Reimer: Red Sox' historic pace easy to discount

Alex Reimer
July 09, 2018 - 10:45 am

USA Today Sports

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My esteemed colleague John Tomase is disappointed we seem to be taking the Red Sox for granted. They have the best record in the Major Leagues and are on pace for a franchise-record 110 wins. But yet, the phone lines aren’t lit up with Red Sox fans waiting to extol Mookie Betts or salivate over J.D. Martinez’s league-leading home run total. 

That’s because it’s hard to get overly animated about 62 victories when the average winning percentage of the American League without the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros is .405. And that’s including the Mariners, A’s and Angels, all of whom are over .500, and the Red Sox don’t play anymore. (The Red Sox outscored the Angels 49-12 in six wins this season, anyway, so I’m just naming them to be nice.)

Under usual circumstances, it would be absurd to discount the Red Sox’ success over 80 percent of the league. But this isn't a normal season. The AL is bereft of a middle class, with four or five teams at the top owning everybody else. It’s Paul Ryan’s dream. 

This Red Sox season is all about the playoffs, and few players on the team have track records of postseason success. In fact, when it comes to David Price and the top members of the starting rotation, their October resumes are filled with nothing but failure.

Price is the biggest culprit, of course, sporting an 8.43 ERA in nine outings against the Yankees in a Red Sox uniform. In nine career playoff starts, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history is 0-8 with a 6.13 ERA. 

The few Price defenders remaining would probably cite his dominant bullpen performance against Houston last October as a rebuttal to the notion that he collapses in the playoffs. Logically speaking, they would be correct. It doesn’t make any sense that Price could feel more comfortable pitching in the seventh inning on Oct. 12 than starting the game. 

Except, nine starts isn’t an anomaly. Eight largely atrocious appearances against the Yankees isn’t an anomaly. Entering last Sunday night’s outing, Price put up a 2.72 ERA over his previous nine starts. He was feeling it. Then, everything blew up on the mound at Yankee Stadium. The cutters were flat and Price seldom threw his breaking ball. The Bombers shellacked him for five home runs. 

With so few litmus tests on the Sox’ schedule, Price’s start in the Bronx last weekend carries more weight than anything he’s accomplished this season to date. He followed up the stinker with an erratic effort against the aforementioned Royals in Kansas City, hitting three batters in one inning and not lasting through the fifth. 

At this stage, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Price miss the team’s next series against the Yankees to kick off August. Those late-summer nights playing Xbox can wreck havoc on the fingers. 

The Red Sox aren’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Price doesn’t give them a chance to win. Right now, it’s hard to have confidence he’ll be representative in October, never mind good. 

Boston has suffered the cost of bad starting pitching in its last two playoff series. The Red Sox dropped the first two games against the Indians and Astros, getting outscored 27-8. Chris Sale, for all of his excellence, surrendered seven runs in his only career postseason starts last October. In Spring Training, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he was determined to control Sale’s workload this year, so he would remain strong down the stretch. But right now, Sale is roughly where he was last season in terms of games started (19) and innings pitched (112). If he averages six frames in 13 starts the rest of the way, he’ll be up to 200 innings, just 14 shy of last season’s mark. And considering Sale will likely go seven or eight a few times the rest of the way, his total will probably once again surpass the 200-inning benchmark. 

It’s unfair to criticize Sale for something he hasn’t done yet, especially because it’s nearly impossible to be better than his performance over the last five starts (4-0, 1.09 ERA, 56 K’s in 33 innings). But he was spectacular over the first half of his last season, too.

Porcello is on a roll as well, striking out nine Royals Sunday. But he owns a 5.47 ERA in the playoffs, and only made it through three innings in his lone playoff start against Houston in 2017. 

As the Red Sox have experienced the last two Octobers, it’s possible for lineups to sputter in short playoff series. Starting pitching is the constant. Their top starters, leading with Price, have never succeeded in the fall. 

The dormancy of the AL makes it tempting to fast-forward to October, where the majority of the Red Sox’ games recently have looked a lot like Price’s blowout loss against the Yankees last weekend. 

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