Red Sox

McAdam: Do Red Sox have the foundation of a much-improved rotation already on hand?

(Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)

In the last 17 games, long after effectively falling out of contention in the American League playoff race, the Red Sox are a bordering-on-respectable 10-7.

Surely, it was not happenstance that their improved play has coincided with an uptick in the performance of their starting rotation.

The return to health for Nathan Eovaldi, the continued consistency of Martin Perez and the emergence of both rookie Tanner Houck and the recently acquired Nick Pivetta resulted in the Sox compiling a 2.89 ERA over that stretch.

Freed of the burden of digging out from early-inning deficits as they were for most of this season, the Red Sox managed to play winning baseball -- admittedly, for a period lasting two and a half weeks.

All of which has led to some renewed optimism that the Sox could, without major moves this winter, be on the cusp of contending again in 2021. Certainly, the lineup is capable of again being a better-than-average offense. The bullpen needs improvement and the right side of the infield is uncertain, though both Christian Arroyo (second base) and Bobby Dalbec (first base) have spent the month of September staking their claim for playing time next season.

Still, the Sox are, like so many other teams, dependent on realizing better results from their starting pitchers in order to entertain thoughts of contention for 2021.

By definition, the Boston rotation stands to improve next season. Chris Sale will be returning from Tommy John surgery and the expectation is that Eduardo Rodriguez, following his scare with myocarditis, will be cleared to return to the mound.

But importantly, Sale almost certainly won't be ready when the regular season gets underway on April 1. Typically, recovery time from Tommy John surgery is 12-15 months and Sale underwent the procedure in the final days of March. Theoretically, Sale could be available for the start of the season, but it's far more likely that he's cleared in May or somewhat later.

The same uncertain timetable surrounds Rodriguez, about whom little is known. And even if Rodriguez fully rebounds from the inflammation around the heart that wiped out his entire 2020 season, the Sox will want to carefully monitor his workload.

Two holdovers