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A crucial turn coming for the Red Sox rotation

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The Red Sox are one good week away from having five quality starting pitchers.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Clay Buchholz is set to start for the Red Sox tonight against Chris Archer and the Tampa Bay Rays. This news is not quite as awful as it has been in months past thanks to Buchholz finally putting up a truly strong performance in his last outing against the Tigers, but it is still not ideal. In a perfect world, the Red Sox' rotation is Pomeranz - Porcello - Price - Rodriguez - Wright (alphabetical to avoid pointless debate) -- a five-man unit that would finally seem to be pitching to its potential with Price and Pomeranz rebounding if Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright can get healthy.

Thus far that's been a bit of a problem, however. We've seen a bunch of starts lately from the likes of Buchholz and Henry Owens, which feels not only a bit too much like the early-season Red Sox who had such a disaster of a rotation, but also a bit like the 2011 bunch who were turning to the likes of Kyle Weiland as the season wore down and their rotation turned into a total disaster.

The good news is that this finally seems to be turning around. Steven Wright wasn't able to get ready for this series in Tampa Bay as he's continued to struggle with an injury sustained -- sigh -- while running the bases. But he's now slated to make his return to action on Friday after finally enjoying a pain-free bullpen session. Eduardo Rodriguez' situation isn't completely clear--which is not a knock on Rodriguez--but after nearly making it back for Sunday's game, and with the Red Sox not moving to put him on the disabled list, it seems likely that he, too, will return to action.

If this comes to pass, what once seemed likely to be the team's Achilles Heel could actually end up being a decent strength. For all that he's been a disappointment, David Price has pitched his way to the sixth-best fWAR in the American League, and the results are finally matching that with a 3.21 ERA in the second half. Porcello is Porcello as he's been all year, vindicating Ben Cherington, albeit one year too late. Wright has honestly been the most troubling of the bunch of late in terms of results, but even his 4.13 ERA in the second half isn't too bad, and when you consider that he more than anyone should be helped by the weather cooling, there's every reason to expect the knuckleball will continue to be a boon for the Red Sox so long as it returns to the mound.

Drew Pomeranz still needs to recover some from early struggles, but has allowed six earned runs now in his last four starts (24 innings, and only that few due to rain given that he made it through five on 51 pitches last time out), while Eduardo Rodriguez has pitched like something approaching an ace since making his triumphant second-half return.

This bunch is no ragtag group barely getting by. The way they look now--or, rather, the way they would look now if totally healthy--stacks up to just about any rotation in the league. If they put together another month pitching like this, the question won't be "how do they find four guys for the playoffs" (because another month like this should see them to the playoffs) but "who the heck gets cut?" Yes, the bullpen has suddenly taken over as the weak link, but it's not a Red Sox season without something going horribly awry.

All they have to do is get through the rotation once without any disasters. No Price or Pomeranz implosions, Wright and Rodriguez proving healthy, pitching like they are, and finishing healthy. Hell, we can even absorb a bad Porcello start considering he's earned at least one freebie at this point. If all goes well for the other four, for the first time this season the Red Sox will have a quality starting rotation 1-through-5.

On the other hand...if things don't go so well? If Rodriguez or Wright prove unready to retake their places in the rotation, it could well leave John Farrell with some logistical gymnastics to do in an attempt to avoid the replacement(s) as much as possible as the Sox keep pushing for a playoff spot. If Price or Pomeranz give reason to believe they're not over their struggles, it will be one more concern heading into the final stretch.

But just think, if they pull together and put up a good month--maybe two--that's that. Not just for 2016, but 2017 and beyond. It feels like the Red Sox are on the verge of solving one of the bigger problems that confronts baseball teams year-in and year-out, if only for a few seasons. And while one turn through might not really be all that much more or less decisive than any other, given the injury questions, this one feels like it has the potential to push them over the top, or leave them struggling to find answers to fill out the rotation for the final month.