Lately, things have gotten pretty bleak for the Red Sox. They have been playing some bad baseball more often than not, and that’s paired with some of their competition starting to get hot. Despite that, they undeniably control their own destiny for the playoffs, and they have a good chance at winning the division. After Wednesday’s win over the Blue Jays, Fangraphs puts Boston’s chances at winning the division at 90 percent while Baseball Prospectus has it at 78 percent. There is still work to do, but as long as the Red Sox don’t fall apart in September (not a guarantee, of course) they will be playing in the ALDS in October.
As much as fans like to say they are not at all confident that the Red Sox will even make the playoffs, or at least win the division, there’s one tell-tale sign that they are already looking ahead to the postseason. It’s a sign that comes out every time Doug Fister has made a start of late. People are already trying to figure out the Red Sox’ playoff rotation, and specifically who will take the game (or games, depending on if they go with three or four pitchers) after Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not really a conversation that needs to be had right now.
Part of that is the potential that they don’t even make the playoffs. It looks extremely likely at this point, but it’s not a sure thing just yet. I’ve said before that this isn’t 2011 for multiple reasons, and I still very much believe that. However, that doesn’t mean that season hasn’t affected how I’ve watch baseball since that moment. Nothing is guaranteed. There’s plenty of time to think about who will pitch if/when they make the playoffs, but that doesn’t need to happen yet.
That’s not even the biggest reason I don’t see the value in talking about Fister and the playoff rotation, though. Really, it’s more about the simple fact that there is still so much time remaining in the season before they have to make this kind of decision. Things can, and are probably going to, change before the time they (hopefully) take the field for Game One of the ALDS. At this point, something nutty would have to happen to prevent Sale taking the mound for Game One and Pomeranz throwing in Game Two.
After that, there’s a whole mess of pitchers competing for one or two spots in Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez and Doug Fister. As of this writing, the latter has been the best of that group, which is something that nobody saw coming. The veteran righty moved on the mound and has all of a sudden become a near-dominant force in the rotation. He’s had a bump or two in the road, but he’s more or less been consistently great for six weeks. Meanwhile, Porcello can’t stop giving up home runs and hard contact in general. Rodriguez has shown flashes this season, but most of them came earlier in the year.
None of that really matters all that much, though. It’s only September 7, so there are still a little more than three weeks left in the season for things to change. Fister has been great for a while now, but 24 days is a long time for that to continue. If you had asked me 24 days ago if Fister should be in the playoff rotation, I would have politely asked you to stop talking to me. Similarly, Porcello was in the midst of a fairly solid run and was looking like a solid playoff starter, even if it was one that would slot in third or fourth in any rotation. The point being, things have changed fairly dramatically in 24 days, and they very well could again. I’m a believer in Fister’s mechanical change, but that doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent confident that he’ll continue to pitch like this.
With all of this said, we haven’t even discussed the biggest potential wrench in plans made in the first week of September. We still have no idea what’s going to happen with David Price. The lefty is working his way back, and the team still has hopes he’ll be ready to start by the postseason. With every passing day that becomes less and less likely, but it’s not impossible. If he is able to make it back healthy, he is undoubtedly the third best pitcher on the staff, at least. It’s a fairly important piece of context when discussing the potential playoff rotation.
I recognize that much of this discussion is just for fun, but it’s something I’ve been asked about many times and it’s becoming more and more serious with every Fister start. There’s no doubt his run has been exciting, and if he keeps this up for three more weeks he’ll get a playoff start. That being said, it’s just too early to know exactly how things are going to play out. Let’s let the Red Sox actually make the postseason and see how the month of September goes before we start making plans for October.