By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Sitting at a Major League Baseball’s best 68-30 record entering the so-called second half of the regular season, it would be hard to argue that things could have gone any better – record-wise, at least – for the Boston Red Sox through the first four months of the 2018 season. Team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s big catch – albeit a little late in the winter – of the offseason J.D. Martinez has been even better than advertised, which is a sizable understatement. And the free-swinging and slick fielding Mookie Betts has given the Angels’ Mike Trout a run for his money for the title of the best player in baseball.
Rookie manager Alex Cora has taken a team that is nearly identical to the one former manager John Farrell turned into a group of unlikeable, soulless and sullen Sox and turned them into one of the most fun teams to watch in all of baseball. Oh, and staff ace Chris Sale has been vintage Pedro Martinez-esque at times during this sensational summer.
So, entering the final 84 games of the season beginning on Friday night against the Tigers in Detroit – who are among the seemingly majority of MLB teams who are tanking it this season – what could possibly give Sox fans a kernel of doubt that this regular season wrecking crew is anything but World Series bound.
I’m sure you said it before you read it. Pitching.
Even though the Olde Towne Team cruised into the All-Star break as winners of 9 of their last 10 – they are an absurd 19-2 in July, with their only two losses coming against the Yankees in New York earlier this month – two of their top three starters have not been good.
The perennially poor playoff pitching David Price has pitched 14 2/3 innings this month, allowing 15 earned runs – good for a 9.20 ERA – and opposing hitters are batting a beefy .333 with an astounding 1.145 OPS against the former assumed ace of the Red Sox starting staff.
Former 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello hasn’t fared much better than Pitcher David (Trademark, WEEI’s Lou Merloni). In his three trips to the mound in July, Pretty Ricky has been pretty bad. He has surrendered 13 earned runs in just 15 innings of work – which equates to a 7.80 ERA – and the teams he has faced are hitting a batting title eligible average of .348 against the unreliable righty.
To add insult to injury, Eduardo Rodriguez – who is the lefthanded pitching version of J.D. Drew, a talented player who can’t stay healthy – turned his ankle in his last start in his last start before the break against the Blue Jays at Fenway covering first base and could be lost for the season. Even though he seemingly couldn’t break the glass ceiling of pitching past the 6th inning, the highly breakable lefty held hitters he faced this month to a minuscule .164 BA without surrendering a single run in his two trips to the mound.
And while it was widely believed that Dombrowski would be looking for help for the backend of his bullpen – current 8th inning guy Joe Kelly has given up 15 runs, 14 of them earned – in his last 13 2/3 innings worked in June and July, and has looked every bit the guy who gets overwhelmed in big situations late in games.
Now that Rodriguez will likely miss significant time – and even if he does come back, who knows how healthy he will be – and the San Diego Padres have shipped closer Brad Hand – who was rumored to be a prime target of Dealer Dave – to the Cleveland Indians, the Sox czar of baseball operations job just became a lot harder.
Any Red Sox fan who was born before cell phones and the advent of social media can tell you; slow pitch softball lineups are great to have between April and September. However, once Major League Baseball’s second season arrives in October, it is the quality of the pitching staff teams have that will determine whether or not they are true contenders.
Dombrowski now has a little less than two weeks to deepen what could be the Achilles heel of his cruising club. It certainly doesn’t make his job any easier now that his needs now could include a quality starting pitcher as well as some help for closer Craig Kimbel.
I guess that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, right?