The Boston Red Sox bullpen situation has been a roller coaster over the course of the season. How will it perform, going forward?
Boston’s bullpen came into this season with high expectations. The Red Sox had Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, both expected to perform well after having a full off-season of rest. Boston had Matt Barnes, who was expected to become a hard-throwing stud in this new pen. There was Carson Smith who, after being acquired from Seattle for Wade Miley, was supposed to turn into the new, young set-up man that could be depended on in any situation. Finally, Boston had Craig Kimbrel, one of baseball’s best closers. Everything pointed towards the late-inning relief being a big strength for the 2016 Red Sox.
Things have not turned out to be so simple and clear cut for this year’s batch of relievers.
First, Carson Smith went down for the year. Then Kimbrel was sidelined for an extended period. Now, even Koji has gone on the DL for who knows how long. Yet, through all of these setbacks, Boston’s bullpen has managed to hold on. It has never reached the level of disaster that was the 2015 season.
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With so many injuries, the pen looks very different now than it had even just a few weeks ago. Currently, Boston’s relief options consist of Junichi Tazawa, Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross Jr, Tommy Layne, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Brad Ziegler.
There are not many people who, going into the year, would have expected to see both Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly listed here. Yet, here we are; baseball is anything but predictable. Two of Boston’s original starting rotation are now in the pen.
Though Buchholz has not been as big a disaster pitching relief as he was starting, he is still on thin ice in terms of a roster spot. Joe Kelly also failed to impress after being called back up from the minors. Neither can be trusted in close games at this point.
Then, there is Tazawa. Having just come back from injury he provides a great deal of relief to Boston’s pitching situation. Though he is currently not showing the dominance he has shown in the past, he still has a fine 3.31 ERA on the season. He is perhaps the most reliable option available at the moment.
Matt Barnes is the most interesting pitcher of the bunch. Over the season he has shown flashes of brilliance, yet does tend to struggle a lot with command. While having a solid ERA of 3.12, he has a total of 20 walks so far. With his ability to throw consistently in the high 90’s, Barnes could still become a top reliever if he can just show better control.
Both Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross have been fairly mediocre on the season as a whole. Ross has shown that he is becoming more dependable as of later however. Even with an ERA of 4.06 on the season, the Red Sox have had to rely on him more and more recently. For the most part, Ross has been able to take on that challenge with a great deal of success. From July 4th to July 26th, he has allowed a total of only two runs in his appearances.
Finally, there is Brad Ziegler. Having been traded here from Arizona, Ziegler seemed to be the answer to the prayers of Red Sox fans wishing for a shutdown reliever to be added. In his first six appearances for Boston, he allowed only one hit and not a single run. After, Koji was placed on the DL, it was Ziegler who became the new closer. Sadly, his last two outings have not gone as smoothly, allowing the opposing team to score the winning run in each game.
However, Ziegler should be able to get back on track rather quickly, as he has been unlucky with the defense behind him. The ability of the infielders to make the play smoothly is extremely important to a ground-ball pitcher like Ziegler.
While Boston’s pen is still managing to stay afloat, it is far from perfect. The bad news is that Uehara may be out for an extended period of time, if not the rest of the season. The good news, however, is that Kimbrel is recovering from his injury faster than expected. He should be able to re-join the team sometime during the current road trip.
There are also reports that Dave Dombrowski is still looking into obtaining another reliever on the trade market. Names like White Sox closer David Robertson have even been mentioned. Perhaps the Red Sox will be able to pull off one more deal before the deadline on Monday.
With so much of the season remaining, and the Sox right in the middle of a tight playoff race, the bullpen is going to need to become more reliable than it currently is. Pitchers like Kimbrel returning from injury will certainly help, but adding at least one more reliever from the trade market makes a great deal of sense. Even if the name is not as big as someone like Robertson, any reliable arm would help the team.
What do you think? Should the Red Sox stand pat on relievers and focus on other areas of need? Will Kimbrel’s return stabilize the pen? There are still so many questions, but some might be answered by Monday. All we can do is wait and see.