As the clock inched toward the non-waiver deadline last Sunday, the Red Sox knew that right-hander Clay Buchholz’s back injury was serious.
They already had struck out on three different starting pitchers, nixing a trade for Athletics right-hander Rich Harden, getting outbid by the Indians for Rockies righty Ubaldo Jimenez and arranging a deal for Dodgers righty Hiroki Kuroda only to have him veto it.
Two hours before the deadline, Sox lefty Andrew Miller took the mound in Chicago and only increased the team’s urgency, allowing 11 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings.
The Sox made a late push for Indians righty Fausto Carmona, according to major-league sources. They checked in on Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez. But in the end, they wound up only with left-hander Erik Bedard — and only after a three-team deal.
Bedard performed well in his Red Sox debut Thursday night, allowing three runs in five innings against the Indians, striking out five, walking none.
But the question remains:
Will the Sox’s rotation be good enough?
The Yankees, of course, share the same concerns, concerns that will form the backdrop of the weekend series between the teams at Fenway Park (Saturday, MLB on FOX, 4:10 p.m. ET).
The teams are tied for first place in the AL East, but the division race is not the issue; both clubs stand a 99 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report.
No, the issue is October.
The two AL West contenders, the Angels and Rangers, rank first and third in the league in rotation ERA, respectively. The Yankees are sixth, the Red Sox ninth.
Those rankings are somewhat misleading; the Angels and Rangers benefit from facing the poor offenses in the AL West. Using ERA-plus, a statistic that adjusts a pitcher’s ERA to his ballpark and league, the Yankees’ overall staff ranks first and the Red Sox’s sixth.
I’ve referred to the Yankees’ rotation as CC and the Uncertains, and I’m not ready to back off those words. Still, the performances of right-handers Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova against the feeble White Sox this week were encouraging. Meanwhile, the team’s wondrous geezers, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, keep plugging along.
Much can change by October, but at the moment the Yankees look deeper than the Red Sox; manager Joe Girardi is even pondering the use of a six-man rotation.
The Sox, first and foremost, need right-hander Josh Beckett and lefty Jon Lester to stay healthy.
After that, the questions start.
Bedard is intriguing — it’s not a stretch to picture him becoming a worthy No. 3. In 2007, while pitching for the Orioles, he led the AL in strikeout rate and fewest hits per nine innings.
At 32, Bedard’s ability has not necessarily diminished; from April 27 to June 27 with the Mariners, he had a 1.77 ERA, best in the AL. The trick for Bedard is avoiding injury; ’07 was the last time he pitched more than 100 innings in a season.
Right-hander John Lackey, too, bears watching — a cortisone shot in late May helped alleviate his elbow problems, and in his last five starts he is 4-0 with a 3.41 ERA.
Will it last? Who knows? But Lackey’s career ERA after the All-Star Game is 3.83, compared with 4.20 before. The Sox need the pattern to hold.
Buchholz will return no sooner than near the end of the season, if then. Neither Miller nor ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield warrants much trust, and Triple A lefty Felix Doubront is on the DL with a hamstring strain.
The Yankees appear far more fluid, far more flexible, particularly if Hughes sustains the 93 to 95 mph velocity that he regained Tuesday night in Chicago.
Hughes was 18-8 last season with a 4.19 ERA. Nova is 10-4 this season with a 3.81 ERA. One or both could emerge as a viable member of a postseason rotation if one or more of the veterans — Colon, Garcia, A.J. Burnett — falters.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman declined to push for Jimenez in part because he thought his internal options were better. If the Yankees choose, they could put their depth to good use, perhaps giving Colon a breather in September, or even before.
The Red Sox, once they received the discouraging news on Buchholz, had a more urgent need at the deadline — one starter for sure, and preferably two. The way club officials see it, the only way their season can be derailed is if they run out of starting pitching.
Scary, isn’t it?
The Sox have a heck of a team, but no idea whether their rotation will be good enough.