Making the case for the Boston Red Sox using only the bullpen in a potential Game 4 of the ALDS rather than rely on one of their struggling starters.
One of the biggest questions facing the Boston Red Sox as the postseason approaches is who they would start if the team makes it as far as Game 4 of the ALDS. Choosing between Rick Porcello and Doug Fister is like being forced to decide if you’d rather be punched in the face or the gut – either way, it’s going to hurt.
Porcello has transformed from Cy Young into Cy Yuck. Forget about last year or about how much money he’s making. This is about the performance we can expect to get in a potential must-win situation. If the Red Sox are facing elimination heading into Game 4, they can’t trot out a pitcher who leads the majors in losses, home runs and hits allowed.
The outlook isn’t any brighter with Fister, a pitcher the Red Sox picked up off the scrap heap when they were desperate to fill the back end of their rotation. He had a nice run for about six weeks only to stumble down the stretch. He’ll carry a 5.68 ERA in the month of September into his final start of the season Friday night.
Perhaps the solution is to not use either of them. Rather than risk one of their struggling starters putting the Red Sox in an early hole before handing the ball off to the bullpen, why not just cut out the starter in that equation? The best chance of winning a Game 4 would be for the bullpen to handle the entire workload.
It’s an unorthodox strategy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We saw Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona deploy a creative bullpen strategy in last year’s postseason. This would merely be taking his concept one step further.
The Red Sox should use David Price to “start” the game with the understanding that he’ll only be used for three innings. We’ve seen him pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen this month and he’s thrived in the new role, tossing six shutout innings over three appearances. Turning to Price to begin the game avoids any concerns about how long he’ll need to warm up and allows him to start each inning with the bases clean. It also quiets the narrative about how Price has never won a postseason start since we’ll know going in that he’s not stretched out enough to last 5+ innings to qualify for a win.
The plan for covering each frame with a reliever would look something like this.
If you only count Price’s production as a reliever, those pitchers own a combined 1.05 ERA this season. Good luck hanging a crooked number on the scoreboard against this crew.
Boston also has the luxury of strategically deploying Fernando Abad against a lefty. If the Red Sox meet the Houston Astros in the ALDS, Abad could be called on to face Brian McCann (.234 average vs LHP) or the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran (.186 average vs LHP) at any point after the third inning.
This plan hinges on each of these relievers being available to pitch in Game 4 but that shouldn’t be a problem with an off day after Game 2. The only pitcher manager John Farrell would need to avoid using in Game 3 would be Price. The rest of the bullpen should be ready to go for at least one inning regardless of if they pitched the previous night. With another off day before a potential Game 5, there’s no concern about anyone being used for more than two consecutive days.
The concept of a bullpen game in the postseason may seem far-fetched but so is expecting to win with Porcello or Fister. A repeat of last year when the Red Sox were swept in the ALDS would avoid this scenario altogether, although that’s certainly not what we want. Maybe it will be the Red Sox sweeping their way through the first round, yet that may be the most far-fetched theory of all.
In all likelihood, Boston will need a pitcher to start Game 4. Unless they decide to bring Chris Sale back on short rest to pitch in that game, turning it over to the bullpen from the very beginning gives the Red Sox their best chance to win.