CLEVELAND -- Rick Porcello is charging into the postseason on a roll, having earned honors as the American League's Pitcher of the Month for September, but the Red Sox right-hander recognizes that the challenge is about to become greater as his club opens the AL Division Series against the Indians.
Porcello starts Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Cleveland on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS. While the sinkerballer is a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, those impressive numbers reset to zero now, with everything on the line as Boston enters the national spotlight.
"Now you're playing against the best competition," Porcello said. "You know if you don't win these three games in the first series, you're going home, so it's not like you can look forward to another road trip or another homestand to get things going. You've got to play the best baseball now."
The Red Sox are counting on Porcello to come out firing strikes Thursday, just as he has all season. Guided by pitching coach Carl Willis and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie, Porcello's efficiency permitted him to lead the Majors with 22 wins and a 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while working a career-high 223 innings.
"As far as Rick goes, his execution has been very consistent," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's done a very good job in controlling the running game with various looks. But above and beyond all, I think he's matured as a pitcher to understand where his strengths are, how he's best able to minimize damage inside of an inning. So it comes down to him executing a pretty specific game plan that has played itself out over six months."
Porcello is 0-2 with a 4.41 ERA in eight career postseason appearances (two starts), all with the Tigers from 2011-13. He said that he stuck to his normal routine as he prepares to face off against right-hander Trevor Bauer and the Indians in Game 1, focusing on the mechanics of his delivery and controlling the tempo of the game.
"They're very well balanced. They have some guys that can run," Porcello said. "Definitely have some power threats, some really good left-handed hitting, especially at the top of the order. And you've got to be on your game. You've got to execute pitches. That's a team that they're not going to expend much, they take their walks. They do a lot of little things right. So that poses a lot of challenges."
Though Farrell also has lefty David Price in his arsenal, Porcello was clearly Boston's best starting pitcher this season. Porcello finished the regular season with 13 consecutive quality starts, going 9-2 with a 2.60 ERA over that span. He issued more than two walks in just one of his 33 starts.
"I think I was able to build some momentum this year, really," Porcello said. "Gaining confidence and starting to see some of my game plans that I've been putting together, and seeing some of the different things that I've been doing work."
Despite his rise in performance, there's no difference in the way Porcello carries himself.
"I'm not going to go out there and blow 98 [mph] by guys or have some nasty wipeout pitch, but I can go after a lineup with my repertoire," Porcello said. "Hopefully I have a weapon for each hitter, and the things that they don't like to hit I can attack them with."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.