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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Boston Red Sox: Why You Shouldn't Be Buying Team's 2013 World Series Chances

Following last season’s 92-loss debacle, this year’s version of the Boston Red Sox have been a breath of fresh air. Heading into last night’s game at 71-49 they already had one more victory than all of last year and hold first place in the American League East. The turnaround can be attributed in various parts to new manager John Farrell and a slate of offseason moves that seriously shook up the roster. While there is a lot to like about this team, let’s be clear on one thing; they are not a serious World Series contender in 2013.

This declaration isn’t a continuation of the Debbie Downer fatalists who infested Red Sox Nation prior to the team winning the World Series in 2004; taking home the trophy for the first time in 86 years. It’s a realistic view of a fun, but flawed team, which will be held back by its lack of starting pitching.

Boston leads the major leagues with 605 runs scored this season. Despite the impressive offensive output, the mediocrity of their starting pitching will prevent them from experiencing October glory.

Southpaw Jon Lester is supposedly the team ace. The 29-year-old was once one of the brightest young pitchers in the game, but has never fully claimed his supposed destiny.

Worried whispers around Boston have termed Lester’s lack of ace performances as a “slump.” Looking at the numbers suggest it’s much more than that. The high point of his career was 2010, when he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and 225 strikeouts. While he won 15 games the following year, his struggles started in the waning weeks of that season.

Since September 1, 2011, Lester has gone 20-24 with a 4.69 ERA in 63 starts. The longevity of such underwhelming production suggests his reality is more that of a back-end starter than pitcher simply needing to get back on track.

Moving on from Lester brings us to other problems with the starting rotation.

Right-hander Clay Buchholz looked like he finally put together everything that made him a 2005 first-round draft choice, as he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 12 starts earlier this year. Unfortunately, he last pitched on June 8 because of a strained neck.

The injuries are nothing new for the 29-year-old. He has missed time every year since he became a “regular” in the Boston rotation mid-way through the 2009 season. He has shown tantalizing talent, particularly this year, but has cemented his reputation of being made of tissue paper and dandelion spores. Regardless if he pitches again this year, there’s no way he can be counted on to front a rotation through a gritty playoff run.

Veteran Jake Peavy was brought to Boston last month through a trade with the Chicago White Sox. While the 2007 National League Cy Young winner can still be effective, he is now more of a back-end guy than anything else.

He had a gruesome right shoulder injury that was MacGyvered back together through surgery, rehab and possibly black magic.

Since coming to the American League half-way through the 2009 season, he has just a 4.00 ERA while allowing 1.1 home runs per nine innings. Those numbers are jumps from his 3.29 ERA and 0.9 home runs per nine innings in eight years in the National League.

Right-hander John Lackey is dangerously close to being in the same category as Peavy. He missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery. Despite a 7-10 record, he has surprised many with his 3.32 ERA in 21 starts this year. It may not stay that low much longer.

Lackey hasn’t had a full-season ERA of less than 3.75 since 2007. Additionally, there are visible signs he is tiring as the season has wore on. He has a 4.96 ERA in five starts since the All Star break, as opposed to a 2.78 mark before that time. Coming off such a grueling injury and recovery, he can’t be expected to be a workhorse this year.

The other pieces of Boston’s rotation are equally uninspiring.

36-year-old Ryan Dempster and his career 130-132 record and 4.35 ERA were signed to stabilize the bottom of the rotation. At 6-8 with a 4.67 ERA this year, he has done just that, and proved that you can expect about six innings and three runs allowed per start, but not much more, and sometimes even less.

That brings us to lefty Felix Doubront, the youngest and hottest member of Boston’s staff. After nearly losing his job earlier in the season, the 26-year-old has gone 5-3 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 starts since the first of June. While he has certainly done a commendable job of turning things around, he is still not in the neighborhood of being an ace.

Doubront has pitched seven innings or more just three times this season, and three times last year, over a cumulative span of 50 starts. His inability to go deep in games comes from his struggles to find the strike zone, as his 3.9 walks per nine innings often spike his pitch counts. His style of pitching is often exposed by experienced teams come playoff time, making him a dangerous arm to rely on.

The Red Sox also have a farm system chock-full of young talent; some of whom have appeared at the Fens this season. They may be big parts of the future, but they won’t be pulling a circa 1992 Tim Wakefield and making big and unexpected contributions to a playoff run. Allen Webster, Steven Wright and Brandon Workman have all had their moments this year—some good and some not so good. While there is a good chance they will have their time in the next year or two, it is clear it won’t come in 2013.

The starting rotation of the Red Sox isn’t terrible. It has a number of veterans who are productive and will be part of the team for seasons to come. They just don’t have the ability or cache of a playoff staff. To compliment what the current group’s skills, an ace is needed to take the team to the next level. That may be easier said than done, but that is what winning teams must do to become and remain viable.

Although the Red Sox have rebounded nicely from last year’s disaster, don’t get your hopes up for anything more than enjoying an entertaining team. The question marks about their starting pitching are enough to put away the streamers and sparkling grape juice for at least another year

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