The good news is that the Red Sox had a nice 3-0 win last night behind Tim Wakefield's near no-hitter. The not so good news is that Jon Lester is pitching tonight.
It's been 3 weeks since Lester returned to the Majors. His first start was one of the brightest moments in baseball this year. But since then, he's struggled mightily.
Lester's problem last year was the large number of pitchers he required to get through each inning. He threw an average of 18.6 pitches per inning last year. And although he finished with a 7-2 record, it came along with a 4.76 ERA. He also averaged a mere 5.4 innings per start last year.
This season, it's been more of the same for Jon. He's averaged 18.5 pitches per inning in his 4 starts. This is partially why he has averaged 5.3 innings per start. Another reason is his 6.43 ERA. His WHIP of 1.714 is bound to let up runs. In 2006, he had a WHIP of 1.648, but was able to pitch out of jams. This year, he hasn't been able to do it as efficiently.
The Red Sox are still 3-1 in games that Lester has started. But the Red Sox have scored 31 runs in those 4 games (7.75 runs a game).
The only game that Lester pitched well in was his first game in Cleveland. This was also a game played by an Indians team that had flown into Cleveland at 5 that morning. The Indians were also uninformed about Lester starting until the last minute.
The Yankees are 4 games behind us, folks. We cannot afford to have a 5th starter who gives the other team more of a chance to win than us. As of now, Lester hasn't really cost us that much. Tonight, he'll be up against the Devil Rays. We'll probably be able to score some runs to support him, so as long as he pitches a few decent innings, we'll probably win.
But his next scheduled start is against the Angels. They are not an easy team to score runs off of.
If Lester struggles in this start tonight, do we continue to put him on the mound every 5th day? Do we consider putting Tavarez back in the rotation? How about Devern Hansack, or Clay Bucholz?
My argument is this: we have other players who can start in Lester's place. I think if Lester struggles in this start, it will be clear that he does not belong in the rotation right now. In which case, it is important to replace him, considering we are in a pennant race. Now, if we had a 10+ game lead on New York, we could let Lester pitch and not really worry. But we don't. It's only 4 games. And we've got 6 games left against the Yankees. Do you really want Lester going out to the mound in Yankee Stadium?