The pitching from the Red Sox rotation through the season’s first 19 games shouldn’t be surprising.
It should be shocking.
Everyone outside of the Boston clubhouse expected the team’s new group of starters to struggle to some degree, but it wasn’t supposed to be this bad. Individually there’s no bright spot, unless you’d like to point to health, though some might be rooting for an injury these days just to see someone from the minors get a shot.
Clay Buchholz (4.84 ERA), Rick Porcello (6.48), Justin Masterson (5.16), Wade Miley (8.62), and Joe Kelly (4.08) have been uneven and generally unimpressive. Collectively, the five have baseball’s worst starters’ ERA at 5.75, they’re averaging 5 1/3 innings a start and they’ve given up 69 runs – tied for the most in the game with the 4-15 Milwaukee Brewers.
The only reason Boston is still over .500 at 10-9 and just a game out of first in a lousy American League East is because the club is fourth in the game with an average of five runs scored each time it takes the field. Ironically, the Sox only trail the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Yankees in that category.
What’s been most frustrating is the consistent inconsistency for this generally soft-throwing posse of projected No. 3’s.
To Buchholz’s credit, he’s allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts, but he was also touched up for 10 runs (nine earned) in a 3 1/3 innings effort in the Bronx back on April 12 and he’s twice permitted at least 11 baserunners in a game. He hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning since Opening Day in Philadelphia, when he worked seven shutout frames.
He's the ace?
Porcello – who, fairly or unfairly, will forever be judged by his $20 million a year extension that kicks in next season – perhaps shouldn’t be crucified as quickly as the rest. Slow or downright disastrous starts aren’t uncommon for the 26-year-old veteran. As a rookie in 2009, he had a 6.23 ERA through four starts and finished the year at 3.96. In 2010, it was 8.03 through April. The righty allowed five runs in each of his first two turns in 2011. He had a 6.45 ERA by the end of April in 2012. Porcello’s ERA ballooned to 11.08 after four starts in 2013 and didn’t settle under 5 until July. And last year, the best of his career, he had a 3.96 ERA by the start of May before landing at 3.43. He’s never finished a year with an ERA over 4.92 (not that he should aspire to that level, as good as it would look right now by comparison).
Unlike with Buchholz, however, Porcello cannot be defined by one bad outing this year. Thanks in part to the league-high six home runs he’s already allowed, the vet has been charged with at least four runs in three starts, he’s always permitted at least five baserunners and, like Buchholz, has only pitched beyond the sixth once.
He's the ace?
Masterson’s track-record is similar to that of Buchholz. He’s given up three runs or fewer in three of his four outings, but he’s pitched beyond the sixth just once – when he worked seven frames his last time out in a 5-4 loss at Camden Yards on Saturday. That marked the first time a Red Sox starter had retired a batter in the seventh since Porcello's eight-inning, 9-4 win over the Nationals on April 13 nearly two full weeks ago. This righty’s worst blemish came the very next day, as he was tagged for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings by the Nats. So much for momentum.
He's the ace?
Miley has in some ways been Boston’s most disappointing pitcher in that he was advertised as an innings-eater, thanks to the nearly 200 innings he averaged each of the last three seasons for Arizona, but he’s given his new team just 15 2/3 innings in four starts. Incredibly, he’s never gotten out of the sixth and twice failed to survive the third. We saw this again Sunday in an 18-7 embarrassment in Baltimore, during which Miley surrendered seven runs in 2 1/3 frames. The southpaw is walking a career-worst 6.3 batters per nine innings and, in all, just suffered through the worst month of his career.
He's the ace?
Then there’s Kelly, Monday’s starter in the series-opener with the Blue Jays. After posting a 2.13 ERA through two starts and a great five innings in Tampa his last time out on April 22, he imploded for four runs in the sixth without retiring a batter to result in an unfavorable five-inning, five-run, eight-hit evening. In his case, opponents have simply made their baserunners count; Kelly’s 1.02 WHIP, 6.6 hits per nine innings and 2.5 walks per nine are all career-bests. The righty’s been better than a No. 5, but a far cry from even a No. 2.
He's the ace?
Now, has the bullpen always helped the starters? No. Relievers have allowed nine inherited runners to score, led by Craig Breslow’s four. That ranks the ‘pen tied for ninth-most in the game.
How about defense? Boston’s fielders have a .985 fielding percentage, which is tied for 10th in MLB and doesn’t account for whatever the heck we’re going to call what Hanley Ramirez has been doing in left.
"The thing I will say, just in general: we've got to do a better job in all phases of the game,'' manager John Farrell said after Sunday’s series-loss to the Orioles. "And it starts with how we keep the game under control from the mound. That wasn't the case today.''
But, again, this all circles back to the lack of reliability from the rotation. Those men, all proven and experienced to different degrees in their careers, but with much higher ceilings than they’ve produced thus far, have failed to get the job done. In 19 games, the group has reached the seventh inning just four times and failed to get to the fifth in another four. That’s unacceptable.
So, where do they go from here?
Is it too early for general manager Ben Cherington to seek a trade? He might consider seeking counseling.
Will someone suddenly and mysteriously develop a sore elbow or strained shoulder, and give the brass an opportunity to give prospects like Brian Johnson (0.56 ERA in three starts for Pawtucket), Eduardo Rodriguez (1.93 ERA in three outings) or Henry Owens (3.94 ERA in three starts) a look? All three are young and have very limited Triple-A experience, leading common-sense to resist the urge to react hastily.
Still, we’re approaching desperate times. Something has to be done, be it from outside the organization or within. The easiest (on paper) and most desirable solution, of course, would be for the existing members of the rotation to develop some consistency and, not that they’re pitching poorly on purpose, but evoke a little more pride on the mound. To a man, Buchholz, Porcello, Masterson, Miley and Kelly are all better than their numbers have reflected.
It’s time they prove it before it’s too late for the rest of their mates.
Where's the ace?
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