Jon Lester and Josh Beckett will start the first two games of the playoffs but who will take the ball after them?
BOSTON - With their 9-5 win over the New York Yankees Wednesday night at Fenway, the Red Sox took a 1.5-game lead in the AL East.
Additionally, the win extended their lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in second place for the Wild Card, to nine games.
With 27 games to go, the Sox would have to completely fall apart to miss the playoffs.
So, short of the wheels falling off when the regular season race comes to an end, it's time for Boston to start peaking towards a playoff game plan.
Obviously, Josh Beckett, who was the winning pitcher against New York Wednesday, and Jon Lester, who will take the ball Thursday night, will be the first two pitchers to climb the hill once the playoffs get underway.
Behind them though, a debate has surfaced about whether it should be John Lackey or Erik Bedard taking the ball for Game 3.
The final month of the season will help the Red Sox determine who to go with, but as of now a case could be made for or against either player.
John Lackey has won 12 games for the Red Sox this year.
PROS: Lackey has been a different pitcher in the second half, evidenced by the fact that he's lowered his ERA a point and a half from July 4 to now.
In that time, Lackey compiled a 7-3 record over 11 starts.
Lackey also has significant postseason experience, helping the Angels reach the playoffs four times in eight seasons.
In 78 postseason innings, Lackey has put together a 3.12 ERA and was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series when the Angels clinched their championship over the Giants.
CONS: Lackey was able to lower his ERA a point and a half, from 7.47 to 5.94, over the last two months not because he was dominant in that time, but because he was awful beforehand.
His record in that time had more to do with a hot Red Sox offense than an effective Lackey on the mound. In only four of his 11 starts did Lackey manage at least six innings and three runs or less. Only twice was he able to complete seven innings, and in one of those two he gave up five runs.
Since winning two games for the Angels in the 2002 playoffs, Lackey has a 1-4 record in the postseason and hasn't earned a win past the divisional playoffs.
Erik Bedard joined the Red Sox at the trade deadline and could wind up as the game three starter in the playoffs.
PROS: Outside of his start right before the trade deadline when the Mariners were rushing to get him on the mound, Bedard has been his usual self. An adequate pitcher when healthy, Bedard has a 3.45 ERA to go with a 1.21 WHIP this season.
Furthermore, he's been pretty consistent all season, posting a 3.45 ERA in Seattle and showing a 3.46 one so far in Boston.
A ground-ball pitcher, Bedard has allowed two homers in five starts since being traded from the best pitcher's park in the AL to the best hitter's one.
He's improved his strikeout rate a bit since the trade, from an already impressive 8.6 to 9.0.
CONS: While his ERA passes the eye test, his 4-9 record looks as ugly as a couch from the 1970s.
While it's easy to say, "well, yeah, but he pitched for Seattle so his record should be bad," keep in mind that his record with the Mariners was better than with the Red Sox. Maybe not much better, as he picked up seven of his losses before the trade, but he has yet to get that first "W" with the Sox.
Despite posting an ERA worthy of some wins, Bedard has been left winless since the trade because he's averaging just over five innings a start. He hasn't yet pitched past six innings, so he still needs to get stretched out if he's to pitch in the playoffs.
No real big-game experience, never been in the playoffs.
Clay Buchholz is on the DL with a stress fracture in his back.
What if Clay Buchholz gets healthy?
The 26-year-old righty is currently on the shelf with a stress fracture in his lower back. He pitched through back pain for a while, and despite never really being healthy had a respectable 6-3 mark with an ERA of 3.48.
Even hurt, Buchholz had improved his strikeout rate from 6.2 a season ago to 6.9 this year. That stat is even more impressive considering Buchholz was dominant last year, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA.
So, while this may be a pipe dream as Buchholz threw on Tuesday for the first time since hitting the DL on June 26th, it would also be ideal if he could take the ball in Game 3.
Getting him stretched out from Day 1 of a throwing program to a pitcher capable of making quality postseason starts is no easy task, especially considering there will be no minor-league baseball to rehab with as their seasons all end in the next week or two.
Even with the problems of getting him extended, the Red Sox will try, and if they can stretch him out to four or five solid innings before the playoffs, would they be in better shape with him than either of the other two?
Lackey often leaves the game with a mess and the bullpen requiring three innings of shutdown work to give the Red Sox a chance to win, and Bedard has yet to get into the seventh inning or come away with a victory.
How much better is either of those options than five innings of one- or two- or even three-run ball from Buchholz?
Bedard has been better than Lackey since coming over via trade.
Assuming Buchholz won't be ready to contribute anywhere near 100 pitches a night, Bedard will take the ball Game 3 for the Red Sox.
Sure, Lackey has more postseason experience and success and, it's true, Bedard has never pitched a "meaningful" game in the MLB, however, before getting to the playoffs in 1996, Derek Jeter had no playoff credentials either.
Bedard has simply been better than Lackey, and if he can get a couple of wins under his belt, down the stretch will be the easy answer to this question.
Bedard is still working towards full-strength and should have an easier time getting through six, seven or more innings than Lackey going forward. He'll also be doing it while giving the Sox a better chance to win games.