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Going forward: where does the Sox rotation stand?

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If the Red Sox make the postseason, they will need four good, reliable starters to even think about winning another World Series. Pending injuries, you can slot the names Josh Beckett and Jon Lester at the top of that list. That's a no-brainer.

But that's where the dilemma comes in: who will be those other two pitchers the Sox will need?

Right now, there are five prime candidates that pop in my mind, in no particular order:
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • Junichi Tazawa
  • Paul Byrd

While Beckett and Lester go through the normal ups and downs of a Major League starting pitcher, the five pitchers listed above have giant question marks right above their heads.

TIM WAKEFIELD - Wake is pitching well this season, there's no doubt about that. But is he healthy? After being on the shelf for over a month, Wake came back and pitched seven strong innings against the White Sox on Aug. 26 to earn the win. For me, that was a sigh of relief. But then the back news came out and we're left wondering which Wakefield we'll have for the rest of the season.

CLAY BUCHHOLZ - I think for most of you, Buchholz is the only lock out of this group. And at this point in the season, Buchholz is in the rotation for the rest of the year, no matter what goes down. Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance (most recently on Saturday) and flashes of his old self (despite giving up two runs or less in four of six starts this month, he allowed seven each in the other two). That's where the question mark comes in: which Buchholz are we going to see?

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA - The biggest question mark of all. Dice-K, who last pitched for the Sox June 19, hasn't pitched a decent game since June 2 -- and that was his only decent game of the season so far (five innings, six hits, one run, six strikeouts). In his most recent rehab start, Dice-K got rocked in New Hampshire. While we haven't seen anything positive from Dice-K this season, we know historically that he can pitch well. So if he comes back, are we going to see 2008 Dice-K or the most recent version? If we have last year's, this team will be hard to beat.

JUNICHI TAZAWA - Taz earned five starts in August. While he didn't light the world on fire, he also wasn't Brad Penny. His stint with the Sox ended, though, after giving up nine runs in four innings against the White Sox. Taz is a long-shot for the postseason roster, but he at least deserves a mention.

PAUL BYRD - Well, you know I love Paul Byrd. Byrd has had his one solid start, but who really knows how he'll do from here on out? Another long-shot just because we've only seen one start.

While September will most likely iron all these issues out (which, I cross my fingers, means the Sox are in the playoffs), what do you think of the Sox's rotation? Is it a problem? Is it a big problem? Is Buchholz the guy the Sox really need to bank on, or is Wakefield and Matsuzaka going to be healthy?

Or, better yet, is Paul Byrd going to rule the world one batter at a time?