Last night’s poor outing by the Red Sox was highlighted (or is that lowlighted?) by the surprisingly ineffective performance of Jon Lester. I don’t know why he had the bad start, but he has been prone occasionally to have a bad game, from which he bounces back the following start. For instance, he pitched 6.2 innings of one-run ball in Yankee Stadium August 28, after a seven-run, 2.1 inning outing in Toronto August 23rd. But, because Francona pitched Lester in the third game instead of the second game, it seems very likely we have seen Lester’s last start of 2008. Or, to put it another way, the Sox will have to get two wins from the starts of Wakefield, Dice-K, and Beckett in games four through six, to force a game seven, and that seems a long shot at this point.
Francona is a terrific manager, and I have no intentions of starting a lynch mob. This argument is merely an academic exercise; however, I think Tito made a mistake with his starting rotation for this series. In my previous post I questioned this very rotation, so I don’t think I’m overly indulging in second guessing here. And, what’s more, I think there is reason to believe that Lester may have pitched better in the second game (and he certainly could not have pitched worse than Beckett). There would have been less pressure on the kid — and remember, he IS only a kid. The Sox would have been coming off a big win the night before; Beckett, in theory, was still the ace of the staff; and it was not a crucial game. But after Beckett’s meltdown, ALL the pressure fell onto Lester’s shoulders. And while Lester has been very tough and very good, he is only human — in fact, that’s the very reason given by Francona for starting Lester on extra rest in game three. This last part — projecting a strong outing from Lester in a game two start — is, of course, mere speculation. It is equally possible the Sox would be in the exact same position (down 2-1) had Lester’s and Beckett’s starts been reversed. But, in my scenario, Lester would have the opportunity to pitch again in game six, and if a game seven was then needed, the Sox could have thrown everyone at the Rays if Beckett were to fail.
We’ll see what happens from here out. This team, in the past, has been very resilient. They bounced back last year down 3-1 against the Indians, and — very memorably — were down 3-0 against the Yankees in ’04. But this is not the same team. They don’t have the fire power on offense they have had in the past, and — thanks to Francona’s decision to start Lester in game three — their most reliable starting pitcher may not pitch again. And, really, they just are not as good as the Rays.