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They’re in.

Part of me was truly concerned that the Red Sox might find a way to lose a five-game lead in a week. And it looked like things were heading that way as Boston fumbled it’s way through games against Toronto and Houston to end the season. Ideally, you never want to see your team limp across the finish line. But they found a way to cross it in the end, and if being a Sox fan has taught me anything, it’s that you got to take it any way you can get it when it comes to playoff baseball.

So, the Red Sox have clinched the AL East title. Their prize? An ALDS matchup against the Houston Astros and their nearly unstoppable offense, led by AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve. To beat these guys will take a team effort for sure, but to me it’s going to boil down to starting pitching. If the Sox can’t get a few quality starts in this series, don’t expect them to have offensive firepower to catch up to the Houston bats. Therefore, I’d like to break down what I think should be the Red Sox pitching rotation for the upcoming ALDS.

Before I do that, let’s take a look at what the Red Sox starters managed to accomplish in last year’s ALDS sweep courtesy of the Cleveland Indians (hint: it wasn’t much). Rick Porcello took the mound in Game 1, and was pulled in the fifth inning after giving up five runs on six hits, earning the loss. David Price started Game 2, and he too earned the loss after giving up five runs on six hits after 3.1 innings. Clay Buchholz fared slightly better in the series finale, allowing 2 runs on six hits, but only managed to last four innings. Like his comrades in the rotation before him, Buchholz was the losing pitcher in Game 3.

If last year indicates anything, it’s that starting pitching can make or break a playoff series. Since the Red Sox don’t have the offense to overpower most opposing teams, much less Houston, the starters are going to have to show up in a big way. So, without further delay, here is what I propose as the Red Sox starting pitching rotation going into the 2017 ALDS.

Game 1 – Chris Sale

The only pitcher in baseball to reach 300 strikeouts this year, Sale also sits in the top-five in the MLB in innings pitched, BAA, and WHIP. He’s a Cy Young candidate for sure (although Corey Kluber likely has solidified this title). Despite a few shaky September starts, he’s a no-brainer to start Game 1.

Game 2 – Drew Pomeranz

The Red Sox planned on having a one-two punch to lead off their starting rotation in 2017, but I doubt they expected Pomeranz to be that number two. While not nearly as overpowering as Sale, Pomeranz has been a near lock for a quality start when he has pitched this season. A 16-6 record to go with a 3.38 ERA and 171 strikeouts earns him the Game 2 start in my book.

Game 3 – Eduardo Rodriguez

This is where things get dicey. Sale and Pomeranz have established their spots in the rotation, yet it’s a bit muddled after that. With David Price seemingly locked into a relief role for the postseason, the Sox must choose between Eduardo Rodriguez, Doug Fister, and (as unbelievable as it is), reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. To me, Porcello has pitched himself out of a spot in the rotation, having spent the entire season hovering around the league-lead in hits, runs, and home runs allowed. He can certainly serve in a long-relief capacity if needed, or be a viable option late in a seven-game series if the Red Sox make it to the ALCS or beyond.

Between Rodriguez and Fister, I have to lean towards Eddie for Game 3. Despite spending a large portion of this season on the DL, and getting roughed up in his final tune up against Houston this week, Rodriguez has put together a few dominant starts in September. He’s still only 24 years old, but I think this kid has some truly electric stuff when he’s on. Back-to-back-to-back lefties may not be an ideal matchup against a Houston starting lineup that is nearly all right-handed, but you have to put the guys with the best stuff out there in the opening games of the series.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Game 4 – Doug Fister (or Chris Sale)

Two possible scenarios can lead to a fourth game in this series. Either the Sox are down two games to one and facing elimination, in which case Sale should take the mound, or Boston finds themselves ahead two games to one. In the latter case, I think Doug Fister should get the ball in Game 4. Now, I understand that Dave Dombrowski signed Fister as a flyer when the rotation faced injury woes mid-season, and overall he’s been just okay in his limited sample size. But there have been some flashes of brilliance from him (including a complete-game one-hitter), and let’s not forget- Doug Fister is the only starting pitcher on this staff to have ever won a playoff game (David Price’s little win as a reliever in Toronto doesn’t count). He’s 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA as a starter in the playoffs, and I think this postseason success is extremely valuable to bring to an otherwise inexperienced pitching staff.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Game 5 – Chris Sale (or Drew Pomeranz)

Game 5’s starter for the Red Sox will be completely conditional here as well, depending on who has had the most rest. Ideally, though, Sale gets the ball here in a must-win game to keep the season alive.

It intrigues me (and will likely frustrate me) to know what manager John Farrell chooses to do with the rotation, especially the slots following Chris Sale. In any case, Boston has its work cut out for them in trying to best Houston in a best-of-five series. If the starting pitching can hang in there, though, I think their scrappy lineup and solid bullpen can help keep things very, very interesting.

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