Which Pitcher Will Be Most Important to Red Sox’ Run to Playoffs?

Which Pitcher Will Be Most Important to Red Sox' Run to Playoffs? To think that the Red Sox are within striking distance of the AL East despite being without their No. 1 starter for almost the entire season is a truly incredible reality.

Now, the camp that says Jon Lester is the team's ace over Josh Beckett is a growing one, but still, to have gotten fewer than 50 innings from Beckett and still win 50 games before the All-Star Game is a testament to the players who stepped up in the first half.

Well, the first half is over, and in the most important games of the year — the ones in which the pressure mounts with each pitch — the fate of the 2010 Red Sox will rest largely on the arms of the pitching staff.

With Beckett and Clay Buchholz working in rehab starts this weekend, the rotation is about to get a big boost. In his career, Beckett is 31-30 with an ERA in the mid-4's in July and August but 22-10 with a 2.95 ERA in September. Perhaps given his extended stay on the DL, Beckett will have the strength to power through the summer.

Buchholz was an All-Star before his leg gave out while running the bases, but the injury doesn't seem to be too serious. With 92 innings this year, matching his total from all of last year's major league work, the break may allow him to continue his season-long hot streak. In his last 12 starts, he's 9-2 with a 2.39 ERA.

Then there is Lester. After a perfect All-Star appearance on Tuesday, the 26-year-old is ready to get back to work as one of the best pitchers in baseball. At 11-3, he needs just five more wins to match a career high, and considering that he's 28-7 in his career from July-September, it's looking good that he'll get there.

There are plenty of other pitchers who have left themselves with some room for improvement. Daisuke Matsuzka (6-3, 4.56 ERA) has some work to do before the Red Sox have full confidence in him before his starts, Tim Wakefield (3-8, 5.65 ERA) has fallen victim to "the bad inning" one too many times and Jonathan Papelbon (20-for-23 on save opportunities) has been very good but not as great as he's been before at the back end of the bullpen.

The Sox are going to need all or most of their pitchers to step up to make the playoffs, especially with how the Yankees and Rays are playing. But who on the staff will be the MVP down the stretch?

Share your thoughts below. The best comments will be read on NESN’s Red Sox GameDay Live or Red Sox Final.

Thursday, July 15: Which Red Sox player will have the greatest second-half impact?

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