Summer Training '20

MLB Notebook: Thin starting rotation could doom 2020 Red Sox; plus, Terry Francona’s decades-long bond

Martin Perez (Getty Images)

It is, to be sure, early still, even though the start of the 2020 regular season is less than two weeks away.

A lot can happen between now and July 24, when the Red Sox host the Orioles in the opener. Eduardo Rodriguez could test negative soon, arrive in Boston by mid-week and quickly rebuild any arm strength lost in the last 10 days. Someone unforeseen could enter the picture and secure a spot at the back end of the rotation and contribute more than unexpected. It happens.

Perhaps the Sox can cobble together a spot or two with the opener format, using a tag-team approach to get them through at least the early portion of the schedule.

But that's a lot of hoping, particularly in a season where very little is likely to go as planned.

For now, however, this much seems obvious: the Red Sox would appear painfully thin in their starting rotation. And the demands of the first few weeks of the schedule -- seven games against the Yankees, six against the Rays and four more against the Mets among the first 20 games -- make getting off to a good start increasingly unlikely.

Even with a healthy Rodriguez, the Red Sox were at a disadvantage, with only Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez available as other experienced major league starters. Now, with Rodriguez probably unavailable for the opening stretch, they're down to Eovaldi and Perez.

Ryan Weber, a career journeyman with a lifetime ERA of 5.04, would fill the third spot. And even if the Sox can use an opener in one of the remaining two spots, that still leaves one unaccounted for.

Contrast the Red Sox "Big Three'' of Eovaldi, Perez and Weber with the that of the Yankees (Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton) and Rays (Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow) and it's plainly obvious that the Sox are operating at a huge disadvantage.

And the pitching issues don't end with the starting rotation. The temporary loss of two key bullpen pieces -- Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor - who both tested positive for COVID-19 last week makes it less likely that the team will have a fortified relief crew for the start of the season.

That could be especially costly early in the schedule when starters haven't fully built up arm strength and will be requiring additional inventory from the bullpen.

The already small margin of error would seem to have been further reduced by the loss of manpower in Summer Camp. Had Rodriguez remained healthy, the Sox might have been able to lean heavily on their ace lefty and Eovaldi and hope to outslug opponents in the first few weeks of the season.

But with Rodriguez unlikely to be part of the mix until perhaps August, a Red Sox question mark has morphed into a legitimate area of concern.

In a six-month season, perhaps the Sox could have survived that challenge, hovered around .500 for the first few weeks and then take off from there.

The truncated schedule takes away that option. A poor start over the first 10-12 or so games can leave a team in a hole out of which it can't climb.

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One of the new rules introduced for 2020