Red Sox May Hate the Standings, But They Love Where the Pitching Staff is Going

E ASenior Analyst IAugust 22, 2009

ATLANTA - JUNE 27:  Starting pitcher Tim Wakefield #49 of the Boston Red Sox against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 27, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

After Brad Penny got trounced last night in a 20-11 romp by the New York Yankees, the Red Sox rotation has just been delivered the best news heard since before the All-Star break: Tim Wakefield will be back on Wednesday.

Given the consistently bad outings by Brad Penny, someone needed to take over this rotation spot. While it's not official that Penny will be removed from action, Penny was scheduled to start on Wednesday where instead Wakefield will make his first start since July 8.

After being on the shelf for ages, Wakefield still has the second highest amount of wins on the Red Sox staff with a solid 11-3 mark. Sporting a 4.31 ERA, if Wakefield continues to pitch to that average then he would be allowing approximately 1.3 runs less than Penny.

While Penny continues to put in all his effort for the Red Sox, it's clear that he's fading away from his solid start with the team, and could possibly soon find himself the odd man out of this rotation.

As all expected, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been one of the most dominant 1-2 punches in all of baseball, and will continue to carry the staff down the stretch.

Quietly emerging from the dust and rubble of his disastrous 2008 season is the young Clay Buchholz, who dropped his ERA to 3.99 on the season after great performances while dueling the best of the best: CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Roy Halladay.

It's hard to take a guy's spot away when he shows he does have the mental toughness to make it in the league and hang in there with the big guys in a pitcher's duel. At this rate, Buchholz looks to have his spot as protected as Beckett or Lester's.

Even the young Junichi Tazawa has been impressive in his short stint with the big team. While his two losses and 5.40 ERA may not look all too good on paper, he has had a tendency to not be flustered by runners in scoring position and has generally performed well.

The one blemish on Tazawa's record would be his five inning, four run start against Texas last weekend, but as I write currently Tazawa is putting on a nice showing against the Yankees, easing through six shutout innings.

With Daisuke Matsuzaka to rehab in the Gulf Coast League on August 24, for Double-A Portland on August 29, and for Triple-A Pawtucket on September 3, everyone in this rotation is going to have to be on top of their game.

If all goes well for Dice K, he will probably be eased back into the rotation depending on how the rest of the rotation shapes up. The ultimate factor is how everything else shapes up.

It currently looks like Wakefield will take Penny's spot, and a slip up from Tazawa or Buchholz in the near future could easily have them sent back to Pawtucket in exchange for Matsuzaka.

If Penny gets taken out of the picture, another deep, talented rotation like the one envisioned this winter would be the picture painted for the Red Sox for the stretch run.

In other news, the Red Sox may have just found another great arm to add to their deep, but stretched, bullpen. It has been reported by Ken Rosenthal that recently waived Mets reliever Billy Wagner has been claimed by the Boston Red Sox.

While Wagner, who is under contract for the rest of this season with a club option for 2010, has a no-trade clause, the vibe is that the pitcher would be willing to waive that no-trade protection in order to be traded from the Mets.

Despite sitting at home on the disabled list until just recently this season, Rosenthal says that Wagner should have real trade value this winter, and that if healthy, his $8 million option for next year is reasonable.

If the Red Sox are able to work out a trade for Wagner, who aren't expected to give the pitcher away for free, they have many options on what they can do with him. Wagner, a former closer, can pitch in the late innings and be used to spell Papelbon on his nights off.

If the Red Sox don't want to keep Wagner for 2010, assuming they complete a trade, they could also offer Wagner arbitration. Since Wagner projects to be a Type A free agent, signing elsewhere after being offered arbitration would award the Red Sox two first round draft choice, something Theo Epstein would love.

In 2008, Wagner posted a 2.30 ERA with 27 saves in 47 innings pitched before going down to Tommy John surgery. In a short Minor League rehab stint, Wagner pitched seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts between the Florida and Gulf Coast Leagues.

After being called up to the Mets earlier this week, Wagner pitched one inning on Thursday, striking out two batters without allowing a base runner.

Wagner would be a breath of fresh air for the Red Sox, who have a tired and overworked bullpen due to the lack of longevity from starters Penny, Tazawa, and Buchholz.

Penny just doesn't have a high level of stamina, while the latter two have strict pitch counts and rarely are allowed out of the fifth inning.

With the innings piled up on Oki, Ram-Ram, Bard, and Delcarmen and the ERA's climbing upward by the appearance for this group, Wagner brings another good option for Terry Francona to turn to in the later innings in relief.

Adding Wagner to the current relief corps in Boston would be a great compliment to help ease the workload of the stretched out Ramirez, Delcarmen, and Okajima. The standings may not be nice, but the Red Sox just continue to garner more upside in my eyes.