The last four games have produced three different meltdowns on the mound for the Boston Red Sox. Sunday saw Clay Buchholz destroyed by the Yankees in the first, Justin Masterson coughed up a 5-1 lead in the sixth on Tuesday, and Wednesday bore witness to Wade Miiley's seven-run disaster. If one trip through the rotation gave Red Sox fans reason to believe the team's greatest weakness was not so big a problem after all, the second trip through has put the city on the edge of panic.
But the story of the rotation coming into the 2015 season was...well, it was oddly framed. It wasn't "the Red Sox need to find some decent pitchers," as this week would suggest, it was "the Red Sox need to find themselves an ace." So as Miley collapsed in on himself and Twitter erupted with jokes about Cole Hamels and the rotation's "he's the ace" t-shirt, it was up to Tim Britton to make the most salient of points:
All the jokes about lacking an ace aren't relevant here. Red Sox need competence from their starters, and they haven't gotten it this week.— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) April 15, 2015
In fact, if anything, the Red Sox have shown these first two weeks that an ace is the last thing they need.
Do they need pitching? It's entirely possible. If you're drawing significant conclusions based on the second games of the season for Buchholz, Masterson, and Miley, then you'd better have a good reason why that conclusion is more valid than whatever entirely different conclusion you might have drawn after their successful first outings. Still, if we're reverting to our original expectations after one good and one bad outing a piece, it's entirely likely that at least one or two of Boston's fliers will not pan out. Rick Porcello is the most "sure thing" they have, with the other four each bringing various degrees of uncertainty to the table.
But that's a reason to go out and get a decent middle-of-the-rotation arm in July--or perhaps earlier, if it's clear some action is needed. That's a reason to trade from prospect (or outfield) depth, not to trade away the best of the best for, well, the best of the best.
Why do teams need aces? Well, to be honest they don't. For a team that has enough wealth to fill up just about every spot of the 25-man roster with value, it is a positive to cram as much as possible into any given roster space. An All-Star is more impactful for such a team than two solid regulars. But that's just a reason to want an ace, and of course the Red Sox want one. They don't, however, need one.
Mostly the argument for an ace is that, once October rolls around, they're the ones to go toe-to-toe with other team's aces. Or before that, they'll win some games where the offense just can't get anything going based solely on their own dominance. Now, what have the Red Sox done over the past two weeks? They've put up 56 runs in 9 games. They've scored eight on a night Cole Hamels took the mound. Four against Masahiro Tanaka, nine in their game against Jordan Zimmermann, eight facing Stephen Strasburg, and five versus Gio Gonzalez.
Against five of the best pitchers in the game, the Red Sox would only have needed one particularly good pitching performance (against Masahiro Tanaka) to get their offense the win. They took down one of those games in spite of a total pitching disaster.
In 2014, the most productive offense in the game scored 773 runs. Everything else in a vacuum, if the Red Sox were to offer their opponents five runs in exchange for all their outs, that's a deal that should be jumped at. And it's one the Red Sox have shown so far that they can afford to give even against the other team's best pitchers. Even if you start taking runs away based on poor Nationals defense.
Four runs over six innings isn't an ace-like performance. It's not even decent. It's a 6.00 ERA that would get most pitchers a trip to the minor leagues or free agency before too long. And it also may very well have won the Red Sox their game Wednesday against Gio Gonzalez. It may even have carried the way Sunday against Masahiro Tanaka when you consider that the Red Sox would not have been facing the hurdle of overcoming such a massive deficit when they stepped up to the plate.
The Red Sox don't need an ace. They don't need someone to win the 1-0 games because they don't plan on scoring only one run very often, even against the best competition. They barely even need true competence.
All they need from their starting pitchers is a chance. The kind of chance that Miley and Buchholz did not give them in their outings. They need 4.50 ERAs, not one guy with a 2.90 and the rest be damned. Right now the Red Sox would trade one Cole Hamles for five Jeremy Guthries, and they'd win more games for doing so.