There have been a lot of questions floating through Red Sox Nation over the last month or so, wondering if something is amiss with Jon Lester. His command has kind of come and gone in the middle of starts, and he's worked up high pitch counts early, though, at least in some of those instances, it's been more on the opposing lineup than Lester. The overall product has been Lester, though, something we were reminded of when he went seven innings and struck out 11 Blue Jays last night.
He now has a 2.93 ERA for the season, and though his FIP is 3.66, that still would put him 12 percent better than the league average. The year also isn't over yet, and if Lester has found the zone late in the year like he did in 2010 as well, you can better that number will improve further.
In his final six starts and 38 innings of 2010, Lester struck out 11.6 batters per nine, vaulting himself into the Cy Young award discussion. The problem was that he had some of the control issues that had plagued him in the month before, and in many of his 2011 starts, as he walked 4.7 per nine in the same stretch. With just the four walks in his first 12 September innings this year -- and with 17 punch outs -- he's kicked off September right this time around, at least.
Now, I'm not saying his 2010 September has any kind of predictive value. But the temporary move to the six-man rotation -- something Boston has been toying with ever since they acquired Erik Bedard from the Mariners -- might have helped give Lester a breather, which in turn could help him keep his command sharp, and help him once again dominate in terms of strikeouts. Lester has thrown 621 innings over the last three seasons, averaging over 200 per campaign, and is at 172 frames over 27 starts this year. It would be understandable if his arm were in need of the kind of slight break that a move to the six-man rotation can give, and while I would never advocate a long-term six-man rotation, with the Red Sox basically assured of a playoff spot assuming disaster doesn't strike, it's a solid safety precaution for all the arms involved.
You don't need the team to be 100 percent in September. Expanded rosters and Boston's eight-game lead in the Wild Card affords them the wiggle room to rest their regulars. That's why we'll see some odd lineups and bullpen decisions over the next few weeks (and possibly some ugly baseball because of it), as well as starting pitchers getting the day off if they so much as sneeze. Erik Bedard's knee feels a bit off, so he's having a start skipped. Josh Beckett hurt his ankle, so he's getting at least a start off. Instead of going back to the five-man and pitching these guys on regular rest, you'll likely see Kyle Weiland get another crack at a major league lineup, in order to keep everyone fresh for the games that matter more.
Boston has just two days off for the rest of September, and, assuming the playoffs are on the way for the Red Sox, just another day or two in between the season's end and the start of the postseason. The six-man rotation may mean some ugly starts from the likes of Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield, and maybe even Weiland, but Boston is likely in whether they win 100 games, 99 games, or 95 games. The thing that matters is the health of this club as of September 30, and the few extra days off the six-man affords them this month might help improve that status.