Let’s get the obvious out of the way, shall we? The reason the Red Sox have lost three in a row and are off to a 1-3 start, including two losses to a team that on paper would appear to be one of the worst of all time, is the pitching. We can point to some other issues — I’ll point to one today and it became a short fad on Twitter Monday to point out the offense has been mildly frustrating as well — but ultimately it comes down to the pitching. We don’t really have to overthink this one because, well, it’s the pitching. Nothing any other portion of the roster could have been doing would have realistically masked the fact that this pitching staff has been somehow worse than we would have expected. The thing is, if I focus all of my attention on the pitching, I might just have an aneurysm. I would prefer not to have an aneurysm.
Which brings us to the manager, because sometimes I have to lean in to the stereotypical Boston sports talking head and complain about some coaching strategies. It seems like it was about six years ago that Alex Cora was let go after his involvement in the Astros sign-stealing scandal came to light, but it was actually just a handful of months ago. Such is the passage of time in the year of our Aceves 2020. How the Red Sox handled that transition was supposed to be one of the biggest stories of 2020, but obviously some other stuff has taken over. And yet, it is still an interesting storyline to me. In fact, all of the other 2020 stuff that is happening has kind of made it even more interesting to me to see how Ron Roenicke would handle all of this.
Now, Roenicke is obviously not some rookie manager who is stepping into a job for which he is not prepared. He spent four full seasons plus part of a fifth as the manager of the Brewers in the early portion of last decade. He has experience. Of course, nothing could prepare anyone for a season like this, over 100 games shorter than usual with all of the other bells and whistles of this year.
So I was interested to see how he handled it all. I was interested to see how he balanced rest coming off a short camp with the urgency of a 60-game sprint. I was interested to see how he navigated this rotation and the potential creative solutions proposed by Chaim Bloom. I was interested to see how he would utilize this bullpen. I was interested to see how he would manage the new extra innings rule that puts a man on second base to start every inning. I was interested to see how he would play matchups with the three-batter rule in effect. There are a lot of different challenges for managers this year beyond the normal challenge of, ya know, being a major-league manager, and I was fascinated to see how Roenicke would handle all of it.
So far, I’m not loving some of the decisions he has made. Granted, we are four games into the season, so obviously there is plenty of time for him to redeem himself. Plus, the team is losing so obviously the decisions he makes are going to look worse, whether that’s fair or not. Still, here are a few instances in which I’ve already been scratching my head:
- Mentioning Kevin Pillar as a possible leadoff hitter against left-handed pitching before the season. This one hasn’t come to fruition and I’m trying to be better about not getting mad at things that haven’t actually happened yet, but that the idea was even presented is a bit troubling to me. Pillar has his strengths at the plate, especially against lefties, but they don’t really mesh with the leadoff position.
- Giving Xander Bogaerts the day off on Saturday, the second game of the year. I get it. Bogaerts was dealing with a bit of a hamstring issue in camp and it was a day game after a night game, but he came in later in the game and stayed in, so he was healthy enough to play. It seems like Roenicke is going to be cautious with playing time, but I’d personally like to see more urgency in this 60-game season, not less, especially for a team who is on the fringe of even an expanded playoff picture.
- Using Dylan Covey in a three-run game on Saturday. The Red Sox fell behind 5-0 after just two innings in this game, but they scored a couple of runs in the sixth to pull to within three and started to get some momentum. Their bullpen was fresh after Friday’s blowout win, and yet Covey got the ball and immediately gave the momentum right back. It was a weird lack of urgency with the bullpen management — basically everyone else in the bullpen should have been higher on the depth chart in that situation — especially after using Bogaerts as a pinch hitter in the previous inning.
- Using Jeffrey Springs after Josh Osich on Monday. I am generally a proponent of the opener when you have a pitching staff like Boston’s that is, let’s say, lacking. The thing is, you have to use it. Zack Godley should have been the guy to come in after Osich to try and go four or five innings. He did come in for the fifth for some reason and tossed four scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Obviously it’s no guarantee he does that if he comes in earlier, but that seemed to be the strategy coming into the game and for some reason it didn’t end up being the case.
- Brandon Workman still waiting for his first appearance. There obviously haven’t been any save chances yet this season, but I am a believer in getting my best arms action to keep them fresh and in the game. This one isn’t a huge deal, but I’d like to see him getting into a game at least every four days, particularly in such a short year.
So, yeah, there are some things that I would have done differently. All of that aside, though, this is the part of the program where I hedge everything else I just wrote with a few pertinent facts. One, a manager’s job is much more than the on-the-field decisions, and especially in this weird season Roenicke’s biggest job is going to be keeping the focus and the morale up during a bizarre season. Two, Roenicke has much more information than me, both in terms of data and injury information. Three, it’s been four games. And four, the pitching is still the real issue with this team. Which, really, is the main takeaway. Pitch better.