Either you yelled, “Yes! All you complainers…see what Lester is! See why I want him at the top of the rotation!”
Or, you yelled, “See! Why can’t he do this every friggin’ time out? Why do we have to put up with six innings of four runs and 122 pitches? Get your act together!”
Luckily, both reactions come from Lester having a fantastic performance. As the season winds down, one of the big question marks is how the Sox might be able to perform in a big October match-up. Are they capable of competing against the best teams? Last night Lester gave us at least one example to hang our hats on. He went out and took down the ace of the best team the Sox could face. That’s not nothing.
It’s too early to think about, but what would this mean for a potential playoff rotation? It wasn’t that long ago that some people thought Lester should be the odd man out. That when the rotation trimmed down to four, he would be sent to mop-up duty. Suddenly, it’s not even that easy.
I’ve often said that the advantage of having a line-up without talented players is that it’s easier to have depth. When you don’t have a Manny Ramirez in the line-up, you don’t need to have one on the bench to replace him either. So, the Sox can have five above average guys who can play outfield and create depth. The same thing is happening with the rotation. The Sox don’t have Pedro. There’s not one guy that you know is going game one. You don’t have to start planning now to set him up to start on regular rest. There are several options, none of which are significantly more obvious than the others. The disadvantage is that you have to drop someone who’s not much worse than the others.
Let’s assume that Buchholz comes back, and pitches well enough to be in this conversation. That gives the Sox Clay, Lester, Lackey, Peavy, and Doubront that are potential playoff starters. Unless Clay pitches three straight shutouts when he returns, is there one name that you know would start a game one? Couldn’t you make a decent case for any one of them? By the same token, couldn’t you make an almost equal argument to drop any one of them?
The Sox might be able to play the hot hand. Or look at match-ups against opponents. Who pitches really well against Oakland? Or really poorly against them? Who should sit?
What a great problem to have.