It’s a difficult question to answer because truthfully, pitching hasn’t been the Red Sox’ problem for some time. How much can one starting pitcher really help when Boston already has one of the best rotations in the game?
The Red Sox allowed just 736 runs last season, third-lowest in the American League and the fewest among the Junior Circuit’s four playoff teams. And it wasn’t just the bullpen — Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were a big part of it. A strong first half from Tim Wakefield combined with a strong second half from Clay Buchholz went a long way, too. With Daisuke Matsuzaka healthy and Lackey $85 million richer and ready for action, there’s no telling how much better the Red Sox could be.
With six legitimate starting pitchers now in the fold, the Red Sox are loaded. Four of them have top-four Cy Young finishes to their names — everyone but Lester and Buchholz, and it’s only a matter of time before they do, too. Three are past All-Stars — Beckett, Lackey and Wakefield — and it’s frankly a travesty that Lester isn’t as well. Three (Lackey, Beckett, Lester) have won the deciding game of a World Series. Two (Buchholz, Lester) have thrown no-hitters.
We’re talking about 488 career wins spread out among six guys. They’re all going to be stars in Boston. There’s no point in discussing whether the Red Sox have the AL’s best staff — there’s no argument. But maybe we can talk about history.
At what point do we begin to pencil in the 2010 Red Sox among the great pitching rotations in the history of the game?
The Yankees in the early 1950s had Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Ed Lopat.
The Dodgers in the ’60s had Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton.
The Orioles in the ’70s had Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar.
The Mets in the ’80s had Doc Gooden, Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda.
The Braves in the ’90s had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Everywhere you look, there are All-Stars and Fall Classic heroes. In a lot of cases, you’re looking at Hall of Famers.
Will we ever look back on these Red Sox the same way?
It’s a loaded question. It’s impossible to debate the historical legacies of these pitchers at this very moment — and you could say it’s impossible even to speculate about 2010 when it’s still December and there’s so much left about next season to be answered. But if everything shakes out right and the Red Sox are for real next season, they could be in that conversation.
Lackey has averaged 31 starts and an ERA of 3.83 over his last seven seasons. He’s as reliable as they come. Beckett, from the beginning of May on, was as good as anyone in baseball. Lester is turning 26 and has come into his own — he’s ready to become a superstar. If all of them stay healthy, that’s good news.
If Buchholz can keep it together for an entire season (and keep from being traded for a big bat before next August), the Red Sox are in great shape.
If Dice-K is the good Dice-K — the one who won 18 games and nearly a Cy Young in 2008, not the injury-prone train wreck of 2009 — the Sox are even better.
If all of the above comes true, and Wakefield can prove that he’s still got it at 43? That just might qualify this rotation as one of the best ever.
It’s a lot of “ifs.” One too many, you might say.
But that’s what makes this game so great — anything’s possible, and when you’ve got this much talent packed into one starting rotation, no possibility is too far-fetched. The sky is the limit for the 2010 Red Sox.