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After a 3-year hiatus from postseason play, the Red Sox are back. They begin their postseason run tonight in Cleveland for game 1 of the ALDS after pulling away and securing the AL East crown in late September. The Indians are a formidable foe with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona at the helm and this should prove to be an interesting series, but the question I pose is much larger. Can the Red Sox win the World Series this year?

After the first month of the season, it looked as though the Red Sox offense could single-handedly win the World Series despite a struggling starting rotation, but as the year wore on, the two flipped a bit. The Red Sox starting pitching began to improve and the offense came back down to earth. The last month of the season, the Sox pitching staff had a 3.05 ERA and a strong 3.25 Ks/BB ratio, both season bests, while the Sox offense had the lowest average of the season, .267. In general I’m not worried about the offensive drop because they were still solid, but the uptick in pitching is critically important.

If we use the 2 wild card games as indicators of postseason play, pitching will be vital to success. Last night in the Mets vs. Giants game, both starters were dominate and allowed 0 ERs in a combined 16 innings. The night before in the Blue Jays vs. Orioles game, the starters allowed just 2 ERs a piece. Hits tend to be fewer and further between and runs come at a premium in the postseason, so a strong pitching staff is required to make a deep run. Timely hitting is of course crucial as well, but if your pitching rotation can’t put up 0s, then it will be very difficult to win consistently.

Tonight’s game 1 starter is Rick Porcello, arguably the favorite to win the AL Cy Young in 2016. If he continues to pitch like he can, then the Red Sox have a good chance to walkaway from game 1 with a W and gain control of the series on the road. Opposing Porcello in game 1 is Trevor Bauer, who despite having a nice year, holds a 6.39 ERA in his last 6 starts in September and October. Which Bauer will show up? The 9-6, 3.73 ERA solid pitcher until September, or the run-allowing machine in September and October.

The answer to my ultimate question is yes, if the pitching staff can hold up and perform at a high level, the Red Sox can play for the World Series. The offense will likely be good enough to win, but it all hangs on the pitching staff. With Porcello in game 1 I feel pretty confident, but David Price in game 2 and Clay Buchholz in game 3 scare me a bit. Price and Buchholz can both be lights out or absolutely terrible. If the starters sway to the side of lights out, then book your ticket for a Cubs vs. Red Sox World Series. Wouldn’t that be something…