Jul 20, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Innings: Grading the Red Sox starting rotation

It has been a frustrating first half of the season for Red Sox fans. With the team still below .500 and trailing in the AL East and Wild Card races, the next couple of weeks will have a major impact on the state of the franchise through the end of the 2014 season and beyond. The BoSox Injection staff looks back at the first half of the season: from the young guys taking their first hacks, to the veterans who may have overextended their welcome.

Previously: Bullpen

The Red Sox starting rotation has been one of the better aspects of the team, along with the other half of the pitching coin, the bullpen.  For most of the first half, the team only used the original five starters they left Fort Myers with; Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz. As the season progressed, Brandon Workman filled in for Buchholz when he went to the disabled list after the disastrous Atlanta start.  Rubby De La Rosa has ably filled in for an ineffective Doubront.

This article will take an in-depth look at each starter’s season, and give an overall grade for the rotation at the end.

Jon Lester (10-7, 2.50) has had some rough patches this season, but he is the ace, the stopper, and whatever other superlative you can imagine. In a season in which wins have been hard to come by, the Red Sox have won his last seven starts (nine of ten), two of which he was denied a win on a blown save in the ninth. His stats over those starts, 52.2 IP, 29 H, 8 BB, 47 K, 5 ER (0.69 ERA).

John Lackey (10-6, 3.79) has been the other starting pitcher the team scores some runs for occasionally. Lackey has had some tremendous stretches this season (2.56 ERA in May) but has faltered of late, throwing three clunkers (16 ER in 14 IP) before a gritty six inning, two earned run performance before the break. Has pitched better than a 3.79 ERA might indicate, but tremendously inconsistent. While he has four starts in which he has allowed zero earned runs, he also has five starts in which he has allowed five earned runs or more.

Jake Peavy (1-8, 4.59) has had a nightmarish season. He has 12 quality starts out of 19 starts, but has been the starter that the batters cannot support. The team is 5-14 in his appearances.  April 25 was the date of his only win of the season.  He has the worst run support in the American League at 3.16 runs/start. He may be traded before the deadline, as his recent three starts (2.84 ERA) have been attractive to other teams in the playoff chase.

Clay Buchholz (5-5, 5.46, 15 starts) has been an enigma this season. The team struggled to make sense of his poor results this year, insisting he was not hurt. Finally, a start against Atlanta on May 26 on national TV in which he walked eight, forced their hand. He was put on the disabled list, much like Doubront, in which he had time to take a breather and work on his mechanics which have been in disarray since last year’s injury struggles. While he is not all the way back, as evidenced by his shaky performance on July 18 against Kansas City, in which he was touched up for ten hits and four earned runs, there are encouraging signs. Buchholz has a 3.28 ERA since his return from the DL, and has only walked one batter in 35.2 innings.

Felix Doubront (2-4, 5.17, 10 starts) has not had the season a pitcher eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason would want to have. He had a brief period of success in which he had back-to-back starts with one earned run allowed, but the wheels fell off during a May 20 start against Toronto in which he was touched for five earned runs. When he returned a month later from a phantom DL stint, he was no better and was relegated to the bullpen where he remains, probably for the remainder of the season.

Brandon Workman (1-3, 4.13, eight starts) has been a pitcher who has also struggled with consistency. He’s taken the shuttle to AAA Pawtucket twice this season, and is currently toiling there now. He had a solid five start stretch in May and June in which he posted a 3.21 ERA, but his suspension for throwing at Evan Longoria seemed to affect his command. When he returned, he allowed 13 runs in 18 innings. He was demoted earlier this month to bring De La Rosa back to the rotation.

Rubby De La Rosa (3-2, 2.64, seven starts) has made the most of his opportunities to impress Red Sox management. In his last four starts, sandwiched around a trip to AAA, De La Rosa has sparkled, allowing only five runs in 26 innings (1.73 ERA). After his recent performance, he would have to be considered a solid part of the rotation at this point.

Anyone following the Red Sox this year knows that pitching has not been a problem. Lester is pitching like a Cy Young candidate. Buchholz is starting to look like the 2013 Buchholz. If he can throw his changeup consistenly, De La Rosa may be something special. The question right now with the rotation is whether Peavy will be traded. The rumor mill seems to point toward it happening before July 31. Considering the Red Sox recent performance, winning seven of their last eight games, one has to wonder if they would give up Peavy while he is pitching well and could be an asset to a team scrambling to make the playoffs.

Much like the bullpen, the starting rotation is a strength of this team.

Grade:  B

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