Even as the offense continues to churn out runs like a well-oiled machine, the bullpen has been one of the unsung heroes early on this season. With a solid 3.38 ERA, 10.13 K/9 ratio, and above average walk rate (3.38 BB/9), the Sox bullpen has ranked among the best in the game thus far. Even though closer Joel Hanrahan is now on the DL, he has really been the only weak link (11.57 ERA, 9.64 BB/9). With the exception of Hanrahan, the pen has truly been lights out.
The excellence of the bullpen was on display just last night, coming to the aid of an imploding Alfredo Aceves. Following back-to-back home runs and double to Mark Reynolds, John Farrell pulled the switch on Aceves in favor of Junichi Tazawa. With no outs and a man already in scoring postion, Tazawa retired the next three batters, preventing the run from scoring and keeping the game at a 5-3 advantage. After the sixth, the pen was utterly dominant, striking out seven of the next nine batters, without allowing one of them to reach base. After Tazawa struck out the side in his second inning of work, Koji Uehara and Andrew Bailey chipped in with two K’s a piece.
This obviously is just one game and it is impossible to think that the bullpen will be flawless every time out. Just as Hanrahan has had his early season struggles, it is inevitable that other members will face similar rough stretches throughout the season.
With that said, I still view last night’s game as a foreshadowing of the types of performances to come. Just like Wednesday’s four inning, no walk, 8 K performance, this bullpen is more than capable of striking out batters in bunches while limiting the free passes. To me, this is the best kind of bullpen in that it can escape jams at will and prevent rallies from starting. Other than perhaps Andrew Miller (career 5.33 BB/9) and Hanrahan, every pitcher fits the high-K, low-BB, description.
I believe this bullpen is not only one of the most talented, but also among the deepest the Sox have had in recent memory. Given the wealth of gifted arms currently throwing the late innings, I have the most confidence I’ve had in years with securing a late lead. Count me as a fan. How about you?