Red Sox’ Rotation Will Reveal Terry Francona’s Priorities Regarding Race With Yankees for AL East


Aug 24, 2011

Red Sox' Rotation Will Reveal Terry Francona's Priorities Regarding Race With Yankees for AL East When the Red Sox announce their rotation beyond Sunday, they may also announce their priorities going forward. Is rest, a key component in ensuring that your pitchers are at their best when October arrives, more important than winning the division?

It stands to reason that when Boston hosts New York for three games in the middle of next week, the starters will be John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. However, in the current six-man configuration, both Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield come before Lester.

If, by some chance, Terry Francona decides to give one of those two guys a shot against the Yankees in a game with American League East title implications, it would signal his desire to give Lester more rest, a ploy Francona has used a handful of times in recent weeks, rather than a need to utilize the best guys you have in any matchup with the archrivals.

Before completely delving into all of the possibilities, and what the decisions might mean, let’s map out what we know.

The rotation going forward looks like this:

Wednesday at Rangers: Beckett
Thursday at Rangers: Miller
Friday vs. Oakland: Wakefield
Saturday vs. Oakland: Lester
Sunday vs. Oakland: Erik Bedard
Monday: no game
Tuesday vs. New York: Lackey
Wednesday vs. New York: Beckett
Thurs. vs. New York: Lester, Wakefield or Miller?
Friday vs. Texas: Lester, Wakefield, Miller or Bedard?
Saturday vs. Texas: Wakefield, Miller or Bedard?
Sunday vs. Texas: Wakefield, Miller or Lackey?

You get the point. There are several ways in which this can be handled, all dependent upon what is most important to the team.

The mind-set to do whatever you can to beat the Yankees suggests that Lester, who would be on his normal rest, is the only option for next Thursday. But, if that’s the case, and Bedard goes Friday against Texas, then either Wakefield or Miller (or both) would have to go over the weekend. Otherwise, Lackey comes back on short rest, and that’s just not going to happen.

Francona also has to consider the fact that both Wakefield and Lackey have terrible histories against the Rangers (Lackey’s somewhat solid outing Tuesday night notwithstanding). Does he then choose to give Wakefield a start against the Yankees, and then go Lester-Bedard-Miller against Texas? That would give everyone involved an extra day off, including Lackey, who would then go in the opener of a seven-game road trip in Toronto on Sept. 5.

So, Francona has to weigh whether winning a head-to-head battle with New York means more to him than giving Lester, and consequently everyone else, an extra day or two between starts. Lackey and Beckett will get six days off before their starts against the Yankees. Lester would have four if he goes Thursday.

As mentioned above, Francona has chosen the “rest” route a handful of times in recent weeks, utilizing Miller as that sixth man to work through long stretches without a day off. With Monday providing a down day for the team, the manager may choose to go back to his earlier strategies, which did see him use his best arms in Yankees series.

Back in May, Boston utilized a day off to skip an ailing Daisuke Matsuzaka in the rotation, a move that enabled Lester to pitch in the finale of a Yankees series instead of Matsuzaka.

After the trade for Bedard on July 31, there were multiple options as to when to give him his first Red Sox start. The ultimate decision saw Bedard, who was on a strict pitch count, make his team debut against Cleveland, one night before the Yankees rolled into town. That actually accomplished both missions as it gave Lester one extra day of rest and allowed him to pitch in the opener of the New York series.

Do the Red Sox care about winning the division?

Of course they do, to one degree or another. But if Francona makes an effort to ensure more down time for Lester, and thus others on the staff, we will get some indication as to where that division title currently ranks on his list of priorities.

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