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The Look Ahead: An Ode to Pivetta And The Merciful Final Weekend

As the Red Sox look to play spoiler against a division rival, one thing that won’t be spoiled is the appreciation of three pitchers in three different places in their careers, and their quest for 2023 stability.

Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in ALDS Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

At this point, when the remainder of the season is a formality, there’s some excitement in the fact that both of the team’s last opponents are, not only division rivals, but division rivals with viable playoff bids. Although, in all likelihood, the more intriguing question is in what wild card slot the three teams in contention will place, rather than who makes the postseason. But it’s still fun to imagine a world where the Red Sox performance against the Rays (who’ve already clinched) and the Blue Jays have some impact on either team, or even the Yankees’, demise. It’s like tripping into a busy intersection and having the Monopoly guy hit you.

In addition to being able to alter history in some small way, and perhaps build some sort of arduous path for the Yankees to get through (awaiting the “rent free!” comments), the Red Sox will also surely be penciling in slots in their 2023 roster planner. In anticipation for the next three games in Toronto, this week gives the Red Sox starters perhaps one last chance at impressing their current team in hopes of a more prominent role, or perhaps a nice paycheck. Interestingly enough, all three of these projected starters in this Blue Jays series all have some question marks surrounding 2023 and beyond. In this article, I’ll forego my usual pontificating on our likelihood of beating the other team because whether we do or we don’t, two facts remain: we’re not likely to win this series, and the much more important matter at hand is our front office correctly evaluating the futures of the three pitchers slated to start this weekend, and, of course, so many others. This time of year, every article imaginable, including my other ones, give takes on what we should do with Rafael Devers, J.D. Matinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Nathan Eovaldi. So let’s just focus on the pitchers we’ll see in Toronto right now, shall we?

To some, it may be an easy argument to make that Brayan Bello will be a lock for the rotation, as, after a very shaky start, the 23-year-old rookie has come into his own.It seems as though Bello will finish the season close to his current 4.39 ERA, which considering how hard he got hit in his first few Major League starts, is a testament to his resilience. He simply has too much potential upside in his quick pitch selection, his ground ball percentage, and subsequently, his extremely low fly ball to home run ratio when balls do leave the infield. While the team may opt to use him as a bullpen arm, he’s proven he can go very late into games without losing the things the Red Sox love him for. He’s got the stamina, so why not use it to our advantage?

Michael Wacha is a peculiar case, as his $7 million salary this season (thought by yours truly at first to be an unfathomable number given his mediocrity since being a St. Louis Cardinals starter) seems to be an absolute steal. He may just make double that amount if the front office will actually show a few players some cash this offseason. For an 11-1 starter having a spectacular season that boasts a 3.06 ERA, just 2.19 walks per 9 innings, and a WAR of 1.8 (his highest total since 2016), it’s hard to argue against it, especially when pitted against some other members of this opening day pitching staff (we’re looking at you, Robles, Diekman, and Sawamura, even if you are relievers…) Either way, it’s hard to imagine the 31-year-old not making an impact on a team next year. He’s truly playing his best baseball of his career, and the fact that he’s doing so for us a year after being almost a liability for the Rays just tastes that much sweeter, even if I must admit Chaim Bloom’s infatuation for ex-Tampa players actually did work out in this specific case. Watching this pitcher we routinely shelled last season get signed to a deal many saw as exorbitant even for a rotation arm, become such a reliable starter for us, even immediately after coming back from nursing himself back from inflammation in his right shoulder, has got to feel like opening a box of Skittles and discovering none of them are red. And, no, I will not be taking arguments on candy flavoring at this time.

Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox
Michael Wacha, a guy due for a 2023 payday following a one-year deal, surely anticipating how many green and orange Skittles he’ll be able to buy.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

But perhaps the biggest question mark of the three is a guy who’s been as dependable as anyone on the roster. Nick Pivetta, since he’s joined the Red Sox in 2020 in a trade with the Phillies (in perhaps the most clear trade win we’ve had in the Bloom era), is like the person in middle school you always knew carried a fresh pack of gum on them, and even if the flavor wasn’t always on the same level as the kind your parents would get for you, when you could blow a bubble with it, it had the potential to be the type of bubble that’d pick you up, carry you clean out the window, and onto some deserted island miles away from your school. Following his regular usage as a starter in 2021, it was clear he had started to find his groove. While his ERA, which always has hovered around that mediocre 4.50 mark, and his ticked-down WHIP of roughly 1.30, won’t win him any Cy Youngs, his tenacity and pure emotion (or stoicism when it’s sorely needed) on the mound won him the adoration of Boston faithful, even if we did wish those numbers were a tad better. But what’s allowing another home run in a game Nick has already pitched us out of if he has two starts in which he goes into the sixth without allowing a runner in scoring position against a division rival? At times, it’s seemed as though Pivetta exists on our roster to cause the Rays and Jays headaches, which would be reason enough for me and many others to keep him around as long as his contract lets him (set through 2025 right now.) And who can forget his performance in the 2021 playoffs, especially against the Rays? His ability to perform as a starter and a reliever to that aforementioned level of dependability in such high-leverage games has shades of 2004 Bronson Arroyo or 2018 Nathan Eovaldi. In Arroyo’s case, he parlayed that curse-breaking postseason into a career that spanned more than a decade, albeit most of it being with Cincinnati. In Eovaldi’s case, he used that electricity in that World Series campaign for a five-year contract. Pivetta will likely fall somewhere between those two figures, which is certainly not a bad place to be.

The burning question with Pivetta is, next season, with an affordable contract that lasts three more years, will Pivetta’s place be in our rotation, in our bullpen that clearly lacks the prowess to secure saves this season, or will he be serving up some of that sweet, reliable, mediocre magic we’ve come to love for someone else? They say “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”, and while, first of all, I’d like seeing Pivetta over anyone of his pitching level for unquestionably more money in our rotation, I also acknowledge that the carousel of “who’s staying, who’s going, and who do we truly need” may be tough to keep up with, especially in an era where we’re cognizant and melancholy at how little our management seems to be willing to spend to solidify us as a contender for more than a year at a time. This team lacks direction more often than not, despite the fight in all three guys pitching this weekend. On a team with nothing to fight for in 2022, these three pitchers making potentially their last start of the season fighting for their right to keep playing with each other in this same capacity in 2023 in hopes of better results is something to both watch and admire.

Friday @ 7:07 PM: Nick Pivetta vs. Alek Manoah

Saturday @ 3:07 PM: Brayan Bello vs. Ross Stripling

Sunday @ 1:37 PM: Michael Wacha vs. Kevin Gausman

Have a good weekend! And P.S., I don’t know who needs to hear this, but there’s eleven other months out of the year in which to take your Salem trip from every corner of the earth! Signed, a Connecticut resident happy to see his Bruins on the ice in some preseason action this weekend, but not stoked about the Boston traffic on the first of the spookiest month of the year.