Boston Red Sox: Who Will Be Boston's Third Starter in the 2011 Playoffs?
By the time the calendar flips to September 29, 2011, there will have been some 2400 games played in the Major Leagues and the postseason schedule will be set. With the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees boasting a seven-game lead for the American League Wild Card spot, it is almost certain the two rivals will be playing in October.
When the Red Sox begin their ALDS against (probably) the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers or Cleveland Indians, it will be Josh Beckett on the mound. The next day, Jon Lester will be pitching. With Clay Buchholz perhaps out for the season with a stress fracture in his lower back, who will start game three?
We all know the story of John Lackey in 2011. $15.25 million. 9-8 record. 6.23 ERA. He is going through some personal stuff you would not wish on anybody, has spent time on the DL and generally has been one of the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball.
The Red Sox cannot send him to the Minor Leagues. He will not be happy spending time on a phantom DL stint with a made-up injury. He cannot go to the bullpen. Terry Francona has to keep sending him out to the mound every five days, where he will invariably give up four to six runs.
So why would you even consider him as the starter in a potentially crucial playoff game?
The fact is, the Red Sox may not have any better options. Clay Buchholz is on the DL and everyone else still active does not give you a definitive upgrade over Lackey.
In his last five starts, though, he has been better. Not good, but better. He has given up three or fewer earned runs four times, one run once and on June 9 pitched 6.2 scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles.
One thing has not changed in the last 17 years. Whatever the Boston Red Sox have asked Tim Wakefield to do, he has done. At times, he has been an integral part of the starting rotation. When they needed him to go to the bullpen, he did it. When they needed a spot starter, Wake was there. In the 2004 ALCS he offered to surrender the biggest start of his career if Terry Francona needed him in relief.
It has been the same story in 2011. He might have an ERA of 5.06 and be allowing home runs at the third-highest rate of his career, but he has been Mr Dependable again. Wakefield probably will not even make the postseason roster but if Tito thinks the best route is to have Wake pitch in the playoffs, he still has the stuff and the temperament to throw seven innings of one-run ball, both as a starter and in relief.
Andrew Miller was Theo Epstein's reclamation project for this season. Once a highly-touted prospect and first round draft pick, Miller has pitched for the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins, with an ERA of at least 4.84 in every season.
One of those 'low-risk, high-reward' pitchers Theo loves, it looked for a time that the Miller experiment would work out okay for the Red Sox.
In his first start, he gave up three runs in 5.2 innings. In his second, he was even better, getting through six with just two runs (one earned) allowed. His third start was against the lowly Houston Astros and he again pitched six innings allowing two runs.
It has not gone so well since then. In his last five starts he has given up three, seven, zero, seven and three runs, all but two of them earned. The scoreless start gives you hope (he only allowed two hits in five and two thirds innings) but it is still a risk to put him on the mound.
Acquired by the Red Sox in the minutes and seconds before the four o'clock, July 31 trade deadline, Erik Bedard is the not the pitcher Boston wanted.
In reality they probably wanted Hiroki Kuroda, who refused to waive his no-trade clause, or Ubaldo Jimenez, who was traded to the more-willing-to-give-away-the-farm Cleveland Indians. They were very close to a deal for Rich Harden from Oakland but backed out after a closer look at his health.
After all that, Plan D was Bedard, and the Sox got him for four decent, but not great, prospects.
There are two worries with Bedard and his ability is not one of them. For an eleven game stretch earlier this season, Bedard was arguably the best lefty in the game not named Cliff Lee.
Worry one is his health. He missed a month with a knee injury and in his one start since coming off the DL, he was killed by the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing five runs in 1.1 innings.
Worry two is his attitude. There have been accusations that he tanked the Rays game to ensure he was not traded, wanting to stay in with the terrible Seattle Mariners team that will definitely not make him post in a high-pressure playoff game.
Both are concerning, the latter, if it holds any truth at all, is almost disgraceful.
Alfredo Aceves made four starts this season, pitching fantastically well in two and okay in one. If the other four prove not to be viable options as the third playoff starter, there will be calls to move Aceves from the bullpen. Terry Francona would be wise not to heed them.
Aceves has been invaluable this season and proven to be a great pickup by Theo Epstein in the offseason. But his value lies in his ability to pitch four or five innings in relief. Tim Wakefield can do something similar but Aceves is the more reliable pitcher right now.
In the playoffs, Tito will be much quicker to pull the starter. He has to be. If John Lackey gives up four runs in the second, Francona cannot afford to wait around to see if he sorts it out. He will be pulled and that is when you need an inning eater in the pen.
Aceves has a 2.41 ERA as a reliever this season, bettered by only Daniel Bard (2.28) and Matt Albers (2.25). Seven of his last nine appearances have been scoreless and he has pitched 20.1 innings in those games, with an ERA just under two and a WHIP of 0.64.