More so than in the past, this 2008 Red Sox team has faced much adversity entering the playoffs.
Injuries have dogged this team, especially the latter part of the season and entering the playoffs. Beckett missed the beginning of the Angels series with an oblique injury, and Mike Lowell is likely out for the season with a hip injury.
Beginning with their series against the Angels, the Sox did not have an effective Josh Beckett to open the series for them, and when he did pitch he showed the rust from his long layoff. Jon Lester filled in admirably, shutting down the Angels twice, in game one and game four.
Daisuke Matsuzaka had mixed results in his start. He was only moderately effective and again was unable to go deep into the game.
With four days between series, the Red Sox are wary of having Lester pitch on short rest. Instead of having Beckett open the series in Tampa Bay, they elected to go with a rotation of Matsuzaka in game one, Beckett game two, Lester game three and Wakefield game four.
In a seven game series, this would be the ideal rotation. The most likely scenario for that outcome would be losing two starts from Matsuzaka and one from Wakefield, while winning both of Beckett's starts and Lester's game three start. This would allow Lester to try for his second win in a deciding game seven.
If this series goes seven games, Terry Francona and the rest of the Sox front office will come out looking like geniuses. There is no other pitcher on the team more qualified right now to pitch game seven than Jon Lester.
Having said that, this series could quickly spiral out of the Red Sox's control with an early loss by either Beckett or Lester. No member of Red Sox Nation wants either Wakefield or Matsuzaka pitching in a must win game. Not only that, but the front office is probably just as afraid of that potential outcome.
Unless Beckett's injury flared back up during his start against the Angels, and his ineffectiveness was due to more than just rust, there is a strong argument to have Josh Beckett be the ALCS game one starter. There is little evidence to show that he would be rusty for a second time, and with four days between series he would be fully rested.
This would allow Lester to start game two. Throwing Lester after Beckett would give the Sox a chance to take a quick 2-0 lead in this series, and would take all of the pressure off of Matsuzaka in game three.
In essence, the Red Sox approach shows great respect for the Rays.
Given the chance to try to play for a shorter series by leading off with their two best starters, the Red Sox respect the Rays enough to assume that they will need seven games to beat them. Either that or they get lucky and Matsuzaka or Wakefield comes through in the clutch.
Hopefully for them, they'll be right, but its a heck of a risk. Though not as much as a lefty hitter executing a suicide squeeze.