As a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, I am familiar with holes and speak of that scourge known as a pothole. Potholes come in various sizes, from teacup size to those that could easily swallow an 18-wheeler.
Baseball teams also have holes, which applies to the Boston Red Sox. As with their brethren of the road variety, these holes can be minor or significant, and if not addressed, they can - just like the street variety - swallow a season and not the 18-wheeler mentioned above. Let's start with the most apparent hole, and that is the rotation.
The rotation is a work in progress to be positive or a work that may last as long and as expensive as the infamous "Big Dig" to make another local reference. I will hedge towards the positive on rotation development.
As of 5/11, the Red Sox rotation is slowly advancing up the metrics chart on Fangraphs. The trend may be slow, but it is heading north rather than south, with a rookie starting to show development as an impact starter.
I have advocated for Brayan Bello to lead this somewhat tattered rotation, but when? We see Bello's potential on display, such as his recent outing against the Atlanta Braves. The righty notched six strong innings against a top-of-the-line offense. This is just the beginning of this mini Pedro in waiting, or at least I and RSN hope so.
Is it Tanner Houck or Nick Pivetta? The duo may result in a season-long frustration, especially with veteran Pivatta. Pivetta is demonstrating a what you see is what you get. Pivetta has achieved the apex of his career and will not become Boston's version of Dave Stewart, the former A's hurler who put it all together after ten years of mediocrity. Houck has yet to reach (hopefully) his apex.
The critical ingredient to rotation stability is in the arms of two lefties and a righty. Chris Sale is returning to form, especially with this heater closing in on 100 MPH. The second is James Paxton, who has cornered the IL market on injuries. Paxton is now ready to give it a shot, which BSI's Zander Manning covers. Lastly is Corey Kluber. A Kluber of 2022 (10-10, 4.34) is what was expected and has yet to be delivered.
Can the 40-man Red Sox roster continue to fill potholes?
The Red Sox pitching took a substantial broadside with the loss of Garrett Whitlock. Whitlock's injury is progressing, but it may be a time-bomb for the talented right-hander. Whitlock's dual ability as a starter or reliever is a big piece of the pitching puzzle. Whitlock's injury creates a hole in the rotation and possibly filters down into the bullpen.
A small hole is the relief department which became a prime off-season focus with three significant signings. Chris Martin signed on for two years, and the preliminary results are positive. Martin treats walks with disdain (career 1.2 BB/9) and can get the necessary whiff (career 25 K%).
The signing of closer Kenley Jansen filled in a severe pothole. The two-year deal for $16M was necessary and should eradicate the closer need for two seasons.
The last signing has yet to make an impact, and that is lefty Joely Rodríguez. This was a small change signing for one year at $1.5 M. Rodriguez has mixed results in his career, but the need for a lefty who is equally adept against right-hand and left-hand hitters is a plus.
The bullpen pothole maintenance will be the responsibility of Chaim Bloom. As with any pothole situation, it is never really fixed, and often patching doesn't work, as in the recent release of Zack Littell.
The outfield was a hole that had been successfully patched. The picket line has flipped from the disasters in 2022 to a significant plus in 2023. And that is without Adam Duvall.
Catching has turned around skeptics like myself. Reese McGuire is hitting as he did with the Red Sox in 2022. Connor Wong is climbing the defensive metrics pole and chipping in with hits.
Going around the horn, you start at first base and Triston Casas. Casas has been disappointing with his low average, but Boston does have alternatives with Bobby Dalbec and possibly Justin Turner. And Duvall can get out the first base mitt. Dalbec and Casas do not inspire some heel-clicking euphoria, but they win despite this hole. Manager Alex Cora should go long on the Casas investment despite Boston's first base ranking 13th in the AL.
Is second base where careers go to die or at least decay on the IL? Trevor Story is now a tale of woe, and Christain Arroyo has made his annual IL visit. Arroyo occasionally stings the ball and is average defensively, but the surprise is Enmanuael Valdéz. Can Valdéz keep it up? Probably not, but his contribution keeps the position 9th in the AL.
Yu Chang quickly became a favorite among Boston fans despite his .136 batting average. Chang whacked three home runs in 47 PAs and was not an embarrassment at short (12.4 UZR/150). That, of course, means a stint on the IL.
Enrique Hernández will get the reps at short until Arroyo and Story get healthy and Chang returns. The Sox rank 14th at short - 15th on defense - which will not improve dramatically with Hernández or any combination. Story will patch this hole if he can return by the AS break.
The Red Sox talking heads announcing the games have given a steady stream of emphasis on the importance of a 40-man roster. So far, this observation has been accurate, but the longer bench players play, their liabilities become apparent.
The holes will continue to surface with injuries, poor performance, and promising players displaying less promise. The pitching will be the generator for success, and if even a rotation that has been fragile, they have played .500+ ball.
The toughest hole for the Red Sox is just where they play in the AL East where the fifth place team may actually exceed .500. Still with the ever expanding playoff system Boston can survive that hole.