It’s too early to throw in the towel on the 2020 Red Sox.
The Boston Red Sox are 1-4 and it seems like they are headed for a disastrous season. The pitching has been absolutely horrendous. Most of the guys in their rotation probably wouldn’t even start on any playoff-contending team. In a shortened season like this, these losses are magnified, and fans are beginning to give up. But Boston’s playoff chances aren’t lost just yet.
As I mentioned in a previous article, it is of vital importance that certain players get off to hot starts. Almost all of them have. Mitch Moreland, Christian Vazquez, Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, and even Jose Peraza have hit the ground running.
Honestly, I’m not worried at all about J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers’ early struggles. In fact, I’d much rather watch them get off to a slow start than anyone else. With those three players, we can be fairly confident that their bats will awaken any day now.
The Red Sox offense has already been doing fine, putting up more than five runs per game on average. But as the WEEI broadcasters mentioned the other night, there are few offensive trios that can run with Boston’s three best guys when they’re on. And when they finally get going, this lineup will be unstoppable.
The only player that really worries me is Andrew Benintendi. The former top prospect has had his ups and downs throughout his first three full seasons in the majors, as any young player might. But as he enters his age-25 season, we should be beginning to see what kind of player he really is.
Especially after a disappointing 2019 campaign, fans had hoped that he would be able to bounce back this year. But Benintendi has been ice cold to start the season, posting a .063 batting average. He could very well bounce back, but striking out eight times in five games is not exactly an encouraging sign of things to come.
Most people aren’t too surprised by what the Red Sox have done so far. We knew the hitting was good and the pitching was bad. The conclusion most people are coming to is that we didn’t realize just how bad the pitching was.
However, I don’t think the pitching staff’s performance through the first five games is an indication of disaster.
Nathan Eovaldi was a huge wild card coming into the season. He showed that he was capable of excellence in 2018, but was an absolute disaster in an injury-riddled 2019. His walk rate and HR rate were both career highs last year.
He looked more like his 2018 self on Thursday, walking just one batter and giving up no home runs while holding the Orioles to one run in six innings.
Former Arizona Diamondback Zack Godley was picked up by the Red Sox right at the start of the season. He too is an established MLB veteran who struggled last season. His seven strikeouts in four shutout innings against the Mets are a very good sign. He could slot into the Red Sox rotation almost immediately.
In addition, ace Eduardo Rodriguez is currently out with COVID-19, but hopes that he will be able to return this season.
As for the other members of the Red Sox pitching staff, it hasn’t looked good. But as always, management seems to have a plan.
The Red Sox have had a very weird approach to this season. They acquired five “quadruple-A” pitchers in July—none of which are big names by any stretch. These guys are not young prospects with tons of upside that the team hopes will become major contributors in the future. Their ages are 30, 30, 26, 28, 28, and have all previously pitched in the major leagues except for 28-year old Jeffrey Springs, who made his debut for the Red Sox on Monday.
Furthermore, manager Ron Roenicke left Bogaerts out of the starting lineup on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles, and Vazquez has sat out two of the first five games. He claimed that the reason for this was because he wanted to start resting his players early in the season. But Bogaerts is a very versatile player who has played 155+ games in three separate seasons. Does he really need a day off on the second game of a two-month-long season?
Also, the Red Sox have used 12 different relievers so far. Eight of the 16 pitchers that have been on Boston’s active roster this season played for a different team last year.
What in the world are the Red Sox doing?
They seem to be giving as many of these “quadruple-A” players as possible a chance to perform in hopes that one of them will get on a hot streak. This happens often—Sandy Leon hit .363 with a .995 OPS for a two-month stretch in 2016, Eduardo Nunez hit .321 with a .539 slugging percentage in the two months after he was acquired by the Red Sox in 2017, and Ryan Brasier put up a 1.60 ERA in 34 appearances in 2018.
The Red Sox don’t need a breakout star. Leon, Nunez, and Brasier have all descended into mediocrity and are buried on their respective teams’ depth charts. None of them are likely to see regular playing time or high-pressure situations anytime soon.
The thing is, the Red Sox are a pretty good team overall. They just have some major holes they need to fill. All they need is to find a couple of guys who can play reasonably well for 60 games, and the established players will do the rest.
The Red Sox pitching woes aren’t usually the result of bad performances from their entire staff either. Martin Perez gave up five runs (four earned) in five innings in Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Baltimore, Ryan Weber gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings when they lost 7-4 to the Orioles, and Jeffrey Springs gave up five runs in 1 1/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to the New York Mets.
It will be difficult for the Red Sox to find out which guys they can rely on fast enough given the fact that the season is two months long. But last year’s team (6-13 in their first 19 games) started off slow too. In fact, the world champion Washington Nationals were still considered a dumpster fire 1/3 of the way into last season. With a 16-team playoff bracket, even finishing with 30 wins would give them a solid shot at the playoffs.
As the season moves along, Roenicke will likely begin to lean on a smaller group of guys—the ones he has identified as players he can count on—and the number of disastrous performances will shrink. Let’s just hope they figure out who those guys are before it’s too late.
Of course, with only a sample size of five games to look at, it’s impossible to say for certain what will happen. But it’s also too early to simply give up just yet.
The Red Sox pitching staff will never be able to compete with the Nationals or Mets’ arms. They don’t need to. Boston’s bats are looking great, and will be able to overcome some bad performances on the mound. As long as they can hold opposing teams to a reasonable amount of runs now and then, they will have a shot at finishing around .500. Then, perhaps we’ll be watching our beloved Red Sox in October once again.