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So what's the rotation for the Tampa series?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 7, 2008 04:41 AM

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We know what you're thinking: Now what?

With a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the Red Sox have advanced to the AL Championship Series for the fourth time in six years. Team officials thus far have refused to bite on the Sox' projected rotation for a best-of-7 series that begins Friday at Tropicana Field, but most everything suggests the Sox would opt for Daisuke Matsuzaka in the opener with either Jon Lester or Josh Beckett in Game 2.

How will their rotation be set up? This all gets a little confusing, so let's take it in order (and read slowly) while stressing that the Sox will need a fourth starter in this series.

Game 1, Friday, Oct. 10: Given that Lester pitched the finale against the Angels, he is out of the mix. (He would have to pitch on short rest.) The real question is whether the Sox will go with Matsuzaka on six days of rest or Beckett on four days, the latter coming off a 106-pitch outing on Sunday in which he labored with his control and command. Sox officials typically have erred on the side of caution with their pitchers -- especially at this time of year -- which would seemingly make Matsuzaka the more logical choice. This also would set up Beckett and Lester (in either order) to pitch Games 6 and 7, if necessary.

Game 2, Saturday, Oct. 11: Ultimately, there is one question here: Lester on regular rest (four days) or Beckett on an extra (fifth) day? Remember that Lester pitched 210-1/3 innings during the regular season. He also threw 117 pitches in Game 1 against the Angels and another 109 (on regular rest) in Game 4, so he could probably use some extra rest. If the Sox were to push Lester back to Game 3 at Fenway Park -- they have won his last 15 starts in Boston -- he would be lined up to pitch Games 3 and 7, both on extra rest.

Even Beckett knows that Lester is the team's best pitcher right now, but there is more to consider.

"[Shoot], he's a man," Beckett said when asked of Lester's performance in the ALDS. "There ain't nobody that wants to face him right now."

Should Lester pitch Game 2, he still would be able to pitch Game 6 on extra rest thanks to an extra off day in the middle of the series on Oct. 15 (after Game 4). If the Red Sox do that, however, Beckett then would pitch Game 3 on seven days of rest after sitting for 12 days before his start against the Angels. That's basically two starts in three weeks, which is a long time for any pitcher to sit, let alone an ace. The point? It probably makes more sense to pitch Beckett in Game 2 and hold Lester for Game 3.

Game 3, Monday, Oct. 13: Assuming that Matsuzaka does, indeed, pitch Game 1, the Sox will go with Beckett or Lester in this game, presumably the latter on extra rest, as explained above.

Game 4, Tuesday, Oct. 14: This game belongs to the fourth starter, presumably Tim Wakefield. Paul Byrd is obviously an option here, too, but Wakefield seems to make more sense given the fact that the Sox would like to keep him paired with Kevin Cash. If Wakefield comes in as a reliever at any point in the series, the Sox might be put into a position where they have to start rotating catchers. That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. (For what it's worth, Wakefield went 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA against Tampa this year; Byrd did not face the Rays.)

From here on out, the Sox would then resume their rotation with Matsuzaka going in Game 5, Beckett in Game 6 and Lester in Game 7.

Beyond the rotation, there are a few things to consider entering the next round. First, the Sox are likely to add an 11th pitcher to the roster (Mike Timlin?) and rid themselves of a position player (presumably Gil Velazquez). Should Terry Francona continue to hit for Jason Varitek, as he did in Game 3 of the Angels series, the Sox would have more of a need for David Ross than they would for Velazquez, who replaced Mike Lowell on the active roster prior to ALDS Game 4. Mark Kotsay's ability to play first base, along with the presence of both Sean Casey and Alex Cora on the bench, seems to negate the need for another infielder, so expect Velazquez to be replaced by a pitcher and Ross to remain.

Obviously, all of this speculative at this point, so take everything with a grain of salt. Sox players have today off, so it could be that team officials will meet to discuss their options and make an announcement regarding their roster and rotation tomorrow.

In the interim, we ask you: How would you set up the rotation for the ALCS? Let us know in the comments section.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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