“Too many games like this, to be honest with you. For the quality of the series, it’s in bad taste,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. Happened a lot this season.”
This has happened a lot, especially, in the last two months. While the team has a 4.50 ERA for the season (sixth-worst in MLB, second-worst in the AL), that mark has skyrocketed to 5.82 since early July, a streak in which the team allowed 320 runs. .
A bit of background: No other team at this time allowed more than 300 runs. No other AL team has completed less than 50 runs of that total. During the same period, the Dodgers allowed 150 runs – less than half of those of the Red Sox.
Injuries, of course, played a huge role in the pitching slump. The simultaneous stays on the injured list of Chris Sale, Nate Eovaldi, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Garrett Whitlock and Matt Strahm proved more than the team could bear.
But the club’s poor performance without those pitchers is also a reminder of the uncertain state of personnel heading into next year. Eovaldi, Wacha, Hill and Strahm will all be free agents.
The sale – entering the fourth season of his five-year, $145 million contract – will be a giant question mark after making just 11 starts in the past three years. The future roles of Whitlock and Tanner Houck have yet to be defined.
In other words, there’s very little clarity regarding the Red Sox’s efforts to build a 2023 contending pitching team.
The Sox basically have a known quantity when it comes to starters that are under the control of the team next year. Nick Pivetta has established himself as much of an average league starter who reliably takes turns every five games – certainly a valuable trait, although his poor performance against opponents the AL East (1-6 , 7.24 ERA in 11 starts after Sunday’s five innings, five-run yield) was cause for concern.
Beyond him, it’s nearly impossible to predict what kind of pitcher Chris Sale (11 regular-season starts over the past three years) or James Paxton (who the Sox can retain by exercising a $26 million option on two years after not seeing him launch a slot) will advance or how often either will be available. Can the Sox afford to bet on Paxton given what they will have already committed to Sale?
The team’s long-term quest for consistent contention will rely on developing a pipeline of young newbies. Still, while the team has seen promise at times from Kutter Crawford, Brayan Bello and Josh Winckowski, the dangers of overreliance on pitchers trying to establish themselves in the major leagues have grown. manifested in the past two months. The team can use next month to determine whether Crawford or Bello should be brought into the 2023 rotation, with the other becoming a depth option.
Future free agents Eovaldi, Wacha, Hill and David Price (who cost the Sox $16 million to pitch with the Dodgers) account for $43 million from the books. If Paxton’s team option is declined, he will subtract an additional $5.8 million from the team’s payroll (unless he exercises a $4 million player option).
The team will have the financial leeway to make interesting choices – whether with a qualifying offer for Eovaldi and/or Wacha, choosing the Paxton option, the free agents (Carlos Rodón, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom are all expected to step down deals and reach free agency, with several mid-level options like Tyler Anderson, Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker and others also available), or more likely both. Under Chaim Bloom, the Sox have yet to sign a starting free agent to a guaranteed more than a year; if the team wants to build a competitive rotation in the division, that will likely have to change.
The bullpen, meanwhile, will need its own overhaul. Whitlock, Houck (before his back injury), John Schreiber and the recent version of Matt Barnes all looked like strong late-inning contributors. Strahm has been solid and even dominant at times despite being a free agent after this year.
Using multiple innings of Whitlock and sometimes Houck and Schreiber limits their availability in a way that makes the fifth through eighth members of the bullpen more critical.
“It’s been a challenge for everyone,” Cora said of how often his bullpen has been shorthanded.
As has been the case with rotation, Bloom and the Sox have tried to focus on low-dollar rookies in recent years. While this resulted in two good deals with Whitlock and Schreiber, the lack of exceptional depth in the bullpen left the team poorly positioned for times when the rotation was reduced by injuries, the inexperience and poor performance.
The Sox haven’t paid in recent years for late-inning certainty. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they received a heavy dose of late-inning uncertainty, with their 86 missed saves since the start of 2019 tied for the most in baseball.
All of this points to the Sox needing a lot more than they’ve gotten on the mound this year — or really, in the past three years, in which their 4.57 ERA ranks eighth in baseball. – if they want to legitimize their ambitions for lasting containment. This offseason represents a crucial opportunity in their pursuit of that goal.