The Red Sox will be rolling into the All Star Break in first place. They have continued to pile up series win after series win ( with a few exceptions). And they have done this without their ace, their undefeated ace, Clay Buchholz who has not pitched since beating the Angels on June 8. The current speculation has Clay making a rehab start in a matter of days and if all goes well back in a week or two. But what happens if there are more setbacks? What has to happen for the Sox to thrive for the rest of the year and into the post season without Buchholz?
1. Jon Lester's revival. The ideal would be a return to his 2013 beginning, where he not Buchholz was the ace and pitching up to the moniker. But a return to 6 or 7 undefeated starts in a row is not mandatory, but a routine of 7+ inning starts and pounding the zone is needed. Lester still has the capability to be a Game One playoff starter. But he better get on track ASAP.
2. John Lackey's continuing revival. Lackey has transformed himself back to the Angels version of John Lackey. His fortune is entwined with Lester's because if Lester could just get back to a solid #2 guy, John Lackey is more than capable of also being a #1 playoff starter. This is not just conjecture, he has done it before.
3. Felix Doubront staying on his current course. Almost underneath the radar, Doubront is slowly but surely morphing into a top-mid rotation star. He now has 11 consecutive starts giving up three runs or less. That is too many starts to be a fluke. His ERA is down to 3.91, and in his last hot stretch has an ERA of 1.91.
4. Ryan Dempster. At this point all the Sox need from Dempster is innings and a veteran presence. With Doubront emerging, Ryan is really the #4 starter ( #5 if/when Buchholz returns). But in September and October the veteran presence on the mound could be huge.
5. Finding a reliable fifth starter. For now this means settling on a guy ( or maybe two) from your internal options. Allen Webster has been up and down and may not be quite ready. (Maybe). Alfredo Aceves has pitched very well in spot starts between Pawtucket stints. Brandon Workman is here supposedly to help in the pen. But he may get the Sunday start in Oakland, replacing Webster. Rubby De La Rosa is another option to boost the rotation ( or the pen?) And after yesterday's stellar outing in Seattle ( and also off 17 consecutive shutout innings at AAA), maybe Stephen Wright is the fifth starter. And of course another way to get another starter is to trade with the July 31 deadline looming. My very initial thought is due to shortage of starters available and the Sox hesitancy to deal the kids, it is unlikely to acquire an outside starter unless it is a mop up #6 type guy. But if Buchholz does not improve, this could change.
6. Continue to score more runs than anyone else. The more offense this team can provide ( as they have leading the AL in runs), the less pressure on any of the pitchers listed above. There is no reason to believe this team cannot continue to produce.
Hopefully Clay will be back shortly after next week's All Star Game, and this will be a moot exercise. But if much of the six items listed do come true AND the Sox add Buchholz to that equation, you have to like the chances very, very much of October baseball being played at Fenway in 2013.