The Boston Red Sox find themselves staring in the face of their biggest challenge of the 2019 season. Sitting 10 games back of the New York Yankees in the American League East, as well as two games back of a Wild Card seeding, the Red Sox are in the midst of the most important stretch of their schedule.
In a stretch that began on Monday, July 22, the Red Sox play 13 consecutive games against the Rays and Yankees. Coming off a lackluster series on the road against the Baltimore Orioles, in which they lost two out of three games, the Red Sox are faced with the ominous truth: The next 11 games will make or break their season.
As much weight as the seven games against the Yankees carry, given the natural rivalry and pageantry behind those matchups, it’s the remaining four games against the Rays that will be crucial for the Red Sox. The Yankees are running away with the AL East, sporting a 10-game lead over the Red Sox and Rays. The biggest reason for such a sizeable gap is the Yankees’ head-to-head success against the two teams. The Yankees are 6-1 against the Red Sox and 12-5 against the Rays.
A Wild Card spot remains the most viable path to the playoffs for the defending World Series champions, but they will, undoubtedly, need some help to reach the one-game playoff. Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s President of Baseball Operations, now has to decide how he’s going to improve his ballclub over the next seven days.
Much of Dombrowski’s decision-making will depend on how the team performs leading up to the July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline. After all, if the Red Sox falter and lose the bulk of their games over the next week, they may have no choice but to completely shift their approach.
The big question facing the Red Sox is whether they need to prioritize starting pitching, or bullpen help?
Much has been made about the lack of depth and the frustrating inconsistency of Boston’s bullpen, but one thing that hasn’t been talked about enough is the over-usage of their bullpen arms. Several members of Boston’s bullpen are on pace to set new career highs in appearances and innings pitched, and it’s all due to the failure of the team’s starting rotation to go deep into games.
Red Sox starters are averaging just 5.2 innings per game, and while that number hovers right around the league average, it’s still strikingly low for a team that boasts names in its rotation such as Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Hence why prioritizing starting pitching might be the right answer for Dombrowski and the Red Sox.
While the Red Sox have been linked to big-name pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, and Zack Greinke, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to compete in the trade market for them. Their farm system is extremely thin, and other competing teams will have the ability to outbid Boston for any front-line starter.
Dombrowski already provided a glimpse into what his potential strategy is, as it pertains to acquiring starting pitching. On July 13, the Red Sox acquired Andrew Cashner from the Orioles for two 17-year-old prospects from the Dominican League. Cashner, 32, went 9-3 with an impressive 3.83 ERA with the Orioles.
He has struggled in his first two starts with Boston, but Cashner could serve as the example for what Boston is looking for at the trade deadline. They will likely be targeting veteran starters with contracts that their trade partners are looking to be unburdened from, and they will be particularly interested in pitchers who can go deep into games.
There may not be a “fireworks” type of move on the horizon, but the Red Sox made no such trade last season either. Dombrowski made smaller moves to acquire players such as Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce, both of whom were instrumental in helping the Red Sox win the World Series. With any luck, Dombrowski can strike gold once again with another minor move that could have a major impact on a teetering Red Sox team.