Red Sox Bullpen Has Become A Mess

To begin the season, Boston’s starting pitching was the team’s biggest weak link. Now, the starters have begun to settle down. Chris Sale allowed two runs yesterday and struck out 10 through five frames. Rick Porcello is coming off his best start (5.2 innings, 2 earned runs). After allowing 11 earned runs in his first two starts, Eduardo Rodriguez has permitted just 5 earned runs in his past two. Hector Velázquez has started three games since April 7 and has done a nice job in his role as a spot-start pitcher. And David Price has been the club’s best starter through four starts: 3.75 ERA,1.04 WHIP, 30 k’s in 24 innings. The Red Sox bullpen, however, after having started the season on a strong note, has reverted to become a complete liability.

In yesterday’s day-night double header against the Tigers, in game 1’s top of the 5thRed Sox Bullpen inning, Chris Sale escaped a jam. Runners were on first and third with Detroit’s best hitter (Niko Goodrum – .838 OPS) at the plate. Sale struck him out looking to keep the game tied at two. Heath Hembree then relieved Sale in the 6th, and allowed a solo home run to Detroit’s Ronny Rodriguez (career .645 OPS). The Red Sox were now suddenly playing from behind.

Two innings later, with the score tied 3-3, Colten Brewer was called on to pitch. He eventually escaped the inning on a double play, but not before he allowed 3 runs to cross the plate. Going into the bottom of the 8th, with six outs left for Boston, Detroit had taken a 6-3 lead. The Red Sox ended up losing 7-4.

Game 2

In the night cap, the first reliever out of the ‘pen was Marcus Walden. He came on in the top of the 4th inning, with the bases loaded and one out. He did not deliver and, consequently, surrendered a bases-clearing double to Brandon Dixon (career .636 OPS). The Tigers took a 3-0 lead.

In the next inning, manager Alex Cora called on southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez. It was his major league debut after being (temporarily) recalled earlier that day as Boston’s 26th player for the double header. He threw 50 pitches in 2.1 innings, allowed four hits, one walk, and struck out four.

With one out in the top of the 7th, with the Tigers still leading 3-0, Hernandez was replaced by Travis Lakins, making his ML debut. Lakins was recalled between games for reliever Bobby Poyner, who, in two appearances, owns a 18.00 ERA for the Red Sox. Lakins pitched 2.2 innings. He threw 34 pitches and allowed 1 earned run.

The Red Sox bullpen has become a mess

David Dombrowski’s Red Sox bullpen experiment is starting to become embarrassing. In an interview with NESN correspondent Tom Caron on April 11, Dombrowski was quoted saying, “Overall, we’re very happy with them (bullpen) and they have good stuff and we think they’ll continue to pitch well for us.” We now find ourselves just two weeks removed from that conversation. Things have changed.

Poyner and Erasmo Ramirez have both been summoned from Triple-A. They each pitched poorly and Ramirez was designated for assignment after being signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, and Colten Brewer all have earned-run-averages (ERA) above 5.50. Brewer’s sits at a disgusting 8.31.

Matt Barnes started the season superbly with just one earned run in his first 7 appearances. In his last two games, though, he has a blown win, a blown save, and has allowed two home runs in late-game situations.

Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, and Marcus Walden have all been terrific, with ERA’s of 1.59, 2.61, and 2.38, respectively. But, Walden was optioned to Triple-A by Dombrowski on April 15 after allowing earned runs in back-to-back appearances against the belittled Orioles. He was recalled on April 20.

How does Boston’s bullpen stack up?

In comparison to all other American League teams, Dombrowski’s bullpen has the fifth highest ERA (4.87). The bullpen has allowed the fourth-most hits and second-most runs, earned runs, and home runs. What’s most eye-opening is that Red Sox bullpen relievers have allowed 30 more runs than Houston Astros relievers this season.

Cemented starter Nathan Eovaldi underwent surgery yesterday on his elbow and will not pick up a baseball for six weeks. The club is now stuck with four starters. There is a chance that a fifth starter arrises before Eovaldi comes back, but that scenario seems unlikely. Hector Velázquez will continue to be a spot-starting option, especially with Brian Johnson still on the shelf. Perhaps Darwinzon Hernandez gets called back up and becomes a spot-starter? Nonetheless, the Red Sox bullpen will be subject to a heavy workload.

Dombrowski has reached into his pockets and has spent $335 million dollars on Sale, Eovaldi, and Xander Bogaerts since December. This is the Boston Red Sox. Hence, no one is going to scrutinize the front office for going all in. How do they do that? Cough up some more dough for Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, who surprisingly still remain on the free agent market. Kimbrel would add stability to the ‘pen and Keuchel could eat up innings as a fifth starter. Keep Keuchel as a starter the rest of the way, and, when Eovaldi is ready to return, have him stay in the pen.

West Coast Problems: Sox Stuck With Struggling

The Red Sox could not hold their lead after scoring the first 3 runs in yesterday’s game. Making his second start of the season was Eduardo Rodriguez, and for the second consecutive start, Rodriguez looked awful. In his first outing in Seattle last Saturday, E-Rod could not make it out of the 4th inning, as he allowed 8 hits, 6 runs (5 earned), a home run, and 3 walks on 105 pitches. Yesterday, the left-hander could not make it out of the 3rd. He again allowed 8 hits, 6 runs (all earned), a home run, and 3 walks. He threw just 84 pitches and, with the loss, his record now stands at 0-2. The Sox west coast problems have been a combination of mental mistakes, poor pitching, and poor teamplay.

West Coast Problems: Cora at the forefront

“I pay attention to details,” manager Alex Cora told nbcsportsboston.com. “I love payingWest Coast Problems attention to details and that’s something I took pride [in] last year. And right now, we’re not paying attention to details. So that’s on me. That’s on the staff.”

There were several examples of unacceptable decision making from the entire series, but especially from yesterday’s loss. In the 4th inning, Rodriguez allowed a RBI double to Robbie Grossman that gave Oakland a 4-3 lead. Marcus Semien then flied out to center for the inning’s second out. Stephen Piscotty then came to the plate. After hitting a 3-run bomb in his previous at-bat, Piscotty sent a flyball towards the right-center warning track. A miscommunication occurred between two Gold Glove outfielders, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. The ball landed between them and hopped over the wall for a two-run, ground rule double. 6-3, Oakland.

West Coast Problems: Laureano for sure

Later in the game, in the 9th inning, the Sox found themselves down 7-3. Betts had reached first base on a walk. Andrew Benintendi subsequently sent a blooper to short-center field that dropped between Ramon Laureano and Semien. Betts aggressively rounded second and headed towards third, only to be thrown out by Laureano for his third outfield assist of the series. The Red Sox could of had runners on first and second with no outs. Instead, Benintendi was stuck at first with one out. The game ended two batters later.

Red Sox starting pitching this season looks like this: 0-5, 8.44 ERA, 13 home runs allowed, and a .301 BAA. Opponents have compiled a 1.052 OPS. Just to compare apples to apples, here is what the current division leader, Tampa Bay Rays, starting pitching looks like: 4-1, 2.19 ERA, 5 home runs allowed, a .190 BAA and a .570 OPS.

The Sox will attempt to ease the pain of their west coast problems as they play Arizona next starting tonight. Things do not get easier for Boston’s starters, as the team heads into the final series before returning to Fenway for the home opener on Tuesday. The Diamondbacks rank second in runs, home runs, and RBI in the National League through 7 games. They rank first in hits, doubles, and total bases.

Something that is not seen in the box score is how a team cooperates together from a visual perspective. One note I wanted to hit on is what Red Sox Nation knows as the ‘jump hug’ between Brock Holt and J.D. Martinez. Every time Martinez homers, Holt greets him in the dugout with a childlike, inseparable hug and the two jump together to celebrate. The tradition has lasted for about a full year now. I understand that baseball is full of quirky rituals and superstitions, but my question is, why are two grown men celebrating over one sequence when, overall, the team is in flux and in last place? It’s something that has been bugging me.

Boston’s record stands at 2-6 through their first two series. It is their worst start to a begin a season since 2011 when the team started 1-7 under former manager Terry Francona.

Shockingly Poor Start For The Red Sox

Not what you expected to happen, right? The Sox played four meaningful games in March, one last night, and now it’s April 2nd. The team lost 3 of 4 in Seattle and were shut out last night in Oakland. To say the least, 2019 has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

The starting pitching has been horrific. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez,shockingly poor start Rick Porcello, and David Price have now all pitched. The results are ugly: 26 earned runs and eleven home runs allowed in 21 innings. The bullpen has not been much better. The club’s eight relievers have all been used, and in 20 innings, have surrendered 20 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 home runs, and eight walks. Matt Barnes has collected the team’s lone save.

In regards to hitting, reigning MVP Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, who bat one-and-two in the lineup, both have on-base percentages (OBP) of .250. Only Mitch Moreland, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez own an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) over .800. In comparison to other teams, Boston ranks in the top-5 in all hitting categories, but in the bottom-5 in most pitching ranks.

Now that we know all of that, we must address the key question, which is: what is going on with the Red Sox and why have they come out “flat” after winning the World Series last year?

Pitching is the problem

The starting pitching, besides Price’s performance last night, have not given the offense a chance to get going. 7 runs were allowed in the first 3 innings of game-1, 3 runs through two innings in game-2, 2 runs in the first inning of game-3, and 9 runs through 3 innings of game-4.

In 2018, the Red Sox were the only team that qualified for the postseason to have four hitters (with at least 500 plate appearances) record an OPS of at least .830: Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, and Bogaerts. First baseman Steve Pearce, who played in just 50 regular season games with the team down the stretch, recorded a .901 OPS. One could attribute Betts’s .598 OPS, Benintendi’s .375 OPS, and Pearce’s absence (calf injury) to the poor start for the Red Sox.

Also in 2018, Boston was the only team (postseason eligible) to have a player save more than 40 games with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) less than 1.00. That player? Craig Kimbrel – he is not back with the club this year. Kimbrel’s presence in the bullpen could factor in nicely moving forward and take some pressure off relievers.

Poor attitude

One factor to the shockingly poor start for the Red Sox that cannot be measured by statistics is their attitude. Their leader, manager Alex Cora, was asked during postgame if there was any concern following the team’s loss last night.

“Not really. It’s five games. When you go through stretches like this, it (stinks) that it’s early in the season, but yeah, we have to pick it up.”

Cora’s nonchalant demeanor is not changing the way the team is approaching games. The top of the lineup needs to get going. Cora announced today on MLB Network that Betts will move back to the leadoff spot. The starting pitching now starts its second turn. So far this season, Sox pitchers have allowed the most runs in the American League. They rank second-to-last in earned run average (ERA) and batting average against (BAA). In addition, Boston is the only AL team to not record a quality start.

Tonight’s first pitch is at 10:07 PM/ET. We’ll see if things start to change this evening in what has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

Bartolo Colon a Great Target for the Red Sox

Following Wednesday night’s game, it is becoming clearer that the Red Sox need to acquire starting pitching and one target not being talked about is New York Mets starter Bartolo Colon. Yes, that is the 43 year old Colon who throws an 88 MPH fastball on average according to FanGraphs. Colon would bring stability at the back end of the Sox rotation and the ability to eat innings as an established veteran starting pitcher.

Colon has a 3.39 ERA this year for the Mets with 45 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched.Bartolo Colon These numbers would be very strong in the Sox rotation. However, in the Mets starting rotation, Bartolo Colon currently serves as the 5th starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey.

Noah Syndergaard: 63.2 IP, 81 Strikeouts, 1.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

Jacob DeGrom: 55 IP, 47 Strikeouts, 2.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Steven Matz: 55.1 IP, 53 Strikeouts, 2.60 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Matt Harvey: 60.1 IP, 50 strikeouts, 5.37 ERA, 1.54 WHIP

Looking at these four guys, some may say that Harvey should be the odd man out in the Mets rotation. There were some questions about whether or not the Mets would demote him so he could work on his game before his last start in which he silenced those critics with 7 shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox. Harvey has been a top prospect in the Mets system and he has a bright future, meaning the organization will not start Bartolo Colon ahead of him. If Colon is the fifth starter and is pitching at such a level, why would the Mets deal him?

The Mets have another elite young starting pitcher rehabbing from a Tommy John surgery, 26 year old Zack Wheeler. Wheeler put together two productive seasons at the major league level before going down with the elbow injury. In 285.1 innings in the majors, Wheeler has a 3.50 ERA with 271 strikeouts. While Wheeler is no guarantee to come back strong, Colon will be the odd man out if he does return. If this is the case, the Red Sox should make the move for Colon.

Bartolo Colon is on a one year deal worth $7.25 million for the 2016 season. The Red Sox could take on this contract and the Mets may even be willing to eat some of it if the Sox throw in an offensive piece that could improve upon the Mets 26th ranked offense. While some may want one of the younger arms from the Mets such as a Steven Matz, the Mets likely will not give these young arms away unless they get an outstanding offer.

Pitching has proved to be the key to World Series championships and the Mets have plenty of it. The Sox have the offense to make a run at a championship but they need improved starting pitching and Colon gives them a cheap but solid option to bolster their staff.

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.