With 9 games remaining in the 2016 season, the Boston Red Sox are 5.5 games up on the Blue Jays and 6.5 games up on the Tigers. That's right, the Orioles are now on the outside looking in. The magic number to make the playoffs is 3, and the magic number to win the division is 5. Sitting 5.5 games ahead with only 9 games remaining, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Sox to not win this division.
The East has been a dog race all year, and with everything going right for Boston, the Red Sox have started to pull away from the rest of the pack. The rotation is starting to give consistent performances, and even the bullpen has a 0.89 ERA in the month of September. Even with everything coming together, the Red Sox still have one problem left to figure out. Who will be the third starter in the playoffs?
In the MLB, its usually the teams that enter the playoffs the hottest that make the most noise, and the rotation should be treated the same. It's no doubt that the top 2 pitchers for this team will be Porcello and Price, but, between Rodriguez, Buchholz and Pomeranz, who comes after them?
One pitcher I think we can rule out is Drew Pomeranz. In his last 3 outings, he has only lasted 5.2, 2.0 and 3.2 innings, giving up a total of 11 runs in that stretch. Pomeranz' previous high in innings pitched was 96.2 in 2012, and he has already thrown 164.1 innings this year. It has been speculated that the heavy workload is causing his problems. Moving forward, Pomeranz would be a better asset coming out of the bullpen. For more detailed thoughts on this, check out Pete's article from this morning.
Over his last 5 starts, The Red Sox are 2-3 when Eduardo Rodriguez takes the mound. However, this assessment does not accurately represent the performance of the young lefty. One of those losses was an 8 inning, 1 hit, 1 run (0 earned) outing against the Athletics.
In that same 5 game stretch, Rodriguez had 2 outings of 6+ innings, giving up only 2 runs in each. However, the drop off from the good outings seems to be severe with Rodriguez. He also lasted just 5.1 innings, giving up 5 runs against the Royals, and an even worse performance of 2.1 innings with 4 runs against the Yankees. So, although Rodriguez has a very high ceiling and has proven he can be electric on the mound, he is very much a hit or miss this season.
Over his last 5 starts, the Red Sox are 4-1 when Buchholz is on the mound. Of those 5 starts, Buchholz has 3 separate outings of 6+ innings, giving up only 1 earned run. However, like Rodriguez, Buchholz has also been hit or miss this season. In his latest start against the Blue Jays, Clay lasted just 3 innings giving up 6 earned runs.
The problem with Buchholz seems to be that he can pitch like an ace when there's no pressure, but collapses when there is something on the line. We've seen all too many times that Buchholz will win back your confidence in him, only to blow it all in one bad performance. The question with Buchholz is if you are willing to take that risk with him in the playoffs.
When the time comes, the decision may come down to whether Farrell wants a lefty or a righty, or who has the better matchup versus that team. It also may come down to whether he wants the young kid with the high ceiling, or the guy that's been there before. Whichever the case, the competition for this spot will definitely be a good problem to have heading into the playoffs.
By Matt Watts