The Boston Red Sox bullpen is in shambles or is it? The bullpen has mastered the strategy of inconsistency and that could be devastating in the playoffs.
There are certain actions that are indefensible in politics, religion, business, and sports. Since this is the Boston Red Sox, this topic Du Jour is that segment of the team known as the bullpen. I certainly can point out metrics and even traditional statistics that give comfort that the bullpen is not as bad as perceived. I just don’t buy that.
The Red Sox bullpen is like attempting to complete a puzzle in which a few pieces don’t belong nor do they fit. The term that some visionaries use to describe the bullpen is “inconsistency” and that we see almost nightly. I admire the bullpen commandery where they each take the opportunity to pass the baton of failure to the next victim.
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The series against the Astros was quite indicative of what we see nightly unless there is a blowout or a substantial lead. The first game of the series a superlative effort by David Price was simply flushed away. The generally reliable – and in reality they all are – Ryan Brasier failed and Joe Kelly then became a pitching pinata.
The following evening, Eduardo Rodriguez got mauled in just 3.1 innings, but the bullpen was superlative and gave the opportunity needed for the offense to recover a lead. Didn’t happen, but a bright spot did with Tyler Thornburg tossing two shutout frames. That, my friends, is simply a tease which this bullpen is splendid at accomplishing.
Is there a cure? A magical fix that the coaching staff can devise to have Red Sox Nation not panic? The beauty of the playoffs is slimming down of the rotation and that means sending a starter to the bullpen. The obvious has already happened with the suddenly ineffectual Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi – like virtually all starters – has bullpen experience, but, hey – they are pitchers and pitchers pitch.
The bullpen could be bolstered by a starter or even potentially Chris Sale if his shoulder is not pristine. The pitching and lineup mixtures of the opposition can be determining factors in devising rotation to bullpen options and the final choices for (hopefully) each round.
What the significant issue is just who do the Red Sox put in the ‘pen and just how they are used? The role issue is not really solid even at this point of the season and Thornburg looks good lately, but that is apropos of all the bullpen. Each has their moments when you assume that someone has finally grabbed setup or the bridge role only to witness it disappear in a flurry of walks and resounding line drives.
The most important part is the closer and Craig Kimbrel frightens me. Kimbrel has developed a nasty habit of attempted pitching suicide via walks. And Kimbrel is not alone with this crew as the core bullpen performers are all above 4.0 BB/9. Walks simply haunt a pitcher and in the playoffs, you are not facing the sludge of baseball, but the best of baseball. Put runners on against the Yankees, Indians, Astros, and A’s is a recipe for playoff nightmares.
Back to the pesky statistics where a glimmer of hope springs out. The bullpen collectively and individually had some remarkable stretches of just shutting down the opposition. Not a game or two or even three, but prolonged success and it that happens all will be cheerful in October.
The worry, quite naturally, is the bullpen has had similar stretches where they took jerry cans to the mound to build a five-alarm conflagration. That happens it will be another painful and quick playoff exit. The fix? None is apparent and what you see will be what you get.