The Red Sox blanked the A’s last night, pushing them to 51-44 and tying their season high at seven games over .500. Paired with a Yankees’ loss, Boston pulled out of the basement in the AL East and sits just a game and a half back of Houston for the American League’s final Wild Card spot.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has said a couple times recently the team’s play leading up to the August 1 deadline will impact how aggressively they pursue outside help versus entertaining offers on their veteran players. The team seems to be finding its stride with two weeks to go, putting the front office in a good position to add for a playoff push.
Rob Bradford of WEEI reported yesterday the Sox are seeking to add pitching depth. He suggests a back-of-the-rotation starter and a right-handed middle relief option are on the target list.
Each of those player types should be attainable. Veteran back-end starters change hands every deadline season. Michael Lorenzen, Carlos Carrasco, Lance Lynn and recurring Sox’s target Rich Hill are among the impending free agents who are unlikely to require a hefty acquisition cost. Oakland’s Paul Blackburn and Cleveland’s Aaron Civale are middle to back end starters with multiple seasons of remaining affordable control. They’d be costlier from a prospect perspective than the aforementioned rentals as a result.
Various injuries have left Boston with a top-heavy rotation. James Paxton has been stellar since returning from two and a half injury-wrecked seasons, working to a 3.51 ERA while striking out over 28% of opposing hitters. Brayan Bello has improved his control in his second MLB season, resulting in a 3.14 ERA over 15 starts. Kutter Crawford, a midseason entrant to the rotation who has a 4.73 ERA over 10 starts, is the only other consistent member of the current starting staff.
The Sox are without each of Chris Sale, Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock. Sale recently began throwing again but is shelved into August by a shoulder blade injury. Houck suffered a facial fracture when he was hit by a comebacker in late June. He’s expected back this season but isn’t an imminent returnee. Whitlock hit the injured list two weeks ago with elbow inflammation.
With only a three-man rotation, the Sox used a bullpen game last night against Oakland. Nick Pivetta was brilliant in a bulk capacity, tossing six scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts. The 30-year-old righty is up to 35 innings of 2.31 ERA ball with an elite 38.2% strikeout rate since moving to relief in mid-May. Boston has been reluctant to move him out of a role in which he has been so exceptional. Cora said last night they’re planning to use Pivetta in a similar bulk capacity on Sunday evening against the Mets (relayed by Chris Cotillo of MassLive).
Adding a stable veteran arm to the back of the rotation would safeguard against any injury setbacks for Sale, Houck or Whitlock (or a potential issue for Paxton, whose own health history is obviously alarming). It’d reduce the chance of Boston needing to push Pivetta back into the starting staff at any point.
Boston’s bullpen, meanwhile, skews very left-handed in the middle innings. Kenley Jansen, Pivetta, Chris Martin and Josh Winckowski are the only righties in the current 10-man mix. Pivetta’s bulk role means he’s not going to be available for shorter matchup work on most nights. Jansen is locked into his customary closing role. That leaves Martin and Winckowski — both of whom have pitched well — as the only righty setup options available.
The Sox are soon to welcome back one key reinforcement. John Schreiber had a 2.12 ERA with a 30% strikeout rate in 18 outings before a lat strain sent him to the IL in mid-May. He’s made four appearances since beginning a rehab stint two weeks ago and should soon be back in the MLB mix. Schreiber would be a high-leverage arm if he quickly recaptures his pre-injury form, although there’d still be room for additional middle relief depth.
There are various righty bullpen arms who stand out as possible trade candidates. Michael Fulmer, Keynan Middleton, Reynaldo López, old friends Joe Kelly (who’s expected back from an IL stint shortly) and Adam Ottavino, José Cisnero, Chris Stratton and Shintaro Fujinami could all be on the move.