For all the concern over the Red Sox' starting rotation -- heightened by the team's mound meltdown on the recent seven-game road trip, and far from unwarranted -- there's reason to believe that the Red Sox potentially face bigger problems with their bullpen.
Of course, the rotation's collective 4.79 ERA is nothing about which to boast.
The mere fact that the Sox leaning toward a four-man rotation for the next 2 1/2 weeks suggests that the team would rather avoid the issue altogether, rather than fumble around internally to find a suitable fifth man.
Be that as it may, the rotation appears less of a concern, both in the present and near-future.
In David Price, the Sox have a legitimate No. 1, and, unlike in April and early May, is currently pitching like one. The Sox would like him to more regularly pitch into the eighth rather than the seventh, but Price, having made some adjustments to his mechanics, is an asset, not a problem.
A week ago, the Red Sox didn't have Eduardo Rodriguez, arguably their second-best starter. Now, he's returned, with the hope that his knee injury is a thing of the past and he's sufficiently fresh enough to avoid some fatigue issues that often plague second-year starters.
Steven Wright is no longer suspect, having supplied nine quality starts in 10 outings, and with each start, the lingering suspicion that his performance is somehow a fluke lessens a little bit.
Rick Porcello remains a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation arm. If a worst-case scenario is the sort of six-inning, five-run outing like he turned in Thursday night in the road trip finale, the Sox can surely live with that.
That leaves only the fifth spot in question, and rare is the team which isn't facing similar woes. Beyond possibly the New York Mets, no club in baseball is completely confident in all five of its starters, and if someone doesn't emerge between June 18 -- when the Sox will be forced to deploy a No. 5 starter -- and the end of July, the Sox can deal for a suitable fill-in.
But the bullpen picture is considerably less rosy.
The closer's role isn't a worry, even after Craig Kimbrel's blown save last weekend in Toronto. Even the most dependable closers are going to squander a handful of leads in the course of a season, and Kimbrel has blown just two through the first third of the schedule.
It's getting to Kimbrel that could represent a problem.
Koji Uehara is 41, and, predictably, not as resilient. Junichi Tazawa, Thursday's debacle not withstanding, has pitched as well as any set-up man in the league.
After that, there are no sure things. Matt Barnes has been impressive in spurts, but still doesn't have the track record to guarantee he can be trusted in high-leverage spots.
Tommy Layne, as recent action has demonstrated, is more of a lefty specialist who can't be over-exposed, while Robbie Ross Jr., while mostly excellent, is something of an unknown.
If the starters beyond Price and (maybe) Wright aren't capable of regularly getting into the eighth inning, that means a heavier workload for the bullpen. Meanwhile, as the just-completed road trip highlighted, a few poor starts can wreak havoc on the bullpen for a while.
There's a domino-like effect associated with a starter being shelled early. Not only does that compromise the bullpen that night, but the next several games, too.
Here's where the Sox will miss Carson Smith. The idea in dealing for Smith was that he would help lighten the late-inning workload for Uehara and Tazawa, while providing an effecitve weapon to neautralize right-handed-hitting lineups such as Toronto's.
Now, with Smith gone for the season, there's no help on the horizon. Noe Ramirez isn't the answer and until Pat Light shows a more consistent ability to throw strikes at Triple A, he can't be trusted to do so in the big leagues over the second half.
If there's any consolation, few teams in the division -- indeed, in the American League -- have worry-free pitching staffs from top-to-bottom. Baltimore and New York may have better and deeper bullpens, but neither has a trustworthy rotation. Toronto, for all its offense, can currently claim neither a solid rotation or bullpen.
Another positive: it's less expensive to deal for bullpen help than it is to find someone to provide a meaningful rotation upgrade.
But such help is more than a month away, at minimum.
For the next six weeks or so, the Sox may be on their own.