I’ve already talked about this both in written form here on this site as well as in some audio formats, but it’s really freaking hard to set up any sort of coherent analysis for this season. Between the eery feeling of positive virus tests leading to normal baseball reactions from that to players opting out to just the simple fact that it’s a shortened season coming off a condensed, unprecedented camp, it’s just not like anything we’ve seen before. We don’t know what to expect, and as someone who’s job it is to discuss the sport, it’s not an ideal position to find oneself.
That said, in some ways we have to treat this like something resembling a normal season — though I still can’t bring myself to do that for the COVID-positive players — and that means there are legitimate keys to this season working out for any given team. For the Red Sox, as I discussed last week, one of those keys is going to be Nathan Eovaldi. Going beyond individual players who need to perform, to me another clear key for the Red Sox in this weird 2020 season is going to be how they start and that first 30 days or so of the year.
Now, to be clear, on its face this is neither unique to this season nor is it unique to the Red Sox this year. For one thing, I think it’s always important to get off to a good start, or at least not get off to a bad start. As the old saying goes when talking about a normal season, you can’t win a division in April and May, but you can lose it. Obviously there are exceptions like last year’s Nationals, but generally speaking it is very hard to dig yourself out of a hole. I always think of the 2011 team when I think of the importance of season starts. We all remember the end of that year, but they also started poorly. A hot start avoids that collapse as well.
The importance of a hot start only becomes amplified in a shortened season, and like I said it’s not unique to the Red Sox. While it can be hard to dig yourself out of a hole after a slow April in a normal season, it’s not impossible. Here, though, if you get off to a bad start in the first month, well that’s half your season. All teams will be in it longer than usual in terms of percentage of the season, but suddenly a 1-6 week is more than a blip. It’s almost 12 percent of the season. So, any team is going to want to avoid a slow start and really is going to want a strong start to catapult themselves into a strong position for the final month of the year.
With the Red Sox, though, I think it’s even more important, and not for any reasons relating to the standings. For Boston, their roster construction seems conducive to those first four weeks of the season. This is a strange year for so many reasons, and one of the quirks is going to be that the roster is going to change in size as the year goes on. For the first two weeks, teams will have 30 active players, then it’ll go down to 28 for two more weeks before going down to 26 for the final month.
The way the Red Sox roster breaks down, they are in a position to take advantage of that period of extra players more so than most teams. That is not to say that they have some sort of enviable depth that they can mix and match to perfection. That’s more like what we’ll see from the Rays. The Red Sox, rather, can mitigate their massive weakness on the starting pitcher front by being able to carry as many arms as possible. Whether it’s to piggyback like I’ve suggested in the past or to go with more traditional bullpen games or to simply have shorter leashes for their pitchers, the more options they have the more creative and urgent they can get.
Obviously, that is more of a band aid than an actual fit, but the Red Sox need whatever help they can get. You don’t use a band aid to fix a bullet hole, but if that’s your only option it’s better than nothing. Plus, it’s not as if nothing will be happening during this time with extra depth. The hope would be that over the period with 30 and 28 players on the roster, some pitchers would step up and show that they are able to take on a bigger role when rosters revert back to their normal 26 players. And if they don’t, well, this season wasn’t going to be a success no matter what happens.
The Red Sox are going to have to get extremely lucky as well as creative to make things work with whatever it is you call this group of starter pitchers. The good news is they’ll have some more leeway to get weird with it early in the season. If they’re going to make a run this year, they’re going to have to take advantage of the bigger rosters to start the season, both to mix and match more as well as to figure out just which arms to ride into September with and which to send to the taxi squad.