Boston Red Sox: Can Rick Porcello match Pedro Martinez’s career-high in wins?

Sep 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Rick Porcello earned his 21st win of the season last night, putting him in position to tally the most wins by a Boston Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez.

The Boston Red Sox won their fifth straight game on Monday night to extend their lead in the AL East to four games. Rick Porcello went the distance, holding the Baltimore Orioles to a pair of runs on four hits in a complete game effort to earn his major league-leading 21st win of the season.

Porcello’s 21 wins are the most in a single season by a Red Sox pitcher since Curt Schilling in 2004. That in itself is an impressive accomplishment, but Porcello may have his eyes set on another Red Sox pitching legend.

Back in 1999 we saw arguably one of the most dominant seasons by a pitcher of this era from Pedro Martinez. I say arguably, because a case can be made that Pedro was even more brilliant the following year. During the ’99 season he went 23-4 with a league-leading 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts to finish second in MVP voting and capture the first of consecutive Cy Young awards. What Pedro did during those peak seasons was special and I can’t imagine any pitcher producing better back-to-back seasons in my lifetime.

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Porcello won’t come close to repeating what Pedro did in either of those seasons, but he has done enough to warrant strong Cy Young consideration. He leads the league with a 6.00 K/BB ratio, ranks third with a 3.08 ERA and fifth among pitchers with a 5.2 WAR. He’s not the strikeout artist Pedro was, but Porcello has already set a career high with 174 K’s and has an outside shot of flirting with 200 – a mark that only a handful of American League pitchers have reached so far this season.

Where Porcello can match Pedro is in the win column. The way that the schedule lines up through the end of the regular season should allow Porcello to get two more starts. If he wins both to bring his total to 23 it will give him the most wins by a Red Sox pitcher since Martinez’s epic 1999 season.

If Porcello does reach 23 wins, we would have to go back 30 years to find a Red Sox pitcher that recorded more in a season. We can safely assume Porcello isn’t getting more than two starts before the end of the regular season, so he won’t have the chance to match the 24 wins that Roger Clemens earned in 1986.

Porcello is currently slated to start September 24 against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team he has beaten four out of the five times he has faced them this year. His final start of the season is expected to come against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 30 at Fenway Park, where he is 13-1 this season.

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Here’s where it gets tricky. The Red Sox currently have a comfortable lead in the division, but that can change quickly. If Boston has the division title locked up by the time they meet the Jays in the final three-game set of the season, we can still assume Porcello will make that start. If he pitches on September 30, he’ll still get plenty of rest prior to the beginning of the ALDS on October 6. He may even get an extra day if the Red Sox start David Price in Game 1.

If the Red Sox were to stumble on their current road trip to lock themselves into a Wild Card spot entering that final series, would they consider skipping Porcello to save him for the one-game playoff? If he started the opener of that series against the Jays then he would be working on only three games rest for the AL Wild Card game on October 4.

It seems an unlikely scenario that the Red Sox would in a position where the final three games of the season are meaningless unless they run away with the division title. If the Orioles or Jays manage to catch them before that, those three games would presumably give the Red Sox a chance to reclaim the division crown or at least determine home-field advantage for the Wild Card game. However, we can’t rule out the slim possibility that the standings entering that final series could push the Red Sox to save Porcello for the playoffs, depriving him of the opportunity to catch Pedro.

Red Sox fans will never mistake Rick Porcello for Pedro Martinez, but he does have the opportunity to match the greatest pitcher in franchise history’s career-high in one category. He’ll also have a solid chance of winning the Cy Young, another accomplishment that hasn’t been done by a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro.

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There will never be another Pedro, but it sure is nice to see the Red Sox rotation boasting another pitcher with a chance to be named as the league’s best starter.