In years past there was no real question as to who was the ace in Boston. 2007, Beckett. 2008-2011, Lester. 2012? That's a whole different story.
This conversation is not about debating the term "ace" and whether or not Boston has one--I know that right now, in our readership's estimation, we do not--nor is it about a playoff game 100 days from now that could very easily not include the Red Sox at all.
What it is about is the interesting scenario the Red Sox find themselves in. From Jon Lester to Felix Doubront, the Sox have four pitchers who are so very hard to pin down that any one of them could be someone's choice to start a must-win game.
So, Red Sox Nation, if tomorrow, June 15, the Sox could choose from Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront, each with a full four days of rest, to start a one-game playoff, who would you go with?
Jon Lester: The argument for Lester is one that unfortunately relies more on reputation than his performance this season. While we saw the signs of decline last year, there was hope it was just a bit of a down year for Boston's top rotation arm. So far, however, we've got no reason to believe that. Lester isn't simply getting nickle-and-dimed through bad luck as he has in the early months of seasons past, either. Gone is the dominant cutter that once baffled batters with some regularity. In its place, and with it Lester's ability to miss bats.
Still, there's something to be said for reputation, and Lester is the only one with any really consistent record of success at his back. Add in the fact that his peripherals this year, while down, are still respectable (3.81 xFIP),and you've got reason enough for some people to maintain the faith.
Josh Beckett: Taking Josh Beckett is a gamble, but this year it's been a pretty good one. If you get unlucky, you get the 7 ER Beckett, who loses the game by the third inning. If you get lucky--which seems to happen 80% of the time--you hit the dominant Beckett, who pitches well enough that, defense providing, the opposition will be lucky to see three runs in seven innings. While the big Texan righty has had a few more middling outings of late, some of that can be chalked up to luck, as he's only really dealt with a couple bad innings, and then ones that could have been made much easier but for some bloops here and there.
Clay Buchholz: It's hard to believe it after the first two months of the season, but Clay Buchholz absolutely deserves consideration as well if you believe he's turned the corner once-and-for-all. While it's just four starts, Clay hasn't simply made a comeback, he's gone above and beyond. This isn't the 2010 Clay getting just ground balls, but the Clay Buchholz who tore through the minors using his excellent repertoire of off-speed stuff to strike out batters. Over 31 innings, he's struck out 28 batters, walked six, and given up just five earned runs. It's been an incredible run, and frankly the best results any of the four pitchers can claim in their last four games, if not any four-game period all year.
Felix Doubront: And then there's Felix. Arguably the best pitcher the Sox have had on the year, he's like a less extreme version of Josh Beckett. You seem to be guaranteed at least one run, yes, but so far he's only given up four or more three times, and never has he done as poorly as Beckett's blowups in any given game.
While Doubront might be the best choice to turn to for a good performance, however, you do have to take into consideration what's going to have to come after. Doubront, after all, hasn't been the most efficient pitcher in the world (though he did just fine on Wednesday). He's only just finished the seventh for the first time on the year, and while the pen has been solid on the whole, it's started to show signs of weakness of late. Do you take the risk of possibly needing four innings in exchange for a little more security from the blow-up?
The cases have been made. Now make your choice: