Rick Porcello Is the American League X-Factor

Rick Porcello went from winning the 2016 AL Cy Young to surrendering the most runs in MLB in 2017. If the Boston Red Sox aspire to be World Series contenders in 2018, they need the righty to bounce back. And the question of whether Porcello can do so is exactly why he’s the American League X-Factor.

Last season, Porcello failed to work off his successful 2016 campaign. Pitching to a 4.65 ERA and 1.40 WHIP while surrendering an MLB- and career-worst 125 runs and 38 home runs, he endured arguably the most frustrating season of his nine-year career. He was hit hard, put runners on base often, struggled with his command, and didn’t pose an overpowering threat on the rubber. Those struggles were puzzling based on the way he performed the year prior.

Pitching to a 3.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and surrendering a career-low 32 walks while winning 22 games, Porcello was able to notch the 2016 AL Cy Young. He served as the Red Sox ace and, given the level of success he had, many figured manager John Farrell would have a dynamite pitching staff in 2017 with him near the forefront.

With the acquisition of Chris Sale at the MLB Winter Meetings, the Red Sox put in place an intriguing rotation around Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, and Porcello. Unfortunately for Boston, Price was inconsistent and dealt with elbow soreness, while Porcello was anything but dominant. So if their rotation can pitch with more consistency, Porcello in particular, Boston could legitimately be World Series contenders, which would change the American League outlook.

Outside of Boston, the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Indians are also viewed as frontrunners to make it out of the American League in 2018. With the acquisitions of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (who’s fresh off winning the 2017 NL MVP after hitting an MLB-best 59 home runs and driving in 132 runs) and infielder Brandon Drury, the Yankees have deepened a lineup that already included Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner. With Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray looking to bounce back from their underwhelming 2017 campaigns, the Yankees could also be working with a great rotation led by rising star Luis Severino as well as a stellar bullpen — which features the likes of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green.

The defending-champion Astros acquired righty Gerrit Cole. And while the former Pirates ace has been shaky over the last couple of seasons, he makes manager A.J. Hinch‘s rotation even more formidable. A staff consisting of Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Cole, Lance McCullers Jr., and Charlie Morton is absurdly stacked. Add in the additions of Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to their bullpen to go along with their electric lineup, and the Astros are poised to be a 100-win ballclub once more.

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While the Indians have been quiet this offseason, they still have one of the better all-around rosters in baseball. With Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis, the Indians have one of the game’s most potent lineups at their disposal. Plus, a rotation consisting of Cy Young righty Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and potentially a healthy Danny Salazar is an elite staff, as is the their bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

Then, there are the Red Sox, who are also a deep team. With Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, the recently-signed J.D. Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts, Mitch Moreland, and Rafael Devers, their lineup could be an explosive bunch in 2018. However, for the majority of last season, that lineup was mired in mediocrity. Finishing 13th in team batting average (.258), they were unable to impose their will at the plate.

At the same time, is it likely that Betts hits .264 again? What about Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting just .245? Or Bogaerts hitting .273? Chances are both outfielders and the shortstop will hit for a higher average than they did last season and for Betts’ sake he still drove in 102 runs despite the mediocre average. And the insertion of Martinez into their order will comfort first-year manager Alex Cora.

The Red Sox lineup is improved and ready to bounce back from its bizarre 2017 showing. Plus, with a bullpen that pitched to the second best ERA in MLB (3.15) last season (thanks to Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelley, and Fernando Abad among others), they’ll be able to finish off games. So the question is, outside of Sale and Pomeranz, will Cora get a valiant effort from his pitching staff?

Price has dealt with back-to-back discouraging seasons where he either pitched to an ERA just under four or dealt with an overwhelming amount of elbow discomfort (the death sentence for a pitcher). Given Price’s current situation, the Red Sox need Porcello to rekindle his Cy Young magic.

Think about what your opinion was on the Red Sox going into the playoffs last season. What’s your opinion about them now after signing Martinez? What would be your opinion on them if you knew Porcello would return to being an ace or a top of the rotation arm alongside Sale and Pomeranz? Sounds like a team that could win its division for a third consecutive season and potentially advance to the Fall Classic, doesn’t it?

Look, last season many Red Sox surprised in a negative way, Porcello being one of them. Even if they can just get him to limit the home runs a smidgen and pitch to an ERA a tad bit under four, their rotation becomes even more lethal.

The American League has four bonafide title contenders (Yankees, Astros, Indians, Red Sox). You could make a case for each one of them being the team to beat in the AL. But if Porcello can recover from his lackluster 2017 season, it’ll immensely strengthen Boston’s case. The righty is that big of a factor.

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