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Even sitting atop AL East, Red Sox still have flaws to clean up

Boston Red Sox's Nate Eovaldi allowed four earned runs over five innings against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.
Boston Red Sox's Nate Eovaldi allowed four earned runs over five innings against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Red Sox are in first place in the American League East and have the second-best record in the league. They have so far exceeded what were modest expectations and deserve credit for that.

Weather permitting, they’ll have Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound Sunday with a chance to split their series against the Seattle Mariners.

Big picture, all is well.

But Saturday’s mistake-filled 8-2 loss further exposed flaws that will only get more pronounced if not fixed.

The Sox are 4-6 since their 9-4 start and have been outscored by six runs. Their rotation has a 5.03 ERA in those games after Nate Eovaldi allowed four earned runs over five innings Saturday.

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Eovaldi isn’t a problem. But Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards are. Richards has the raw ability — and a $10 million contract — that suggests he should get more opportunities.

But how long can the Sox stick with Pérez, who is 28-32 with a 5.14 ERA since 2017? He has given the Sox only 17⅓ innings in four starts and allowed 11 earned runs.

Tanner Houck needs to refine a third pitch, but he’s better with just his fastball and slider than Pérez is now.

Rodriguez and Eovaldi are trustworthy starters. Nick Pivetta isn’t there yet, but he’s a competitor and the results have been promising. At some point the other spots will have to be addressed with the return of Chris Sale still months off in the distance.

The Sox also must make some difficult decisions about their outfield.

Franchy Cordero has been badly overmatched this season, hitting .200 with 23 strikeouts in 45 at-bats and only two extra-base hits.

Cordero punched out three times Saturday, swinging the bat awkwardly each time. He has struck out in eight of his last 11 at-bats.

Cordero’s size, strength and speed suggest he’d be a good player. But he’s also a 26-year-old already on his third team and has struck out in 40 percent of his career at-bats with little power.

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Here’s how little power: Cordero has two home runs over 98 at-bats since the start of the 2019 season.

“You have to keep coaching the player and keep giving him confidence,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s not lack of effort.”

Cordero missed three weeks of spring training after testing positive for COVID-19 and played in only six Grapefruit League games.

His making the Opening Day roster was a surprise and now looks like a mistake. He needed more at-bats in game situations.

“This is a guy that we trust, and we believe he’s going to make contact,” Cora said. “And when he makes contact, good things happen.”

Cordero has a career batting average of .346 on balls he puts in play, .409 this season. Now if only he could put the ball in play.

Maybe it’s too early to give up on Cordero. But if the intent this season is truly to be competitive, he’s hampering that.

The same is largely true of Hunter Renfroe, a platoon outfielder who is hitting .188 with a .512 OPS. The Sox signed Renfroe for his power and there hasn’t been much.

Renfroe is a skilled outfielder, so there’s value in continuing to play him. He’s also a better bet to come around than Cordero given his 53 extra-base hits in 2019.

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If not, the Sox won’t get very far with two unproductive corner outfielders.

The Sox are averaging 5.18 runs, best in the American League. That has come despite their leadoff hitters having a .297 on-base percentage.

Most of that falls on Kiké Hernández, who has a .302 OBP in the 19 games he has hit first.

Cora believes Hernández is more than a super-utility player and hitting leadoff is part of challenging him. Cora has a knack for figuring out what best motivates a player, so that’s an experiment that deserves more of a look.

There will come a day when Jarren Duran is the leadoff hitter and center fielder. But the 24-year-old only has 80 games above Single A and had a .634 OPS in those games.

Duran also needs more work in center field, a position he was first introduced to in 2018.

Marwin Gonzalez, who was 1 for 4 with an RBI on Saturday, has just four extra-base hits in his first 18 games with the Red Sox.
Marwin Gonzalez, who was 1 for 4 with an RBI on Saturday, has just four extra-base hits in his first 18 games with the Red Sox.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It’s also troubling that the Sox are 7-8 at home, part of a trend that has seen them go 56-71 at Fenway since the start of the 2019 season.

Cora has been saying since spring training that playing better at home is a priority. But it hasn’t happened.

“Of course we want to win series at home. Of course we want to be better at home,” Cora said. “Obviously that’s something we have to do better.”

The Sox won nine in a row earlier this month and leaned hard on the idea that it showed they were better than people thought.

But this homestand, and Saturday in particular, raised questions they still need to answer.

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Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.