Boston Red Sox pitching has been brutal in the first three innings.
We knew the Boston Red Sox pitching staff was going to struggle but few imagined that the results could be this horrific. All they’ve been asked to do is eat some innings while keeping the score relatively close so that their powerhouse offense can attempt to out-slug their opponent yet all too often the game is out of reach by the third inning.
The Red Sox have allowed 49 runs in the first three innings of games this year, which amounts to a pace of 7.73 runs per nine innings. Boston has trailed after three innings in 11 of their 19 games.
These early-inning woes were on display in their latest series in which the Red Sox were swept in four games at home by the Tampa Bay Rays. Boston surrendered 42 runs in the four-game series, matching the total that the New York Yankees scored in the infamous “Boston Massacre” of 1978.
Boston allowed at least eight runs in each of their last four games, culminating in a 17-run explosion that set a Rays franchise record for runs scored against the Red Sox.
Getting swept by the Rays was the low point of the season with the losing streak dropping the 6-13 Red Sox to the bottom of the American League standings. However, the problems that plagued them in this series have been an issue all season.
Boston’s starting rotation owns a collective 6.47 ERA, ranking third-worst in the majors. Their -0.4 fWAR is second-worst.
Red Sox starters have logged only 72 1/3 innings through 19 games. Only four teams have received fewer innings from their starters but each of them has played at least three fewer games. That includes the Cardinals and Marlins who have combined for fewer games than Boston has played due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The inability to fill out a full rotation partially explains the lack of innings from starting pitchers since the Red Sox have utilized an opener for at least one rotation spot all season. That doesn’t excuse them from their early-inning troubles though.
The Red Sox opened their series with the Rays by using an opener. Ryan Brasier tossed a scoreless inning to lower the ERA of Red Sox starters by a tick, only for Colten Brewer to give up three runs (two earned) in his three innings of relief.
Thanks in part to the opener typically getting the job done for their inning of work, Boston’s pitching has been near the middle of the pack in the first inning. It’s getting through the next two frames that has been a challenge. Take a look at how Red Sox pitchers have fared inning-by-inning through the first few frames this season.
First Inning: 4.26 ERA (19th in MLB)
Second Inning: 8.53 ERA (29th in MLB)
Third Inning: 9.00 ERA (30th in MLB)
Red Sox pitching goes back to being merely below average from the fourth inning on, a significant upgrade over the dumpster fire they have been in the second and third.
This tells us a few things. For one, even if the opener strategy works to get out of the first inning unscathed, the Red Sox don’t have a reliable long-man to turn to for the next few innings.
When they’ve turned to an unproven arm to fill a back of the rotation spot instead of an opener, the results have been brutal. That includes Kyle Hart‘s major league debut last night when he allowed seven runs (five earned) in 2+ innings as well as all of Ryan Weber‘s starts.
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It also means that Red Sox pitchers have struggled the second time through the order. They may navigate an opposing lineup once without getting shelled but if they remain in the game to allow hitters to get a second look at them, the results are often unfavorable.
Constantly falling behind early is a recipe for disaster. Boston has plenty of talent in their lineup but the pressure of playing from behind can take a toll on hitters. The Red Sox are third in the majors with an .871 OPS when the game is tied but that plummets to .720 (18th in MLB) when the team is trailing.
Maybe hitters are pressing too much to make something happen when they are constantly forced to stage a comeback. Getting buried in an early hole can take the wind out of a lineup’s sails. The Red Sox came alive with five runs in the eighth inning on Wednesday night but still lost by four runs. Every time they chip away at a lead, the pitching staff seems to give it right back. It can be demoralizing for a club.
There’s too much talent on this roster for the Red Sox to be toiling away with the league’s worst record but it’s hard to see that changing if they can’t stop giving away games in the first three innings.