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Sox Week: Boston has 99 problems. Pitching is No. 1

  • Boston Red Sox's Rick Porcello, second from left, hands the ball to manager John Farrell, left, as he leaves the baseball game after giving up two runs during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Boston, Friday, April 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson leaves the the baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning Thursday, April 13, 2017, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) Nathan Denette

  • People gather at the Boston Marathon finish line, Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Boston. The 121st running of the marathon takes place on Monday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer



Monitor staff
Saturday, April 15, 2017

The 2017 Boston Red Sox have 99 problems and pitching is currently No. 1.

You’d think bringing in Chris Sale and returning the reigning Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello would prevent pitching problems for the Red Sox, at least for a little while. Sale has met expectations at the No. 2 spot in the rotation. But every other Boston pitcher – starters and relievers included – has struggled out of the gate.

Yeah, yeah, I know – it’s early and I need to relax. But it’s kind of my job to find something to complain about once a week and this week, I chose the pitching staff.

Steven Wright’s First Annual Home Run Derby with the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night was fun and all, but it’s concerning, even if Porcello liked the act (he did his best to duplicate the debacle two days later against the Tampa Bay Rays).

Tim Wakefield taught Sox fans that struggles are normal for knuckleballers. He once gave up 30 runs in a four-game span in 1996, racking up an ERA of 11.25. In 2000, he gave up 23 runs in three games. It was 29 runs in six games in 2010 and 22 over four games in 2005.

Wright gave Wakefield’s worst a run for its money on Wednesday, allowing four of the 13 Orioles he faced to hit a home run before he was pulled. To put it in perspective, it’s April 16 and Wright has already allowed four long balls this year – the fourth home run he allowed last season came on June 15.

Wright’s ERA is at 13.50, which is the second-highest among MLB pitchers with two or more starts.

If we’re being realistic, and we’re trying, Wright’s struggles are the least of Boston’s worries in terms of pitching.

Injuries have sidelined major bullpen pieces Carson Smith, Tyler Thornburg and Brandon Workman, and Boston’s remaining relievers have not stepped up in their absence.

The bullpen has allowed 44 percent of its inherited runners to score, the fifth-worst percentage in the league. The four teams ahead of Boston in that category had combined for 12 blown saves going into Saturday. That’s not the kind of company you want to keep.

On the bright side, Drew Pomeranz looked like the All-Star that came to Boston in a deadline deal last season ... at least in his first start. And 24-year-old rookie Ben Taylor has been extremely effective out of the pen, striking out seven of the 21 batters he’s faced.

Yes, there are problems, but there are also plenty of solutions currently on the roster or the disabled list. It’s just about patching it together a little longer and a little better until those options get back to 100 percent.

Tough start, eh?

Everyone in the AL East can at least take solace in the historically terrible start for Toronto Blue Jays.

After winning 89 games last season and finishing the year one step shy of the World Series, Toronto lost nine of its first 10 games – the worst start in franchise history. Before that, their worst start was 2-8 to open the 1978 season, which was their second year of Major League existence. They finished ’78 at 59-102, a step up from the 1977 team that went 54-107, but even that squad managed a 5-5 record through 10 games.

It’s pretty much the same rotation from a year ago, which finished the season ranked sixth in the league in WAR. But Toronto’s starters are now ranked 28th in that same category and it’s one of just three rotations with a negative WAR.

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The Jays were picked to win the division by six of ESPN’s baseball experts before the season. Twelve of 35 predicted they would win a Wild Card berth. Yikes.

Luckily, the Maple Leafs are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for just the second time in 12 years. The fans will probably be really sad when they realize it’s baseball season, too, and find out their team is already out of the pennant race.

Josh Donaldson’s nagging calf injury could spell disaster, but I do think the Blue Jays are better than this. They’ll eventually come around, it just might be too late by then. If the Jays do eliminate themselves from the pennant race before the All-Star break, it would make things easier for everyone in the division. But the best news for the Red Sox is that they’ll visit Toronto for a three-game series starting Tuesday.

Marathon Monday

It’s almost time for one of my favorite traditions in baseball: the 11 a.m. home game smack-dab in the middle of the Boston Marathon.

The tradition dates all the way back to 1903 and it’s still the only Major League Baseball game on the schedule with a first pitch before noon.

One of the best parts of attending Monday’s game is spilling out onto Kenmore Square afterward, where you’re met by thousands of runners on Mile 25 of the course.

In case you haven’t heard, the Red Sox are quite popular in Boston, especially on gameday in the neighborhood that surrounds historic Fenway Park. But the real stars of Marathon Monday are those runners and that’s not lost on anyone in the clubhouse.

Ever since the marathon bombing in 2013, it feels like the tradition has grown stronger.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)