The past two weeks have provided plenty of clarity regarding the Red Sox’s postseason outlook. The AL East crown and a trip to the ALDS is all but a given following an 11-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the playoff rotation appears set as Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz have emerged as the likely Nos. 3 and 4 starters while Drew Pomeranz has struggled in September. There’s no more uncertainty regarding the near future of these Red Sox, and that includes the state of the starting rotation.
The rotation has faced criticism all season. Heck, all eyes were on pitching before the year even started. Early struggles from the likes of David Price and Buchholz only heightened the scrutiny as the rotation soon became one of the worst in baseball. But the emergence and Porcello and Steven Wright spared the Sox from ever reaching the lows of last season. It also helped top have the best offense in the majors backing them. However, the rotation eventually rounded to form. Wright’s season effectively ended on the base paths, but Price looked like himself, Rodriguez returned to health, the Good Buchholz showed up, Rick Porcello continued to dominate and Pomeranz added much-needed depth. Suddenly, the Sox had a rotation good enough to complement the offense in the race for the division crown.
The Red Sox enter the season’s final week with a stronger rotation than anyone could’ve imagined. Despite its faults, the Sox’s rotation ranks 11th in starter’s ERA (4.23) and is tied for seventh in starter’s DRA (4.04). Four of their five starters have K/9s of seven or better and all are walking less than four batters per nine innings. This rotation has proven itself viable enough to – coupled with a major-league best offense – lead a deep playoff run.
The Red Sox begin that quest for another World Series title in just over a week, likely beginning with Porcello in Game 1 of the division series. He will presumably be followed by Price, Rodriguez and Buchholz. That’s a solid rotation. But how does it stack up with the other recent Sox championship rotations? Here’s what the numbers say about this year’s group.
Porcello was the only of those four who was consistent throughout the season. Advanced statistics were kind to Price all year, but his April and May performances were about as bad as he’s ever been. But this rotation wasn’t determined by season-long performance. This group is being assembled mostly due to its performance over the last couple months of the season, including here in September. The Red Sox’s September ERAs are as follows: Porcello – 2.41; Price – 3.60; Rodriguez – 3.18; and Buchholz – 3.97. That’s pretty good. Let’s hope it’s indicative of the type of rotation the Sox will have in October as well.
As for the championship seasons:
The 2004 rotation had the best starter’s DRA in the majors (3.82) and the 12th-ranked starter’s ERA (4.31). This was a team with a pair of aces in the latter half of their careers in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, but clearly had enough left to have quality seasons. The Sox got about what they expected from each of these four starters in the regular season. Most importantly, those players were consistent for most of the regular season. Those performances carried into the playoffs as well, although Arroyo was moved to the bullpen while Lowe started the clinchers in both the ALCS and World Series.
The 2007 Red Sox got an outstanding regular season (and postseason) from Josh Beckett in his second year with the club. Schilling was on his last leg, but a viable enough No. 2 starter, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had a solid debut season. Wakefield was, well, Wakefield. The Sox didn’t quite have the one-two punch at the top of the rotation they had in 2004, but it was more balanced from top to bottom, owning the third-best start’s DRA (4.11) and fourth-best starter’s ERA (4.21) What set this team apart from 2004 or 2016 was Beckett, who had arguably the best Red Sox season for a pitcher since Martinez’s 2002 campaign. That applies to October too, as Beckett posted a 1.20 ERA in four playoff starts. Jon Lester finished the run in the postseason rotation, taking Wakefield’s spot and winning the Game 4 World Series clincher in Colorado.
The 2016 rotation probably best compares to this one. The 2013 team’s playoff rotation wasn’t solidified until the end of the season, primarily due to Buchholz missing significant time on the disabled list and the trade-deadline acquisition of Jake Peavy. Overall, they finished with the sixth-best starter’s DRA (3.48) and 11th-best starter’s ERA (3.84). John Lackey’s season was very much like Porcello’s this season. Both starters had bad starts to their Boston tenures (although Lackey’s was more prolonged), and bounced back in a big way to help lead the Red Sox to the playoffs. When he did pitch, Buchholz put up All-Star caliber numbers, and Peavy was solid in 10 starts. The playoffs wound up being all Lester and Lackey as Buchholz and Peavy struggled for most of the title run. However, it proved to be enough. Lester posted a 1.56 playoff ERA while Lackey sported a 2.77 mark, accounting for seven playoff wins while the offense and bullpen carried the team from there.
The 2016 Red Sox’s starting rotation doesn’t have the predictability of past teams outside of Porcello and Price, but it has the potential to be just as good as the recent championship teams in the playoffs. This rotation has certainly had its lows, but the last two months have shown us that it is championship-caliber, especially when you look at the rotations of those past teams. Price was acquired to be the type of pitcher Beckett and Schilling were brought in to be. Porcello’s comeback story seems written for him to finish the year on top. Meanwhile, the Red Sox’s offense is good enough to win if Rodriguez and Buchholz are simply good, although both have shown flashes of greatness of late. There’s no telling what the Red Sox will get from this foursome in the playoffs, but there’s the potential for it to make its own history.
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