Craig Kimbrel has started to resemble the lights out closer the Boston Red Sox expected since his return from the disabled list.
A quick glance at Craig Kimbrel‘s season statistics would suggest that the new closer for the Boston Red Sox hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but the All-Star reliever has looked like his old self since returning from the disabled list to begin the month.
Most pitchers would be pleased with a 3.08 ERA, but for Kimbrel it represents a career-high that nearly doubles his 1.78 career mark. Kimbrel has always been a bit generous with the free passes, but his 4.6 BB/9 this season is well above his normal rate.
Does this mean the Red Sox didn’t receive the elite closer they thought they were getting when the surrendered a bountiful package to acquire him from the San Diego Padres last winter? Recent results show that he is who we thought he was.
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Kimbrel’s ERA has been bogged down by a brutal outing against the Texas Rangers in early July when he was tagged for 4 earned runs without recording an out, inflating his ERA by over a full run. He probably shouldn’t have even been on the mound the next night, but managed to escape his one inning of work to finish off an 11-5 victory, despite issuing a pair of walks. That would be his last appearance before landing on the disabled list with a knee injury that required surgery that sidelined him for nearly a month.
Since his return on August 1, Kimbrel has been as lights out as ever. He is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities, allowing only one earned run over 8 1/3 innings while racking up 16 strikeouts. Opposing hitters are a mere 2-for-28 against him over that span and the Red Sox are 8-0 in the games Kimbrel has appeared in this month.
The run Kimbrel allowed came in a troubling outing in which he issued four walks against the New York Yankees. Kimbrel admitted to soreness in his surgically repaired knee following that appearance, suggesting he may have pushed his return a bit too soon, but he has been brilliant ever since.
Getting their closer back to form is vital for the Red Sox to succeed. Kimbrel was expected to be the linchpin to a revamped bullpen built to dominate, but Boston’s core of relievers have been far from elite. It’s been a lost season for Carson Smith, while Koji Uehara finally started to show his age before joining Smith on the disabled list. Junichi Tazawa looks cooked from years of overuse and even breakout reliever Matt Barnes has stumbled this month.
With the Red Sox in the midst of a tight race in the AL East, a blown lead by the bullpen can potentially mean the difference between winning the division and being forced into a one-game Wild Card scenario. The trade for Brad Ziegler has helped solidify the back end of the bullpen, but in order for the Red Sox to feel comfortable locking down a narrow lead late in games they need Craig Kimbrel to be Craig Kimbrel.
Based on what we’ve seen this month, it looks like he’s back on track.