The 2022 MLB season is almost upon us, and with it brings another year of Red Sox baseball. Following a 2021 season that saw Boston outperform all expectations, Sox fans are expecting it to be a great year. Why shouldn’t they? Boston was on the doorstep of the World Series, and have brought back the majority of a loaded offense. Throw All-Star Trevor Story into the mix, and you have what should be a winning recipe.
Only one, sort of major problem. The pitching, Boston’s Achilles heel in 2021, is still not great. It may not even be good.
Pitching has been quite an issue for the Sox over the past couple seasons. Really since the 2018 championship, Boston hasn’t been that proficient in pitching. The team has ranked in the bottom half of ERA rankings every season since 2018. To be fair, 2021 was actually a major improvement for Boston, who posted a 4.30 team ERA. This coming after posting an abysmal 5.58 ERA in 2020, which was ranked 28th in the league.
Although 2021 was an improvement, Boston still ranked just 16th in the majors in ERA. That’s still not that great, especially for a team that has championship aspirations. If Boston is serious about competing in 2022, than the pitching has to be better all around, from the starting rotation to the bullpen.
That’s just it though, it may not be much better, if better at all.
The success of the starting rotation is really going to depend on the growth and progression of Tanner Houck and possibly Garrett Whitlock. Both of Boston’s young pitchers showed promise last season, but will need to improve in order to provide big contributions.
There’s also the question of whether or not Whitlock will be in the rotation. Due to a thin bullpen (we’ll get to that in a bit), the Sox may need Whitlock in relief instead of starting.
The largest question regarding the rotation however has to do with star Chris Sale. Sale has been injury plagued since 2018, and has struggled to stay on the field. Already in 2022 he is battling injuries, and will miss the start of the season. Not exactly a good sign for a guy who has been collecting injuries like they are going out of style.
If he can actually play, and be anywhere near his former All-Star self, he will be a huge help for Boston. At his best, he’s one of the best pitchers baseball has to offer. There is just legitimate doubt if he’s anywhere close to being that same pitcher.
Outside of those previously mentioned, Boston will be relying on Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta to carry the rotation. Eovaldi is coming off of one of the best seasons of his major league career. He was one of the few constants for Boston’s pitching last season. He even earned his first career All-Star appearance in 2021.
As of now, it looks like Eovaldi will be their Opening Day and top of the rotation starter. You’d like to see Sale there, but Eovaldi has proven himself worthy. Pivetta overachieved a bit in 2021, but showed that at times he can be a serviceable back of the rotation starter.
Boston also brought in a number of veteran options to possibly build up their rotation. The reason I’ve waited so long to mention them shows my enthusiasm towards them. Rich Hill is back for his third tour of duty in Boston…at age 42.
Veteran Michael Wacha also joined the Sox this offseason. If this was 2015, I’d be ecstatic at the news of Wacha coming to Boston. Unfortunately, it’s 2022, and Wacha has not exactly been a model of efficiency lately. Finally, there’s James Paxton, who has tossed a total of 21.2 innings the last 2 seasons as a starter. It’s worth mentioning he posted ERAs of 6.64 and 6.75 in those two seasons.
It’s the trend that Boston has followed for a few years now. Don’t really address the issue, just throw a couple old band aids on there and hope it works out. Boston’s rotation just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.
The bullpen has its fair share of question marks as well. If Whitlock comes out of the pen, the situation looks a little better, but still bleak. Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, newcomer Jake Diekman, and Whitlock gives Boston at least something to work with in the bullpen.
Boston has championship aspirations in 2022, but those aspirations could easily be destroyed if the pitching doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Unfortunately, as currently assembled, I could easily see the pitching staff being the thing that holds Boston back from greatness this season.
Feature photo by AP Photo/Steve Helber