With all of the moving pieces on the Red Sox and all of the questions surrounding their playoff roster, the one bit of stability and clarity has been with the top half of their rotation. Chris Sale is obviously their number one starter, and Drew Pomeranz is just as obviously their number two starter. They’ve been the best and most consistent pitchers on the roster for the vast majority of the year and are arguably the two biggest reasons the team is in a position to be setting a postseason rotation in the first place. It’s almost certainly too late in the year for any of that to change. That being said, there is some reason to start doubting whether or not that’s the case. Sale has been a bit more shaky over the last month or so, though he’s still very clearly the ace and no one would suggest not starting him in Game One. Pomeranz, meanwhile, has been putting up solid performances much more often than not but there is a clear downtick in his stuff that can be seen by the naked eye. Now, people are starting to worry about what he can provide in the postseason and it certainly seems justified.
The reasons to be worried about Pomeranz moving forward for the rest of the year are fairly straightforward. It’s important to remember that this is a pitcher who has struggled to make it through full seasons before and last year showed signs of fatigue towards the end of the year. This year, he’s showing different signs with the most obvious being with his velocity. Below is a chart showing his fastball velocity from each start of the 2017 season. Note that it does not include Monday’s start, but that was an outing in which he was sitting in the high-80s with his fastball.
It’s true that Pomeranz’ velocity has been declining since the start of August, but it hasn’t really been in a dangerous zone since the start of September. It’s a concerning trend, and it became a whole lot more concerning on Monday when the Blue Jays were able to put up a crooked number and knock him out after just two innings of work. With all of this being said, I am here to provide a little bit of optimism. Or, probably more accurately, to try and eliminate just a little bit of your pessimism.
First, to be clear, anyone who is super worried about Pomeranz heading into the postseason has their reasons. It was hard to watch what happened against Toronto at Fenway and not see bad things happening if that’s the Pomeranz that shows up to play either Houston or Cleveland. Those are better lineups than Toronto’s and there’s little reason to believe they wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. Sometimes, fans have a tendency to overreact to one bad start, but that’s not necessarily the case here.
Now, we can get to a little bit of optimism. The biggest reason to hope this won’t be as big of a deal is that the team will hopefully be able to give him a bunch of rest before he takes the mound for a postseason game. This, of course, hinges on the Red Sox being able to clinch the division before the last two games of the year, but with a magic number of three they should be up to that task. If they can get that done, then Pomeranz shouldn’t have to make another start until Game Two of the ALDS. Sure, there would certainly be a simulated game or something along those lines worked in there to keep him fresh, but it wouldn’t be something to exert so much energy. The hope would be that this kind of rest would be able to bring back some of his velocity. He may not get back to the mid-to-high 90s fastball we saw earlier in the year, but just getting to 91-92 mph should be enough. Plus, and probably more importantly, the rest would hopefully help his command. This is the key for Pomeranz, as we’ve seen him succeed with lower velocity earlier this month because he was still able to locate his pitches. That was something he couldn’t do on Monday.
Along with the extra rest, the realities of a playoff setting should be able to help Pomeranz. Part of that is simply the adrenaline rush that presumably comes from starting in October. We’ve seen pitchers who had no business succeeding on that stage put together strong outings. Clay Buchholz in the 2013 World Series comes immediately to mind. Even beyond that, starters are on a shorter leash in the playoffs with relievers more equipped to do more work. That means Pomeranz will not have to worry quite as much about getting deep into the game. If the fatigue is still there to any extent, it would probably be smart to tell him he’s going to be done after five innings no matter what and let him just fire it in there without concern for his efficiency or innings total. Whatever it takes to get his fastball back, to put in simply.
The Red Sox are a team that was built to win on its pitching and that’s exactly how they’ve gotten to this point in the year. With that being the case, it’s only natural to be worried when some of that pitching starts to show some warts. After allowing five runs in two innings on Monday, Pomeranz is atop the worrisome list and it’s totally valid. However, between the rest he will hopefully get before his next start and the realities of postseason pitching, he should be able to step up. None of this is a guarantee, of course, but there is at least plenty of reason to believe all is not lost.