False Start: Andrew Miller's Implosion Leaves Questions About Red Sox Rotation

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 15: Pitcher Andrew Miller #30 of the Boston Red Sox wipes his brow against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 15, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

So by now, the great majority of you all will know that the Sox fell to the Rays last night, 9-6.

You may also know the basic facts of the game:

  • Andrew Miller was terrible, allowing seven earned runs in under three innings
  • Dan Wheeler sealed the Sox' fate by giving up two more in the sixth
  • Which is really unfortunate, because the Sox would end up with six runs, scoring all but one of them via four long balls.

Long story short, it was one of those terrible games which was always too close to really give up hope on, but too far out for the Sox to ever really threaten

In the end, though, it was just one game, and with the Yankees losing as well, it didn't even cost the Sox a game against their primary competition.

So with that in mind, I wonder if perhaps the game's true significance is not found in the standings, but in what it may have done to turn Theo Epstein's opinion of what needs to be done before the month is out.

The Sox said not all that long ago that the team's priority at the trade deadline would be a right-handed outfield bat, hoping to improve the starting rotation from withing. Well, the Sox just took on one of the best lefties in the game, and put up a solid six runs against him and the bullpen. In fact, as a team, the Red Sox are fourth best in the game against left-handed pitching, with a .352 wOBA powered by huge contributions from Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and--of all people--David Ortiz. In fact, the team's record is actually notably better when facing a left-handed starter than a right handed one.

In the outfield, meanwhile, the Sox have:

1. Carl Crawford, who Tito wasn't sitting against lefties despite his long career history of struggles against them.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, who isn't about to be thrown into a platoon in his All-Star year.

3. The right field slot, which Josh Reddick has staked a pretty impressive claim to, at least against right-handers (though his very small sample size numbers have actually been better against lefties, he can struggle against a good breaking ball from a southpaw). 

That leaves half an outfield spot for any incoming player, unless Francona is of a mind to cast Reddick completely aside for no particularly good reason. As a result, it just wouldn't seem to be terribly efficient for the Sox to go after anything more than a bench bat type here--not the sort of guy who needs to be the focus of the trade deadline.

On the other hand, there's the rotation. Obviously, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are set in stone, with Clay Buchholz only earning an asterisk due to his back condition lingering a worrying amount of time. After that, though, everything goes all to hell.

  1. John Lackey has been terrible. Even when he puts up two really good games (@PHI, vs. BAL) he does so right in the midst of two of his worst starts of the year (vs. SDP, @TOR). It would be a move as brave as it is foolish to put any real faith in him right now.
  2. Andrew Miller's star is fading fast. After looking alright against San Diego and Pittsburgh, Miller had a middling effort against Houston, and has been absolutely awful against Baltimore and Tampa Bay. His xFIP sits at 5.19, his breaking ball has ceased to fool batters, and his control leaves him regularly. 
  3. Tim Wakefield is, well, Tim Wakefield. Perhaps a reasonable no. 5 guy, but not someone you depend upon in the postseason.
  4. Alfredo Aceves is much better as a reliever.
  5. Kyle Weiland is not ready. He's just not.
  6. Felix Doubront hasn't really had a shot to prove he can be of use to the team this year, and quite frankly it's too late to get him said opportunity.

With that in mind, who pitches game four of the ALDS?

Obviously, we're a ways away from the playoffs, but I also fully expect the Sox to make it given how well they've done so far this year despite playing injured for most of the year. Give us back Crawford in place of starts from Navarro, McDonald et. al. and Buchholz in place of any of the guys listed above and maybe we just had an 11-game winning streak come to an end instead of a six-game one. Or maybe it doesn't end at all? 

But at the end of the day, we're not ready for the final challenge yet, and with some truly great rotations out there (I'm looking at you, Philadelphia), the Sox are going to need to add a really legitimate fourth starter to keep up. Hopefully, we take last night for a wake-up call. 

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