To succeed, Red Sox need more innings from their rotation

Chris Sale vs Tampa Bay
Chris Sale vs Tampa Bay / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

The most glaring weakness the 2023 Red Sox have is their starting pitching. Before the year even began, it was apparent their rotation would be this team's biggest hurdle to overcome. So far, the fears about Boston's rotation have been justified.

Red Sox starters have an ERA over 6 to begin the year, and no Red Sox pitcher got more than 15 outs within the rotation's first 15 starts. Boston was yet to receive a quality start from any of their pitchers before Whitlock's masterful performance on Sunday. The Red Sox being at 8-8 to begin the year is impressive, given the poor results they're getting from their starting pitching. 

One particular trend is when the Red Sox starters put the team in a position to give the bullpen rest, Red Sox manager Alex Cora takes them out of the game. This has been the case a few times this year. Nick Pivetta was dominating the Rays lineup through five innings with a chance to get Boston's first quality start of the year, but Cora pulled his starter from the game.

In Corey Kluber's starts against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, he was pulled from the game too early, resulting in costly meltdowns by Boston's bullpen on both occasions. Cora appears adamant about protecting his starters early in the season, and the strategy behind it makes a lot of sense, especially for Chris Sale, who has been unable to stay healthy for three years. But the Red Sox should worry about overworking their bullpen as well. 

The bullpen is going to have to work hard this year to help this team win games, and the pace they're currently working on does not feel sustainable. The starting rotation has been tough to watch, but the bullpen has been solid, posting a 3.66 ERA. Despite their success, relying on the bullpen to get 12 outs nightly is a huge challenge.

Luckily, Josh Winckowski has eaten innings in a long reliever role this season, and his development has been the most pleasant surprise of the offseason. But they cannot use him every night. For the Red Sox to succeed, they need to rely on their bullpen, but for the bullpen to be consistently effective throughout the year, they will need an occasional break. To this point, Alex Cora has prevented that. 

Alex Cora is pulling Red Sox starters from games too early

I understand the logic behind protecting the starting pitchers early in the year, but this has been extreme. If pitchers can go past just five innings of work, the Red Sox should take advantage of every opportunity to get the most out of these guys. Winning baseball games by relying heavily on your bullpen is not sustainable, and it could cost them further down the line this season when the bullpen is exhausted. 

When fully healthy, the Red Sox should have three multi-inning relievers in their bullpen in Tanner Houck, Josh Winckowski, and Pivetta/Garrett Whitlock. When that is the case, the Red Sox can feel comfortable with however long their starters can go in the game, but with this rotation's injury history, planning on everyone being healthy is more than wishful thinking.

The way the Red Sox rotation is constructed with players with long injury histories like Chris Sale, James Paxton, and Kluber, and Whitlock transitioning to becoming a starting pitcher, how many arms can Boston expect to provide them with 150 innings? Pivetta and Brayan Bello? Bello is a rookie, and having him lead the charge and pitch the most innings on this staff at 23 is a lot to ask for. As for Pivetta, I am a big fan, but he is inconsistent as they come on the mound. He's a solid five-starter and durable arm who can eat innings but cannot be the only one capable of doing so on this staff.

When Paxton returns, it scares me that the Red Sox could put Pivetta in the bullpen, leaving them without any arms that can consistently eat innings on their starting staff. 

Across the board, the Red Sox need better starting pitching. They need more from their current starters and more reliable starters on their roster. The organization's biggest failure this offseason was not adding a more reliable starter who could lead this staff. They desperately need one.

Can this rotation turn things around? Will Bello or Whitlock step up? Will Cora allow Kluber to go deeper into games? Will they add someone at the Trade Deadline? It is no secret the way things currently are is not sustainable. It is a recipe for disaster.