Why do the Red Sox need more starting pitchers? Chris Sale is Exhibit A. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

When the World Series begins Tuesday night, it will feature a matchup of two teams loaded with starting pitching talent. In an era of staggering offense and bullpens created to pitch five or more innings each night, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have made it to the Fall Classic on the strength of two old-fashioned rotations.

In many ways this is a throwback series. And it’s a reminder for the Boston Red Sox – and every other team in baseball – that pitching wins championships.

The New York Yankees were eliminated from the American League Championship Series on Saturday night when they tried to patch together a Game 6 bullpen outing. It almost worked – the game was tied in the ninth inning – but in the end the Astros were too much for New York. Even if the Yankees had pulled that game out, the Astros would have countered with Gerrit Cole in Game 7.  He’s been the best pitcher in baseball since May.

The Red Sox staggered to an 84-78 record this year, a disappointing season that began with the expectation that their starting rotation could lead them to a fourth straight AL East title. The pitching struggled out of spring training and never recovered.

The problem began at the top. Boston was seven games under .500 in games started by Chris Sale and David Price in 2019. They were 13 games over .500 when anyone else started. And this was a team that spent the whole season trying to find a fifth starter.

We’ll be spending a lot of time in the coming weeks talking about J.D. Martinez’s decision to stay or activate his opt-out clause. Fans will focus on the team’s decision on what to do with Mookie Betts as he enters the final year of his contract.

Yet Boston’s hopes to return to the postseason in 2020 are squarely on the arms who will start games next season. The organization has committed $241 million to Sale and Price in the coming seasons. The reason we are even discussing a Betts trade is because of the exorbitant salaries committed to those two pitchers.

Sale has been one of the game’s best starters over his career, yet hasn’t had a healthy season since 2017. In fact, his total innings pitched has come down in each of the past four seasons, since throwing 226 innings for the Chicago White Sox in 2016. He was traded to the Red Sox that offseason and led the majors with 214 1/3 innings in ’17.

Shoulder issues limited him to 158 innings in 2018 and 147 1/3 innings this season – the fewest he has thrown as a major league starter.

He was shut down in August and many worried he was headed for Tommy John surgery. Instead he received a platelet-rich plasma injection and was set to be re-evaluated in six weeks.

It’s been nine weeks since that injection. And we haven’t heard a thing about his progress.

When the Red Sox baseball operations staff met with the media the day after the regular season, the assistant general manager, Brian O’Halloran, said the team was taking things “a little bit slower than we initially anticipated just to be certain.” There’s certainly no need to rush things with spring training still four months away, but it’s hard not to be a little concerned that elbow surgery is still a possibility.

That means the Red Sox may have to look outside for reinforcements to the starting rotation, even as they look to maneuver through a payroll reduction. It should be obvious to everyone that the starting rotation was not good enough in 2019.

If you need a reminder, just watch the World Series this week.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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