BOSTON -- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington didn’t have to look far for an example of what can happen to a contending team if it runs short of starting pitching. And an injured Clay Buchholz was a central part of that story, too.
The collapse of 2011 had far more to do with the collapse of the team’s rotation in September than it did with anything the pitchers may have been imbibing or consuming in the clubhouse.
The Sox already had lost two starters, Daisuke Matsuzaka (Tommy John surgery) and Buchholz, who had gone down with a lower back strain, then was later diagnosed as having a lumbar stress fracture of the spine. Just as is the case this season, the Sox entertained some hope that Buchholz, who had made just 14 starts (two more than he has made this season), would return before the end of the season, or at least for the playoffs.
The Sox were using an erratic Andrew Miller as their fifth starter as the trade deadline approached. Starting pitchers who were traded at the deadline included Edwin Jackson, who wound up with the Cardinals in a three-way deal; Ubaldo Jimenez, who went to the Indians; and Doug Fister, who was acquired by the Tigers.
Theo Epstein also acquired a starting pitcher, in a three-way deal with the Mariners and Dodgers for left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard. It cost the Sox four minor-league prospects, three going to the Dodgers, one to the Mariners.
Of the trading-deadline quartet, Fister was spectacular, going 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA as the Tigers made it as far as the ALCS.
Jackson pitched very well for the Cardinals going 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts), as the Cardinals won the World Series.
Jimenez was a disappointment for the Indians, who faded out of contention, but still went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts.
Bedard was by far the least helpful of the bunch. He made just eight starts over the season’s last two months, going 1-2 with a 4.03 ERA. He pitched only 38 innings, which is an average of fewer than five innings per start. Five of his starts were for five innings or fewer, and his final two lasted a combined six innings. He also missed a couple of starts with a sore knee.
When Josh Beckett sprained an ankle in early September, the entire staff seemed to implode. Untested rookie Kyle Weiland made three starts and lost two of them. Tim Wakefield, who was trying to lock down his 200th win, struggled greatly. Jon Lester hit a wall. John Lackey, we later learned, was pitching with a bum elbow.
Sox starters had a collective 4-13 record and 7.08 ERA in September; in 17 of the 27 games the Sox played that month, Sox starters went five innings or fewer. The team went 7-20 for the month and were eliminated from the playoffs in the season’s final game. And someone made the narrative about chicken and beer.
Any questions on why Cherington called a starting pitcher the team’s top priority at the deadline?