BOSTON -- The term "on paper" is a horrible one in baseball, but when you look at the potential starting pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka possess for the Boston Red Sox, it's easy to think this rotation should be -- could be -- one of the best in the majors.
Right now, it's not even close.
The Red Sox are 1-7 as a team, and the rotation has been suspect in the early part of the season. The right-handed Lackey has the only win on the staff, and he struggled during that 9-6 victory over the Yankees on Friday.
Buchholz (0-2, 7.20 ERA) posted his second consecutive subpar performance of season Saturday, lasting only 3 2/3 innings while allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits with three walks and two strikeouts as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 9-4.
Lester, who got shelled in his first start in Texas, should have a win under his belt after tossing seven scoreless innings against the Indians in Cleveland earlier in the week before the Sox lost that game, 1-0.
Beckett is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA after allowing three runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts in his first start. Matsuzaka was awful, too, allowing three runs on six hits with three walks in six innings during his lone outing.
The rotation has allowed a total of 35 runs -- 34 earned -- in 41 innings, alarming numbers from such a talented staff. The starters have combined for 20 walks and 25 strikeouts. And they've surrendered 12 home runs.
Lester, Lackey and Buchholz are the only starters who have made two starts, with Beckett going Sunday night against the Yankees and Matsuzaka getting the ball Monday against the Rays.
"We're not even two times through; I don't think it's been a very good first time through the rotation, but I don't think we're going to pack it in," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We need to try to get better. We all feel that way."
Some might point to the fact that John Farrell, named manager of the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason, is no longer the pitching coach in Boston. Some might think that Curt Young is still trying to learn his new staff and it could take a while for that synergy to form.
We're not even two times through; I don't think it's been a very good first time through the rotation, but I don't think we're going to pack it in. We need to try to get better. We all feel that way.
”-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona, on the rotation
That's not the case.
The Red Sox starters are simply not executing.
"When you get into a rhythm throughout a season it might take a little bit longer than it did the year before, or two years before," Buchholz said. "Getting on the same page with everybody, as far as pitcher/catcher, and Curt's brought in pretty good bit of knowledge to us. I don't think it has anything to do with that -- it's about going out and executing pitches like we did last year."
As much as the entire club is struggling, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the rotation and the early exits by the staff.
"We've got to pitch better," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who went 3-for-4 on Saturday, including three doubles and two RBIs.
It's not like anyone in the clubhouse is going to argue with Pedroia's assessment of the club's rotation.
"In general, everybody is a little bit surprised," Buchholz said. "Jon threw a good game last time out, but today I can do a better job than that. I can't speak for anybody else, but I know this team is better than what our record is right now. We're battling right now, trying to find ways to win games. It starts with us as starters."
Also alarming are the high pitch counts the starters are getting into early and often. The Rangers, Indians and Yankees have been patient at the plate against Boston starters and the results are showing.
"We're walking some people and there are a lot of deep counts," Francona said. "All the things that we talk about that we want to do [offensively] is being done to us right now. We're getting a lot of early exits and asking a lot of our bullpen right now, especially early in the season."
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said he knows it's only a matter of time before the rotation turns it around, and the newest starting receiver in Boston isn't about to point any fingers.
"We just need to trust our stuff. We've got to know what we can do and just do it," Saltalamacchia said. "Curt's new, but he's got great stuff. He's a real student. He does a great job on the scouting reports. With our caliber of pitchers, there's no reason we should be going through stuff like this. The only way to get through it is getting on the mound."
Now it comes down to Beckett versus CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the rubber match of this series Sunday night.
The Boston right-hander has a 6.26 ERA against the Yankees in 22 career starts. Sabathia, however, has not lost in his past seven starts against the Red Sox, going 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA and has held Boston to a .191 average during that stretch.
This could be a dangerous matchup for the Red Sox, or, if they're able to pull out a win, it could jumpstart the club.
"When everybody clicks on this team, we're going to be right where everybody thought we were going to be," Buchholz said.
It comes down to Beckett.
"It's a game that's early in the year, and they're all meaningful," Francona said. "We never try to downplay a game, I don't care who we're playing against. I would never try to downplay a game now, in September or at any time. We want to win them all."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.