Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello is 4-0 to start the 2016 season. Many fans would never have guessed it from last season or even this one.
I’ll admit it: I was one of the people who was happy to see Porcello dawn the Red Sox uniform before 2015 started. Well, except for the fact that they got rid of Yoenis Cespedes to obtain Porcello’s services from the Detroit Tigers. Then, I saw former general manager Ben Cherington sign him, before seeing how he would fair in the American League East division, through 2019 for $82.5 million; I cringed inside like as if I were watching a car accident. I felt that it would be a bad omen.
Porcello went 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA last year.
Every start looked like it was going to be a long night for the team and a short night for Porcello. Pitches were left over the plate, not breaking, for power sluggers to bash over the fences. He gave up 25 home runs, the most of his career. Each one hurt a bit inside, because I felt like he was better than that. Porcello’s stuff seemed better from afar in Detroit than it was in Fenway Park. The grass always being greener on the other side, maybe.
That’s why I’m not necessarily leaping to get on the Porcello bandwagon. I just got off of it only a year ago.
Now, Porcello is the fourth starting pitcher to go 4-0 this season. He has 24 strikeouts to only three walks. The opposing batting average is only .200, which was on display last night as the Red Sox defeated the lowly Atlanta Braves 1-0. Porcello threw 98 pitches, 69 being strikes, for which he induced nine groundouts to only one flyout. He allowed just four hits and two walks, while striking out six batters, in 6.1 innings of work.
So, why am I not on the gravy train, dancing and throwing rose petals at Porcello’s feet?
It’s simple: I’ve seen too much. Putting aside 2015 for a minute, Porcello has benefitted from a number of fortunate situations. In two games against the Toronto Blue Jays, expected to be the most potent offense in the majors this year, Porcello happened to get the starts when they were in a slump. Not only that, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons played the traditional lineup play of putting more lefty bats, such as Justin Smoak, against the righty Porcello. Instead of it working into Toronto’s favor, Porcello just so happened to be missing to the right of the plate, frustrating lefty bats from touching his pitches; however, it didn’t seem to bother the righty hitters. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion all had Porcello’s misses to feast on, which they did. In fact, Bautista and Encarnacion went yard on Porcello twice each. Luckily for Porcello, the Red Sox run support was there to let him off the hook and even put him in line for the victories.
It was much the same against the Tampa Bay Rays. The problem has been that Porcello’s breaking ball looks more like a cork-screwing fastball that stays out flat over the plate when he throws it incorrectly. In his first three starts, Porcello gave up five home runs.
I will give the devil its due, though; Porcello has done well, whether intentionally or not, to limit the damage to his starts by keeping runners off of the base paths when he’s been hit hard.
His 3.51 ERA isn’t terrible either, but it is worth noting that it is the highest of all five pitchers to have four wins. Jake Arrieta (0.87 ERA), Mat Latos (0.74 ERA), Chris Sale (1.80 ERA), and Jordan Zimmerman (0.35 ERA) are looking much more like elite starting pitchers than the Red Sox pitcher in question.
Oh, but his blanking of the Braves is a good sign? Well, Atlanta is dead last in the majors for runs scored (61) and they are only hitting .227 as a team. They only have hit three home runs, while the closest team to the Braves is the Miami Marlins with 12 homers. For a man like Porcello giving away home runs like it’s candy at a birthday party, pitching against the Braves was exactly what he would be dreaming for in his next start.
Sometimes you have to be good to be lucky, but sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, such as with Porcello. I was one of the first to congratulate the Red Sox for bringing him on the team, so I can’t say that I want to condemn him either. I still won’t. I just have seen too much to think that this win streak is sustainable. If Porcello continues to pitch well enough to keep winning games, then I will take my seat back on the wagon towards, hopefully, the postseason. Just don’t expect me, or other disgruntled Red Sox fans, to dive back so soon.