Let’s skip the whole “I can’t believe it’s baseball season already” (but seriously, it just snowed a foot in Maine, and I can’t believe it’s baseball season already) speech. Instead, let's move to what I consider to be the key to the 2011 Boston Red Sox season: pitching.
Yes, I’m contradicting myself (though Theo Epstein must have read that post before he signed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford). But this year, it’s clear the runs will come (barring another miserable year of injuries).
On paper, only the Phillies’ rotation rivals the Sox’s. The same could have been said last year when John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka each underwhelmed, and the Red Sox found themselves down early without the firepower to fight back.
Matsuzaka and Beckett battled injuries throughout 2010, but were ineffective in 25 and 21 starts, respectively.
Matsuzaka continued walking batters at a staggering rate of 4.3 per nine innings. We know Matsusaka likes to try to paint the corners every at-bat, and we know that it drives his pitch count, but do we realize how big of a problem it is? Matsuzaka has thrown just one complete game in his four-year career (in his rookie season). In any given start, his inability to go deep into games can resonate until the Sox’s next solid seven-inning start or an off day.
Josh Beckett, who only pitched half the season, struggled heavily and managed just six wins. Beckett posted career-worst figures in ERA (5.78), WHIP (1.535) and hits per nine innings (10.6). He didn’t look much better in spring training, posting a 1-4 record. The former ace has pitched poorly enough to be relegated the fourth spot in the rotation, behind Clay Buchholz and…
John Lackey, who was supposed to our newest big-game pitcher. To me, he was the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season. Scoring first allows a team to relax and swing freely, and the Red Sox seemingly never did that when Lackey threw last year. He had 14 wins, but also posted his worst ERA (4.40) since 2004 and worst WHIP (1.419) since 2003.
Obviously, I believe all of these pitchers will get more run support this year. The bullpen looks better as well (but how much longer until Hideki Okajima is traded?).
Lester didn’t get it done last night, but he will. Crawford didn’t get it done last night, but he will too.
The offense will win this team games. But whether or not the Red Sox can get the consistent, quality starts from their two, four and five starters will be central to the team’s pennant and, ultimately, World Series chances.