Red Sox's Flawed Pitching Could Turn Reigning Champs into $222M Disappointment

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2019

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 28: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after giving up a solo home run to Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Seattle Mariners in the third inning during their Opening Day game at T-Mobile Park on March 28, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Repeating as MLB champions is hard. No club has accomplished the feat since the New York Yankees won it all three straight times from 1998 to 2000.

Since then, no franchise has hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy in so much as two consecutive seasons.

Based on their early returns, the Boston Red Sox are poised to join that crowded, ignoble one-and-done fraternity. Oh, and their $222 million payroll is tops in baseball, per Spotrac.

Yes, we're squarely in small-sample country, but Boston boosters are permitted to fret.  

In 2018, the Red Sox won 108 games. They charged through the American League Division Series and American League Championship Series and ultimately defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in the World Series.

In case you're a Boston fan in need of an emotional boost (or a masochistic Dodgers backer in need of some self-inflicted pain):

Now, the Red Sox are trying to do it again. As they embark on their fraught journey, pitching could be their undoing.

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To repeat, sample-size caveats apply. But through their first eight games, Boston hurlers rank 28th in baseball with a 6.00 ERA. Their starters are even worse with a league-worst 9.08 ERA.


Chris Sale has yielded nine hits, four homers and eight runs in nine innings over two starts and been the subject of understandable hand-wringing over his diminished velocity.

"I'm still just trying to find it," Sale said, per Adam London of "I'm still working on some things with my mechanics. Trying to find my space out there. Just try to get comfortable and find a groove."

David Price coughed up three homers and four runs in six frames in his first start.

No other Boston starter has an ERA south of 8.10. The club's record (hope you're sitting down) is 2-6 after a 7-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday.

Former Boston stud Pedro Martinez cautioned the Beantown faithful to "relax." Then again, he did so on April Fools' Day. Coincidence? (Probably...but perhaps not.)

In the relief corps, the Sox haven't blown a save yet but will eventually miss the presence of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who remains on the free-agent market. No one on the roster profiles as a shutdown late-inning option.

If you trust righties Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier to carry Boston back to the promised land, we've got a suspension bridge to sell you in Kenmore Square.

Yes, the Red Sox inked Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension on March 23. They signed righty Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million pact in December.

Did they do enough to remain ahead of the New York Yankees and Houston Astros in the Junior Circuit pecking order?

So far, not so great.

Of course, the Sox have a go-to rebuttal.

"I didn't rethink about it last year, you saw what happened. It was the same plan," manager Alex Cora told reporters Sunday. "Whoever's doubting us [after] what we did last year. I mean this year? Check what happened last year."

Fair point. Again, though, repeating is tough. Last year was last year.

Here's the truly lousy news: The Red Sox have the No. 30 farm system in the game, according to Bleacher Report's latest ranking. There aren't any burgeoning aces ready to break through or top-shelf trade pieces to offload between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline. 

Maybe Boston needs to re-up Kimbrel or sign languishing former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, down-the-road financial risks aside.

Their current mound-based contingent isn't pulling its weight. That much is obvious.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"There's no panic in this clubhouse, or in the dugout," Price said, per Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. "Nothing good is happening right now. We'd rather it happen right now than the last two weeks of September."

Fine. But September will be here before we know it.

Repeating as champions is hard. Repeating without sufficient pitching is nigh impossible.

The Red Sox can correct course...or they can learn that lesson the hard way.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.