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The Red Sox are 6-3 and leading the American League East on the heels of their baseball-best offense, which is averaging 6.2 runs a game .
Boston’s rotation, however, isn’t up to snuff.
Wait a second. This is news?
Everyone, maybe even the mothers of Clay Buchholz. Rick Porcello. Justin Masterson. Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. had surely heard the club’s starters would potentially struggle this year, or at least fail to be more than mediocre. This was the most discussed topic of the spring, not a minor worry.
Are the rebuilt Red Sox good enough to make the playoffs? Should the Sox deal Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart for Cole Hamels. Is Buchholz ready to be a leader? Can Porcello emerge as a No. 1? Can Kelly stay healthy? Can Masterson have a bounce-back year? How’s the pitching depth in the minors?
These were all questions stemming from the revamped, but underwhelming rotation because the general public, never mind baseball people, recognized this ace-less staff is lacking that reliable arm to be a bullpen-saving, innings-inning stopper.
Nearly two full turns through the rotation, Red Sox starters have a 6.16 ERA through 49 2/3 innings. That’s the second-worst in baseball, ahead of only the Mariners’ putrid 6.43 mark.
After one full turn, there was actually some merit to those silly “He’s the Ace” T-shirts when the group of five posted a 2.30 ERA with 34 strikeouts over 31 1/3 innings and allowed eight runs.
The last four starts, however, have produced a 12.77 ERA spanning 18 1/3 frames. A quartet of Buchholz, Porcello, Masterson and Miley have been blasted for 26 hits and 28 total runs, 26 earned. It’s up to Kelly, who recently endured a biceps strain, to save the day when the Sox open a four-game set with the Orioles at Fenway on Friday.
If this continues, someone will inevitably pin it on the loss of Christian Vazquez .
Here’s some panic-free reality: Boston’s rotation will obviously do better than permit more than six runs a game on a regular basis. Odds are that number will be higher than two and it will certainly be much lower than 13.
The more alarming notion is that not one of the four men to take the mound twice has put together two overly impressive starts. Each of Porcello’s – the team’s new $20 million man – have been respectable in that they’ve been “quality”, but the definition of that word has been stretched if you’ve actually watched the games.
As a result, the individual ERA’s are nearly as ugly as the team’s: Buchholz (1-1, 7.84), Porcello (1-1, 3.86), Masterson (1-0, 7.59), Miley (0-1, 10.57), and the saving-grace Kelly (1-0, 1.29). Three of the four have been tagged for at least seven runs in a start. The ninth-year Buchholz – tabbed the “leader” of the staff and the man owner John Henry so gleefully deemed the No.
1 – 10 runs later, had the worst start of his career in the Bronx after silencing the Phillies on Opening Day.
To their credit, at least, opposing batters are hitting just .223 (8th-best in MLB). In other words, it’s not that they’re always getting knocked around; it’s just that opponents are often making their hits count.
So, what now?
Nothing. They all forge on, hoping for consistency, better results, improved mechanics, more precise location, and whatever else. The Sox aren’t feeling pressured to acquire an ace after nine games if they weren’t during camp. Manager John Farrell isn’t even feeling the need to line-up a long-man despite the toll his opening arms are already taking on the bullpen. Fortunately, the ‘pen has generally performed well with a 2.97 ERA (17th), but its 39 1/3 innings to this point are the second-most in the game (Texas stands at 43 1/3 frames).
“The first time through the rotation went well. Everyone threw well,” general manager Ben Cherington said Thursday on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show. “The second time through the rotation has not gone as well, aside from Porcello’s outing on Monday. Watching the games, I don’t see anything in the stuff — the raw stuff — that is any different than the first time through the order. It’s really just been a matter of execution, command, that hasn’t been as good the second time through. That has to be better. The key for our group is to get deeper in the season. I know as a group the guys feel good physically, confident and just have to execute a little better.
“I think with our team one of the things that helps us win is we’re not going to have perfect outings, perfect innings all the time, but minimizing damage and being able to get through those dirty innings get deeper into games — that is something Porcello did well on Monday and we did very well the first time through the order. That lines up our bullpen, gives our bullpen a chance to line up, gives our offense a chance to click and leads to wins.”
Or, simply put, “the need to get deeper into games is going to be required,” stated Farrell. “We have the capability of doing that. We’ve shown it.”
There you have it. Patience prevails or punishes over a 162-game season. For now, still in April and with a whopping 24 weeks to go, patience is the right approach.
The bottom-line is it shouldn’t come as news Boston needs help in the rotation, either in the form of personnel or performance. How things develop from here will be interesting, but not nearly as fascinating as it might be come the trade deadline when Cherington might be forced to react. Until then, just hope the bats continue to mash. After all, that’s how the team was built in the first place.
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.