BOSTON — The standard big league roster is comprised of 25 men, but sometimes you’d swear Dave Dombrowski stopped at 19.
We’ve spent so much time complaining about the component parts – one night the bullpen, another the rotation, another the lack of clutch hitting, another a defensive miscue, a bunch more the bullpen again – that we haven’t stopped to consider the incohesive whole.
Once you do, it becomes Dombrowski’s time under the microscope.
The back of the roster is dysfunctional, and it eventually proved costly in Sunday night’s finale vs. the Dodgers.
Cashner won’t make a difference if Sale can’t figure it out
Earlier that day, the Red Sox placed knuckleballer Steven Wright on the injured list after he took a line drive off the foot and replaced him with Andrew Cashner, who was acquired on Saturday, won’t pitch until Tuesday, and had 48 hours to report.
After using six relievers in Saturday’s 11-2 beatdown, the Red Sox were an arm short on Sunday. A corresponding move seemed reasonable – either ship out a reliever like Marcus Walden or Hector Velazquez to bring up a fresh arm, or encourage Cashner to take the full 48 hours to report and use Wright’s spot for a 24-hour reinforcement.
In either scenario, the Red Sox might’ve found themselves with some coverage in the 12th inning on Sunday. Instead, they had little choice but to hand the ball to Velazquez for a third straight day.
The right-hander hasn’t been good all year to begin with, and Sunday brought more of the same. He had so much trouble throwing strikes, it became immediately clear the Red Sox would be playing from behind in the home half of the frame.
The Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs – aided in part by an aimless Velazquez interfering with a runner well short of the first base bag – and scored three decisive runs in L.A.’s 7-4 victory.
While it would be easy to question the decision of manager Alex Cora to turn to Velazquez, since he entered the game with a 5.60 ERA, the real blame lies with Dombrowski, who assembled this flawed roster and is running out of time to fix it.
Velazquez does not belong in the big leagues, but there’s no obvious replacement in the system, unless prospects Darwinzon Hernandez and/or Tanner Houck prove quick studies at Triple-A Pawtucket in their respective transitions to relief. Velazquez has allowed runs in 15 of his 24 appearances, which qualifies as not good.
But he’s not alone. After a brilliant start, Marcus Walden has torn off one of those Mission Impossible masks to reveal that he’s actually . . . Hector Velazquez? They’re both Hector Velazquez. Since May 28, Walden has posted an 8.44 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .338. The feel-good story of April is now just another 4-A arm.
The idea that he’d be a season-long stalwart sounded laughable back then, just as it does now when the same optimism is applied to curveballing Colten Brewer and/or hard-throwing lefty Josh Taylor, two current flavors of the month.
Eovaldi: Overworked Sox bullpen is ‘on him’
Oh, but if you haven’t heard, Nathan Eovaldi will soon be saving the day at closer. That’s assuming he actually ever makes it back from the elbow surgery that has already effectively precluded him from starting until sometime in 2020.
For Dombrowski to get his back up about media underestimating the impact Eovaldi could eventually deliver in relief was tone deaf in the extreme. None of us is sold on Eovaldi contributing because none of us is sold he’ll be able to stay healthy if he even makes it back at all. He’s hardly a reliable solution.
But it’s not just the bullpen. The Red Sox also lead the league in utility infielders between Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Eduardo Nunez, and Michael Chavis. A backup outfielder would be nice, so J.D. Martinez doesn’t have to drag his bad back out there once a week, but the Red Sox have played without one of those all year, partly because the obvious internal solution – Rusney Castillo – makes too much money ever to set foot on the roster.
With Steve Pearce injured (after being ineffective) and Mitch Moreland piling up rehab setbacks, the Red Sox aren’t well-stocked at first base, either, which is why catcher Christian Vazquez ended up starting there on Saturday. It’s also why Holt, after pinch hitting for Chavis on Sunday, found himself manning the bag in the 12th on the interference play that swung the inning in the Dodgers’ favor. Had he cleanly fielded Cody Bellinger‘s smash and simply stepped on the bag, Velazquez never would’ve been in a position to interfere. It was an eminently makeable play.
But the Red Sox have tended to let holes linger all season, whether it’s the fifth starters taking a staggering 16 turns at roughly three innings per before Dombrowski finally acquired Cashner, to the bullpen blowing 18 saves before the announcement of Eovaldi’s move, to the starting first base platoon of Pearce and Moreland combining to make just one appearance since the start of June. Don’t even get me started on believing Dustin Pedroia would play in 125 games.
Those random little holes have added up to big problems that not even a top-heavy roster featuring stars like defending MVP Mookie Betts, defending Triple Crown threat J.D. Martinez, and emerging building blocks like Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers can overcome.
Dombrowski had the same problems in Detroit, where his stars excelled, but his supporting cast withered. One need look no further than 2013, where a rotation fronted by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and a lineup led by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder couldn’t overcome the scrappy Red Sox.
The Red Sox hired Dombrowski to build a World Series winner and he achieved that goal during a magical 2018. But maybe there’s another lesson in here, too – leave him in charge long enough, and eventually your 25-man roster will be lucky to include 20 legitimate big-leaguers.
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