After latest loss(es), what now for the Red Sox?

Rob Bradford
August 02, 2020 - 7:11 am
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Just get to Aug. 31.

Put it on the bumper stickers.

When it comes to the 2020 Red Sox we can't fool ourselves. The be-all, end-all is finding a way for the baseball season to be played into at least one hour of September. If that happens then the team's luxury tax threshold is reset and team-building can go back to what we're used to around here. If COVID-19 stops Major League Baseball in its tracks before that, well, you're likely going to be riding through more of the same penny-pinching uneasiness we're currently dealing with.

Why do we bring this up on Aug. 2, with the Red Sox having had played just nine games? Well, after Saturday, priorities have to be fully adjusted. 

This was the day it was determined Eduardo Rodriguez would be out for 2020. This was the day the Red Sox fell to 3-6 after another demoralizing 5-2 loss to the Yankees. This was the day the Sox' starters' ERA jumped to a collective 6.87 thanks to Zack Godley's five runs in 3 1/3 innings. This was the day it was announced Austin Brice would be looking to stop the losing streak as Sunday's opener. (For a complete box score of the Red Sox' latest loss, click here.)

As hard as one might want to try and themselves into knots suggesting this story has yet to be told and that there's still plenty of games to be played, especially with more postseason spots ready for the taking, that narrative is a square peg into a round hole this time around. Every other year? Maybe the conversation is different. But when you are rolling out the kind of rotation and roster the Red Sox have against teams that aren't living Chaim Bloom's lot in life, it is what it is.

What it is right now is making sure another month of baseball is played while deciphering the best way to piece things together in the meantime.

"We want to compete, we want to win right now, but consistent with everything I’ve said since the day that I got here, as much as we want to win right now, we need to be mindful of the future," Bloom said prior to Saturday's loss. "We can’t do it at the expense of everything that comes after 2020, so I think recognizing that we’re dealing with a lot more now with the virus and all the things that might impose on this season, we have to keep that same mindset. We certainly want to win this year, we need to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up really well for the long term."

In other words, don't hold your breath for that big Trevor Bauer trade.

While it is understood that the win-now mentality is out the window, it should be the Red Sox' responsibility to put their best foot forward with what they have. This is especially true considering you're still living with a close to $200 million payroll, possessing what many believed was one of the best lineups in the American League coming into this season.

So, what now?

For starters, the upside that is working out down at Pawtucket may be the most intriguing part of this team. The question is when Bloom will start tapping into it instead of leaning on the already-been-there-done-that collection of pitchers the Red Sox are hoping turns into their next wave of diamonds in the rough.

Brian Johnson (who would need to be put on the 40-man roster) threw an impressive four-inning simulated game Saturday and acquitted himself well for most of both spring trainings. But for whatever reason, he continues to watch everyone else fly by him on the way up to Boston.

The 26-year-old Kyle Hart, a tall, lanky lefty, continues to impress during these taxi squad games and did come off a fairly impressive 15-start season with Pawtucket in 2019.

And then there are the two top starting pitching prospects: Tanner Houck and Bryan Mata, both of whom were asked about during the Bloom Zoom call Saturday.

"You want to develop as talented a pitcher as you can," the Red Sox chief baseball officer said. "In some cases, you find out the role down the road. The priority now is to make sure they’re both getting innings so they have a chance to contribute as starters. Tanner, we know where he is on his progression. He’s probably a little closer. He also, if he’s going to have as much success as he possibly can in the big leagues, we need to help him in his plan with his effectiveness against lefthanders. That’s an emphasis over there in Pawtucket, and something we’re going to work on in targeted fashion. He certainly has the stuff to be able to do it and the ability to do it. How well he does it is going to determine his ultimate ceiling. 

Mata, the outing he had, I think that was yesterday, days are long right now, but the outing that he had was really, really impressive. Sometimes you have a guy whose arm is that good, whose stuff is that tantalizing, and it’s tempting to take shortcuts. Those, I don’t even necessarily mean on the timetable but in terms of development and what you’re trying to help him to do. I think it’s really important not to do that if we’re going to help someone reach their ceiling."

Is that answer good enough to ward off those yelling "Why not bring them up?" during these big-league starts? Maybe it offers some perspective, pushing the delivery time of the duo back a few weeks. 

Put it this way, it certainly seems like a legitimate conversation to start integrating guys like Houck and/or Mata in (particularly in the three-to-four-inning fashion the Red Sox are using many of their starters) than hoping for the best from guys whose upside is simply locking in on a career as a major-league middle reliever. It would also steer the Red Sox away from the temptation of morphing Darwinzon Hernandez into the role of a starter, which most would agree isn't his true calling.

As for service time, it would seem the value of getting experience in this dynamic with little pressure and no hostile crowds might be worth starting those clocks.

Maybe we're misguided. Perhaps some of these guys who are getting chances prove us all wrong. Maybe these guys who are carrying OPS' of .647 or worse (Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Chavis and Alex Verudgo) find their way out the abyss.

But all of it seems like a leap of faith that would result in, everyone tenuously hanging from a cliff ... and that's the best-case scenario. 

"It has been one thing after another," Bloom said. "I guess because of that there hasn’t been much time to sit back and think about them. Unfortunately, I think everybody in baseball and really the whole world, we’ve all been dealing with some unexpected things this year. This is part of our jobs. You can’t walk into this job or any job in baseball expecting everything to go according to plan. You know there are going to be a few curveballs. There have probably been more than our share of those in our organization this year but that’s just part of what we have to do."

 

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