Will the Boston Red Sox pitching staff hold firm until the cavalry arrives?
That’s the gist of key questions MLB.com’s Ian Browne and ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle asked about Boston on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Boston has led the American League East division since April 10, largely thanks to an offense that has been churning out runs, effective defense and a pitching staff that has performed surprisingly well, ranking seventh in the AL and 14th in MLB with a 3.89 ERA, as of Thursday morning.
However, Doolittle examined Boston’s stats closely and noticed a concerning trend about the pitching staff.
“The offense remains elite, ranking third in the majors in OPS this month,” Doolittle wrote. “But the run prevention part of the equation, which is what held back Boston’s preseason forecast, has regressed to expectation after a strong start to the campaign. The Red Sox rank 17th in runs allowed per game this month and 21st in opposing OPS.”
Doolittle then posed a key question for the next few weeks of Red Sox baseball:
“Can the Red Sox continue to tread water until Chris Sale returns in a few weeks? If not, the Red Sox might have to start bringing on some additional arms to keep things stable,” Doolittle asked.
Sale now is throwing off the mound as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox haven’t set a timetable for his comeback, but he expects to return at some point this summer.
Browne’s “big question” about the Red Sox centers around the bullpen. While closer Matt Barnes has been surprisingly dominant all season, Browne believes the Red Sox have yet to settle on a “sturdy bridge” between the starters and Barnes.
“The team had high hopes for veteran righty Adam Ottavino to be the lead setup man after acquiring him from the Yankees back in December, but he’s been inconsistent,” Browne wrote. “The same has been true for promising but erratic lefty Darwinzon Herandnez, who was expected to a lot of high-leverage setup opportunities. One thing that would help greatly is the return to health of righty setup man Ryan Brasier, who hasn’t thrown a pitch yet this season due to a left calf strain.
“Even if Ottavino and Hernandez improve and Brasier makes a strong return, Chaim Bloom will likely need to address the bullpen prior to the (July 30) trade deadline.
Brasier is making progress, having thrown some bullpen sessions this month. The next step will be for him to appear in game situations, likely with Triple-A Worcester, but the Red Sox haven’t indicated when that might happen.
Nevertheless, should Sale and Brasier return in the coming weeks and hit the ground running, Boston likely will be in a lofty position in the AL East standings and also seeking to strengthen itself for a playoff chase when the trade deadline rolls around.