By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On Friday night, things looked all right for the 2020 Boston Red Sox. No, nobody with any sense of reality expected them to contend for a title. They simply do not have the pitching for that. Yet with a solid debut for this unique shortened season, and with the expanded playoff field officially in effect, the team looked on Opening Day like one that can remain a compelling story throughout the year.
Just two days later, though, that is over. And so might be the Red Sox’ season.
Hyperbolic? Only moderately, as teams looking to make the playoffs in 2020 cannot lose two games (in grisly fashion) to everybody’s pick for Worst Team In Baseball. With each game being the equivalent of 2.7 games in a normal season, losing back-to-back games at home against a team that hits Jose Iglesias third in the lineup is utterly devastating to a team with the third-highest payroll in MLB. (The Orioles rank dead last in that category, for those keeping track. The Orioles have exactly four players making more than $1 million this year, and one of them isn’t playing.)
Under normal circumstances, a one-game deficit to the Rays, Yankees and … Orioles would be no reason to panic. Plenty of time to make up for it. Not a big deal.
That would apply, certainly, if the Red Sox had a major league pitching staff under their employment. Instead, after starting Ryan Weber on Sunday and Martin Perez on Saturday, the Red Sox will be trotting out Josh Osich and Matt Hall to start the next two games against the Mets.
Osich, a 31-year-old left-hander, compiled a 5.56 ERA and 1.455 WHIP over the past three seasons. Hall, a 27-year-old lefty, owns a career 9.48 ERA and 2.074 WHIP in his 21 career big league appearances.
This is the best that the Boston Red Sox — champions of the world two years ago — have to offer.
How exactly they got to this point is slightly more nuanced than just saying “they traded Mookie Betts and David Price, and Chris Sale got hurt, and Eduardo Rodriguez got COVID-19.” Those situations certainly didn’t help matters for the 2020 Red Sox, but the team’s dedication to shopping only from bargain bins had their pitching staff go from bad to worse in a hurry.
The team acquired Dylan Covey from Tampa Bay in exchange for absolutely nothing last week; he allowed two runs in his two innings of relief work on Saturday, turning a 5-2 deficit into a 7-2 deficit for the home team. Ryan Weber, the owner of a career ERA over 5, gave up six runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning against Baltimore on Sunday. Later in that game, Austin Brice (career ERA hovering a tick under 5, acquired for a minor leaguer) let a 6-4 deficit grow to a 7-4 deficit in the ninth inning, thereby making the unlikely comeback even less believable.
To help “bolster” this staff, the Red Sox claimed Robert Stock and Stephen Gonsalvez off waivers. Stock had a crisp 10.13 ERA and 2.063 WHIP in his 10 appearances for San Diego last year, while Gonsalvez had a 6.57 ERA and a 2.027 WHIP as a rookie for Minnesota last year. Those moves were made after the team acquired Zack Godley — he of the 3-5 record and 6.39 ERA a year ago — just before the season began.
We knew pitching would be a major problem this year, but we perhaps underestimated just how ugly it would be.
While the offense surely looked punchless on Saturday when they scraped across two runs against Alex Cobb and Paul Fry before going scoreless over the final three innings, the parts are at least in place for an above-average offense. We saw over the weekend, though, that anything short of the ’27 Yankees lineup likely won’t be enough for the Red Sox to win much of anything this year.
So, after waiting four months for the triumphant return of baseball, it took all of nine hours for the reality of the Red Sox’ season to hit Boston like a ton of bricks. This team is not good, and somehow, it looks like it’s going to get worse.