David Price

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Tomase: David Price, John Farrell, and 10 Red Sox with something to prove in playoffs

John Tomase
September 22, 2017 - 11:53 am
Categories: 

The Red Sox have spent virtually the entire second half in first place, holding off the upstart Yankees with a quiet relentlessness.

For all of our complaints about likability and doubts over whether they're built to win in October, the Red Sox have been one of the toughest outs in the league all year.

They've recorded 40 come-from-behind victories, won 15 times when trailing after six, and 16 times when tied or trailing entering the ninth. They're 15-3 in extra innings and 10-4 in walk-offs.

And yet, they haven't exactly made believers of their fans, who seem to be withholding judgment until the playoffs start in two weeks, probably at Houston in the division series.

Maybe it's David Price vs. Dennis Eckersley and the ugly fallout from a needless confrontation that embarrassed a franchise icon and turned the season into an us-vs.-them slog. Maybe it's the punchless attack, with the Red Sox on track to finish last in the AL in homers for the first time since 1930. Maybe it's the constant criticism lobbed at manager John Farrell, who remains a target despite leading the Red Sox to the verge of their third AL East title in his five seasons.

Whatever the reason, the Red Sox will have something to prove in the postseason, and a case can be made that they'll be under more pressure than anyone to produce.

Here are 10 men with the most on the line.

1. David Price

For all we know, Price may only pitch once this postseason. He might not throw more than two or three innings. And yet it feels like his entire existence in a Red Sox uniform hinges on whatever he produces. This has been a miserably lost season for Price, who suffered an elbow injury barely two weeks into spring training, missed the first two months, returned with the kind of stuff that allowed everyone to breathe a sigh of relief, and then embarked on a scorched earth campaign against the local media that led to Josh Beckett levels of estrangement.

Complicating matters, Price went back on the shelf in late July and didn't return until mid-September. With no time to stretch back out as a starter, he reluctantly accepted an assignment to the bullpen, where Farrell has wondered if Price could give the Red Sox a relief weapon on par with the dominating force that was Indians lefty Andrew Miller last October.

That's a tall order. Not only is Price inexperienced as a reliever, there's still the matter of his elbow. We have no idea if it will hold up over consecutive appearances or, bigger picture, what the future holds this offseason. Price can exercise an opt-out after the 2018 season, but it's hard to envision him walking away from the $127 million remaining on his deal if he's rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Oh, and did we mention that Price has only won one playoff game since 2009? No one's got more riding on this postseason.

2. John Farrell

Judging by the vitriol, you'd think Farrell had never won more than 60 games. He's the Mark Bellhorn of managers -- no matter what he does, he makes an easy target. That said, this is a huge postseason for him. If another ALDS sweep sends the Red Sox home for the winter, the heat will be on the manager. He has masterfully handled the bullpen all year, which is about the only way a team can win 15 out of 18 games in extra innings. He has also worked around one of the least potent offenses in the American League by preaching aggression on the bases and manufacturing runs whenever possible.

While it's fair to question his hold on the clubhouse -- Price seems to have more sway than Manager John, for instance -- Farrell has done well to lead a flawed roster to what looks like it will be another 90-plus-win season. The reality, however, is that he's going to be judged on the second season.

3. Chris Sale

The lefty beat the Orioles on Wednesday night and recorded his 300th strikeout, improving to 17-7 and lowering his ERA to 2.75 over eight shutout innings. It was a welcome result after a six-week stretch of mediocrity. There's an understandable belief that the Red Sox will advance as far as Sale takes them. The thing is, we have no idea how he'll respond to October pressure, because his next postseason start will be his first.

Sale's numbers traditionally slip significantly in August and September, and this year is no exception (3-3, 4.20 in 9 starts since Aug. 1 entering last night). Is the 6-foot-6, 180-pound flagpole wearing down? Because if he is, he may not be ready for the October cauldron.

4. Mookie Betts

The reigning second-place finisher in the MVP race isn't going to finish with anywhere close to last year's numbers. His average is down over 50 points and his OPS has dropped by more than 100. Though the All-Star should once again win a Gold Glove, the Red Sox desperately need him to anchor the middle of the order. He blasted his 23rd homer on Wednesday and owns five homers over the last two weeks. If he is indeed right after improving his balance in the cage with hitting coach Chili Davis, Betts could be the force the Red Sox need.

Despite hitting the ball hard against the Indians last October, Betts still finished the series batting just .200. Now he gets a shot at redemption.

5. Addison Reed

With all due respect to Price, it's asking a lot to expect an injured starter suddenly to dominate like Miller. In reality, Farrell will likely be handing the eighth inning to Reed, a trade deadline acquisition from the Mets who has alternately frustrated and excelled.

His two worst outings have come in New York against the Yankees, accounting for seven of the nine runs he has allowed in a Red Sox uniform. Farrell has tried to use him like a junior Miller, summoning him anywhere from the sixth to the 10th, depending on matchups.

The Red Sox are 19-4 in his 23 appearances, so it's hard to complain. The fear is that when Reed blows it, he tends to do so spectacularly

6. Craig Kimbrel

With 10 games left in the season, Kimbrel has a chance to make history. He has struck out 50.4 percent of the batters he has faced. Only two pitchers have struck out more than half the batters they've faced while throwing at least 50 innings -- Kimbrel (50.2 percent) in 2012 and Aroldis Chapman (52.5 percent) in 2014. Kimbrel would become the first man to do it twice.

And yet . . . despite the 121 strikeouts, and despite the 1.38 ERA, and despite the career-low 14 walks, Kimbrel has blown some high-profile games. He completed Atlanta's 2011 collapse on the final day by losing to the Phillies. He blew a 2-1 lead in the eighth for the Braves in Game 3 of the 2010 ALDS. He blew the playoff clincher against the Yankees last year, kickstarting the stretch malaise that cost the Red Sox home field advantage against the Indians.

With his propensity to get wild and allow the occasional home run, Kimbrel is the line of defense the Red Sox absolutely cannot afford to see breached.

7. Drew Pomeranz

Someone has to win other than Sale, and Pomeranz improbably seems like the best bet. A year after contributing to a pair of postseason losses in relief while pitching with a sore elbow, Pomeranz has pitched like one of the top 10 starters in the American League. He's 16-5 with a 3.15 ERA, and those numbers accurately convey his excellence.

He has allowed three runs or fewer in 25 of his 30 starts. Thanks to some spotty command, he's unlikely to pitch more than six innings, but given the success of the bullpen all season, the Red Sox can work with six innings and two runs.

8. Rafael Devers

From rookie savior to rookie wall, all in the span of a month. Depending on the health of utilityman Eduardo Nunez, Devers may end up opening the playoffs on the bench. The American League has developed a clear book on Devers, who wowed opponents with his opposite-field power off fastballs away -- think 103 mph from Aroldis Chapman -- but has struggled with elevated fastballs on the hands ever since. The most consistent stretch of winning baseball the Red Sox played all year came in August after Devers' promotion, when he added desperately needed power to the bottom third of the order. He hasn't been the same player -- and the Red Sox haven't been the same offense -- since.

9. Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts once ranked atop the list of best young shortstops in baseball, thanks to two straight Silver Sluggers and two straight 190-hit seasons. Now? He clearly trails Cleveland's Francisco Lindor, Houston's Carlos Correa, Los Angeles's Corey Seager, New York's Didi Gregorius, and maybe even Chicago's Javier Baez, at least on those days when the super utilityman plays short. The Red Sox offense operates at a different level when Bogaerts is a factor, and his 2013 postseason contributions helped bring a World Series to Boston. He managed just three singles in last year's ALDS, however.

10. Dustin Pedroia

Here's a surprising fact about Pedroia -- he hasn't done much in the postseason. The former MVP may own a pair of World Series titles, but his lifetime playoff numbers are average: .242-5-25 in 47 games with a .716 OPS. Pedroia's last great playoff series came in the 2008 ALDS against the Rays, when he hit .346 with three homers and nearly carried the Red Sox back to the World Series. Since then? Punchless and pedestrian. Maybe this year that will change.

Comments ()