Raise your hand if, before the start of the 2024 season, you thought the Red Sox starting pitching would be the only facet of the team to function properly for the first 17 games.

Put your hand down, you filthy liar.

The Red Sox’ strengths and weaknesses early on have been the exact opposite of what we all expected prior to Opening Day. Most of us predicted a brutal season where the Red Sox would hold their own offensively and showcase a strong bullpen while subjecting us all to a grossly inadequate, overmatched starting rotation. However, the first three weeks of play have revealed a middling Red Sox team who can’t hit or pitch in relief despite a starting rotation that has been nothing short of dominant.

And if you think dominant is too strong a choice of words, the stats don’t lie.

After Kutter Crawford’s 5.2 scoreless innings Monday morning against the Cleveland Guardians (who are seventh in the league in hitting), Red Sox starting pitching now has an unfathomable ERA of 1.92. The Royals are a distant second in MLB with a starting pitching ERA of 2.29, and the Phillies are the only other team in the sport with an ERA under 3 (2.95). In other words, no team in baseball currently has five starting pitchers who can contain an offense anywhere near as well as the Red Sox starting five have thus far.

Do you have any idea how batsh!t crazy it is that the group of Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and Cooper Criswell have pitched miles and miles better than any other starting rotation in the sport???

Starting pitching was supposed to be a backbreaking problem for Boston this year, and that was before Lucas Giolito went down for the season with a torn UCL. Craig Breslow, Andew Bailey, and Justin Willard have somehow shaped this ragtag crew of underwhelming hurlers into a formidable rotation, all within the span of a single offseason.

So I ask: If the team’s most critical weakness has been not merely resolved, but utterly transformed into an undeniable strength, why are the Red Sox only one game over .500?

And I answer: Because the rest of the team stinks on ice.



I had the Red Sox pegged as a top-ten offense coming into 2024 regardless of the departures of righty sluggers Justin Turner and Adam Duvall. I anticipated that the return of Trevor Story, the arrivals of Vaughn Grissom and Tyler O’Neill, and the emergences of Wilyer Abreu, Cedanne Rafaela, Jaren Duran, and Enmanuel Valdez would combine for far more production than the roster lost in free agency.

Cut to April 16th:

Story is done for the year (again), Grissom is hurt (already), and the combined averages of Valdez and Rafaela are .096 points lower than that of Anthony Volpe (FML). Abreu is about to slip back below .200 himself, and Rafael Devers would need a multi-hit performance tonight in order to eclipse the Mendoza Line. 17 games into the season, the Red Sox have already been shutout three times and been held to one run or less six times. The offense I expected to be among the top ten in baseball is hitting .226 as a team, good for 24th in the sport.

On the bright side, Masataka Yoshida’s weak groundout rate has dropped from “infinity” to “almost always,” Triston Casas has launched a few nukes of late, and Tyler O’Neill (stitches and all) is on course to hit 67 home runs (albeit with 75 RBI).

I fully expect this offense to turn around in short order. There’s just too much talent here to fail.

Devers avoiding the IL tells me that his nagging left shoulder soreness can be overcome with a few more well-placed off-days. Yoshida is a professional hitter whose early struggles tell me that he is learning to hold some pop in reserve so he can finish the season strong. Grissom is a Xander Bogaerts clone (the 23-year-old Bogaerts, not the 30-year-old version). And Jarren Duran’s legs alone are good enough to carry him to an average of at least .275.

As for the newbs, I don’t anticipate Rafaela, Valdez, and Abreu to all be offensive busts. I believe at least two of them will come around at the plate. And none of them are in danger of being demoted before getting their fair shot because literally nobody in Worcester is ready to take their places right now. As Tony D’Amato once told “Steamin'” Willie Beamen, “You don’t have to worry about gettin’ the hook because I got nobody left.”

Breslow and Fenway Sports Group have happily constructed a team where 80% of the players have zero sustained MLB success on their resumés. Luckily, the Portland Sea Dogs are a frickin’ wagon!



This has been the real dagger thus far. The bullpen excelled last season until injuries and ineffectiveness from Red Sox starting pitching led to large-scale burnout. With all the top performers from last year returning and some exciting newcomers having impressive springs, we were poised to see some great things out of Boston’s relief core. Unfortunately, this crew has fallen victim to some poor health and a couple abysmal choke jobs aided by egregious betrayal from the boys in the field.

Josh Winckowski, perhaps exasperated with his in-between role as multi-inning-reliever-hoping-to-start-sometime-soon, has tossed a few stinkers with disturbingly erratic command. Isaiah Campbell left the unhittable frisbees he threw all spring back in Fort Myers, and he’s now on the shelf with a shoulder impingement. Greg Weissert’s only two mistake pitches this season have been wrapped around Pesky’s Pole for tide-turning home runs. Even Chris Martin has looked like a mere mortal of late, suffering a complete meltdown against the Orioles last week that preceded his current status of limited availability due to shoulder soreness (no, the other shoulder). Then there’s Kenley Jansen, who can’t decide from pitch-to-pitch if he’s channeling Keith Foulke or Darwinzon Hernandez. Jansen’s back issues have shown no signs of dissipating as of yet, and Sox fans will find themselves holding their breath throughout each and every save opportunity moving forward until he visits either the Injured List or Bruce Wayne’s cellmate.

Aside from the 3.1 nearly perfect innings we’ve seen from Brennan Bernardino, Justin Slaten is the lone Boston reliever whose 2024 has been virtually unblemished to date. With a 0.87 ERA, eight strikeouts, three hits, one walk, and a save in 10.1 innings pitched over his first six career MLB appearances, the 26-year-old appears to have the stuff and composure to be an important bullpen piece for years to come. Joely Rodriguez has also settled down, trimming his ERA down to 3.38 after an opening week that was rife with mistakes and some awful luck. Now that both Rodriguez and Bernardino are on the roster simultaneously, Alex Cora should have the goods to match up with lineups like Baltimore and Cleveland, who offer dangerous lefthanded hitters throughout their lineups.

While everybody in this bullpen is good enough to put everything together and have solid seasons, Jansen is the lynchpin who holds the entire group together. Unfortunately, his status is also the most dire and his potential for regaining his peak form seems the most shrouded in doubt.



The Red Sox defense has been cursed since the moment Trevor Story broke his glenoid bone, an injury that triggered a peristaltic chain reaction of atrocious defense unseen since the Alex Jones trial. Story’s absence from the middle of the diamond has left this team with no identity in the field, forcing Cora to shift alignments like a three card monte dealer just to mitigate the possibility of a catastrophic defensive breakdown.

To this point, the realignments have not had the desired effect. David Hamilton looks as lost at shortstop as Bobby Dalbec looks anywhere on a Major League Baseball field. Romy Gonzalez couldn’t survive a single game at short without suffering an injury. Pablo Reyes is a capable utility player, yet putting him and Hamilton on the same side of the infield led to a pair of inexcusable flubs that cost Boston last Thursday’s ballgame. Jarren Duran dropped a can of corn that opened the floodgates the day before, and he’s looked jumpy in the outfield ever since. Devers and Valdez have well-documented reputations for shaky-to-putrid defense, Abreu has already made two costly miscues in right field, and even Rafaela, the newly anointed patron saint of web gems, has been charged with three errors in three weeks.


The Rafaela Parallax

Errors aside, Rafaela is a true gamechanger in center field. It’s doubtful that he can be that effective at shortstop though, and it’s still unknown if he can even play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Yet Cora’s decision to start Rafaela at short Monday may signify yet another change in defensive strategy to try and patch up the sieve that is the Red Sox infield. If that’s the case, Cora will be making the outfield defense considerably weaker in an attempt to make the infield defense less horrible.

Duran is the most obvious choice to take over as the regular center fielder if Rafaela does become the everyday shortstop, but he’s as much of a butcher in center as Alex Verdugo. Tyler O’Neill is an excellent corner outfielder who can play a decent center field, but he doesn’t have Rafaela’s range or athleticism. Abreu could man the position for a game or two in a pinch, but he’s far from an everyday replacement. Rob Refsnyder is a strong candidate against lefty starting pitchers, but his bat simply doesn’t play as a regular in the lineup. Moving Rafaela to the infield causes a downgrade in the outfield any way you slice it, and the improvement that he could bring to the infield is entirely theoretical.

The infield defense will certainly improve when Vaughn Grissom arrives to replace Valdez, but shortstop has clearly been the biggest and most disastrous leak. If Rafaela turns out to be capable of playing a pretty good shortstop, he could prove to be even more valuable to Boston there than he’s already been as a dynamic center fielder. The upgrade from the trainwreck the Red Sox have seen at short since Story went down to the play of any competent shortstop drastically outweighs the downgrade from Rafaela to Duran/O’Neill/Abreu/Refsnyder. If Rafaela can pull it off, the juice will definitely be worth the squeeze.

As for Story, if the now-healthy Marcelo Mayer continues to play well in Portland and earns an in-season promotion to Worcester, his ascension to Boston could potentially come as early as this September. In other words, there’s a chance that Trevor Story has played his last game at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.


Better News Ahead?

Health is the most heartless variable in professional sports, and the Red Sox in particular have been victimized by poor health for the past two years. It has already stymied both the offense and the bullpen, and it’s torn the defense apart at the seams. Red Sox starting pitching has been no exception, which makes the rotation’s success to this point all the more incredible.

Early this spring, Lucas Giolito and Nick Pivetta were on track to start the first two games of the Red Sox season. Giolito will not pitch at all in 2024, and Pivetta is on the IL with an elbow injury that could very well be a precursor to a torn UCL of his own. Yet Bello (3.92 ERA), Crawford (0.42), Whitlock (1.26), and Houck (2.04), along with a cameo from Criswell (4.50), have defied the odds to perform exceptionally well and keep the Red Sox in virtually every game until they’ve hit the showers.

It feels inexcusable that a team with a starting pitcher ERA of 1.92 through 17 games has only nine wins, and it’s downright nauseating to think of what Boston’s record would be if the Breslow-Bailey-Willard triumvirate had not worked their magic on the rotation to this point.

It’s not all bad news though.

The good news is that Red Sox starting pitchers have shown that they have the talent to study and execute a game plan that can keep their team in just about every game for five or six innings. This ability is a luxury zero fans were expecting the team to have in its arsenal prior to the start of the season. What we’ve known all along though is that the offense and the bullpen have the ability to play at a high level that could match the contributions we’ve seen from the starting five. If the bats and relief arms are able to get their acts together and the starting pitchers can continue to execute in this fashion long-term, the 2024 Red Sox have a chance to enjoy a respectable season.

Unless, of course, the team’s health — that cruel, heartless storm cloud that hangs over everybody who throws a 90+ mph fastball or a power sweeper with sick movement — waves its lethal scythe in Boston’s direction once again.

And let’s be honest. Does anyone think for a second that this team is safe from that blade?


By Luke

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