Boston Red Sox Quietly Go to a Six-Man Rotation

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst ISeptember 19, 2009

NEW YORK - AUGUST 09:  Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox delivers to the plate in the first inning against the New York Yankees on August 9, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

In doing prep work for my weekly Friday radio show appearance on The Shore Sports Report, I came across the Boston Red Sox upcoming pitching matchups.

Clay Buchholz went last night at Baltimore, Jon Lester (3-0, 0.84 vs. O's this year—a gambler's lock if there ever was one) goes Saturday, and Dice-K on Sunday. The longer schedule has Tim Wakefield making an appearance on Monday and Paul Byrd going Tuesday at Kansas City.

That leaves Thursday night's pitcher, Josh Beckett, as the sixth man!

Good planning by Boston picking up Byrd late to give them innings, and working in and keeping Buchholz in the rotation while he was struggling in his early starts. The long-time top prospect is now 5-0 in his last seven starts, including two wins each over AL East rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto, and last night's over Baltimore.

Most of the the Red Sox starting pitchers were going through various issues the middle of the season: veterans Brad Penny and John Smoltz—ineffectiveness (eventually both were released); Dice-K and Wakefield—dealing with severe injuries; while Buchholz was ineffective early on and Beckett has been getting hit hard lately. 

But Lester has been a rock and nothing short of magnificent lately. Since May 31 (a span of 19 starts) Lester is 10-2 with a 2.02 ERA. He also has not lost in his last 10 outings.

Although he pitched well last Tuesday versus the Angels, I am still wary of a strong comeback for Dice-K. He adjusted to the AL by not nibbling after getting ahead in the count, but the AL hitters have not had time yet to adjust to him. Too many Angels last Tuesday night were taking pitches right down the middle of the plate, expecting Dice-K to nibble.

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Let's see a few more starts before we call Matsuzaka all the way back.

But in September is when you want to start playing your best ball (just ask the 2007 Colorado Rockies), and the Red Sox have begun to play well in all facets of their game. Jason Bay is now consistently providing necessary power.

The key, though, is their starters, and with Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz at the top, that is a formidable three. If Dice-K or Wakefield are healthy and throwing well, the Red Sox will be a tough out in the playoffs. And I had originally predicted that Texas would overtake the Red Sox for the wild card race.

Now with the Yankees losing last night at Seattle (with the open base, I would have walked Ichiro) and on a West Coast trip, the Red Sox are only five games back in the loss column and maybe looking at an even bigger series in the Bronx next weekend.

It starts with their pitching, and the Sox are giving their staff a break by going to a six-man rotation, something they talked about last winter.

Let's see if this rest helps them come October.