When a team has won eight straight games, their weaknesses are masked. The final score of a game is of course the ultimate barometer of a team’s success.
Wins equal success, but just because a team wins, doesn’t mean they don’t have some question marks or weaknesses that could eventually lead to some losses.
Everything is clicking for the Boston Red Sox right now. Not only have they won eight in a row, but they’re 15-5 in September and have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 126-59. The Red Sox have scored 10 or more runs 20 times this season, and five times in September.
Things are most definitely going well but there are still some weaknesses.
The most prominent question marks revolve around the backend of the Red Sox starting rotation.
At this point, the Red Sox can feel very confident in Cy Young contender Rick Porcello. David Price still gives up too many home runs, but he’s been far better since the All-Star break than he was before it. After that things get a bit dicey.
Most teams employ a four-man rotation in the postseason. Porcello and Price are locked in at the top two positions, but what about the next two?
There are four candidates and all of them come with some legitimate concerns.
If you simply looked at the stats for the season, Steven Wright would seem like a no-brainer as part of the postseason rotation. He was an All-Star, he has allowed less home runs per nine-innings than anyone else in the league, and he’s among the league-leaders in complete games (4) and earned run average (3.33.)
He’s also injured. Wright hasn’t pitched since an abysmal start back on August 31st. He’s on the disabled list nursing a shoulder injury which he sustained being used as a pinch runner back in early August and up until a few days ago, he was expected to miss the remainder of the regular season.
Wednesday MassLive.com’s Jen McCaffrey reported that Wright could join the Red Sox this weekend in Tampa Bay, and potentially be back on the mound before the end of the regular season.
That’s great, but Wright being back on the mound, and Wright being back to the All-Star caliber starter he was through the All-Star break are two entirely different things. Prior to July 1, Wright had made 15 starts and had allowed more than three earned runs just once.
Wright made nine starts between July 1 and August 31 and he allowed three or more earned runs in five of those outings. To be fair, two of those starts came after he had attempted to pitch through the shoulder injury, but three of them were in July well before his ill-fated effort on the base paths.
Wright at his best, would be a very tough guy to omit from the rotation, but he hasn’t been consistently good for over two months and if he’s unable to make a start prior to the end of the regular season it seems unlikely that the Red Sox would want to see which Wright takes the mound to start a must-win postseason contest.
There are actually two 2016 All-Star starting pitchers on the Red Sox roster, and there’s a legitimate chance that neither of them is part of the postseason starting rotation.
Drew Pomeranz was a National League All-Star with the San Diego Padres. On July 14th Pomeranz was shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza.
He arrived in Boston with an 8-7 record and an ERA of 2.47. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, his time in Boston has not had much in common with the time he spent in San Diego. Pomeranz is 2-5 with an ERA of 4.91. The Red Sox pitching staff has been one of the league’s best since the All-Star break, but Pomeranz has had a lot more bad starts than good ones.
Fatigue may be a big part of the problem. Prior to 2016 Pomeranz had never pitched more than 96.2 innings in single season, and his career high in starts was 22. This season Pomeranz has made 29 starts and pitched a career-high 164.1 innings.
He will make at least one, and possibly two more starts during the regular season, and if he’s able to pitch with the kind of effectiveness he displayed prior to the All-Star break then he”ll have an excellent shot at a spot in the postseason rotation, but that means keeping men off base and pitching at least six innings.
He’s made 12 starts for the Red Sox, and he’s only completed six innings in five of those outings. The Red Sox bullpen has made great strides, but part of that is due to Red Sox starters such as Rick Porcello and David Price consistently going deep into their starts and giving most of, or at times all of the bullpen a day off.
Pomeranz gets the ball Friday night in Tampa Bay. He really needs to come out and have a start where he lasts into the sixth or seventh inning, and prevents the Rays from scoring more than three runs. If not then his place in the Red Sox postseason rotation is probably a long shot.
Eduardo Rodriguez has had a strange season. The first half of 2016 was a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong for the sophomore starter did go wrong. A knee injury he sustained in spring training kept Rodriguez off the mound until the end of May.
Even when he came back, he still wasn’t at 100 percent. Rodriguez really struggled and earned himself a demotion back to Pawtucket to get back in sync. His first half numbers were awful, six starts, a 1-3 record and an ERA of 8.59. Since the break Rodriguez has returned to the form that had the entire Red Sox organization excited about his second season in the majors.
Rodriguez has made 12 starts since the All-Star break. He’s 2-4, but he’s had some tough-luck losses, including a start in Oakland in which he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and ended up with a no-decision. His ERA is 3.21 and in three of his last four starts he’s pitched six innings or more and allowed two or less earned runs.
Rodriguez is either going to be seen as too young and thus not reliable in the postseason, or he’s going to be seen as a guy who is pitching at his best during the most important time of the season.
He’s scheduled to make two more starts during the regular season. Barring two awful outings, it should not shock anyone if Rodriguez ends up getting the ball in Game 3 or Game 4 of a playoff series.
The last name is one that probably wouldn’t have been considered a postseason option prior to the All-Star break, unless of course you were engaged in some sort of sarcasm-laced back-and-forth with a few good natured Red Sox fans.
That name is Clay Buchholz.
The same Clay Buchholz that prior to this season hadn’t been reliable since before the 2013 All-Star break. The same Clay Buchholz who was so bad prior to the All-Star break that he was booted from a struggling starting rotation and demoted to bullpen mop-up guy, that Clay Buchholz.
That Clay Buchholz has taken on a vastly different persona over the last two months.
Buchholz has made seven starts since the All-Star break. He’s 4-0 with a 3.43 ERA in those starts, and he’s coming off an exceptional outing Wednesday against the Orioles in which he went seven innings, allowed one earned run, three hits, walked two and struck out four.
In spite of his inconsistent career track record, Buchholz has experience, and when he’s at his best, he’s a very tough pitcher to make solid contact off of.
With nine games left, the Red Sox haven’t locked up a postseason berth, but with a five game cushion in the AL East, they’ve got to be thinking about their postseason rotation, and when it comes to their third and fourth starters, there’s still plenty left to be settled. As of Friday the two most likely candidates are Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz, with the two All-Stars, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright most likely sent to the bullpen.