The Red Sox are wrapping up their season with a two-game set against the Rays at Fenway starting Tuesday. The club then travels to Baltimore to end the year, matching up with the Orioles in a four-game series beginning Thursday.
The Red Sox (76-80) will once again finish last in the American League East. The Sox, who are 39-40 at home this season, will try to avoid a losing record for the first time since the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Here’s what to look for in the upcoming week:
Starting pitching matters. The Sox were reminded of that this year.
They will run out Tanner Houck against Zach Eflin on Tuesday, and Brayan Bello against Tyler Glasnow Wednesday.
Houck carries a 4.92 ERA into what will be his 20th, and second-to-last, start of the year while Eflin, a Red Sox target last offseason, harnesses a 3.44 ERA in 30 starts this season, striking out 182 batters in 172⅔ innings.
While the Rays and Eflin prepare for a playoff run, there’s been a lot of “ending the season on a positive note” vibes for the Red Sox.
Houck will try to do that after working just four-plus innings against the Rangers in his last start. The Sox want the righthander to build up as a starter during the offseason, with manager Alex Cora noting that offseason back surgery last year could have played a role in Houck’s performance. With a full offseason to prepare, perhaps, Houck could have better results in 2024. Still, he will be entering his age 28 season. The Sox have made it clear next year will be about production over promise.
“At one point, we have to know who you’re going to be for the Boston Red Sox,” Cora said. “And I have my ideas, but at the same time, I’m going to keep it to myself until somebody asks me what I think, and then we’ll go from there.”
Cora will have to relay what those thoughts are to the next front-office executive who replaces former chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. But if the Red Sox — who are expected to — go out and acquire front-line starters, Houck is a bullpen piece.
Brayan Bello’s 4.11 ERA isn’t indicative of the type of season he’s had. He’s been the Red Sox’ most consistent starter, making a team-high 28 starts while also logging the most innings (151).
Still, he clearly hit a wall in the second half, posting a 5.32 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break, compared to a 3.04 ERA in 14 starts prior to the break. Bello yielded eight runs in three innings to the Rangers in his most recent outing. However he finishes the season, it was a promising and impressive first full year in the big leagues for the righthander.
What’s clear, though, is that Bello isn’t ready to be a No. 1, nor a No. 2, starter. That’s if the Red Sox want to contend. If the Sox are serious about a postseason push next season, Bello, who turns 25 in May, should fit in perfectly in the No. 3 spot while the top two rotation spots should be acquired via free agency or trade.
The Sox will complete their final series with Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, and Houck on the mound in Baltimore.
Pivetta has made his way back into the rotation conversation for next year. When the Red Sox’ staff was reeling, Pivetta, who had lost his spot in the rotation, re-entered the picture and filled in admirably. In 15 games (7 starts) in the second half Pivetta has a 3.65 ERA, striking out 92 batters in 66⅔ innings.
He is a workhorse, making 30-plus starts in back-to-back seasons in 2021-22. That counts for something — especially when you consider injuries the Sox rotation has endured through the years. The only time Pivetta was on the IL during his Red Sox tenure came in 2021, and that was because of COVID. He could, and should, fit into the back end of the rotation as the team’s No. 5 starter.
Something to watch
Alex Verdugo could be playing his final two home games at Fenway on Tuesday and Wednesday. Verdugo, who has been with the Red Sox since 2020 after being acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, was on track for a breakout season, flashing as the Red Sox’ best player for a chunk of the season. Yet since July 5, when Verdugo said he was snubbed as an All-Star, the Sox right fielder is hitting .233/.282/.386 with a .668 OPS. Overall, he’s hitting .266/.327/.426 with a .753 OPS and 13 homers. With an overcrowded outfield and Verdugo heading into free agency next year, there’s a strong chance he will be traded.
Rookie Wilyer Abreu is intriguing and plays hard consistently, something Verdugo has failed to do during his Red Sox tenure. Abreu parked his second homer Sunday against the White Sox’ Mike Clevinger.
“This kid is really good,” Cora said of Abreu. “His swing is very compact. Very powerful. And he’s going to control the strike zone. When you do that, that stuff adds on. He’s a good hitter.”
He’s also an option to take Verdugo’s spot in right.