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Starting pitching will keep the Red Sox home this October

From Chris Sale on down, Boston’s rotation has been a liability in 2019.

MLB: Game One-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Sale stormed off the mound Saturday at Yankee Stadium, ejected and dejected after another disappointing start that has come to define the Red Sox’s season. An eight-game losing streak has torpedoed Boston’s postseason chances, thanks to a starting rotation that was once a strength but is now a liability.

The starting pitching has been atrocious during the Red Sox’s recent eight-game losing streak, having given up a 10.70 ERA and 13 home runs over that spell. Underperformance has been a season-long trend: Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez have all posted higher ERAs this year than last, with all but Price holding higher FIPs as well.

Boston’s rotation ERA was in the upper third of baseball when they won the World Series in 2018, but this year it’s nearly in the bottom third.

The Red Sox rotation decline

Year ERA (rank) FIP (rank) HR/9 (rank) BB% (rank) K% (rank)
Year ERA (rank) FIP (rank) HR/9 (rank) BB% (rank) K% (rank)
2018 3.77 (8th) 3.80 (8th) 1.16 (15th) 7.3% (7th) 25.4% (5th)
2019 5.07 (20th) 4.35 (11th) 1.47 (17th) 7.6% (14th) 24.6% (7th)
Source: FanGraphs

The Red Sox were so reliant on their rotation in 2018 that all five starters were used in relief at least once during the postseason. Sale closed out the final inning of the World Series. Their starting quintet had a 3.44 ERA during the playoff run, including a 1.13 ERA by Nathan Eovaldi in the Fall Classic, where he was used exclusively in relief.

This year Eovaldi is in the pen again, serving as the closer after a long stint on the injured list. Lately he hasn’t had many leads to protect.

Red Sox starting pitchers have allowed five or more runs 30 times this season, tied for fifth-most in the majors. Boston is 8-22 in those games. They had 26 such games all of last season.

The leading culprit is Sale, whose 4.68 ERA is by far the worst of his career. He had a 2.11 ERA last year. Sale has been one of baseball’s best starters for nearly a decade, finishing in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of the previous seven years.

That streak won’t continue this year.

Playoff hopes for the Red Sox are on life support, who are now 6½ games out of the second wild card spot in the American League, and need to pass two teams to play in October. Boston has a 15.8 percent shot to make the postseason, per FanGraphs. That number was 64.6 percent before this eight-game losing streak.

At 14½ games back in the AL East, Boston’s bid for a fourth straight divisional crown is dead. The wild card hopes are nearly there, too. Thanks to an unreliable starting rotation, the Red Sox will be watching the postseason on television this year.