By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
Here’s what we can say with certainty about the Red Sox pitching staff in October: Chris Sale will start game one and Craig Kimbrel will pitch the ninth if the game is close.
After that, nothing else is certain about the Red Sox postseason pitching plans.
This team is on pace to win over 110 games, they will likely go down as the greatest regular season team in Red Sox history, and yet we still do not know how the rest of the starting rotation will line up or who will bridge the gap to Kimbrel in the bullpen.
Those seem like the types of questions that most teams 51 games over .500 don’t have to answer. The 2018 Red Sox are the exception to the rule.
In all likelihood, David Price will slot in as the No. 2 starter after Sale. Some have called for Price to operate out of the bullpen in October, citing his disastrous track record as a starting pitcher and his success working in a quasi-long relief role last year.
Price threw 2 2/3 innings in relief of Drew Pomeranz in game two against the Astros last year, a game the Red Sox lost 8-2. He then threw four scoreless innings in a 10-3 win in game three. He pitched well in both appearances.
But do either of those outings, in games decided by six and seven runs respectively, indicate Price is capable of handling high-leverage bullpen situations in one or two run games?
I think not.
It’s unlikely that the Red Sox would send Price to the bullpen with no surefire options to replace him in the starting rotation, because while much has been made of the lefty’s postseason failures, Rick Porcello has fared no better in October.
The sinkerballer has a 5.47 ERA in 11 playoff games. Seven of those appearances have come out of the bullpen, but his track record as a postseason starter is even worse, with his ERA ballooning for 5.85 in four starts.
Some Red Sox fans might advocate for Eduardo Rodriguez to get the nod, but it remains to be seen if the lefty will bounce back from his ankle injury. Nathan Eovaldi has delivered two excellent outings and one awful start since being traded to Boston, but he, like Rodriguez, has never started a playoff game.
With that in mind, it’s hard to envision either Rodriguez or Eovaldi getting a look ahead of Price and Porcello. The known commodities, no matter how poor they are known to be when it counts, are probably viewed as better options than the unknown commodities.
Meanwhile, when the starters are done and the bullpen door opens in October, lord only knows who is going to come out.
With no defined eighth inning man on staff, first-year manager Alex Cora will have the unenviable task of determining which unproven reliever to go to in crucial late-inning situations.
Matt Barnes? Heath Hembree? Joe Kelly? Ryan Braiser? Drew Pomeranz?
All of the above?
I’d prefer none of the above.
Whether the Red Sox have anybody on staff who can deliver in the playoffs will remain the great unknown until October. The postseason success of the most successful regular season team in Red Sox history hinges on whether somebody not named Sale and Kimbrel can perform when it matters the most.
The unknown is a scary thing, isn’t it?