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by Harold Friend
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester Are Solid
Josh Beckett is having a Cy Young Award season and has shown that he wins the big games. He is as good as any pitcher in the American League. Jon Lester is a solid lefty on the verge of stardom. He won 16 games last season, and has pitched almost as effectively this year. After Beckett and Lester, it is a crap shoot.
Dice-K and Wakefield Are Injured
Daisuke Matsuzaka is probably gone for the season, Tim Wakefield is on the disabled list with back problems, and Justin Masterson is in Cleveland. After Beckett and Lester, Boston sends Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Clay Buchholz to the mound. The fact that they just signed Paul Byrd to a minor league contract reveals the concern that exists.
Brad Penny Has Problems
Brad Penny has been inconsistent at best. He had problems in Los Angeles, winning 6, losing 9, and allowing 112 hits in 94 2/3 innings, with an obscene 6.27 ERA. In Boston, Penny is 7-6, with a 5.20 ERA, but he has yielded 136 hits in 116 innings.
John Smoltz' Injuries
John Smoltz is 42 years old. He had Tommy John surgery prior to the 2000 season, has been on the disabled more times than he cares to remember, is joined Boston after undergoing shoulder surgery after last season. He no longer is John Smoltz when he pitches.
Clay Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in his second major league start in 2007, but he struggled mightily in 2008 and was sent to the minors in August, where he pitched until after the 2009 all-star game. The Red Sox needed a starter against Toronto on July 17. Buchhotz was brought up, won the game, and was sent back down, but when Tim Wakefield went on the disabled list, Buchholz joined the Red Sox rotation. He is 1-1 with a 6.05 ERA, allowing 28 hits in only 19 1/3 innings.
Get to the Bullpen
The way baseball is managed today, teams need six innings from their starting pitcher. The Red Sox must score enough runs in the first innings to get the game to their bullpen, which has not been as good as it must be for the Red Sox to win, but which has been a strength most of the time. Jonathan Papelbon will join Mariano Rivera many years from today in the Hall of Fame.
Red Sox Will be the Wild Card
The Red Sox will not win the Eastern Division, but they will be the wild card. Teams with strong starting pitching have a better chance of winning the World Series than teams that rely primarily on offense. With Josh Beckett, the Red Sox have the necessary ace. Jon Lester is really the key, because when he pitches well, he is dominant. The problem is that he has not been consistent enough.
If the Red Sox get adequate pitching from the starters who follow Beckett and Lester, they have a chance, especially if Wakefield returns. His knuckle ball can mess up an offense for days after he pitches. Buchholz is young and has great potential. He must believe in himself.
Boston's offense covers many weaknesses. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez, Jason Bay, and J.D. Drew form the nucleus of a batting order that will score many runs. Jacoby Ellsbury is maturing into a star, who hits .300 and steals bases.
The Red Sox will make the playoffs, but their chances would be much better if they had one more reliable pitcher. The guess here is that John Smoltz may have one last breath remaining.