The Boston Red Sox 2009 rotation was expected to be one of the best in team history, but by the end of the season, it was frayed. Will 2019 be the same?
As the cliché goes, this is déjà vu all over again. Just what is? The Boston Red Sox rotation of 2019 is taking on the early stages of a mirror image of the 2009 rotation only the 2009 rotation was centered on the second half of the season. In 2009, the Red Sox finished the season with an impressive 95 wins which matched the same total as 2008, but neither team moved on to the World Series.
The 2008 team had a decent and fairly solid rotation, but more was expected for 2009. Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90), Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03), Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) and versatile Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) were to be the projected core, but more was waiting. Clay Buchholz (2-9, 6.75) and Justin Masterson (6-5, 3.16) were the youngsters waiting for a shot, but Boston had even more.
In the offseason, the Red Sox signed two notable veterans to add support where needed. A pair of right-handers were brought onboard with free agents Brad Penny and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The combination of youth, depth, and experience even had a discussion of a seven-man rotation. In fact, the rotation did technically outperform in 2009 (14.7 fWAR to 13.6 fWAR) but dig deeper.
The significant issue was Dice-K (4-6, 5.76) who faced a series of injuries and never became a productive player after 2009. Penny (7-8, 5.61) and Smoltz ( 2-5, 8.33) were both released in August. The second half of the season was becoming a train wreck. Buchholz (7-4, 4.21) came back from the minors, but Masterson was traded to the Cleveland Indians. The slide continued with only Beckett, Wakefield, and Lester being dependable arms.
The Red Sox rushed promising Junichi Tazawa (2-3, 7.46) for four starts. The Red Sox also resigned veteran Paul Byrd to add depth, but he did little. There was a mystical conspiracy afoot as injuries, underperformance, and the pains of youth all conspired to have the once touted potential seven-man rotation being plugged with Byrd, Tazawa, and anyone with a pulse.
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Right now, the Red Sox are starting to mirror 2009. The injury situation has already surfaced with Nathan Eovaldi out after arm surgery and David Price now on the IL. Chris Sale may have finally recovered from the doldrums of an early season pitching faux pas, but is still 1-5. That should be enough, but Brian Johnson who made 13 creditable starts in 2018 is also on the IL. Steven Wright is gone for half a season for a PED bust.
The Red Sox have now been forced to use Josh Smith and possibly Ryan Weber in the rotation. Hector Velazquez will get his two or three innings of work, but if the backend of the rotation has Weber, Smith, or Velazquez this team will be giving away a few games. The next issue will be rushing a prospect such as Darwinzon Hernandez. Learn from the Tazawa mistake.
The Red Sox in 2009 were a very good team but could have been a great team. The same may just apply to the 2019 team. They are a 90+ team even with a somewhat tattered rotation, but it is far easier to win without resorting to 4A pitchers or worn veterans such as Byrd.
The core of the rotation appears to be solid now that the early season jitters have subsided, but three arms will certainly not carry the load. Hopefully, the projected returns of Johnson, Eovaldi, and Wright will recreate that depth, but the similarities to 2009 cannot be ignored.