The Boston Red Sox must be drooling at the possibility of having the best bullpen combo, now having Brad Ziegler & awaiting two other closers recovering.
The 36-year-old, Kansas native was acquired by the Red Sox in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor league players on July 9th. No sooner was he brought into the fold, Kimbrel’s out with a left knee medial meniscus tear and reported to be out for three to six weeks. So, Ziegler prepares to be the set-up man to Uehara, instead of being an overqualified middle reliever. Then, on July 20th, the 41-year-old Koji is done with a right pectoral strain and goes on the 15-day disabled list. So, Ziegler becomes the closer.
Pressure? Hardly. Ziegler was the Diamondbacks’ closer, posting 18 saves in 20 opportunities before being traded to Boston. Last season, Ziegler had 30 saves in 32 opportunities, having an opposing batting average of .198. With Boston, that average is down to .050 in six appearances.
Yesterday, in a tight, one-run battle with the Minnesota Twins, Ziegler closed out the ninth inning with two strikeouts. After the game, Ian Browne of MLB.com reported, “Once Kimbrel (242 career saves) and Uehara (92 career saves) return, the Red Sox could close the season with a dominant ‘pen that also includes Junichi Tazawa, Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly.”
However, the key to the bullpen is going to be locking down wins. Tazawa, Barnes, and Kelly can be effective, but they need time to rest from trying to do what Uehara and Kimbrel are being paid to do for the Red Sox. Stretching them out to do middle relief, cleanup duty, and saves was a great deal to ask of them, especially when they were deemed to not have the same pitching talent as the other two.
Having Ziegler gives Boston a third option at the closer role, but having all three ready to pitch in the same game is an even better option. In Browne’s article, Ziegler mentioned, “I hope both those guys are back here in about a week or two and I’ll slot in wherever they need me to and I just want to win games.” That’s the right attitude to have, considering Ziegler is the new guy in Boston and trying to feel like a part of the team. He has no interest in taking anyone’s job away as much as he wants a chance to play in the postseason.
And, with this combination, the Red Sox may have that chance. The sidearming Ziegler, followed by the slow-but-precise Koji, followed by the flame-throwing Kimbrel should be a powerful force that will mess up opposing lineups and their timing at the plate between the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Possibly even the sixth, depending on the starting pitcher’s progress.
This combination of relievers may also be the most dominant MLB relief group, as the former group with the same consideration on the New York Yankees may be broken up soon. ESPN and multiple other media platforms are reporting that the Yankees “have told teams they are close to making a trade that would ship out closer Aroldis Chapman.” Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, the other two big relievers will likely remain with the team. If Chapman is traded, no team in the American League East, or possibly even in the majors, will have three men who could be considered big-time closers at the same time this season.
Other than the Red Sox.
Boston’s starters, other than Steven Wright, leaking runs like the Titanic bellowed water into the hull. With that in mind, Ziegler’s presence makes the Red Sox bullpen seem more like a pressure hose than a plug or stopper. With reports that Kimbrel is on track to come back soon, scheduled to throw two bullpens this week already, it’s looking like Ziegler will set him up in his return while Koji still is recovering. The Red Sox are hopeful that Uehara will return during the season, but he “received a platelet-rich plasma injection on Friday, which [manager John] Farrell said will require downtime for him to recover,” according to ESPN‘s Kyle Brasseur.
However, can Red Sox Nation imagine going into the postseason with not just one but three proven closers? In 2013, the team struggled to even find one, and Uehara was all that they needed to win the World Series. Three closers would be three times as lucky. Who says four-leaf clovers are the luck of the Irish?