Sox Need Pitching Help

Coming into the season, most pundits predicted that the Red Sox lineup would produce enough runs to keep the team in contention, which it has. Most analysts also expected that Boston’s pitching staff, specifically the starting rotation, would be a problem, and in that regard they were also correct. Many anticipated Dave Dombrowski dealing prospects to upgrade their pitching at the deadline, which he seems likely to do. Because the Red Sox need pitching help, and they need it now.

With Boston fading fast, Dombrowski can’t afford to wait another month before bolstering the staffSox Need Pitching Help. The Red Sox are 9-14 in June with a minus-12 run differential. They’ve gone from three games up on the AL East at the start of June to four games out of first in under four weeks. Boston’s offense has cooled considerably, but that’s less worrisome because lineups typically rise and fall over the course of the season. Barring serious injuries, that lineup will be fine.

The same can not be said, however, of Boston’s pitching staff. The rotation has been a mess, particularly at the back end. David Price has not been up to snuff. Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz have bombed. Rick Porcello has been hot and cold. John Farrell has exhausted all his options for the last two rotation spots with middling results.

With none of the young Red Sox starters proving ready to contribute, Dombrowski must seek pitching help outside the organization. Several big-names will likely be available, including Sonny Gray and Julio Teheran, but would require bundles of prospects to acquire. Boston must stabilize its rotation, however, and it’s worth trading a few kids now to avoid relying on Sean O’Sullivan and Henry Owens down the stretch.

The bullpen could also use reinforcements, as reliable options for high leverage situations are lacking. There’s Craig Kimbrel, obviously, and Junichi Tazawa, but that’s pretty much it. Carson Smith’s done for the year and Koji Uehara is finally showing his age. Boston needs another power arm to strengthen the bridge to Kimbrel. Relievers are always plentiful near the deadline, so acquiring one shouldn’t be too difficult.

So even though the trade deadline is still more than a month away, Boston shouldn’t wait. The Red Sox need pitching help now. If they wait, it might be too late.

David Price in Top Form

The Red Sox have cooled off from their hot start, playing sub-.500 ball over the past few weeks. Several Sox, including Travis Shaw and Hanley Ramirez, are in a bad slump. One Bostonian playing well lately, however, is star pitcher David Price. Price began the year in a terrible rut, but has since turned his season around after discovering a mechanical flaw in his delivery (with some help from Dustin Pedroia). He delivered another dominant turn Sunday, with Price in top form as Boston edged Seattle 2-1 at Fenway Park.

Victory would not have been possible without David Price’s phenomenal performance, which saw him limit the Mariners to one run on eight hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over eight inningsDavid Price in Top Form. Seattle’s lone run came on a solo shot by the red-hot Franklin Gutierrez, who reached out and flicked Price’s 44th pitch just past Pesky’s Pole for a cheap home run. Other than that, Price stifled a dangerous Mariners offense.

With Boston clinging to a one-run lead, Price buckled down. He capped his excellent start with a 1-2-3 eighth, fanning the final two batters. In came Craig Kimbrel, who nailed down the save by striking out the side in the ninth. Without David Price, however, there is likely no save opportunity.

After completing eight innings just once before June, Price has gone eight innings in each of his last three outings. He leads the league in innings as well as strikeouts and has ripped off eight straight quality starts. Except homers, the rest of his stats are falling in line, too. Fans and media haven’t forgotten his early season funk, but it’s quickly fading away. Every time David Price pitches now, his slow start looks increasingly anomalous.

With the back of Boston’s rotation in flux, Price has given his team stability at the top. He’s come as advertised. More importantly, he’s been the stopper they hoped for when they opened the vault for him last winter  Now the Red Sox would like to see David Price in top form come October. That’s when he’ll really earn his money.

Kelly’s Demotion was Long Overdue

Joe Kelly got lit up again Wednesday night, allowing seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Afterwards, the Red Sox announced that Kelly was being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will work on his game and hope to return a better pitcher than the one who posted an 8.46 ERA and 2.24 WHIP over his first six starts. Numbers like that wouldn’t fly on the Braves, let alone a first-place team, and in that sense Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

While Kelly has dominated for brief stretches as a starter, he’s also had periods where he’s been absolutely terribleKelly's Demotion was Long Overdue. In 79 starts he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 1.75 K/BB ratio while allowing opponents to bat .266/.340/.401 against him—essentially what Hanley Ramirez is hitting this year. And don’t forget that nearly half of those starts came against weaker competition in the National League, making his numbers look better than they really are.

When Ben Cherington traded for Kelly two summers ago, he thought he was getting a young, hard-throwing hurler on the rise. Instead, it’s been one step forward and two steps back. Kelly’s walk rate nearly doubled immediately after the trade, while his strikeout rate remained shockingly low for someone averaging 95 miles per hour on his heater. The following year he picked himself to win the American League Cy Young award, only to wind up with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after making a midsummer pit stop in Pawtucket.

Rather than build off last year’s strong second half, Kelly reverted to his previous level of awfulness. He was walking nearly a batter per inning and allowing hits at a dizzying rate, looking generally lost on the mound. Last year the Red Sox could afford to let him work through his struggles, as they were out of the race by August. This year they can’t, which is why Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

Kelly says his problems are mechanical, pointing to an issue with his arm slot. Hopefully he sorts things out and returns to the Sox a much-improved pitcher, as he did last year. But when or if he does, John Farrell shouldn’t be so quick to give him his job back. The Red Sox have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.

Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation

The Red Sox rotation is an interesting collection of starters. There’s David Price, the obvious ace and former Cy Young winner (not to mention the richest pitcher in history). Behind him are potential number twos Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, who have frustrated Boston fans and media with their uneven performance. There’s Steven Wright, the enigmatic knuckle-baller who’s been the team’s best pitcher thus far in 2016. Then there’s Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Is Joe Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation?

It might seem crazy to call a number five starter the key to any rotation, let alone one of a first-place team, but that’s what Kelly isKelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation. When he;s right, the Red Sox go five deep in the rotation, with each member capable of churning out a quality start on any given night. But when he’s not (or hurt), the back of their rotation suddenly looks much thinner. That much was clear during Kelly’s month-long absence earlier this year due to a shoulder impingement, during which time Sean O’Sullivan started twice. No offense to O’Sullivan, but he should not be starting for a postseason contender or any team that wants to win..

At least you know what you”re getting out of O’Sullivan, even if it isn’t much. The same can not be said of Kelly, who like his rotationmate Clay Buchholz is still an unknown quantity despite spending several years in Major League rotations and possessing dazzling stuff. While both have shown flashes of greatness, neither has evolved into the consistently great starter everyone hoped they’d become based on their obvious talent. Most recently, Kelly showed how dominant he can be in his return from the disabled list last Saturday, when he limited a red-hot Indians lineup to one hit over 6 2/3 innings.

The problem with Kelly is that he’s just as likely to endure a stinker. In his first three starts of 2016  he had more earned runs than innings pitched and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. If anything, his month-long DL stint was a welcome reprieve, allowing him to work on becoming the pitcher who finished last year 7-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his final eight starts rather than the trainwreck with a 6.11 ERA in 17 starts leading up to that run.

Which version of Kelly is going to show up this year remains to be seen. The Red Sox would like to open their series against the Blue Jays with a win tomorrow, but for that to happen they’ll likely need a good start from Kelly. In fact, they’re going to need quite a few of those from him in order to get where they want to go this year. That might be asking too much of the erratic 27-year-old, and if it is then they should stick him in the bullpen where belongs and trade for a more established starter. They might even explore trading Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Sox Need a Fifth Starting Option

With Joe Kelly having a very tough outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, giving up 5 earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched, the Sox need a fifth starting option. With the recent demotion of starter Clay Buchholz to the bullpen, Kelly was expected to step up and replace him. Kelly may be a little better than Buchholz, which isn’t saying much. The Sox are in desperate need of a fifth option behind David Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez. While the trade deadline is the most likely scenario for adding a fifth and likely a sixth starter, what should the Sox do for now?

The problem with the Sox minor league system right now regarding starting pitching is thatJoe Kelly they don’t have any pitcher major league ready that’ll pitch better than either Buchholz or Kelly. The one option they could turn to is lefty Brian Johnson. Johnson is really not much of an upgrade and the lack of major league ready arms down on the farm is an issue for this team.

Johnson has a 4.64 ERA at Pawtucket and has walked 22 batters in just 33 innings, reminiscent of fellow lefty prospect Henry Owens. While he has strikeout potential, 28 strikeouts in those innings, the lack of command just won’t cut it. Johnson may very well get the call if Kelly’s struggles persist but it will likely just be another disaster. Another option could be moving Matt Barnes back into the rotation, not a good baseball move though.

Barnes has been stellar in the bullpen this year and the fact that he was formerly a starting pitcher may have some lobbying for him to get another chance. This would also end up being a disaster as Barnes lacks an arsenal of pitches and relies on his fastball around 70% of the time. Without secondary pitches, there is little chance of succeeding at the big league level as a starter. So where do the sox go from here?

With an offense that is putting up gaudy numbers, the Sox have the luxury of waiting until the deadline to get improved starting pitching. Every fifth day the Sox are capable of scoring in double digits, eliminating the importance of pitching. With this, the Sox will lack a decent fifth option but their elite offense is more than capable of bailing out whoever the number five starter is every fifth day.

Carson Smith Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

Red Sox reliever Carson Smith underwent Tommy John Surgery on Tuesday, and will not return during the 2016 season. This could be a big blow for Boston, which loses a key bullpen arm just as the season is about to really heat up, and will now have to explore other options for the late innings.

Carson Smith

Smith, a promising 26-year old hurler, was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Wade Miley trade last December. He struck out 92 batters in 70 inning last season, and pitched to a 2.31 ERA. The Red Sox were keen to fortify an inconsistent bullpen, and Carson Smith was deemed a major upgrade. In an ideal world, he was slated to join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in setting up games for Craig Kimbrel, giving Boston a formidable bullpen to compete with any other in baseball.

Those plans were jeopardized in spring training, when Smith endured tightness in his right forearm. He was diagnosed with a muscle strain, but recovered to join the Red Sox in May. However, after just three appearances, doctors determined that Carson required Tommy John Surgery, which could put him out of action for up to eighteen months.

Options to replace Carson Smith

Obviously, the Red Sox haven’t felt the full benefit of Carson Smith this season, but his absence still creates a headache for Dave Dombrowski. The President of Baseball Operations has already said that the Red Sox are in no hurry to search for solutions on the trade market, given the strong performances from guys like Heath Hembree, Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross. Indeed, the Red Sox currently rank seventh in bullpen ERA throughout Major League Baseball, so the current crop has done a very solid job.

However, Carson Smith figured to be a major contributor throughout the summer and down the stretch. He had overpowering stuff and the potential to be another premier arm shutting down games for Boston in the late innings. Now, that weapon has been removed, at least for 2016, and with all due respect, nobody in the current bullpen really stands out as a serious candidate to take on a more important setup role. The Sox are still in good shape with Tazawa and Kimbrel, but Uehara is 41-years old and his 2016 statistics show considerable decline compared to his career averages.

Therefore, as we move towards the trade deadline, expect the Red Sox to be active in the market for relief help. They’re not totally desperate for another arm, which should leave plenty of room in negotiations and hopefully enable Dombrowski to acquire a setup man at a fair price. While they never gain much attention, trades for relievers are very popular in mid-season, and there should be no shortage of options a month or two from now. Relievers are highly expendable, especially for non-contending teams, so the Red Sox may be in a strong bargaining position.

This news sucks for Carson Smith, and we wish him a speedy recovery. It would have been great to see him add length to the Red Sox bullpen this summer and potentially through the playoffs. Yet, while his absence is less than ideal in the short-term, Dombrowski shouldn’t have a problem finding a replacement, which will be required as Boston eyes a serious run at October.