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Was this the worst Red Sox rotation ever?

10.02.12 at 2:57 am ET

NEW YORK — The Red Sox entered 2012 believing, or at least hoping, that their rotation could be a strength. But on Monday, the degree to which the actual season strayed from the blueprint received a dramatic final gesture.

Clay Buchholz had been the Sox’ best pitcher since mid-May. After getting off to a horrific start that saw him with a 9.09 ERA after his first six outings, he steadily whittled that mark down to 4.22 entering his final start on Monday. Over the span of 22 starts, he had a 3.19 ERA while averaging just over seven innings an outing, making a convincing case that the beginning of the season represented little more than a blip.

That remains the case. He showed the stuff and consistency from May on to underscore the notion that he has top-of-the-rotation ability.

Still, his final start ranks as one of the worst — perhaps the worst — of his career, and as a result of it, his final numbers for the season — like those of many of his fellow Red Sox rotation members — are fairly gruesome. Buchholz lasted just 1 2/3 innings on Monday (the third shortest outing of his career) while giving up eight earned runs (the most he’d ever permitted) and allowing three homers. In just 56 pitches, his ERA ballooned from 4.22 to 4.56, and with that, the Sox rotation concluded arguably the worst collective performance in team history.

None of the nine pitchers to make a start for the Sox this year had an ERA (as a member of the rotation) that was as good as the American League average of 4.09. Here’s the rundown:

Franklin Morales, 4.14 (as a starter)
Clay Buchholz, 4.56
Felix Doubront, 4.86
Jon Lester, 4.94 (1 start remains — if Lester were to throw 36 1/3 shutout innings on Tuesday, then his ERA would improve to better than league average)
Josh Beckett, 5.23
Daniel Bard, 5.30
Aaron Cook, 5.65
Daisuke Matsuzaka, 7.68 (1 start remains)
Zach Stewart, 22.24

This marks just the fourth time in Red Sox team history that the club did not have a single pitcher who made at least 10 starts and recorded an ERA+ (ERA as measured against league average) of 100 or better — meaning that every Sox starter had an ERA worse than the league average. The other years in which the Sox endured such rotation-wide struggles: 1964 (when the team went 72-90), 1926 (when the Sox went 46-107) and 1906 (when the team went 49-105).

Moreover, the Sox set a team record by having seven pitchers who made at least 10 starts end the year with an ERA of 4.50 or higher. The previous mark of six was set by the 2000 Red Sox — a team that had Pedro Martinez as an antidote to its shortcomings of the other four games of the week.

For a team that had visions of Lester, Beckett and Buchholz leading an at-times dominant rotation, the reality of what transpired in 2012 represented a cold splash to the face.

“It wasn’€™t the plan going in,” Valentine said of his starters’ struggles. “We’€™ve got some work to do.”

Indeed they do … yet the Sox are unlikely to make sweeping changes. After all, they still have Buchholz, Lester and Doubront as young starters with potentially elite stuff. The team also has John Lackey set to return from Tommy John surgery next year. That’s four rotation spots largely accounted for. That being the case, the Sox must hope that there is a dramatic change in the exchange rate of stuff to results in 2013, or else they may find it difficult to escape the predicament that made success in 2012 almost impossible to sustain.

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