Red Sox: David Price’s start could be the most pivotal moment of the year

May 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox’ shelved ace makes his season debut, representing the potential

Not often will a game at the end of May be looked upon as potentially the most important moment of a team’s season, but for the Boston Red Sox, Monday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox could very well be. The reason why? $217 million lefty David Price made his season debut after an extended Spring Training and rehab process to mend a strained left elbow.

The game started as well as Price could have asked, with a strikeout of Tim Anderson on an 89 mph cutter that the right-handed shortstop waved at and missed. He then worked through a single in the second but ran into trouble with a pair of walks in the third. The free passes were followed by a three-run homer from Melky Cabrera on a 94.9 mph fastball – his third hardest of the day to that point.

He cruised through the fourth before running into trouble again in the fifth. Price would hit a pair of batters, but escaped unscathed thanks to a fielder’s choice and a great double play started by Xander Bogaerts.

Price ended the day with a line of five innings pitched, two hits allowed, two walks, three earned runs, and four strike outs. He threw 58 of his 88 pitches for strikes – 11 of which were swings-and-misses. Aside from the home run, he really didn’t pitch that poorly. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. And most importantly, he looked healthy.

Price averaged 94.3 mph on his fastball – nearly a full mph more than he did in 2016 – and induced a ton of weak contact, as evidenced by an average exit velocity of 75 mph. His return was encouraging, which is a huge positive as we move forward with the season.

The media will undoubtedly look at every aspect of his start through a microscopic lens to generate their analysis. Whether that’s fair to Price or not, that’s the nature of the beast and part of the job when playing for the Red Sox. While today’s start was important for him to build up some confidence and confirm his health, it will be his performance for the duration of the season that makes the game so important.

For a World Series-or-bust team, an effective David Price could be all the difference between the Red Sox’ fourth title in 13 years or another early end to the season.

To put it in context, the Red Sox rotation is currently performing better than any other in the American League despite Price’s absence. Their collective 5.7 fWAR is second only to the Dodgers among MLB teams, thanks in large part to Chris Sale’s dominance and a potential breakout season from Eduardo Rodriguez. They’ve also managed to be this valuable despite seasonal regression from Rick Porcello, a lack of consistency from Drew Pomeranz, and a gaping hole at the back of the rotation.

With Price’s return, though, is the potential to solidify a top-four that is better than arguably any other in the major leagues.

The timing of his return is perfect as well. The Red Sox are fresh off a loss that snapped a season-long six game winning streak. If Price were pitching to extend that streak to eight instead of start a fresh one, the stakes would have been too low. A win is business as usual, a loss is looked at as an unwelcome distraction for a team that was rolling without him.

Instead, the Red Sox’ ace in waiting gets an opportunity to assert his presence on a roster that isn’t in need of saving but still welcomes the help.

The club suddenly looks good over an extended stretch for the first time this season, winning seven of their last eight and jumping to within three games of the division lead prior to Monday’s afternoon start. Just a week ago, the media (mostly talk radio) was calling for John Farrell’s job as the team stumbled through an ugly series in Oakland. This week, they’re riding legitimate momentum into Chicago to play a White Sox team that has played well of late, but on paper has no business taking more than a game from the series,

Talent has never been the question with Price, or the team as a whole, really. Things changed in a matter of a week for the team, and while the pitcher has had to wait three full months to make up for his “disappointing” first season in Boston, all he has to do is give them a solid arm behind Sale over the rest of the year to do so. There’s no doubting his ability to do so.

Based on FanGraphs projections, Price is expected to be worth roughly 2.5 WAR for the duration of the season if he remains healthy. While that may seem small, in the grand scheme of things that might be enough of a margin to lock up the American League East. Without him, the Red Sox projected to win the division by a margin of fewer than two games. With him, they could comfortably secure a postseason birth with weeks to play.

The bottom line is, between Sale, Rodriguez, Porcello and a now healthy Price, there might not be a better rotation in baseball. Add in a lineup that has finally found some consistency and a bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel, who is once again the best closer in baseball, and the Red Sox World Series aspirations could be within realization.

If, in fact, Price is here to stay for the duration of the year, today’s game will be looked back at as the potential moment when the team began to reach their potential. The Red Sox have been a good team without him, they’re poised to become a great team with him.