This is better than having a starting rotation of minor league prospects and Buchholz; essentially, what we witnessed at the end of 2014. The Red Sox can again use prospects as rotation depth instead of certainties. But an ace-less rotation isn’t screaming October to any knowledgeable Red Sox fan.
Oddly enough, though, Cherington’s Plan B after Lester could work.
With the advent of the second wild card, a third of the teams are guaranteed a playoff berth each year. So a team has to be pretty horrible not even be in the playoff hunt a week before the trade deadline on July 31. Given that a team’s regular season performance need not be spectacular to get to the playoffs, teams can experiment with different ways to get through the regular season.
The two best examples of teams achieving success through experimenting with non-typical rosters are the 2014 Giants and 2012 Orioles.
The Giants victory in the World Series is a recent memory of course, and we can quickly remember who was in their starting rotation: Bumgarner followed by a bunch of actual bums. Let’s remember that the Giants thought acquiring Jake Peavy before the trade deadline would improve their starting rotation – the same Jake Peavy who hadn’t won a game since April and had an ERA larger than Paula Deen’s collection of lard. And those Giants won the World Series.
The 2012 Orioles didn’t have as much success as the Giants, but they did make it to the playoffs with a rotation that, quite frankly, looked worse than what we can expect from the 2015 Red Sox. The Orioles’ rotation had only one starter with double-digit wins (12 wins), and none of their starters pitched 200 innings. In fact, only one starter pitched more than 140 innings. That team made it to the ALCS.
Personally, the baseline I use to predict playoff hopes is the probability a team has of winning 88 games. Let’s look at the 2015 Red Sox in this respect: Can they win 88 games?
They have a rotation starters who have MLB experience, but they are 3-5 starters at best. Porcello is the one starter who has the best chance of having a breakout season, and he becomes the proverbial “ace.” The rotation will have an average ERA of, let’s guess, 4.30.
That’s not great, but a starting lineup with 3. Papi, 4. Han-RAM, 5. Panda, and 6. Napoli is going to score a lot of runs – especially with Mookie Betts hitting leadoff, followed by a finally healthy Dustin Pedroia. With the rate that Betts and Pedroia can get on base, they’re poised to each have 100+ runs scored in 2015.
Hitting behind Napoli will be Xander Bogaerts, who has something to prove in 2015. Throw in Rusney Castillo, and we can forget about the fact that hitting production from the catcher’s spot in 2015 is a total unknown.
Can this lineup score enough runs to overcome a starting rotation with an ERA of 4.30 or a little more? Simply put: yes.
The 2015 Red Sox will be an interesting experiment. Before the experiment starts, it would appear that they can win 88 games next year and remain in the playoff hunt. But, by July, if it looks like the experiment may fail, then there’s always a blockbuster trade for Cliff Lee. That’s a hell of a back up plan which must have crossed Ben Cherington’s mind at some point last week.