogs put it best, with a "Smoltzuzaka Strikes Again" headline on July 21st.

Luckily, there is some good to be found with Wakefield being shut down. Clay Buchholz is getting recalled from Pawtucket, and he will start Wednesday night at Texas.

After this past weekend's showing in Toronto, Buchholz's brilliance and Penny's lackluster performance demonstrated to the Red Sox who has earned a rotation spot more. If only Buchholz was replacing Penny, it would all get better.

Theo Epstein has made a big mistake with Penny this year—not in signing Penny but in not trading him. Penny could still be traded before the deadline, but with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay on the block, the market has all but disappeared for the washed-up righty.

Designating Penny for assignment might be the best course of action now, as he is becoming even more of a useless pitcher with each start. Penny is due just five million dollars this year, a contract that the Red Sox can easily afford to eat.

Smoltz has been understandably mediocre after his major arm surgery, but he should improve sometime in the near future. If he doesn't show any signs of improvement in the next month or so, he should also be shown the door.

No offense intended towards Smoltz, one of my favorite pitchers, but the Red Sox do not owe anything to him, living legend or not. He is a great pitcher, but if he doesn't start pitching up to his Hall of Fame resume, the Red Sox have better options to go with and should take advantage of it.

Now that Buchholz is getting his crack at the rotation, there is still one more guy patiently waiting his turn in the minors: Michael Bowden.

Bowden is currently 3-4 at Pawtucket with a 3.13 ERA in 17 starts. With batters hitting .221 against him, he is also sporting a 59/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In his most recent start, Bowden pitched five innings of no-hit ball. He struck out five and walked four.

As of now, Bowden should stay and continue to be groomed in the minor leagues. However, if "Smoltzuzaka" doesn't get its act together, I believe that Bowden, one of the team's top-five prospects, should be given a shot.

Penny has made a large negative impact on the team this year, and he needs to make an exit a la Julio Lugo—a good ol' DFA. Smoltz needs to be kept on a short leash.

When Wakefield does return from his strained back, a rotation of Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Buchholz-Smoltz would look much better than Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Penny-Smoltz.