Red Sox: Rick Porcello’s home run issues make him a postseason liability

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Rick Porcello
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Rick Porcello /

The Boston Red Sox can’t feel comfortable sending Rick Porcello to the mound in a playoff game after he led the majors in home runs allowed.

One swing of the bat can be all it takes to send a team packing in the postseason. The margin for error is slim under the bright lights of the October stage and mistakes are seldom forgiven. That spells trouble for a Boston Red Sox team that may have to rely on Rick Porcello to start a playoff game.

Porcello has developed a nasty habit of making mistakes this season. The right-hander has allowed a major league-leading 38 home runs. That is by far a career high and eclipses the number he allowed last season by a staggering 15.

Issues with the long ball have put Porcello on an unenviable list. He’ll finish the season having allowed the second-most home runs ever by a reigning Cy Young winner, trailing only Jim Perry‘s 39 home runs allowed in 1971.

Pitchers often aren’t afraid to challenge hitters with the bases empty knowing that a solo shot won’t crush them, at least early in games. The problem with Porcello is that the bases are rarely empty. His 1.40 WHIP ranks 49th out of 57 qualified pitchers. He’s leading the majors with 236 hits allowed and his walk rate has reverted back to his 2.1 career average instead of the elite 1.3 mark he posted during last year’s Cy Young campaign.

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The Red Sox are facing the reality of sending a pitcher to the mound in a potential must-win game who routinely forces his team to rally from behind. The playoff format allows teams to be more dependent on their bullpen but Porcello may dig the Red Sox into an early hole before their strong core of relievers can save them. Porcello owns a 4.82 ERA in the first three innings of games this season and has allowed 19 of his 38 home runs over that opening third of the game.

It’s not as if Porcello’s postseason track record lends any comfort. He’s made nine postseason appearances, including three starts, posting a 0-3 record and 5.66 ERA. David Price gets a ton of flack for his postseason woes, yet Porcello somehow goes overlooked despite an even more dismal history.

There’s little reason for the Red Sox to feel confident in a game started by the pitcher who is leading the majors with 17 losses. But what choice do they have?

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Eduardo Rodriguez would be the preferred option to start Game 3 after his brilliant month of September in which he posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 30 batters over 25 1/3 innings. He’s never pitched in the postseason and has struggled with bouts of inconsistency but at the moment he’s more trustworthy than Porcello.

Barring the series ending in a three-game sweep, Boston will still need a Game 4 starter. They could conceivably ask Chris Sale to pitch on three days rest, although I wouldn’t expect that unless the team is facing elimination.

It’s more realistic to expect that the Red Sox will be forced to turn to either Doug Fister or Porcello for that start. While Fister was making a strong case for earning that spot with a strong six-week stretch in the second half, he’s been far less effective in his last three starts. It’s hard to imagine Fister getting the nod over a reigning Cy Young making north of $20 million this year when he hasn’t been sharp himself of late.

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Boston still boasts two of the league’s top starters and a bullpen that ranks second in the AL in terms of ERA. Pitching isn’t a pressing concern heading into the postseason but there is a weak link. The Red Sox better hope they aren’t facing a must-win scenario in Game 4. If Porcello can’t keep the ball in the park then the Red Sox will be out of the playoffs.