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The snow may fall (and fall) in Boston, but the sun shines warmly in Ft. Myers, Florida.
Fifteen days. After all the disappointment of the 2010 season, after all the excitement that followed it in the off-season, the wait is almost over: pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in just 14 days. But what can Red Sox fans expect from these pitchers, especially the starting rotation? In a winter of high-profile moves for the Red Sox, the starting rotation remains exactly the same as it was a year ago. Between the talent-level and the contracts of the starting five, there was simply no place to add another pitcher. The Red Sox, for better or for worse, are stuck with what they’ve got, at least until someone gets hurt or traded.
For the next week, Sports of Boston will preview a different Red Sox starting (or potentially starting) pitcher, including 2010 performance and projected pitching order.
1) Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA, 208.0 IP, 225 K, 83 BB): Lester’s hits-per-inning have dropped each year of his career, all the way to just .8 hits per inning in 2010. He’s pitched two complete games every year since 2008. In 2010, he struck out 225 batters for the second straight year. And both his earned run and home run totals dropped from 2009 to 2010.
Lester has always had the power to be the ace of the rotation, but in the last two seasons (especially last year) he matched it with the necessary focus. A dominant pitcher has been born from the combination. Lester brings both power and knowledge to the mound and, in true Faustian fashion, you need both to be a true ace.
The only red flag is his propensity for walks, which went up from 64 to 83 in the last two seasons. Lester already has the power and the concentration, now he just needs to match it with control. If he does that, expect 2011 to be Lester’s best season yet, one in which he once again finishes in the top five for Cy Young voting. Maybe even at the top.
The Red Sox rotation went 65-39 last season, which means a little over a third of their games were decided by their inconsistent-at-best bullpen. This resulted in an 89-73 record, their fewest wins since 2006. Experience should generate a few more wins for the starters, and the bullpen has been much improved. This should all translate to another season in which the Red Sox win over 95 games.
It all starts in 14 days.