Despite Red Sox struggles, John Lackey has pitched his way into All-Star consideration


The Boston Red Sox have been plagued by inconsistency in 2014. With the All-Star Game in Minneapolis just over a month away, it’s unlikely the team will be rewarded for its uneven performance.

Even last summer, in a World Series year, the BoSox sent just three employees to the Midsummer Classic: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and an injured Clay Buchholz – reflective of a philosophical change from the days the Boston roster was stocked with household names (the Sox had six honorees as recently as 2011, while the 2002 edition sent Messrs. Ramirez, Garciaparra, Martinez, Lowe, Damon, Urbina and Hillenbrand to the All-Star Game – and still missed the postseason).

Pedroia has had a frustrating year. Robinson Cano is a lock to win the fan vote at second, while Detroit’s Ian Kinsler and hometown hero Brian Dozier have also made their case to grab the spotlight in Minnesota. Ortiz has at least temporarily lost his grip on the title of best DH in the game, eclipsed by Nelson Cruz, who’s going bonkers in Baltimore.

Buccholz? Let’s just move on.

Ortiz’s ninth inning blast got all the ink Monday morning, but John Lackey submitted yet another solid effort on Sunday night – his 10th quality start in 13 outings — going eight innings, yielding just two earned runs on seven hits, and striking out five. It was another bullet point in Lackey’s robust 2014 resume, one that should be recognized with a trip to Minneapolis.

Just as he was overshadowed by Ortiz Sunday, praise for Lackey has been muted by Jon Lester’s contract situation and the foul stench of erstwhile rotation mates Buccholz and Felix Doubront. The righty has compiled ace numbers thus far: he’s fifth in innings pitched (87.2) fifth in wins (seven), and tenth in ERA (3.18) with a mirror-like FIP that ranks ninth (2.97) in the AL. His 4.47 K:BB ratio ranks seventh and he has limited the opposition to 1.75 bases on balls per nine innings, also seventh in the league.

Just 16 months ago, it would have been unthinkable. Coming off elbow surgery, sour notes with the media and one of the most horrendous seasons ever submitted by a Boston starting pitcher (a 6.48 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 28 starts in 2011), Lackey looks like the best version of the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting back in 2009. He made the All-Star team in 2007 and flirted with 20 wins. If not for the Red Sox’ anemic offense, he’d be doing it again this year.

Similarly, he probably deserved more than the measly 10 wins he grabbed in 2013 despite a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts.

Typically, seven or eight starting pitchers are selected to the All-Star roster, and the AL is not lacking in quality candidates to appear at Target Field. Masahiro Tanaka has been a revelation, countryman Yu Darvish has been as nasty as ever, and former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez should be a lock. Veteran Mark Buehrle, one of my favorite pitchers in the game, is having a season for the ages. Other arms, like pocket rocket Sonny Gray, lefty dynamo Chris Sale and 2013 Cy Young Max Scherzer should merit consideration. David Price probably thinks he’s pretty cool. But once you start getting into the Dallas Keuchel/Scott Kazmir/Anibal Sanchez bucket, you’ve gotta think, why not Lackey?

Lackey’s actions, and those of the Red Sox, over the next month will speak volumes. Is Ken Rosenthal’s hypothesis that the right-hander would rather retire than pitch for short money in Boston next year true? Will the team sink to such depths that they’d consider trading their best pitcher? Either way, if John Lackey continues to pitch the way he has the first two months of the season, it will be awfully hard to leave him out of the midsummer showcase at Target Field.