From the beginning of spring training, the 2017 Red Sox have had realistic playoff expectations. The offseason acquisition of ace pitcher Chris Sale solidified the Red Sox as a premier World Series contender before the season even started. Though they boast a 79-61 record — good enough for first in the American League East — the Red Sox have had a season riddled with injury, inconsistency and immaturity, raising serious questions about how far they can make it in the postseason.
The Red Sox pitching staff has risen to the occasion all season and will be the engine behind the team come October. The biggest key to winning in the postseason is pitching, and that is something the Red Sox have in spades, though not in the form many would have expected. The rotation doesn’t look how it was drawn up in April, but has still managed 79 quality starts, the second most in baseball, and a solid team Earned Run Average of 3.73, which ranks fourth in the Major League Baseball. Buoyed by Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and shutdown closer Craig Kimbrel, the rest of the pitching staff has followed suit. Despite injuries to David Price and Stephen Wright, the starting rotation has managed remarkably well, with Doug Fister and Drew Pomeranz assuming major roles. Fister has not yielded more than two runs in his last four starts while Pomeranz has been remarkable since mid-May.
The bullpen is also a huge asset, evidenced by the 13 scoreless innings posted in Tuesday’s extra-inning marathon against the Blue Jays. It is rife with hard throwers like Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes and equipped with effective lefties Addison Reed and Robbie Scott. The Sox’ stingy bullpen and the advantageous match ups it offers will be instrumental come October, when runs are at a premium and high-leverage, late-game situations come around more often.
While Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez have been struggling offensively this season, the pitching staff has been able to keep games within striking distance down the stretch. This has given the team the ability to come back from early deficits as well as walk off ten times this season. The Red Sox have a remarkable 13-3 record in extra-inning games, and much of the credit goes to the pitching staff — especially the bullpen — for keeping the team in the game long enough for the offense to come up with game-winning runs.
John Farrell has been heavily criticized for mismanaging the pitching staff over the last two seasons, but he has improved these efforts by defining clear roles in the bullpen and not overusing starters. His refined management style will suit the Red Sox well in October. Last postseason’s series between the Red Sox and Indians showed how Terry Francona’s effective use of Andrew Miller — the Indians’ best reliever — was able to squash late inning threats from the Red Sox. Likewise, if Farrell uses pieces like Kelly, Reed and Kimbrel strategically, the Red Sox will be well suited to hold leads in meaningful games.
There is much uncertainty surrounding these Red Sox, but the pitching has been consistent and effective. Despite scandal, controversy and under-performing offensive pieces, the team has still managed to secure breathing room from the second-place Yankees. The Red Sox have many tools in their pitching arsenal for September and October; it will be up to John Farrell to decide whom to use at which points, as those moves will have important repercussions for the 2017 Red Sox’ playoff chances.
Charlie Blasberg ’18 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org