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Monday Morning Brushback: The Changing of Seasons

The Red Sox week in review dives into James Paxton, Chris Sale, and 2024.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Yeah, I uh....I think it’s over, folks.

My burden has been lifted: I do not have to advocate for any potential shot that the 2023 Red Sox have to make it to the postseason. I’ve tried to take as objective of a look at this team as possible during my first season writing for this website, while still being as optimistic as possible. Maybe that’s been a losing battle, I dunno. What I do know is that it ain’t gonna happen this year.

Sure, October baseball is still mathematically possible. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that October baseball will be played by the Red Sox: their last regular season game is October 1.

But seriously, it’s a shame that we’re about to enter a stretch where we have four games against a Yankee team that we’ve dominated all season followed by a huge weekend series in Toronto and another big group of tilts in Texas—two teams that were, at one point in the not-so-distant past, in striking distance—and it won’t mean a thing. We should’ve been getting excited about this upcoming slate. We should’ve been asking ourselves “what if?” heading into the next week and a half.

But, we won’t. The writing is on the wall. Maybe I was slower coming to that conclusion compared to some of you, sue me. Hand up.

You can’t win too many games if you’re coughing up 24 runs over a pair of games at home to a divisional foe. You can’t be expected to be a serious competitor when you’re a bottom five club in the league when it comes to team defensive runs saved. You can’t give an honest bit for a pennant when your starters making it past the fifth inning is seen as a surprise.

All of those issues came up this past week. I suppose they’ve come up all year. I anticipate that they’ll continue until that final Sunday of the regular season.

It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.

Wrap for Pax

Los Angeles Dodgers v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

James Paxton’s 2023 campaign is officially over. After having some inflammation in his right knee pop up, Alex Cora confirmed that they’re calling it a season for the lefty.

What started as a year filled with huge upside, promise, and even a potential future at Fenway has ended with an understanding—at least to me, personally—that his tenure in Boston seems to be over. I simply cannot think of a reason you’d want Paxton back, short of it being on extremely friendly terms, when the starting rotation as a whole needs an overhaul.

It’s easy to say what should’ve been done with Paxton, who’s on his contract year, at the trade deadline. The benefit of hindsight provides that. The Sox weren’t a week’s worth of games back of a wild card spot when that decision rolled around, and a relatively weaker slate of games was on deck. Maybe John Henry should’ve invested in a crystal ball.

But that was then and this is now. Extending a qualifying offer to a guy who has logged a 7.62 ERA and a WHIP damn near 2.00 since the start of August seems counter-intuitive. He’ll be turning 35 in November after, unfortunately, sustaining a number of injuries in recent years. Even if it’s for a single year, offering eight figures to a guy of that stature is just a bad idea (right?). No one else is gonna bite on that QO to trigger the pick, and Paxton probably won’t find a better AAV than what’s presented through that offer.

You’ve gotta let him go. Cut your losses.

Speaking of guys who had a solid first half before hitting some bumps in the road....

Sale-ing Away

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We need to have a conversation about Chris Sale.

I genuinely appreciate Sale’s drive. I do. I think he understands the pressure of pitching in a market like Boston. He has seen the highs of that and the lows on a first hand basis; he had a tough time in the 2017 ALDS before striking out Manny Machado to clinch a title just a year later, and all of that came before he even signed his extension in 2019.

With that, I don’t know how many times I can go to bat for him.

To keep it consistent with what I mentioned about his fellow southpaw earlier in this very article, Sale has a 5.53 ERA since the calendar flipped to August (otherwise known as the Sunday of summer). He hasn’t been able to log more than five innings in any of the six times he’s started in that time. He’s punched out batters at a solid clip, to his credit (35 strikeouts in 27.2 IP since the start of August), but ultimately the performance has not been great ever since he had to leave his outing on June 1.

Hopefully, Chris Sale can enter 2024 with a relatively clean bill of health. I guess that’s all I can ask for as he enters the end of his contract with Boston (if the Sox offer him the club option for 2025, I will donate $100 to the foundation of choice to whoever tweets at me, @FitzyMoPena, this exact paragraph first. Please don’t make it to, like, Kony’s army or anything. Make it to a worthy cause.). He’s had his flashes of brilliance, but not nearly enough to wet my whistle.

Sale’s velocity hasn’t taken a drastic nose dive and he’s still getting some good bite on the slider, but I don’t think you can truly count on him for much volume going forward. Maybe he’s a high upside guy you can hand the ball to in the back half (I did not italicize and bold that phrase on accident) of the rotation and see what happens. Hell, the Red Sox have basically done that all season and they’re above .500 as I type this! Maybe number 41 can give us some solid outings next season.

But I think his days as an ace are over. So...

...Now What?

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

If the 2024 Red Sox are going to be successful, they’re going to have to improve the rotation.

There are positive developments on offense and on defense (yes, even considering how bad the team has been thus far this year in that regard). Triston Casas has been a monster for months and is giving an earnest bid for Rookie of the Year, even if it may end up falling flat. Meanwhile, Trevor Story has been generally strong on defense while Ceddanne Rafaela may be a lockdown outfielder in very short time. The bullpen has also been sturdy this season as well.

That leaves the starting rotation, which I can only imagine will be the focus of the upcoming offseason.

One thing is clear about this pitching core: the Red Sox need more volume. The 2015 Royals approach of being able to fall back on a strong bullpen only works in a full season when you get some depth from your starters. Boston has a genuine chance of finishing the season without a pitcher who has thrown at least 150 innings (Brayan Bello could save them from that fate). Those troubles with innings not being eaten are not troubles that can be ignored.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto feels like an ideal antidote to that problem, at least at the top of the rotation. As of the time of publication, he’s thrown nearly 550 innings in Japan in the last three years, and his ERA has been under 1.50. I’ll leave it to my podcast colleague Jake (please listen to Pod On Lansdowne) to give you the rest of the Yamamoto pitch. Long story short: he’s fucking nasty, and he could be that guy for quite some time.

From there, Boston needs volume. We need guys who can work long, and some of those guys could come through free agency.

One of those guys is Aaron Nola. His FIP has jumped to 4.21 this year, which is far above his career average, but the guy has tossed over 1,000 frames since the start of 2018. That includes a trio of seasons with over 200 innings; we won’t count 2020 against him, and I wouldn’t count much anyone on this entire planet did in 2020 against them.

Another free agent target could be Jordan Montgomery. He’s hurled about 500 innings since Opening Day in 2021, and his ERA sits at 3.64. He’s notoriously been a guy who initiates ground balls, so I wouldn’t be scared about his profile at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.

Those are just some ideas. The overall point remains: this rotation needs a boost, and this past month-or-so of rounders has proved that.

Song of the Week: “MLK” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2

Today’s the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I was only five years old when they happened; I don’t remember much of anything of that day, but I surely remember the New England Patriots’ title run following that. With that, I remember the many commemorations to a terror that I couldn’t possibly comprehend at that young age.

One of those commemorations was U2’s halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVI. I remember watching that entire Pats playoff run with my dad, which inherently included this powerful display of the names of those who had been lost on that Tuesday in 2001.

My apologies that you have to watch this video specifically on YouTube due to the En Eff Ell being jerks, but I promise you it is worth your time on this day.

Until next week, my friends. Go Sox.