With an already thin bullpen, Craig Kimbrel has struggled. It leaves the Boston Red Sox with a dilemma – stick with Kimbrel or make a change?
In Game 1 of the ALDS, Craig Kimbrel gave up one run while pitching 1.1 innings, with the lone run coming from a missile off the bat of Aaron Judge. In Game 4 of the ALDS, he allowed two runs in one inning while walking two and hitting a batter. In Game 2 of the ALCS, he allowed another run in one inning. Finally, last night, he allowed one run in two innings while walking three and hitting a batter.
In the postseason, this cannot happen. He is struggling badly, and it is unclear if he can break out of it. Last night seemed to be the icing on the cake. The Red Sox need to make a move like the Houston Astros did last season with Ken Giles. They do have options, with certain guys stepping up so far this postseason.
However, if one of those guys must close, the Red Sox bullpen gets even thinner and puts more pressure than ever on the starters. There are really only two options for the 9th if the Red Sox do choose to make a change.
This season was Matt Barnes‘ best of his career. He finished with a 3.65 ERA and a 2.71 FIP. However, those stats do not really tell the full story. Through August 26, he had a 2.89 ERA and a 2.38 FIP, with 14.14 K/9. While trying to pitch through a hip injury, his numbers worsened after a few bad appearances before given time off to heal.
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In the playoffs, he has regained form. He has allowed zero runs in 3.2 innings and had a huge strikeout of Tyler White last night on a perfectly executed curveball with runners on second and third.
Before the injury, there was a strong case that could have been made for him being the best relief pitcher on the team. If Kimbrel is removed from his role, Barnes seems most likely to take his spot.
The only other logical option for this would be Ryan Brasier. He struggled in his first postseason appearance, allowing both of his inherited runners to score. Since then, he has settled in and fired 6.2 scoreless innings, with opponents managing just a .433 OPS against him.
In the regular season, he was phenomenal, finishing with a 1.60 ERA and a 2.83 FIP after getting a chance in July.
Closer by committee:
The only other thing the Red Sox could do is a closer by committee. However, this would be difficult to do with so few effective relievers. Outside of Brasier and Barnes, the only reliever with a significant amount of innings is Joe Kelly, who Alex Cora will likely be cautious with in the late innings. Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, and Eduardo Rodriguez fill out the remainder of the bullpen, and none seem too likely to be used in save situations.
Overall, Barnes seems like the clear option to replace Kimbrel if Cora decides to do so. Kimbrel has typically been extremely reliable for the Red Sox, but they cannot afford to have him struggling like this in the postseason.