Strap In Folks, It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride
It’s been a while, so let’s refresh the memory of Boston Red Sox fans in case you forgot just how big of a cliff this team fell off. Less than two years ago the entire country was treated to the image of Alex Cora lifting that World Series trophy above his head on the field out in Los Angeles. Since that point, the team has been busted for cheating and said goodbye to Cora. They let go of the President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski. Mookie Betts and David Price have been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rick Porcello signed with the New York Mets. And last but not least, Chris Sale is now sidelined for all of 2020 after having Tommy John Surgery. All caught up? Perfect.
Boston still has an offense that can keep the team semi-relevant, but a pitching staff that has some of the lowest expectations in the league. Specifically in a 60-game season that will rely so heavily on team’s bullpens — at least early on — it may be for the best to set your eyes straight past 2020.
An offense headlined by J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi should keep the team above water; when a piece like Mookie Betts is taken out of that mix, however, it leaves some questions. The team has a .295/.391/.524 slash line to replace for this season after shipping their best hitter out west.
The success of this offense will lean heavily on the shoulders of three young pieces: Benintendi, Michael Chavis, and Alex Verdugo. In his first full season in 2017, Benintendi showed off the power with 20 home runs. The next season he showed off his ability as a hitter, batting .290 en route to a World Series. But the 2019 season didn’t show anybody much of anything from the Arkansas product. Benintendi hit .266/.343/.431 a season ago with only 13 home runs and was frankly one of the worst hitters on the team. On paper, this should be a bat that the team can rely on every day. He’s proven he can be a consistent hitter with power in the majors. As a former seventh overall selection in the 2015 draft, nobody has to prove it more than Andrew Benintendi in these 60 games.
Last season Chavis hit .254/.322/.444 with 18 home runs. His power became evident early on during his rookie campaign. The infielder hit six homers in his first two weeks on the Major League roster. He also hit upwards of .350 during that same stretch. Teams began to figure him out as he spent more time in the bigs, however, and he cooled off drastically as the season went on. After seeing how high his ceiling can be in 2019, Boston will need to rely on the 24-year-old in 2020.
Verdugo has benefitted more than anybody on the club from the delayed start to 2020. New Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke even went as far to say that the former Dodger could be more prepared than anybody because of how long he’s been rehabbing and working.
Verdugo was set to debut in May but, thanks to the July 24 start date, he will be ready to go for Opening Day. Not only has the extended time off helped him progress health-wise, but it will significantly boost his stock in the eyes of Red Sox Nation. Verdugo has been behind the eight ball since he arrived after being the replacement for one of the best and most likable players to come through Boston in recent memory. A stint on the injured list to start the season certainly wouldn’t have done him any favors with the fans. He may get a bit more leeway now that he’s back to 100 percent, and fans know that the Dodgers won’t get a full season with their beloved Mookie Betts.
The outfielder was regarded as one of the best hitting prospects over the past couple of seasons. His left-handed swing will also play favorably in Fenway Park as he hits a lot of doubles and home runs to the opposite field. Verdugo is a player to be excited about if you’re a Red Sox fan.
60-Game Schedule Presents Potential Roadblocks
Verdugo slashed 294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs in his first full season with the Dodgers. Unlike Chavis, he proved that he can be successful through most of a season. These two players will face both a blessing and a curse heading into such a unique schedule. On the bright side, the two won’t have to labor a full season and perform for 162 games. In such a sprint of a season, they will hopefully be able to get hot, and stay hot; however, this could also work entirely opposite if they get in a bad enough slump.
Suspect Pitching Staff
Where the real questions present themselves is the pitching staff. The team only has three starting pitchers, and to be completely frank, it’ll be tough for Roenicke to find any sort of consistent option out of the bullpen this season. After signing a five-year extension before last season, Chris Sale experienced major setbacks in 2019 and is now on the shelf for 2020 after having Tommy John Surgery.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez will fill out the starting staff as quite literally the only three starting pitchers on the roster. It’s tough to find a combination of three pitchers to get a fan base less excited than this. To provide some perspective of what fans can expect from this trio, here’s some food for thought. The five worst teams in baseball in 2019 — the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays — churned out a combined 4.50 ERA from the top-three starters on each team a season ago. Rodriguez, Eovaldi, and Perez’s 2019 ERAs combined for 4.97.
Rodriguez was good in 2019 but doesn’t seem like a guy who will give his team 200 innings year-in and year-out. The closest he had ever come before this was 137 1/3 IP in 2017. At his best, he seems like his ceiling is a number two starter in a decent rotation. Rodriguez is good, but not good enough to be the front man for the Boston Red Sox.
Eovaldi has a career 4.30 ERA, a sizable injury history, and has never surpassed 200 innings in a season; this doesn’t exactly fill the mold of a $17 million-per-year starting pitcher. The righty started only 12 games last season and stunted a 5.99 ERA. It seems safe to say that expectations are low for Eovaldi moving forward.
There’s not too much to read into in terms of Martin Perez. The newly acquired lefty features a career 4.72 ERA; he’s also only thrown below 4.00 once in his career back in 2013. The past two seasons have also been his worst in terms of that category. In 2018 he tossed 85 1/3 innings with a 1.781 WHIP and 6.22 ERA. The 2019 season proved to be marginally better with a less-than-impressive 1.518 WHIP and 5.12 ERA. Having to rely on a man who posted the fourth-worst ERA in baseball in 2019 and a WHIP higher than anybody doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success.
On to 2021
No matter how good the offense is, this is a pitching staff headlined by Eduardo Rodriguez. It also features Martin Perez, and that won’t make it any higher than third place in this division. There’s a decent shot that Boston will be closer to the Blue Jays and Orioles than the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The most important thing for Boston in 2020 is that the season actually has a chance to finish. Their luxury tax penalties won’t reset unless the season fully concludes; if another COVID-19 outbreak surfaces, the league may be forced to shut down. If this situation comes to fruition and they aren’t able to reset their money, the team could be handcuffed once again heading into 2021.
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