Feb 20, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22), Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) and Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) stretch as they works out at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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As the regular season draws to an end the Boston Red Sox have a slight concern heading into the postseason. Who will grab the third slot in their playoff starting rotation?
The Boston Red Sox are finally taking hold of the number one spot in the American League East. They swept four games from the New York Yankees this weekend, looking like the type of team that could make a deep run into the playoffs.
Hanley Ramirez led the way against New York, going 9-for-16 over that four game stretch, including a walk-off homer Thursday night and two home runs in Sunday’s win.
After a Monday night victory over the Baltimore Orioles they lead the division by four full games with just 12 games remaining on the schedule. The offense continues to produce, but there are still concerns, even as they look more and more like a legitimate World Series contender.
Is their starting pitching good enough to carry them through to October? Let’s take a look at the six pitchers they’ll have to choose from when constructing their postseason starting rotation.
Sep 7, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
David Price: 16-8, 3.91 ERA, 217 SO, 44 BB, 3.35 FIP, 211.2 IP
Price is obviously a lock for the rotation. You don’t sign a guy to a 7-year $217 million deal to leave him on the bench in October.
Price had a rough start to the season, but he has turned it around in the second half. In 13 starts since the All-Star break Price is 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA. In August he was outstanding, finishing the month with a 2.93 ERA in six starts.
Price has been an absolute workhorse this season. He currently leads the entire league in innings pitched. Having a pitcher that can go deep into games would be huge for Boston. If he can give the Sox seven innings most nights, that would keep teams from feasting against the weaker parts of their bullpen.
For his postseason career he’s compiled a 2-7 record with a 5.12 ERA. Still, 63.1 innings is too small of a sample size to be concerned about those numbers. Price is the ace of the staff and the Red Sox will count on him heavily in the postseason.
Sep 14, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) delivers against the Baltimore Orioles during the eighth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Porcello is having the best season of his career right when the Red Sox need it the most. The four-year $82.5 million contract extension he signed last April will look like a steal for Boston if he continues pitching at this level.
Porcello has always been a durable, reliable, middle of the rotation starter, but last season he took a step back. After being traded from Detroit to Boston in the off-season he struggled, posting a 4.92 ERA in 172 innings. He struggled with the long ball and didn’t miss enough bats to be effective at Fenway Park.
It’s tough to say what the difference has been. His ground-ball rate remains solid at 44.7 percent, while his strikeout rate has increased slightly to 20.8 percent. Perhaps it’s his walk rate which is the lowest it’s ever been at 3.2 percent.
He’s still allowed 21 homers, but keeping people off the bases leads to those being solo shots rather than two and three run dingers. His 3.45 FIP suggests his defense may be helping him out some, but so far the regression monster hasn’t shown up. Porcello’s durability has always made him valuable, but his run prevention is now making him a star.
Porcello will definitely crack the postseason rotation as the number two starter. He may even be the favorite to win the Cy Young in the American League. What a time to be alive. Porcello’s season should be a lesson in not giving up on talented players just because of one bad season.
Monday night against the Orioles he looked like an ace as twirled a complete game in a much needed Red Sox victory. He allowed only two runs while striking out seven O’s in what felt like a statement game. It was the kind of performance he’ll need to give in October if Boston is going to be a legitimate World Series contender.
Aug 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright (35) throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
In seven starts since the break Wright has shown signs of regression, posting a 5.06 ERA in 42.2 innings pitched. The knuckler is a fickle beast.
On August 10th Wright was the victim of some very bad luck when he injured his shoulder pinch running against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Baseball is cruel sometimes. Wright hasn’t pitched since the injury, but it looks like he could return to make a start or two before the end of the season.
Manager John Farrell likely wants to give him a few starts before unleashing him in a high stakes playoff game.
Sep 5, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz (31) pitches during the third inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Dave Dombrowski’s big trade deadline acquisition hasn’t been the rotation band-aid he was supposed to be. Pomeranz has struggled in Boston and is currently sporting a 4.92 ERA in 62.2 innings.
It seems that pitching in Fenway Park has given him the most trouble. He’s tossed 26.2 innings at Fenway with a 6.75 ERA and has allowed 8 home runs.
If Steven Wright is hurt I’d bet on Pomeranz slotting into the third starter role in October. If Boston were to host in the Division Series that would mean Pomeranz pitches on the road rather than at Fenway.
If Wright is healthy and effective, and Boston elects to go with a three-man rotation (or another option), it might make sense to use Pomeranz out of the bullpen.
For his career Pomeranz has a 2.14 ERA and strikes out 9.4 batters per nine innings as a reliever. Given Boston’s struggles in the pen at times this season, Pomeranz could turn into a huge asset if his performance is in line with his career numbers as a relief pitcher.
I’d still expect him to get at least first postseason start, then shift into the bullpen role if need be.
Sep 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) throws a pitch during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like Buchholz has been in Boston for an eternity. He’s oscillated back and forth between key rotation cog and disappointment so many times Red Sox fans are starting to get dizzy.
This season has been a struggle for the former All-Star. He’s been bad as a starter, and he’s been bad as a reliever. Buchholz has dealt with shifting between starting and relieving in addition to trade rumors. It’s unfortunate to see a player that is so talented fail to perform to the level they are capable of.
If Buchholz makes the postseason roster it’s either because of injuries or to serve as a long-reliever. Seeing Buchholz pitch in a high leverage spot in the playoffs would be surprising, though not impossible, given his severe inconsistency. He was solid in his last outing against the Yankees, going six innings and allowing only two runs. Buchholz has postseason experience and John Farrell may value that.
He’s only 32 years old, so a late career renaissance isn’t out of the question, but he may need a change of scenery to make that happen.
Sep 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez (13) gets ready to high five right fielder Mookie Betts (50) after defeating the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Given the amount of off days in the playoffs teams can usually ride three or four starters throughout the postseason, barring injury. Ideally Boston would lean heavily on Price, Porcello, and Wright. Wright’s injury situation casts some doubt there.
Assuming he’s healthy they could get by using those three, move Pomeranz to the bullpen, and either use Buchholz in the pen as well, or leave him off the roster entirely.
Even the pitchers that have struggled in the rotation this season have performed well in the past, so it’s not as if they are choosing from a selection of Triple-A quality pitchers. They are talented arms that have, but for whatever reason had difficulties in 2016.
Despite the worries, Boston’s starter’s ERA is still third best in the American League at 4.31. With the offense being as good as it is the pitching might not have to be much better than mediocre for them to make a deep playoff run. They’ve managed to put up a run differential of plus 176 this season, second only to the Chicago Cubs.
At the end of the day the playoffs are a partially about luck. Given the small sample size, anything can happen, and the best team doesn’t always take home the World Series crown.