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Boston Red Sox’ starting pitching could be their downfall in 2021

Sep 20, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (20) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox are off to an auspicious start, as they’re 14-9 and in first place in the American League East. With that said, manager Alex Cora’s starting rotation will inevitably hinder his ball club from making the playoffs this season.

At face value, the Red Sox have a respectable and potentially reliable starting rotation. When putting the magnifying glass closer to the subject at hand, it’s difficult to foresee this unit being a sturdy force over the length of the regular season.

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The Boston Red Sox have a shaky starting rotation

Boston Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox have sent six starting pitchers to the hill this season. That includes Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Richards and Tanner Houck. Five of the six aforementioned pitchers have red flags attached to them.

When healthy, Eovaldi has been a hard-throwing strikeout pitcher. “When healthy” is the key part of that notion. The right-hander has missed time due to injury in each of his past four MLB seasons. He also has a knack for putting a lot of runners on base while providing adequate length.

While he has plenty of experience taking the hill every fifth day, Perez has posted an ERA no better than 4.50 since 2017. Meanwhile, Richards, who has been hampered by injuries over the last five years, sports a 6.48 ERA across his first four starts this season.

Pivetta is off to an encouraging start, performing efficiently and keeping the Red Sox in games. Can it be sustained? As for Houck, the youngster has just six big-league appearances under his belt. All the while, Chris Sale’s recovery from an elbow injury remains in limbo.

Boston’s rotation is holding down the fort for the time being. Long term, it will be an immense challenge for them to do so.

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Alex Cora has an elite offense, but it can’t carry the Boston Red Sox to the playoffs

Boston Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts during MLB game against the Rays.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The heart and soul of this team is its offense. Even with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the rear-view, the Red Sox have a loaded and highly productive lineup. Their offense is first in MLB this season in runs (119), hits (213), batting average (.276) and OPS (.794).

The likes of Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez form an elite offense from a production and impact standpoint. They get runners on base, drive in said runners and manufacture offense at a high level.

The reality? The Red Sox can’t rely on their offense to get them back to the playoffs.

No team can make the playoffs, let alone go on a deep playoff run while severely relying on its offense. If the rotation can’t get the ball to the bullpen in the seventh or late sixth inning on a consistent basis, the middle-to-late-inning arms will become less effective. This happened to the Red Sox in both 2019 and 2020, as they had a stout offense and a rollercoaster pitching staff as a whole.

Now, a team can find success with the reverse model. This means having an elite pitching staff and a middle-of-the-pack offense. The arms keep the offense in games and they come through with timely base hits to come out victorious.

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The Boston Red Sox’ rivals are better equipped for regular season success

Aaron Judge trade from the New York Yankees to Los Angeles Angels?
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Red Sox are off to a better start than any team in the American League East. At the same time, it doesn’t mean they’re better than their divisional foes. Furthermore, their rivals have better roster models.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a deep pitching staff with a handful of dangerous hitters who move runners across the basepaths enough to win games. Playing just a bit north of the Rays this season, the Toronto Blue Jays have a bonafide ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu and an offense that can go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees have an exuberance of pop, a proven bullpen and a rotation that’s spearheaded by Gerrit Cole.

If Sale were healthy and taking the hill every fifth day, Boston’s rotation would fare much differently, as they’d have a plausible one-two punch with him and Rodriguez and capable veterans behind them.

At the end of the day, the Boston Red Sox sustaining their high level of play is reliant on them staying healthy and veteran arms getting into a groove. Their offense can lose a bat or two and still be among the league’s best (that’s what happened in 2020). If they lose one of their best starting pitchers, they’re toast.

A .500 record and a competitive team over 162 games is feasible. Reaching the playoffs is a stretch.