If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, you probably had high expectations for the 2019 season. After winning a franchise-high number of games and eliminating every playoff opponent with relative ease, the club brought back nearly every member of the 2018 squad.
There were a few questions surrounding the bullpen and closer spot, but still, Red Sox Nation marched into Opening Day in high spirits. New England was ready for another great season and, hopefully, a second consecutive World Series championship.
To say the team has stumbled out of the gate would be an undeniable understatement. The Red Sox were scheduled to start the season with an 11-game road trip on the West Coast, facing Seattle, Oakland, and Arizona.
They made their Fenway Park debut yesterday, the last team to start its home schedule. Yet again, they were bested by their opponent, this time; the Blue Jays.
In the opening series in Seattle, the Red Sox lost three of four, including the Opening Day start with ace pitcher Chris Sale. He had the worst start of his career, lasting three innings while allowing six hits, three of which were home runs. The Mariners scored seven runs and his ERA after one start was a monstrous 21.00.
The other starters didn’t have it any better. Hard-throwing righty Nathan Eovaldi gave up six runs on eight hits and three homers over five innings. He only recorded three strikeouts. That was the only game the Red Sox won in Seattle, as the offense mounted a comeback led by first baseman Mitch Moreland, who sent a 3-run home run into the Seattle night. The Red Sox won that game, 7-6.
Eduardo Rodriguez struggled in his start, getting lit up for five runs in 4.1 innings. That game was notable for the bizarre ninth inning that almost saw Seattle blow the lead. Mariner’s third baseman Dylan Moore made three consecutive fielding errors that should have been easy plays but Seattle held on to win, 6-5.
In the third loss of the opening series, former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello had a terrible outing. allowing nine runs in 2.2 innings, although only four of those runs were earned. His ERA sits at 13.50.
The team then left Seattle, mercifully, and traveled to Oakland to take on the Athletics. It was more of the same for Boston as the Athletics took three out of four. The bright spot of the series was a bounce-back effort from Sale even though the bats went cold in a 1-0 loss.
The opener in Arizona was the worst game of the trip as Porcello was drilled again. In 4.2 innings, he allowed 10 hits and seven runs. It got worse. Reliever Brian Johnson was rocked for seven runs in just one inning. Trailing 14-1, manager Alex Cora surrendered and saved his bullpen by calling on third baseman Eduardo Nunez to pitch the final inning. Seeing his first time on the mound since Little League, he allowed one run. His ERA sits at 9.00, which is laughably comparable to the starting rotation. Maybe they should consider him as a fifth starter.
The game on Saturday followed a typical pattern. The team scored early but failed to hold the lead. David Price gave up four runs and didn’t record a quality start. The Diamondbacks walked it off in the bottom of the ninth with a game-winning hit off reliever Colton Brewer.
While most of us in Red Sox Nation were worried about the state of the bullpen, it turns out the bullpen has been the most stable part of the team. The starters have allowed far more runs than the bullpen. So far, the pattern has been for the starters to allow a bunch of runs and leave early, with the bullpen coming in to lock things down. That has allowed the offense to rally; both of the victories have been come-from-behind efforts.
What happened? How did the world champions fall so hard in the first week of 2019?
Winning back to back World Series is notoriously difficult. The last team to do it was the Yankees’ three peat from 1998 to 2000. Championship teams suffer what’s been termed, “the World Series Hangover.”
For the Red Sox, at least so far, it’s been less of a hangover and more of a coma caused by a train wreck. In just seven games, the starters have allowed 30 earned runs with 13 homers.
According to ESPN, through their first five games, the Red Sox had the fourth-worst run differential for a reigning World Series champion.
There are a few reasons for this awful start.
One: the 11-game road trip was the longest to start a season in franchise history. Playing on the West Coast didn’t help. The Mariners and the Athletics had the benefit of starting their seasons early, playing a two-game series in Japan.
Two: When the team hasn’t been playing, it’s been traveling, and vice versa. Between staying in hotels, playing games, and boarding flights, there just hasn’t been a moment to take a deep breath and relax. There also hasn’t been any opportunity to fix the problems that have presented themselves. It’s likely that everybody knows what the issues are, but dealing with those issues requires time at home.
Three: Look back to spring training to see why things aren’t going well. Given that the team made such a deep October run last year, and had about a month less than the rest of the league to recuperate, Alex Cora thought it best to keep the workload light when it came to the rotation, anticipating another long season. Eduardo Rodriguez was the only starter to throw more than 15 innings in spring training.
Limiting the starters allowed the coaching staff to look for relievers to fill the bullpen and a workload for the bullpen was a perfect way to give the rotation time off. Because of that, the rotation is still in “warm-up mode.” It will require time for the starters to build stamina, velocity, and command.
Boston got a boost by ending its road swing with a 1-0 victory at Arizona thanks to a Moreland homer and a combined effort of five pitchers. Coming home might be the best cure to overcome a slow start.