McAdam: Rotation uncertainty cause for concern

McAdam: Rotation uncertainty cause for concern
September 6, 2011, 1:22 am
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

TORONTO -- It's not a huge concern that the Red Sox have lost four of their last five, or that they now trail the first-place New York Yankees by their largest margin since July 2 -- 2 12 games.

It's not particularly troubling that they've been shut out four times in the last 22 games, for that matter. As the early part of the season taught us, things run in cycles over the course of a 162-game season.

But the fact that two of the Red Sox' starting pitchers are now unlikely to make their next starts because of physical issues? That could be plenty problematic.

Monday began with the news that Erik Bedard, who had just come off the DL with a knee injury when the Sox traded for him from Seattle on July 31, would be skipped in his next start. Terry Francona made it sound like the Sox were merely exercising caution.

Bedard, after all, has been pitching with a brace on his ailing left knee since coming to Boston. There was more soreness in his knee than usual in the last inning of his start Saturday, so the Sox thought it wise to plan to skip him Friday in St. Petersburg, his next scheduled turn.

No big deal, the Sox seemed to be suggesting.

Then, in the fourth inning, Josh Beckett had to leave Monday's game, later diagnosed with a sprained right ankle.

Three weeks before the end of the season, the projected Game 1 playoff starter has to leave the game? That qualifies as a big deal, without question.

Beckett will fly to Boston this morning and be examined by Dr. George Theodore, one of the area's foremost foot and ankle experts. Theodore assisted on Curt Schilling's ankle procedure in October 2004, so that alone should establish his bona fides in the matter of ace pitchers getting ready for the post-season.

The Sox had planned to give Beckett an extra day before his next start, meaning he would finish the road trip Sunday against the Rays.

Now, that start is up in the air, and with it, the team's post-season chances.

It's hard not to compare this to the end of the 2008 season, when, on the final weekend of the season, Beckett suffered an oblique pull. He made several starts before the Red Sox were eliminated in Game 7 of the ALCS, but was clearly not 100 percent.

This time, there's more time to rebound, of course. Game 1 of the ALDS is scheduled for Sept. 30, three weeks from this Friday. If Beckett is merely battling a sprained ankle -- and not damage to any ligaments in the area -- he should have plenty of time to recover.

But what's unsettling as September kicks off is the thinning of the Red Sox' rotation. Remember, at the beginning of the season, the Sox were thought to have a big advantage over the Yankees with the quality and depth of their rotation's front end.

With Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the Sox seemed to have the best Big Three in the American League, and that trio alone would make them a formidable post-season opponent.

Except now, with the days flying off the calendar and potential first-round opponents being measured, the Sox don't have their Big Three. They have Jon Lester. And for now, that's it.

Buchholz hasn't pitched since June and has yet to be cleared to get back on the mound. At best, the Sox hope he can give them some help in the bullpen, and even then, perhaps not until the ALCS, if the Sox survive the first round.

With Buchholz's return at the deadline very much in question, Bedard was supposed to provide them with another middle-of-the-rotation starter and indeed, he's done that. But he too is far from a certainty, given the ongoing issues with his left knee.

Even without a dominant option beyond Beckett and Lester, the Sox were going to be a handful in October. Together, they could make three of the five starts in the ALDS, and perhaps four of the seven games in the LCS.

Now, who knows?

Perhaps Beckett will confirm Tuesday that his ailment is nothing more serious than a sprain and will be skipped Sunday, enabling him to get the rest the Sox had been plotting for him anyway.

Maybe, in the end, this will be seen as a blessing, allowing him to hit the refresh button just when starting pitchers are dragging toward the finish line.

But the uncertainty surrounding the rotation is, if nothing else, disconcerting. What was supposed to be a team strength has been suddenly transformed into a question mark.

There's time for the Beckett and Bedard to get healthy. But until they prove they are, there's plenty of time to worry, too.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.