FORT MYERS, FL (CBS) – So far, we’ve focused on the Sox infield and outfield in our first two parts and now we turn our attention to what once again should be a strength of this 2011 team: starting pitching.
Theo Epstein went out this off-season and addressed the team’s offense by signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez. He also picked up veterans Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to shore up the bullpen.
Meanwhile, it appears all the starting rotation needs is health for success in 2011. If Beckett, Lackey, Buchholz, Lester, and Daisuke/Wake maintain good health all season then this team should find itself back in the postseason.
The 26-year-old is in the prime of his career. Cancer is no longer a concern as Lester gets further and further away from it. He is one of the most powerful pitchers in the game due to his strong frame. For the third straight season, Lester tossed over 200 innings as he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts(his 3rd straight season w/32 or more starts). He worked 208 innings, giving up only 167 hits and 75 earned runs while walking 83 and striking out 225. He’s also been a solid postseason pitcher which is what seems to be driving all the Sox starters this year… getting back there. And again, with Lester… all he needs to do is continue to focus on “strike one”. When he does that, he’s as tough as they come.
The 30-year-old Beckett really struggled last season. It started when he got sick in Spring Training and then continued when he hurt his back/oblique in a start at Yankee Stadium in the rain in May. Beckett made just 21 starts in 2010 going 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA. He started throwing a cutter and got away from his curveball and other pitches which also contributed to his struggles.
He needs to be a leader on and off the field this season. If he can win between 14-18 games then it would be a huge step in the right direction. If he gets the ball rolling then the rest of the staff can fall into place behind him. That’s how important he can be. His track record says he can do it as he won 17 games in 2009 and 20 in 2007. If he gets hurt or struggles again, then it may be a damaging blow to the entire staff.
Theo signed the free agent right-hander to a 5-year, 82.5-million dollar deal and although his final numbers weren’t all that bad, Sox fans expect more out of him. He went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 33 starts. He tossed 215 innings, giving up a career-high 233 hits while walking a career-high 72 and striking out 156. Not bad, but I think Lackey showed how determined he is to better those numbers by coming into camp much lighter than he was a year ago. To me, if he can stay healthy he can have a big season winning 15-20 games.
The 26-year-old emerged as a Cy Young award candidate in 2010, finishing 6th in the voting. The right-hander went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts. He tossed 173.2 innings, giving up just 142 hits while walking 67 and striking out 120. He matured into what the Sox hoped he would be. Buchholz didn’t panic with baserunners on as he had done in the past. Can he do it again? I don’t see why not. He’s just coming into his prime and the Sox have handled his arm carefully throughout his career.
The 30-year-old Matsuzaka is a question mark yet again as he enters his 5th season with Boston. Last season in 25 starts he went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. The problem is you just don’t know what you are going to get from Dice-K from start to start. As a fifth starter though, he can be a solid addition to the rotation. He may only give you five innings of work, but at least the Sox know that going in. Dice-K worked on his core strength in the offseason, so it will be interesting to see if that plays out any differently this season.
You just never know what you are going to get from any of these guys from year to year. They could all win anywhere from 10 to 22 games. Any one of them could be a Cy Young contender, especially with this offense. And, of course, health is the biggest key to all of them.