Boston Red Sox: Can Rick Porcello reclaim ERA title?

Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello has an opportunity to reclaim the American League’s best ERA with another brilliant performance Saturday night.

The last time that Rick Porcello took the mound he not only collected his league-leading 21st win of the season, but also briefly moved into the top spot for the American League ERA title.

In the few days since that appearance, Porcello has been bumped down to third on that list with an ERA that sits at 3.08. As he prepares to start tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, what will Porcello need to do in order to reclaim the lead?

The current leader is Detroit Tigers rookie Michael Fulmer, who finally reached the innings threshold to qualify for the ERA title Friday night after holding the Kansas City Royals to a single run over seven innings to pick up his 11th win. Fulmer now holds a 2.95 ERA, which certainly should give him a solid chance at capturing the AL Rookie of the Year award (sorry, Gary Sanchez, but your call-up came too late). Will he also take home the ERA title or can Porcello still catch him?

While Porcello can’t actually pass Fulmer tonight, he can move into a tie for first with a complete game shutout against the Rays. Going nine innings without allowing a run would drop Porcello’s ERA to 2.95, at least when rounding up to two decimal places, as Major League Baseball does. If we were to break it down to a third decimal place we would find Fulmer still leading by a fraction of a point – 2.948 to 2.949.

Porcello hasn’t had a complete game shutout all year, but it’s not entirely unrealistic. He went the distance in his last start, surrendering two runs to the Orioles. Now he faces a significantly weaker offense in a pitcher’s park against a team with little to play for. It may be unlikely, but Porcello ending the night in a virtual tie for the ERA title is still feasible.

Even if Porcello falls short of Fulmer after tonight’s start, it’s not over yet. Both pitchers are likely to each get another start before the end of the regular season, which could potentially decide the winner. Given the rookie’s limited workload, it’s also possible that Porcello wins by default. Fulmer must pitch at least 6 1/3 innings in order to reach 162 innings for the season, the minimum requirement to qualify for the ERA title.

If Fulmer falls short of qualifying or blows up in his final start then Porcello will be left to contend with Masahiro Tanaka. The New York Yankees ace enters the day slightly ahead of Porcello with a 3.07 ERA. Porcello would drop his ERA just enough to tie Tanaka with a complete game in which he gives up three runs. If he allows only two runs while logging six innings then he will also tie him. Anything more than six innings, while allowing two runs or less, would move Porcello ahead of Tanaka.

If Porcello does move ahead of Tanaka, he still needs to stay ahead of him with a strong start in his final outing. Tanaka is currently dealing with a forearm injury that puts this availability for the rest of the season in doubt. If the Yankees fall out of the Wild Card hunt then Tanaka likely doesn’t make another start.

There is still time for Porcello to catch those ahead of him on the list, but he also has to worry about those sneaking up behind him. Corey Kluber (3.11) and Aaron Sanchez (3.12) are both within reach of the ERA title if the rest of their competition falters down the stretch.

If Porcello wins the ERA title, in addition to at least 21 wins and a league-leading strikeout-to-walk ratio, is there any denying that he’ll have earned the Cy Young award?

It’s possible that Porcello will be back at the top of the ERA leader list by the end of the night. If he can follow that up with another strong start at Fenway next week, where he has been brilliant all season, he could end up at the top of that list at the end of the season.

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