John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka Must Live Up to Expectations for Red Sox to Have Elite Rotation

John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka Must Live Up to Expectations for Red Sox to Have Elite Rotation Pitching does win championships. The San Francisco Giants proved this by capturing the 2010 World Series behind strong performances from their starters.

As a result, the Phillies signed Cliff Lee in the offseason to bolster their rotation and give themselves a better chance of dethroning the champs in 2011.

Buster Olney ranks Philadelphia’s rotation as the best in the majors. The Giants are No. 2, with the A’s third and Rays fourth.

The Red Sox are fifth on the list. Although that is a respectable ranking, fifth-best in the majors seems a little low for a rotation comprised of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daiuske Matsuzaka.

Sure, Red Sox starting pitching was inconsistent in 2010, but do the Phillies, Giants, A’s and Rays really have better rotations than Boston’s?

Lester finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting after going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 225 strikeouts last season. He opened the year by going 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA, but closed out the rest of his campaign as arguably the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 19-7 record, 2.81 ERA and 9.89 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Buchholz went 17-7 with a phenomenal 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

Both pitchers are only 26 years old and improving, so expect them to contend for the Cy Young this upcoming season.

Of course, not everything was positive for Red Sox starters last year. Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka combined for over $39 million in salary and a disappointing 4.84 ERA.  Neither Beckett nor Dice-K could recover fully from injuries and find a groove, while Lackey struggled to significantly in his first year in Boston.

Beckett posted a career-high 5.78 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Over the previous three years with the Red Sox, he was 49-23 with a 3.71 ERA and sub 1.20 WHIP. 

Lackey’s 4.40 ERA was his worst since 2004, and his 1.42 WHIP was his lowest since 2003. 

Dice-K went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. He had moments of excellence, but they were too rare, and the overall numbers were a far cry from his 2008 season, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. 

The Red Sox’ starting rotation should rebound from last year’s struggles and be dominant this season. Olney acknowledges that Lester and Buchholz have reached “elite” status, but also adds that “Boston needs bounce-back seasons” from their highly invested pitchers.

The Red Sox did not need to make any moves to enhance their starting pitching this offseason.  They already have a solid five-man rotation, but their three highest-paid starting pitchers -– Lackey, Beckett and Dice-K — need to live up to their expectations. If they do improve on their disappointing 2010 season, Boston’s starting rotation could be the best staff in baseball.

The Phillies’ top-ranked rotation consists of “H20″ — 2010 NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt – and Lee. 

The second-ranked Giants last year led the majors with a 3.36 ERA last year. Their starters include Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner.

The Phillies’ and Giants’ rotations will be very difficult to surpass, but the A’s and Rays  are more realistic to exceed.

Trevor Cahill, 22, Brett Anderson, 22, and Gio Gonzalez, 25, all had impressive seasons last year in Oakland — the A’s 3.47 starters’ ERA was the best in baseball –.but these young pitchers have yet to show they can maintain a consistent level of success over multiple years. Dallas Braden tossed a perfect game and demonstrated he’s a tough pitcher with back-to-back solid seasons, but newly added Rich Harden has suffered numerous devastating injuries throughout his career.

Alternatively, the Rays have one of the most overrated starting rotations in the majors. Former No. 1 pick David Price had a phenomenal season and finished third in AL Cy Young voting.  However, young pitchers Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Matt Garza and James Shields have not proven they can be lights-out consistently. 

The Rays’ and A’s staffs have promise, but they don’t have enough firepower to match up with the Red Sox’ rotation this season.

Even though Boston’s starters might not be getting the respect they deserve, the rotation has the capability to be one of the best, if not the best, in baseball.

Where do you think the Red Sox’ rotation ranks in the majors? Share your thoughts below.

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