Despite poor play that has spanned almost the entire 2015 season, the Red Sox can still contend. Part of that is thanks to mediocre play across the league, but they surely deserve some credit for their performance in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break. With that being said, they still have a long road to travel, and they’re likely a couple pieces short of being a true contender. Their deficit is a lot more challenging than the six games they trail by in the wildcard race or the 6.5 they trail by for the division. In the race for the wildcard, there are eight teams that they must outperform in the second half of the year, while they must jump every AL East team to take home to division crown.
Luckily for them, the pieces they need to compete should be available over the next couple weeks leading up to the trade deadline. However, the front office isn’t going to give up future value unless this Red Sox team can prove they deserve it, making it imperative they get off to a hot start beginning tonight. The key to that success may lie in the hands of the $80 million man, Rick Porcello.
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We’ll get to Porcello in a second, but first it’s important to look at why the pitching staff in general is so important moving forward. The lineup came in with huge expectations, and they fell well short of them for the majority of the first half. That changed in June, as Boston was tied for the fifth best offense in baseball that month by wRC+. While they’ve taken a slight step back in the small sample of July, they’ve still been safely above average. Looking at the talent throughout that lineup — especially with Dustin Pedroia returning to it — it’s safe to assume they’ll be a good enough group to sustain a solid second half.
The pitching, meanwhile, has it’s own question marks. After a rough start to the year, Wade Miley has pulled it together lately, at least relative to where he was in April. He’s certainly not someone you want to rely on, but he’s shown an ability to keep the team in games more often than not. Eduardo Rodriguez has shown huge flashes in his first time through the majors, but he is also very young and, like Miley, can’t be relied upon. For the entire first half, the man to rely on was Clay Buchholz. If he was still healthy, he would be the key to the second half. Of course, he recently found himself back on the disabled list. The team hasn’t given any reason to believe this is a long-term injury, but we’ve been down this road before. It’s safer to expect he’ll be out for a while rather than get your feelings hurt later.
This all brings us back to Porcello. If the Red Sox are going to perform well enough to convince the front office to go out and grab another starter, they’ll need their big offseason pitching acquisition to live up to his hype. As we all know, he’s had a forgettable first half, to put it lightly. Even if you were low on him coming into the season, it was hard to see things going this poorly. He’s giving up home runs at an alarming rate, and appears to be trying to turn into a different pitcher than he really is. When he’s at his best, he’s relying on ground balls and weak contact, something he’s seen very little of in 2015.
The Red Sox need to hope he’s worked towards addressing these problems over the break. He’s coming off a very solid start against Miami in which he induced more ground balls than any game he’s pitched in besides his first start of the year in Philadelphia. Unsurprisingly, it came at the cost of his strikeout total, but the Red Sox will take that tradeoff every time.
Porcello came into the year with monstrous expectations based on his contract that were likely unfair given the type of pitcher he is. With that being said, he’s being paid to at least be competent. Throw out whatever arbitrary "ace" or "number two" type label you want, the bottom line is they just need him to be reliable, now more than ever. If Boston is going to get back into contention, they need a strong start to the second half. If Boston is going to get off a strong start in the second half, they’ll need reliable pitching. If Boston is going to have solid pitching, they’ll need a better performance from Porcello. Miley can be fine, but his upside is limited. Rodriguez has all the upside in the world, but he’s too young to be relied upon at this point. With Buchholz injured, Porcello is the key to the rotation. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.