History will reflect on the 2019 Boston Red Sox starting rotation as a complete mess.
Highly compensated veterans Chris Sale and David Price have been out of the picture for what seems like months. Before that, they weren’t very good. Nathan Eovaldi failed to live up to the handsome pact he signed on the heels of postseason heroics. Rick Porcello finished second on the team in wins by virtue of showing up - his 5.52 ERA is the second-worst in all of baseball.
In the end, the rotational woes will go down as the single most damaging factor in Boston’s failure to mount a World Series title defense.
But standing tall above the rubble, Eduardo Rodriguez has a chance to pick up his 20th win of the season when he faces the Orioles in Sunday’s finale at Fenway Park.
For the first time in his career, the lefty will round out the slate without missing a single start. Entering with a record of 19-6, Rodriguez looks to match a feat just nine other living Red Sox pitchers have achieved, going back to Jim Lonborg’s 1967 magic carpet ride.
The other names prompt a Hall of Fame discussion. Pedro. Schilling. Clemens. Eckersley. El Tiante.
Then, you have seasons that constitute the apex of a career. Both Lonborg and Porcello received the Cy Young Award for their efforts. Josh Beckett fell short of doing the same but took home the ALCS MVP and World Series trophies. Derek Lowe garnished a 21-win campaign with a no-hitter.
Win/loss record is an old school metric in modern baseball discussion. The best pitchers in the game are judged by stats which might contribute to winning 20 or more games, but there is far less focus on the milestone itself. It does reveal a number of things, however, such as durability, getting deep into games, and putting the team in position to win.
The Sox have a 25-8 record in games Rodriguez starts. He’s pitched into the sixth inning in nearly three-quarters of the time, reaching the seventh inning in almost half his turns. And though it seems like everybody’s a free swinger these days, he’s also cracked another old school barrier: the 200-strikeout mark. His 205 K’s are good for ninth in the American League – a solid ranking in any era.
Whether he gets to 20 or remains stuck on 19, Rodriguez has provided almost exactly what we’ve wanted from him since he burst onto the scene in 2015, teaming with fellow rookie Mookie Betts to sprinkle some sunshine on a last place showing. He hasn’t dominated in 2019 - most of his numbers are in line with his career averages. His 73 walks still lead the American League. But we’d been waiting for him to put it together over the course of 162 games.
Other than Clemens and Tiant, every one of those 20-win seasons came for a team that won 92 or more contests. With the 2019 edition barely more than a .500 team, Rodriguez’s pursuit has been a unique diversion from an overall frustrating six months of Red Sox baseball. And at least somebody in the rotation took a step forward this year.
So perhaps the minor leaguer Ben Cherington acquired from the Orioles for Andrew Miller half a decade ago can be more than a mid-rotation guy - more than say, Felix Doubront, a similarly situated Sox starter with experience in the farm system who pitched for Boston in the 2013 World Series. Perhaps not. Twelve years after his debut, Clay Buchholz remains the last Red Sox prospect to develop into to quasi-ace status.
Rodriguez might never win a Cy Young, but a run like the one Derek Lowe had would be pretty solid. Given the state of Boston's rotation, a "solid" 26-year old will be a valuable commodity heading into 2020.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.