The Red Sox staff will have to play sweet music in 2017
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox staff will have to play sweet music in 2017 and that means being relatively healthy. One significant injury can play a sour tune.
The 1990 Red Sox finished first in the American League East and were quickly dispatched in the playoffs by the Oakland Athletics – an all too familiar happening for Boston. The following season the Red Sox finished second and missed the playoffs. The reason was a simple lack of pitching as Roger Clemens with 18 wins was the only starter in double digits. The opportunity presented itself via free agency and Boston signed Frank Viola to a three-year and a $15 Million contract.
Viola was known as “Sweet Music” which was a play on his name and his pitching talents. With the Twins in 1988, Viola won 24 games and was the American League Cy Young Award recipient. In 1990, Viola again won 20 games only with the New York Mets.
With the Red Sox, Viola went 24-20 in his first two seasons and the expected results in a stronger staff never materialized as Boston went under .500 both seasons. Viola’s last season in Boston was a three-pronged disaster as baseball endured a strike that cancelled the World Series. The other two prongs were another Red Sox season under .500 and Viola going under the knife with Tommy John surgery.
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Why Viola? What is my point?
Pitching is valued and great pitching is value to the excess – just think of the David Price contract or the trade for Chris Sale that emptied out the farm system. The Red Sox certainly have a rotation that is solid – for now.
Last season a key element in the bullpen was Carson Smith. Smith was young and talented, but with a quirky delivery that had some experts and non-experts questioning his ability to withstand the rigors of the season. The pessimists won out and Smith went down for the count. Optimistically he may be back in June but back means little if the baseballs he tosses look like cantaloupes to the hitters.
A similar story of questionable mechanics has surfaced regarding Sale. Sale in the last five seasons has tossed over 1,000 innings and innings that some say will eventually wear his arm to some type of shredded disaster thanks to his – that phrase again – quirky delivery.
Arms are connected with a shoulder and a shoulder issue surfaced with Steven Wright last season. The infamous pinch running incident resulted in Wright getting a bit of a dent that actually turned out to be similar to driving a Smart Car and going one on one with a semi. Has Wright returned to health? Spring training will tell.
The last pitcher of note in this fearful homage to arm/shoulder/knee miseries is Eduardo Rodriguez. The talented Rodriguez had a slight twist of the knee in spring training 2016 that went from day-to-day to month-to-month for recovery. Rodriguez returned and had a stellar second half only to “tweak” his knee in winter ball.
That was just the triage from 2016 and what will happen in 2017 is certainly of concern. Just one starter going down for an extended period of time reverberates through the entire staff. Price, Sale, Wright and Rick Porcello routinely go seven innings and thus a less taxing burden on a bullpen. Take that out and the wear and tear accumulate on the other end – just think Junichi Tazawa’s annual burnout.
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For Boston, the hope – at least for me – is that there will be “Sweet Music” from the staff and not some sour notes. The season depends on health and good fortune on the pitching staff.