Don Draper, the protagonist in Mad Men and an entirely fictional character, used to say “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.” There’s no way David Price likes what people are saying right now. He can talk all he wants about how he knows he deserves it and he will change it — and I’m sure that’s all honest talk from Price! — but as a general Price defender it’s hard to fight any of the narrative against him against those on the fringe end of it. After yet another poor postseason performance against the Yankees in the ALDS, there’s really not much more you can say at this point. Things were lining up in his favor — he was at home, he was rolling in the second half, he had pitched decently well relatively recently against the Yankees — and he still got shelled. You can still be quietly confident in Price, and you can still believe in the talent and all of that. At the end of the day, though, the postseason sample size just keeps getting larger and harder to just brush aside as noise.
The Red Sox lefty now, after his latest postseason meltdown, has 75 innings of playoff baseball under his belt combining his starts and relief appearances. In all of that time, he has pitched to a 5.28 ERA and has allowed 14 homers in 18 appearances. He’s gotten hit hard just about every time, and while we now wins and losses don’t really matter on an individual basis, it’s worth mentioning he has zero wins as a starter in ten postseason starts. Now, some of the issues earlier in his career was being left in too long, and maybe that ERA is somewhat misleading. However you slice it, he hasn’t pitched to his potential in October. Plain and simple.
The worst part of this last outing for me was that I talked myself into a strange bit of confidence heading into that start. It’s not just that I was confident in Price, but I’m never confident about any team I root for in any sport in the postseason. Expect the worst at all times, ya know? That said, Price was pitching well in the second half of the season, and as I mentioned above he had pitched decently well against the Yankees. It was all adding up! That he stumbled again felt like a dagger, and at this point he has to prove to me he can pitch in October, even if I’m still hesitant to go all-in on the unclutch narrative or however you want to label it.
If you’re looking for reasons for optimism heading into Sunday’s start, I think you have to just hope that the ALDS struggles were more of a Yankee thing than a playoff thing. Although, as mentioned above, Price had looked alright against New York earlier in the year, they still have his number more often than not. That kind of start against the Yankees wouldn’t surprise me any time of year. The Astros, meanwhile, don’t see Price nearly as often and he pitched well against them this year. Over 12 1⁄3 innings he allowed just five runs (3.65 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and three walks. That said, Houston also dominated left-handed pitching this year with a 123 wRC+, easily the top mark in the league. So, there’s reason for optimism but it’s far from a slam dunk, even ignoring the postseason history.
Ultimately, there’s not that much more you can say at this point. The narrative is what it is at this point, and unfortunately he’s earned every bit of it. Now, the Red Sox desperately need him to reverse the conversation. After dropping Game 1, Boston is in a tough spot where they need to avoid a 2-0 deficit before heading out on the road for three games in Houston, and it lies on Price’s shoulders. We can talk about how Price would benefit from another big zone on the outside part of the plate, and how they need him to trust all of his pitches and not lean too heavily on the fastball. All of that is true, but it’s not that complicated. Really, the Red Sox need David Price to be David Price. As in, regular season David Price. If he isn’t, this could feasibly be his last postseason start with the Red Sox. If he is, though, well, that conversation could finally start changing.