Red Sox pitching is absolutely dreadful, and no meaningful help is on the way

Alex Reimer
July 17, 2019 - 11:19 am

It is tough to pick just one sequence that embodies the Red Sox’ disenchanting championship defense. But somebody named “Josh Smith” relieving Andrew Cashner and promptly firing a pick-off attempt down the right field line in the middle of an interminable three-hour, 45-minute loss to the lowly Blue Jays at Fenway Park should be at the top of the list. It represents many of the flaws that have nagged the Red Sox throughout this slog of a season, with an inability to get outs topping the list. Toescar Hernandez, who advanced to second on the errant throw, wound up scoring on a wild pitch. 

Tuesday’s 10-4 defeat was not the nadir of the summer for the Red Sox, but it was a microcosm. Faced with seven straight games against the moribund Jays and Orioles before they begin a two-week gauntlet with the Yankees and Rays, this is a gift-wrapped opportunity for the $232 million Sox to make up some ground and grab hold of a wild card spot. They pulverized the Jays Monday, but then fell on their proverbial faces one night later, with new acquisition Andrew Cashner leading the way. The veteran right-hander with the 55-83 career record surrendered eight hits in five innings and allowed two monstrous home runs. The aforementioned Hernandez took him yard for a three-run shot in the second and Justin Smoak smacked a solo shot in the sixth that allowed Toronto to retake the lead. Boston scored three runs in the fifth to tie the game, but promptly gave it right back.

The Red Sox simply do not have enough Major League arms. Cashner slots into Nathan Eovaldi’s spot in the rotation, which was abandoned in late April when he went down with loose bodies in his elbow. Eovaldi, who’s undergone two Tommy John procedures in his career, had another surgery shortly thereafter.

And now he’s being counted on to serve as the team’s closer, even though he’s never been in the volatile role before. The Red Sox announced their plans July 2, and Eovaldi hasn’t even begun his rehab assignment yet. Dave Dombrowski is selling Eovaldi’s addition to the bullpen as a midseason upgrade, but he must get on the mound before that desperate optimism even has a chance of coming to fruition. 

Counting Eovaldi, the Red Sox have at least $84 million invested in their starting rotation this season. And yet, their 4.73 ERA ranks 19th in the league. Overall, the Red Sox are sporting a 4.64 ERA, which is good for 17th in MLB. 

A lot of blame for the Red Sox’ shortcomings is rightfully placed on the bullpen, which has been neglected for nine months now. That’s how you get Josh Smith and Hector Velazquez pitching in tie games. The team lost Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly and opted to not replace them. Dombrowski is the person who’s culpable for that. 

With that in mind, it’s hard to label the bullpen as a disappointment, because no reasonable person could’ve expected 30-year-old rookie Marcus Walden to keep retiring batters or Matt Barnes to pitch every day. The high-priced starting rotation, meanwhile, certainly qualifies as such. Chris Sale, who will take the mound Thursday, hasn’t won at Fenway Park in more than one year and has been tagged for five runs in three straight outings. His postgame verbal self-flagellations –– he called himself an embarrassment to his family earlier this season –– are more tiring than endearing at this point. 

Meanwhile, 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello is throwing his slowest fastball in five years and has an ERA north of 5.00.

Outside of David Price, who’s seemingly on some sort of innings limit, since he’s only thrown 88 frames in 17 starts this season, nobody in this rotation is pitching to expectations. With so much money locked up long-term, it’s difficult to see how any real reinforcements could possibly get here.

Cashner might be their best bet, and on Tuesday, he showed why he was able to be scooped up for the price of two 17-year-old prospects. He resembled a turnstile on the mound, allowing hoards of Blue Jays to run all around him. 

The bullpen is depleted, the back of the rotation is thin, and front of the rotation represents a bigger waste of money than Trump’s sad Fourth of July tribute parade to himself. The outlook is bleak, or in other words, looks a lot like Josh Smith blindly throwing the ball around the diamond.

Related: Consider it the Andrew Cashner wakeup call