Playing nine innings while suddenly wishing the August waiver trade deadline still existed . . .
■ 1. So the trade deadline came and went, and the Red Sox stayed with the status quo in their glaring problem areas on the roster, specifically the bullpen. Cool. Swell. Neat.
Don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of Colten Brewer, Marcus Walden, and a half-dozen Quadruple A guys named Josh. The Red Sox pitching shortcomings are nothing scoring nine runs a game won’t solve. Might want to score 10, just to be safe, especially if the starter can’t get past the fifth inning again.
Pardon the saltiness, but this was a bummer of a blow to the Red Sox’ chances at making a fierce defense of their 2018 World Series title. It wasn’t just that they came into the deadline needing a reliever. They needed multiple relievers that can help, or at least one reliever capable of pitching multiple quality innings, and at last look nothing like 1964 Dick Radatz or 1998 Derek Lowe was available or exists on their current roster.
They needed something, and got nothing, again. General manager Dave Dombrowski’s neglect in restocking the building with actual Major League talent over the winter is a roster-building debacle that has undermined so much about this season.
Why should we think anything about that will change, since on the lone deadline day nothing changed?
■ 2. The theme of Dombrowski and Alex Cora’s post-deadline, we-got-nada press conferences was that the roster the Red Sox have — which happens to feature the highest payroll in baseball despite being about 22 actual major-league players deep — now has to get the job done. “If we’re going to make it, it’s going to have to be the guys in that clubhouse,’’ said Dombrowski. A few moments earlier, Cora said the same thing with different words. “I’ve been saying all along that this group has to get better,’’ said Cora. He’s right in one sense — the starting rotation, presumably a strength, has underachieved save for Eduardo Rodriguez. But the frustrating thing is that too many pitchers the Red Sox have used this season aren’t capable of getting better, and really should not be asked to be.
■ 3. Now they’re counting on Nathan Eovaldi — who is coming off another elbow injury and has pitched 17.2 regular-season innings in relief in his career, with 1.68 WHIP and 5.09 ERA — to be something close to a savior. We know Eovaldi is game for the challenge, and we remember him pitching six quality innings in relief in some rather high stakes last October, but this is an awful lot to ask from him given what he’s gone through health-wise this year. I cannot believe Dombrowski didn’t get a single pitcher to help the cause.
■ 4. Maybe my perception of that will change once we find out what other teams were asking for in terms of a return. Andrew Benintendi should have been off the table, and it sounds like he was. I’d have traded Michael Chavis — a fun player, but one with obvious flaws — for a high-end reliever, but the only reliever that meets that designation that moved was Shane Greene. I’m glad they kept Jackie Bradley Jr. But so many pitchers moved — at this writing, it appears to be in the 20s — that you’d think the Red Sox could have acquired one competent pitcher to help aid the cause.
■ 5. Of course, the Red Sox’ current standing — they were two games out of a wild-card spot entering Wednesday — isn’t all on the bullpen. Its flaws have been magnified and its competent pitchers overworked in part because the high-priced starting rotation has failed to go deep into games. This was most recently evidenced by David Price’s 4⅓ -inning, 94-pitch mess Tuesday in the Red Sox’ frustrating and fully in-character 6-5 loss to the Rays. The bullpen wasn’t provided enough talent to succeed. The rotation was, and so in a way their failings have been even more damaging.
■ 6. Price is the most frustrating culprit, at least if you can accept that Rick Porcello has basically turned into 2003 John Burkett this year. (The 2002 version of Frank Castillo is also an acceptable comparison). Price is averaging fewer than 5 innings over his last nine starts while pitching to a 5.48 ERA in that stretch. Unless he’s dealing with an injury or inconvenience that we don’t know about, that performance when the bullpen needs a pick-me-up is inexcusable.
■ 7. As enigmatic as Chris Sale has been this year, and as much as his slider seems to come and go on a whim, I still feel like something is going to click soon and he’ll find that elusive combination of excellence and consistency. He’s striking out 13.2 batters per 9 innings, the second-best rate of his career, his velocity is fine, and he’s apparently healthy, which he was not at this point last year. Maybe this is when the Red Sox’ ill-fated-to-this-point, ease-into-the-season approach pays off.
■ 8. I’ve taken great delight in hassling Red Sox fans that preferred Jose Iglesias to Xander Bogaerts five years ago as the shortstop of the future. So in the spirit of encouraging reciprocated mockery, I should note that Christian Vazquez has become pretty much what I expected Blake Swihart to be — a decent but not great defensive catcher who is a genuine threat to do damage at the plate. Vazquez had 16 homers and an .802 OPS entering Wednesday’s game, which is six more homers than he had in his entire 999-plate-appearance career entering this season.
■ 9. It feels like so much has gone wrong this year, but Vazquez’s unexpected development into basically what Yadier Molina was as a hitter at the same age (he had an .814 OPS in his age-28 season) is something unexpected that has gone right. That’s happened in a couple of instances — Rafael Devers’s emergence as a lefty-hitting mini-Manny, Brandon Workman’s workhorse dependability, Xander Bogaerts delivering a season that would rank among the best on Derek Jeter’s ledger. But the biggest surprising development of all would be if this bullpen, left without necessary additions, suddenly becomes decent.