Red Sox hope Peavy prevents a repeat of the past

Red Sox hope Peavy prevents a repeat of the past
August 1, 2013, 10:00 am
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The addition of Jake Peavy gives the Red Sox one more quality starter for an October rotation, but succeeding in the playoffs wasn't the primary motivation for the Red Sox to obtain the veteran right-hander. 

Getting  to October was.

The Red Sox have had a strong starting rotation this season, one that ranks second in ERA (3.77) in the American League. John Lackey has been consistent all year. Jon Lester appears to have found himself again after a six-week skid. Felix Doubront has been routinely excellent since May. Ryan Dempster has, at worst, given the Red Sox a good chance to win his starts more times than not.

But the Sox don't have to look far to see what happens when your starting pitching starts to crumble in the final months and weeks of a regular season.

In 2011, with Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow) and Clay Buchholz (back) sidelined, the Sox patched together a makeshift rotation that featured an aging Tim Wakefield, an unprepared Kyle Weiland and an unreliable Erik Bedard. Worse, the Sox got a combined three wins out of their top two starters, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, in the final month.

And no one needs reminding that they lost 20 of their last 27 games and saw a certain playoff spot slip away from them.

It wasn't much better in 2010. In late August, the Red Sox — despite being riddled by injuries to some of their best position players (Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury) -- were lodged in third place in the A.L. East but just 4 1/2 games back, positioned to make a run in the final five weeks.

Once again, however, the starting pitching failed them. Beckett won just twice in his last seven starts and Matsuzaka had an unsightly 6.31 ERA in September. Again, the Sox were locked out of the postseason.

Finally, there was 2006, when the team, out of sheer desperation, had to give starting opportunities to Jason Johnson, Kevin Jarvis, David Pauley and Lenny DiNardo. Predictably, that didn't end well, either.

So the old saying — you can never have too much pitching — has been proven over and over again in Boston recently. But as if that wasn't enough incentive, the advent of the second wild card makes finishing first even more important.

It used to be that the difference between winning the division and a gaining a wild-card spot was minimal -- a single extra home game was the reward.

Not anymore. Now, a team like the 2012 Texas Rangers can be in first place from April 9 through Oct. 2, drop into second by losing 10 of their last 16 games, and then have to play a one-and-done wild-card game . . . which they lost (to the Orioles), ending their season.

It was a lesson not lost on the Red Sox.

"We need to win the division,'' said a team executive.

And, that, more than anything is why Jake Peavy is now part of their rotation. 

Between a late-night conference call on Tuesday and an press conference in the dugout on Wednesday afternoon, general manager Ben Cherington used the word "protect'' more than a half-dozen time. The acquisition of Peavy, they hope, will serve to protect the Red Sox against a repeat of recent history.

When the 4 p.m. deadline struck Wednesday afternoon, five games separated the top three teams in the division. From among the Red Sox, Tampa Bay and Baltimore, there seems little doubt that the Sox improved themselves the most.

"I put the Red Sox at the head of that class,'' said one major league talent evaluator. "I think [Cherington] did a great job. He got the biggest impact guy in the division and he didn't touch his top prospects.''

The only move the Rays made was obtaining reliever Jesse Crain, who remains on the disabled list with a worrisome shoulder ailment. Baltimore picked up starter Bud Norris, but he's viewed as more of middle-of-the-rotation arm rather than anyone who might truly impact a staff.

"I can't see Tampa Bay keeping this pace up,'' said the same evaluator, referring to the Rays' 23-5 record since June 29. "I think you have to make the Red Sox the favorite to win the division now.'' 

Now, more than ever, that's the important part.