Red Sox

Five days, six starts, no wins -- how the Red Sox rotation has destroyed this season

Five days, six starts, no wins -- how the Red Sox rotation has destroyed this season

The reality of the 2019 Red Sox season can be boiled down to one sentence: the starters never gave them a chance.

Forget about the bullpen, the struggles with runners in scoring position, the trade deadline letdown. This last turn through the rotation neatly encapsulates everything wrong with the starters, how they collectively failed at every turn, and why this remains such a massive concern moving forward, because news flash -- without changes, we'll be having the exact same conversation in 2020.

Want to know where this season went to seed? Let's take a stroll through the last six games, one starter at a time, and find some answers.

Rick Porcello: Rays 8, Red Sox 5
Hours after the trade deadline turned out to be a dud, Porcello delivered one.

After allowing a run in the first and smashing a pair of dugout monitors in frustration, Porcello went out in the second and served up a pair of homers -- a leadoff shot to Kevin Kiermaier and a three-run blast from Austin Meadows. It was one bad inning in a season full of them.

The former Cy Young Award winner suddenly looks like a pitcher whose low-90s stuff simply doesn't play anymore. He's 9-8 with a 5.74 ERA and trending in the wrong direction. The only reason he's 4-2 since June 23 is because the Red Sox seem to score 10 runs every time he starts. His 9.35 ERA in that span suggests he has needed every run.

Porcello is in the final year of his contract and loves Boston, which is no small thing. He's also a clubhouse leader. But intangibles mean nothing when his starts turn Fenway Park into the world's largest pinball machine.

The Red Sox already felt deflated because of the deadline. By the time Porcello was done, they were reeling.

Andrew Cashner: Rays 9, Red Sox 4
The Red Sox acquired in an acknowledgment that Nathan Eovaldi was done for the season. Eovaldi's absence has simply murdered the bullpen, thanks to three months of three-inning starts made by the likes of every Josh, Ryan, and Hector to roll through Pawtucket.

Cashner was supposed to provide stability, based on a breakout age-32 season that saw him go 9-3 for the woeful Orioles. Red-flag alert: he has posted only one other winning season in his 10-year career, and his stuff isn't exactly electric. Redder-flag alert: the Phillies reportedly passed on him over makeup concerns.

In four starts since joining the Red Sox, Cashner is 1-3 with a 6.94 ERA. The ERA would be worse except for a scoring change from this loss to Tampa Bay Cashner appeared ill-equipped to handle the bright lights of the pennant race, allowing seven hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. He botched a chopper in front of the plate that was generously ruled a single, forced in a run with a walk, and crossed up catcher Sandy Leon for a passed ball that scored another.

Say hello to the big deadline acquisition. It turns out he's no savior.

Eduardo Rodriguez: Yankees 4, Red Sox 2
On the list of disappointments, E-Rod rates as least objectionable. He leads the staff in wins (13), innings (135.1), and ERA (4.19). He has pitched into the seventh inning 10 times. He opened as the fifth starter, and were he still in that role, he'd be having a hell of a season.

Unfortunately, he's kinda sorta the ace at the moment, and it does not suit him. Case in point: Friday night in New York.

J.D. Martinez gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run homer, sparking hopes that the offense would once again go nuclear on Yankees pitching. But first there was the little matter of the bottom of the frame, and Rodriguez imploded.

Two walks and a single loaded the bases with one out, and then Rodriguez badly missed with a fastball that was supposed to be up to Gleyber Torres. It caught too much of the plate and then all of Torres' barrel, sailing out to left for a back-breaking grand slam.

Rodriguez righted the ship, but the damage had been done. The demoralized and broken Red Sox never mounted a serious threat, and their lost weekend was off and stumbling.

Chris Sale: Yankees 9, Red Sox 2
If there's one person responsible for the travails of 2019, it's Sale. Signed to a $145 million extension to be the stopper, he has instead leaked like a sieve, with the Red Sox losing 15 of his 23 starts. He delivered his most embarrassing outing in Yankee Stadium in a performance that illustrated the futility and frustration of his season.

With two outs and two on in the fourth, Sale found himself just one pitch away from escaping with a 1-1 tie. That pitch never came. He allowed five consecutive hits, including a three-run homer to D.J. LeMahieu before being lifted. He ended up being charged with seven runs in the frame, and eight in the game.

Making matters worse, one of the most accountable players on the team finally lost it and blasted home plate ump Mike Estabrook for a blown strike three call on Gio Urshela earlier. Never mind the rockets that followed off the bats of hitters like Breyvic Valera and Brett Gardner, Sale blamed the umpire. He ended up being ejected before complaining some more in the postgame about how the umps must be held to a higher standard.

It was a terrible, terrible look for the guy who's so confident in his stuff, he never shakes the catcher: put down whatever sign you want and I'll blow the guy away.

Not anymore. Salvaging him will be the greatest task for 2020.

Brian Johnson: Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
What's there to say? The replacement starters stink. Pressed into service by a doubleheader, Johnson lasted just three innings in his return from the IL. He allowed eight hits and luckily only three runs. If he hadn't started, someone like Ryan Weber would've posted the exact same numbers. Let's just move on.

David Price: Yankees 7, Red Sox 4
While it's tempting to draw a line at Price's pointless resuscitation of his feud with broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, his struggles actually predate that stupidity by more than a month. Since beating Tampa, 5-1, on June 8 and striking out 10, Price has looked barely pedestrian.

He's 3-3 with a 6.55 ERA and has reached the seventh inning exactly zero times. And this from the guy we've been calling the ace all season. His struggles reached a nadir on Sunday night.

With two outs in the third and the Red Sox leading 1-0, Price collapsed like Sale the day before. The next seven batters went homer, double, double, single, double, single, walk, before manager Alex Cora made another long trudge to the mound to remove yet another starter who hadn't even give him three innings, let alone five, let alone seven or eight.

Price's ERA shot to 4.36 -- its highest point since April 6 -- and his record fell to 7-5. So much for holding all the cards. Now they're scattered to the wind and Price is trying to see if he can recover 52 for a full deck.

That's five days and six starts where the Red Sox never had a chance. Want to know why 2019 has unfolded in such a disappointing fashion?

There's your answer.
 

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Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to determine which side has more to lose in a Mookie Betts trade -- the Red Sox or the team that acquires him.

From the Boston perspective, receiving fair value for the defending MVP will be a struggle, since he's likely to play out his contract and reach free agency next fall, thus limiting any potential return. On the other end, his new team runs the risk of surrendering assets for a rental.

While there aren't any perfect analogies to provide a roadmap, the Diamondbacks and Cardinals can offer some insight into how the process might unfold, based on their blockbuster Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter.

The six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover went from Arizona to St. Louis on Dec. 5 for a trio of prospects. He had one year and $14.5 million remaining on his contract, and the Diamondbacks suspected they wouldn't be able to keep him long-term.

General manager Mike Hazen agonized over how to proceed before pulling the trigger.

"We treaded very, very lightly, knowing it was a tricky situation for us," Hazen said on Wednesday at the GM Meetings. "Paul is a franchise player and he meant everything to our clubhouse, our leadership. But we felt like the position we were in, not necessarily being one player away, if we weren't able to come to a contractual extension with him, what was it going to mean to us down the road?"

On the other end, the Cardinals jumped at the chance to acquire an impact right-handed bat despite having no guarantees he'd wear red for more than a year. Based on their experience with prior rentals like Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire, who ended up committing long-term, the Cards believed they had a chance of retaining Goldschmidt beyond 2019, and indeed they struck a five-year, $130 million extension in spring training.

Still, they couldn't acquire him on the assumption that he'd sign, a lesson worth remembering for anyone considering Betts.

"When you do a trade like that, you make the trade assuming he's going to be a one-year rental, because otherwise, you're setting yourself up to make a bad decision trying to justify the trade that only works if he stays around five or six years," said Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. "We were hopeful. We've had good success with one-year rentals who have come to St. Louis, enjoyed the environment we have, the fan base, the full stadium and everything else, and signed here. We've had success doing that over the last 20 years and were hopeful that would happen again. But you've got to make the trade assuming it's a standalone, and if you're not comfortable with it as a standalone, then we wouldn't have done it."

THE FOUR OPTIONS ON THIS KIND OF DEAL

The deliberations in Arizona centered on four options that should sound familiar to Red Sox fans: trade Goldschmidt in the offseason, move him at the deadline if the team isn't contending, let him play out his deal and walk for a compensatory draft pick, or hope the season unfolds in a way that produces a long-term extension.

"All of those scenarios were in play," Hazen said. "The offseason, the in-season, the end-of-season scenarios that you know would be associated with trading now, trading then, holding all the way through, successful year leads to something else [contractually]. There was no real answer sheet to it. We had to make a decision and we did."

One major difference between Goldschmidt and Betts is salary. The $14.5 million remaining on the former's deal fit St. Louis's 2019 salary structure, whereas the $27-$30 million Betts will earn in arbitration could end up pricing him out of all but a handful of markets. Goldschmidt's relative affordability allowed the Cardinals to offer a better package of prospects, while his age (31) kept that package reasonable. Betts just turned 27 and is in his prime. His extension should end up being more than double Goldschmidt's.

"Budgets are real and payrolls are real," Girsch said. "The higher the salary, the less I can give up, because I don't have money left to go do something else, and the lower the salary, the more I can give up, right? So it's just how you'd expect. You're not just trading for the player. You're trading for the player with his salary commitment, so you have to figure that in."

Meanwhile, Hazen knew the team would lose the trade in the court of public opinion, at least initially.

"We were very cognizant," he said. "Had to turn that off pretty quickly. We knew that was coming, and understood why it came. That's part of what we do. I think separating that out and still feeling like the decision was the right decision, I felt OK about it because of that."

THE RETURN ON THE BLOCKBUSTER

The package he received -- catcher Carson Kelly, right-hander Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andy Young -- appeared underwhelming, but all three ended up showing promise.

Kelly hit 18 homers with an .826 OPS as Arizona's starting catcher, Weaver went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts before being shut down with a sore elbow that did not require surgery, and Young slammed 29 homers between Double- and Triple-A. It's a virtual certainty none will become a star on Goldschmidt's level, but that doesn't mean they can't provide value, which is a calculus the Red Sox front office is currently considering.

In St. Louis, Goldschmidt hit 34 homers, but posted his lowest OPS (.821) since 2011. He still helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs, where he hit .429 with two homers in an NLDS victory over the Braves before St. Louis fell to the Nationals in the NLCS. 

"Our sense was he was a guy who'd be comfortable in a midwestern city in a baseball-crazed market in a place that was competitive in the type of clubhouse environment we have," Girsch said. "It felt like we had a good shot at making this work, but until you meet him, you're never 100 percent sure."

While Hazen is happy with both the return and the fact that Goldschmidt received a long-term extension, he's not going to pretend he enjoyed trading a franchise icon.

"I don't know how you value that stuff," he said. "I still don't know if we did it appropriately. History will tell us, I think. It still doesn't feel great, but look, at some point, we're charged with making the best decisions we can moving forward."

The Red Sox know the feeling. Making a palatable deal for Betts feels like an even greater challenge than what the Diamondbacks and Cardinals managed to swing for Goldschmidt.

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Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

MLB's 2019 Cy Young Awards were handed out on Wednesday with Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and New York Mets righty Jacob deGrom taking home the hardware. It was Verlander's second Cy Young of his illustrious career and deGrom's second consecutive season winning the award.

One Boston Red Sox pitcher managed to work his way into the Cy Young conversation as well. That would be left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2019 Boston rotation.

Rodriguez placed sixth in American League Cy Young voting, earning three fourth-place votes and two fifth-place votes for a total of eight points. The 26-year-old finished behind Verlander, Gerrit Cole (Astros), Charlie Morton (Rays), Shane Bieber (Indians), and Lance Lynn (Rangers).

E-Rod, who has had issues going deep into games throughout his career, took a huge step forward in that department last season. His 203 1/3 innings pitched in 2019 demolished his previous career-high of 137 1/3.

Rodriguez nearly joined the 20-win club in 2019, finishing 19-6 with a career-best 3.81 ERA.

The starting rotation is one of the Red Sox' biggest question marks heading into 2020, but Boston can at least take solace in the fact their hard-throwing former top prospect is making strides in the right direction.

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