Don’t make this complicated. The Boston Red Sox’ season is over because they can’t pitch.
Let me be even more specific. The Red Sox were swept by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS because Rick Porcello and David Price didn’t show up. They each allowed five earned runs in their respective starts, which is just not good enough for a team’s one-two punch in the postseason. And in the Divisional Series, it’s a best-of-five, so if your top-two starters don’t bring their best stuff, the season can be over in the blink of an eye.
Regardless of what happens in the regular season, if you can’t pitch in the playoffs, you won’t win. Simple as that.
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The 2016 Red Sox are a perfect example. Rick Porcello had the best season of his career, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 33 starts, which included three complete games and 189 strikeouts. Every single one of those statistics marked a career-best for Porcello, with the three complete games matching his three complete games in 2014 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
Porcello is a legitimate Cy Young award candidate this year. He was Mr. Reliable for the Red Sox throughout most of the season, and was starting to justify the contract that pays him $20 million a season through 2019. So much so, that he was named the starter for Game 1 of the ALDS, over the guy who was brought in last winter to be the team’s ace, David Price.
Price got the call to start Game 2. His year wasn’t as strong as Porcello’s. And because of the high expectations that come with a seven-year, $217 million deal, Price’s up-and-down regular season with little-to-no dominance can be considered pedestrian.
He had a 17-9 record with a 3.99 ERA in 35 starts, and had his best stretch from the second half of August through most of September. That made some feel pretty good about Price, even with the knowledge of his previous postseason struggles.
Combined with the fact that the Cleveland Indians were without two of their best starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar due to injury, all Porcello and Price had to do was pitch the way they were capable of. Instead, Porcello gave the Red Sox just 4.1 innings in Game 1 while allowing three solo home runs in the same inning, and Price lasted just 3.1 innings while giving up a three-run home run.
Nobody is denying that the Red Sox offense struggled against Cleveland. The best offense in baseball scored seven runs in the three ALDS games, including Game 2 in which they were held scoreless. But you also can’t deny that the Red Sox were asking either Porcello or Price to do what Corey Kluber did for the Indians in that Game 2, which was seven strong shutout innings.
Kluber pitched like the ace that he is. And he gave Cleveland a commanding 2-0 series lead. Had Porcello pitched like he did for most of the season, he would have minimized the damage in Game 1, and led the Red Sox to a 4-2 win. Instead, he took the mound in the bottom of the third — after Andrew Benintendi’s solo home run in the top of the third gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead — and allowed three solo home runs.
Not exactly the way your top starting pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate should respond to getting his second lead of the game. But that’s the postseason for you. Porcello didn’t have good stuff. Everything was up, chest high. Even his off-speed.
To me, that was the difference. The ability to have at least one of your top-two starters go out there and win a one-run game, that was non-existent. Porcello didn’t give them a shot. Price didn’t give them a shot. And heck, when No. 3 starter-turned-reliever-again Drew Pomeranz allowed a two-run home run to Coco Crisp in the sixth inning of Game 3 that put Cleveland up 4-1, it was just another example of Red Sox pitchers unable to minimize the damage.
In the postseason, you need to do more than just minimize the damage. At some point, you need to dominate on that mound, even if you have the best offense in the game.
If you can’t pitch in the playoffs, you won’t win. And the Red Sox’ best pitchers didn’t even give them a chance.
It’s no more complicated than that.