It's fair to say that the Red Sox have one of the best rotations in baseball.
But let's take a closer look at this seasons starters, one through five.
After all that he's been through, Jon Lester established himself as one of the best left-handers in the game last season. I would even say that he is the ace of this staff.
Lester's problem in the majors has always been pitch count. He would have to pitch himself out of one or two sticky situations a game. Last year, he riddled himself of that problem. He was consistently going seven innings deep into games with a pitch count at or below the century mark.
His fastball was hitting 94 and 95 at the end of the season and his secondary pitches have shown a lot of improvement.
Expect Jon Lester to anchor the staff this season and if he continues to develop this year like he did last year, he could be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Beckett was injured for the majority of last season, but still managed to win 12 games and had an ERA lower than coveted free agent and former teammate A.J. Burnett.
After his magical 2007 season Beckett established himself as the ace of the pitching staff. With the emergence of Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka, he no longer is the bona-fide No. 1.
But Beckett should be back to form in 2009. His fastball should be back into the mid-90's and his curveball should continue to come along like it did a season ago. And we all know the fire he brings to every game he starts.
Don't let one injury plagued season fool you, Josh Beckett is still an elite pitcher in this league. Expect his ERA to be below four and his win total will be closer to twenty than ten, barring injury.
It's amazing that a pitcher who lead the staff in wins (18) and ERA (2.90) is pretty much set-in as Boston's No. 3 pitcher. That just shows the depth of the Red Sox's rotation.
Usually, young pitchers struggle in their second season because their opponents have started to figure their stuff out. Matsuzaka did the opposite of that last season, improving in every major category.
We all know Matsuzaka has great stuff and like Lester, he improved his efficiancy last season albeit not as dramaticly.
Though he let up a few more walks, struck out fifty fewer batters and pitched fifty fewer innings than he did in 2007, he also let up half the amount of home-runs. His win total rose and his ERA plummeted.
Expect Dice-K to improve on his pitch counts and pitch more innings than last season. He might not have eighteen wins to only three loses again, but you can bet he'll stay in that same ballpark.
Old reliable is back again for another season. The knuckle-baller will be 43 years old this season, but a knuckle-baller doesn't really worry about age.
Last year, like most years, he gave you what you wanted from a back of the rotation guy. Double digit wins (10) and a reasonable ERA (4.13).
On any given night, Wakefield can still baffle an opposing line-up. On any given night he can get shelled too, but what do you expect from a No. 4 or 5 guy.
Even at age 43, Wakefield will still be as serviceable as he has ever been. Were he to really struggle, the Red Sox have enough young pitching talent that he can be moved to the bullpen.
If they ride him out until the end of the season, expect the same kind of numbers as last year. Double digit wins, a reasonable ERA and great veteran presence in an otherwise young starting rotation.
The No. 5 Starter
This is where the only question mark can be found in the pitching staff.
There has been talk about bringing Derek Lowe back to Boston and offering A.J. Burnett a contract, but I would rather see them look to the farm system.
However, if they are going to pursue a free agent I would hope they go after a Derek Lowe or a Ben Sheets.
Burnett is far too mediocre to give a large contract to. A guy like Lowe can give you a solid 12-16 wins and an ERA below four in the No. 4 or 5 spot. It should also be pointed out that he knows how to succeed in Boston.
When he's healthy, Ben Sheets has shown flashes of being a great pitcher in the bigs. He started the all-star game last season. He's only thirty years old and he will come at a far more reasonable price than an A.J. Burnett.
When you consider the depth of the Sox rotation and farm system, taking a chance on a guy like Ben Sheets to hold a back-end spot doesn't seem like too bad of an idea.
As for what's available to bring up from the farm, names like Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and the possibility of moving Justin Masterson back into the rotation come to mind.
Buchholz has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter in the big leagues. He struggled last season, but has improved in off-season leagues and should be ready if needed at the start of the season. We have seen how good his stuff is and he's a real possibility to fill the five hole.
Masterson showed a lot of promise in his four starts last season. However, he proved himself to be a very good relief pitcher at the end of the year. Masterson is more expendable now after the trade for Ramon Ramirez, who is a great relief pitcher in his own right, so the possibility of seeing Masterson back in the rotation seems more likely now.
Bowden is a talented young right-hander. He made only one spot start last season, but is a highly-regarded prospect that has made great strides the past few years. If he has a good spring-training, he will be in contention for that fifth spot as well.
Regardless of who fills the back of the rotation, the options are so good that Boston fans can expect solid numbers from whomever gets that spot. The Red Sox' number five starter will have as good of numbers as any number five in the league. Those farm-hands will also become useful when a starter goes down or the Sox need a spot start.
Overall, the pitching staff is in great shape. Their top three starters could all be number one's somewhere in the majors and the depth behind those guys is littered with talent and potential.
With a line-up like Boston put's together, you can expect a good season from the entire pitching staff.
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