All the injuries in the Red Sox' starting rotation have been a blessing as much as a curse. Providing opportunities for the likes of Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales to display their talents, injuries that once threatened to ruin Boston's rotation now seem to have strengthened it.
For now, the Sox have turned to a six-man rotation to allow them more time to evaluate their options. But with the All-Star Break approaching and Clay Buchholz on the mend, the time for that particular novelty seems to be coming to an end. Whether they break with a six-man or five-man group (my money is on the latter) out of the All-Star Break, the Sox will have to make a decision on who stays and who goes. Let's take a look at how the race is stacking up so far:
1. Josh Beckett
His return from the disabled list wasn't amazing, but it was solid, and Beckett is currently the top man in the rotation. A 4.06 ERA, though hardly impressive, is the best amongst the long-term starters, and his peripherals back it up. For an even year, it's actually been a solid campaign for Beckett, even with the conservative approach from the organization limiting his innings and starts.
2. Jon Lester
He's definitely been a disappointment this year, but there may be something to his feeling that he's pitching well and just getting hit. A 3.64 xFIP is surprisingly low, and just having watched him there are a fair few decent pitches getting knocked around. His cutter has been rounding into form too, even though the results haven't shone through yet. Even if he continues on like this, however, the Sox aren't about to drop Lester from the rotation anytime soon.
3. Clay Buchholz
Buchholz chose a bad time to get sent to the disabled list, just as far as our peace of mind is concerned. Having put together four amazing starts that had him looking better than he'd ever looked before, Buchholz had his run come to an unfortunate end against Miami and then hit the hospital a couple of days later. The good news is that even during his bad outing he didn't really look like the lost pitcher who had struggled so much to begin the year. So long as Logan Morrison doesn't follow him from park to park, the Sox are probably pretty confident in Buchholz going forward.
4. Franklin Morales
In outings of three-or-more innings this season--which is to say "June"-- Morales has allowed all of four earned runs in 25 frames with 31 strikeouts and three walks. He's held opposing batters to a .201 wOBA, has lost only about one MPH on his fastball, and is recording swinging strikes at a rate usually reserved for guys who fall into the unquestioned ace category. It's been an incredibly fun run, and one that the Sox aren't about to leave unexplored. A couple more outings like this, maybe one against some harder competition, and Morales is going to start passing his more proven teammates.
5. Aaron Cook
This was the hard one, but right now if the team was going to make a choice on a 5-man rotation, they're probably best served by having Cook in the mix. He's not exciting, and he's certainly not going to throw 81-pitch shutouts every night, but his previous start with five innings of three-run (two earned) ball that could easily have moved to six or seven had it not been an early return from the disabled list? That's exactly what the Sox are looking for right now as they try and move forward in the division.
6. Felix Doubront
The difficulty with putting Cook fifth is putting Doubront sixth, and the reason it's difficult is because Doubront looked so very good earlier in the season. But for the last month it's been ugly. After putting up a 5.83 ERA in June, Doubront managed to throw 4.1 innings of one-run ball in his last outing, but they were 4.1 ugly innings--not the type to inspire any level of confidence.
That being said the solution isn't to jerk him back to the bullpen, but to give him some time off. Doubront's previous high innings count for a full season was 121 in 2009, but since then he managed just 105 in 2010 and 77 in 2011. Given that he's already at 90 through just the beginning of July, it's hardly surprising that he'd be flagging around this point. Give him some time and try to find the excellent young starter who we saw in April and May.
7. Daisuke Matsuzaka
A decent outing against the Blue Jays gave fans some hope that Daisuke wouldn't be Daisuke, but after last night any and all good will has left the building. He may still be hurt, but at this point Sox fans are tired of hearing it. At his absolute best he's a valuable member of any rotation, but at his realistic best over the course of a month or two he's just not worth the hassle. He'll win a few games, he'll lose a few games, but on the whole he'll be demoralizing and difficult to watch. Given the potency of the offense (West Coast trip aside) it's probably better to just go with the more stable option in Aaron Cook or the higher potential of Doubront and Morales.