There was a time not all that long ago when I thought the Red Sox rotation was going to be the key to a long postseason run and what ultimately got Boston back to the World Series. Just few months have passed and now I don’t feel quite as confident. I think it’s warranted — particularly given the injury questions of late — but the last thing you want to feel in September is uncertainty surrounding the four-man rotation who could end up starting a playoff game.
Things were great through the first month of the season. Red Sox starters went 14-5 between March and April. They ranked second in the league in ERA (3.26) behind Houston (2.44) — big surprise. Boston’s rotation was seventh in the league in K/9 at 9.32, fourth in BB/9 (2.53), fourth in WHIP (1.14) and fourth in left on-base percentage (79.2). At 3.6 WAR, per Fangraphs, Red Sox starters posted the best fWAR through the first month of the season since 2001. It was the first time in a long time I remember feeling good about the ace and the No. 5 guy simultaneously.
A few months later and I don’t feel as good about Sale, though it’s no fault of his own. I knew a time would come when I didn’t feel 100 percent confident in a guy who has started 144 games and pitched 969.2 innings since 2014. I guess I just didn’t think it would happen this season. We know he’s going to be back this year, and probably soon, but he’ll return having pitched just 5 major-league innings since July 28. Is that worrisome going into a potential first-round series with just about anyone in the American League? Hell yeah it is.
Still ... he’s Chris Sale. He’s the Cy Young front-runner despite spending two thirds of the second half on the disabled list. And I’m still pretty convinced this is all part of Alex Cora’s grand plan to preserve his ace for the playoffs. Let’s see what those September numbers look like before we officially name Cora the manager of the year, but I fully support the campaign if Sale is lights out for the next two months.
I definitely don’t feel as good about Rick Porcello and unlike Sale, that’s completely his fault. Consistency has been Porcello’s kryptonite this season and that’s probably the opposite of what you want from a postseason starter. He followed up his brilliant one-hit shutout against the big, bad Yankees in early August with a 6.43 ERA over his next five starts before Tuesday’s in Atlanta. To be fair he was solid, but inefficient, in last night’s game. Still, overall it’s not ideal. He’s really only had one instance of solid performances in back-to-back games and that was in April. While he’s seen a significant increase in K/9 between this year (9.12) and his Cy Young-winning season (7.63), he’s also seen a noticeable bump in HR/9 (0.93 to 1.23) and BB/9 (1.29 to 2.24). I think most reasonable people would prefer to see better numbers in the last two categories even if it means sacrificing a bit in the way of K’s.
Is it physically possible to feel good about David Price at this point in the season? Do not get me wrong: I have been saying all year that I thought Price would have a good season — and he has had a phenomenal couple months. But this most recent stroke of bad luck reminds me why you never go full David Price. The constant concern about his health — even in fluke situations — coupled with his postseason past can give even the most reasonable Red Sox fan an anxiety attack at this point in the year. I am not in the camp that thinks Price is totally incapable of performing in the postseason. However, I do need to actually see it one these days before I can fully believe in him. His success last year coming out of the bullpen against certainly Houston gives me hope — but he’ll be starting games this October. That’s a different beast.
The rotation really is a big reason why the Red Sox will end up eclipsing the 100-win mark for the first time in more than 70 years. Why do I feel like it could just as easily end up being the reason for an early postseason exit?
Because I’m a stupid, crazy Red Sox fan. Thanks a lot, dad.