Since the departure of Pedro Martinez and subsequent retirement of Curt Schilling, the starting pitching group has been strong, but lacking a true leader. The ideal candidate to take the lead reigns was Josh Beckett, unfortunately he has been unable to do so. Beckett still might, but Jon Lester appears to be the new front runner with Clay Buchholz close behind.
Lester, who won 19 games, earned his first All-Star team selection and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting. He struck out 225 batters for the second straight year, notching the third most Ks in the league over the past two seasons. His 9.7 K/9IP rate led the league in 2010. The 27-year old proved to be the most consistent pitcher on the staff. A loss in his last outing prevented him from reaching the 20-win plateau. He is eager to reach the mark this year. I don’t think it will come down to his last game.
After signing a four-year extension, Beckett had the worst year of his career. A back injury lingered. When healthy, he struggled with his command and pitch selection. Pitching just 127.2 innings, Beckett only managed six wins, recording ERA and WHIP numbers that were the highest of his career. Beckett will need to get use to the new starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, instead of always relying on Jason Varitek behind the plate. Despite his troubles, expectations are still high for 2011. Beckett should show he is deserving of being the number two starter, but for now he will pitch fourth in the rotation. Manager Terry Francona prefers swapping him and John Lackey due to the early season matchups they will face.
Buchholz entered 2010 with some questioning whether he should be in the starting rotation. He emerged as a top starter for the team and one of the best in the league, nearly matching the output of Jon Lester. Buchholz made his first All-Star team and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. After struggles in 2008 and 2009, his immense promise finally materialized, winning 17 games and holding batters against to a .226 average. Another solid season should solidly Buchholz as a dominant pitcher for the Red Sox.
With Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka rounding out the starting five, the outlook for the starting pitching staff is strong. On paper they rank among the best in baseball, not far behind the Philadelphia Phillies. The reloaded bullpen should help ease some pressure off the starters and provide spot starts when needed. For more on the bullpen outlook, click here.
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