Through their first 28 games of the season, the Boston Red Sox are a sub-.500 baseball team. At 13-15, the Red Sox reside in the basement of the American League East. Boston still has plenty of time to recover, but it's clearly a disappointing start for a franchise that began the year with the best World Series odds in the American League.
What have we learned about the 2015 Red Sox to this point? Here are the three biggest takeaways after one month of competition.
Bad Starting Pitching Is No Surprise
Boston's starting pitchers own a combined record of 8-11. The fact that they've only amassed eight of the club's 13 wins is a testament to their inability to pitch deep into ballgames. Over 28 starts, the Red Sox rotation has thrown a total of 154.1 innings, an average of roughly 5.2 per outing. It's the lowest total of any MLB team that's played at least 28 games.
The collective ERA of Boston's starters stands at 5.54. Only the Colorado Rockies' 5.59 is worse, and they play in thin mountain air. Below are the individual stats for the Red Sox's five starting pitchers:
- Rick Porcello: 3-2, 4.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
- Justin Masterson: 2-1, 5.18 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
- Joe Kelly: 1-1, 5.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
- Clay Buchholz: 1-4, 6.03 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
- Wade Miley: 1-3, 7.15 ERA, 1.54 WHIP
With the exception of Porcello's, the ERAs are atrocious. Even the most pessimistic of Sox fans couldn't have expected to see numbers this bad. The WHIPs, however, are not that far off each player's 2014 pace. In fact, Porcello and Kelly own an identical 1.23 and 1.24, respectively, to last season. A year ago, Masterson's WHIP was 1.63, Buchholz's was 1.39 and Miley's was 1.40.
In all likelihood, the ERAs will drop, regressing toward each player's past performances. But if Boston's rotation is to be successful, its members must pitch better than they did in 2014. What reason is there to believe that will actually happen?
Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino recently stated that he has a backup plan. Via WEEI.com's Ryan Hannable, Lucchino said:
You have to have some potential help from your pitching in Triple-A in every season. I think we have some pretty good arms down there and Pawtucket is actually leading the league, part because the pitching has been quite effective down there. There’s that backup plan and then there is another backup plan.
There’s an old saying, ‘I don’t cross tie my shoes without a backup plan.’ There has to be a backup plan. Third, of course is to acquire some pitching down the road when the opportunity comes for trades. That’s not really generally the case in April.
For the Red Sox to remain competitive as currently constructed, they must rely largely on their offense.
The Lineup Is Underachieving
Over the offseason, Boston invested nearly $200 million in free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Both players are holding up their ends of the bargain so far offensively. Ramirez leads the club with 10 home runs and 22 RBI, while Sandoval boasts a team-best .300 batting average. After that, things begin to get dicey.
Leadoff hitter Mookie Betts has more home runs (five) and RBI (18) than David Ortiz. But Betts is batting just .234 with a .310 on-base percentage—not what you'd like to see at the top of the order. Ortiz's slow start includes four home runs, 12 RBI and a .242 average. The other big bat in the meat of the lineup, Mike Napoli, is struggling to the tune of a .167 average, along with two homers and seven RBI.
Projected to be among the best offenses in baseball, the Red Sox have a .239 team batting average, 10th-best in the American League. Over its last seven contests, Boston is putting up just 2.7 runs per game and has scored two or fewer runs on four occasions.
Also underperforming is a trio of Red Sox right fielders. Shane Victorino was hitting .143 before going on the disabled list. Daniel Nava is batting .143 as well. And finally, Allen Craig, a former All-Star cleanup-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals, is batting .156 with one homer and two RBI. Ramirez's recent shoulder injury adds to the problem.
However, there is a possible solution not far away.
Is It Time to Get Help from the Farm?
As Lucchino suggested, Boston may want to begin executing backup plan No. 1. The Pawtucket Red Sox Triple-A roster features several candidates to add some life to the big league club. Rusney Castillo and his $10.5 million salary appear ready to go after returning from a DL stint with an inflamed shoulder. From Mass Live's Christopher Smith, Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Castillo:
He's cleared as far as his everyday play in right. Looks like he's starting to get a little bit better timing just through some at-bats. It's been start and stop for him this year with spring training and then unfortunately the dive at Pawtucket (that caused the inflamed shoulder). But a couple hits here recently after the first 10 at-bats or so just trying to get back in the flow of things. But there's no restriction on games played or at-bats to be taken.
Regardless of whether Ramirez misses significant time, Castillo could be the spark to get Boston's offense going. And with the way Craig and Nava are hitting, what's the risk?
As far as the rotation goes, Eduardo Rodriguez is lighting up International League hitters for the PawSox. Through four starts, Rodriguez is 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in 24.2 innings.
Miley has lasted beyond the fifth inning just once in his five starts for the Red Sox and appears to be in the most danger of losing his spot. If he has another bad outing or two, could it be in Boston's best interest to replace him with Rodriguez?
Buchholz, Masterson and Kelly shouldn't be too confident in their job security, either. Conversely, both Henry Owens and Brian Johnson might be worthy of a promotion from Pawtucket soon as well. Owens is 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, while Johnson is 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.
Unless Boston's rotation shows significant improvement in the immediate future, the Red Sox have little to lose by mixing things up and throwing one or more of their top prospects into the fire.
Mark Vandeusen is a Featured Columnist covering the Boston Red Sox for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @LucidSportsFan. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via RedSox.com and contract information via Spotrac.com.