By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
SEATTLE The audition process has begun for the No. 3 Red Sox starter role once the seemingly inevitable postseason berth arises, and its a two horse race.
The to be determined role is which one will fill in behind the unquestioned No. 1 and No. 2 starters in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester once the playoff bell rings, and its between veteran right-hander John Lackey and newly acquired lefty Erik Bedard.
While its true the Red Sox brought in Bedard from Seattle to essentially replace their missing No. 3 starter in Clay Buchholz and admitted that the strikeout-happy lefty was eerily similar stats-wise to Buchholz prior to his back injury there are pretty good arguments to be made for each pitcher.
The idea that Lackey might step into a slot ahead of Bedard in Bostons playoff rotation might have been preposterous a few months ago, but the big lug from Texas has finally hit his stride after hitting rock bottom with the Sox earlier this season.
Lackey is 6-0 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts since July 7. Hes tied with Lester for the team lead with 11 wins this season and hes finished at least six full innings in five out of those seven outings with the Sox.
Lackey has clearly quelled the vicious boos at Fenway Park and turned things around despite his 6.13 ERA this season, and theres a strong argument to be made for the rightys candidacy if he can maintain his current pace since the beginning of July.
It also doesnt hurt that Lackey has appeared in 14 playoff games, won a World Series Trophy and put up a 3.14 ERA in nearly 80 playoff innings with the Angels including a gem of a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park that showed exactly the kind of chutzpah and big game ability still lurking in that 6-foot-5 body.
Hes been great, man," David Ortiz said. "Hes just a competitor. Hes been having a tough time. Not many people know what hes been through in his mind when hes out there. Hes been dealing with so many things at once. You can see that he wants to have some good results. He tries hard and he wants to compete. He likes the competition. A guy like that, Ill take him on my team anytime.
Bedard, on the other hand, is the ultimate wild card.
He has all the talent in the world, has racked up some pretty good strikeout numbers over the years and should be fresh for the playoffs after missing a lot of time with shoulder problems over the last couple of seasons. But there are some red flags that go along with Bedard despite the good ERA and solid strikeout-to-walk ratios.
Theres the simple fact that Bedard has never pitched a meaningful game for either the Baltimore Orioles or Seattle Mariners in the heat of a pennant chase, and has never had even a sniff of the playoffs. Bedard has made 159 career stars in the Major Leagues and has thrown 923 13 innings in Baltimore and Seattle, but hes never gained entry to the postseason and never pitched with that kind of pressure on his back.
The 32-year-old also will never be a big friend to the bullpen given that hes tossed one complete game in nearly 1000 career innings as a starting pitcher, and routinely racks up high pitch counts while racking up those beloved strikeouts.
Its not all bad for Bedard either, though.
Just as Lackey has really begun to rebuild the confidence that the Sox coaching staff has in him, Bedard will be afford that opportunity over the next months with the playoffs riding on the line. The Canadian southpaw will be pitching in some big games with consequences on the line, and hell be able to show exactly what kind of stuff hes made of as a potential big game pitcher.
Theres also the sheer fact that Bedards free agency value will hinge largely on what he can do in the national spotlight over the next few months, and theres an incredible incentive for the southpaw to peak in the playoffs.
Theres still an outside chance that Buchholz could be back once the playoffs begin if his back cooperates, but it looks more and more like it will be a Lackey or Bedard choice for Francona and his coaching staff.
There are pros and cons to each pitcher, and the Sox will need both to get through a successful postseason run. But the audition process for the No. 3 starter begins anew this week when both hurlers take the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park with a mandate to snap the team out of its August doldrums.