Red Sox: Boston’s August meltdown highlighted with bullpen by committee

BOSTON, MA - JULY 22: Pitcher Adam Ottavino #0 of the Boston Red Sox heads to the dugout after giving up two runs to the New York Yankees in the eighth inning at Fenway Park on July 22, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 22: Pitcher Adam Ottavino #0 of the Boston Red Sox heads to the dugout after giving up two runs to the New York Yankees in the eighth inning at Fenway Park on July 22, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox bullpen needs a September revival

The Red Sox bullpen has wallowed in pitching misery in August. The pooled results were about the same as Lt. Col. Custer at Little Big Horn. With bullpens, it all starts with, or I should say ends with, the closer.

Matt Barnes was poison for the month. Closers are similar to placekickers in football in that the game all comes down to what they do. Barnes did nothing except drive a spike into far too many games. Manager Alex Cora is a patient skipper, but that wore thin with each appearance vaporizing a lead. Now the issue is restoring Barnes’s confidence, and that may become an issue for 2022. Now Barnes gets tagged with virus issues.

Closer by committee is not Cora’s method, as the ninth has now become the domain of Adam Ottavino and his 13.2 BB%. Children are taught not to play with fire, and pitchers are taught not to distribute free passes. So far, Ottavino has survived – barely.

As stated, this is a meltdown by committee. A bizarre collective where each called upon takes their turn in just giving it up—the conga line of disappointment. Red Sox newbies Hansel Robles and Austin Davis look good, and then go “poof.” Even Josh Taylor has caught the bullpen virus for which there is no vaccine. Looking at the cherished numbers, there are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics. You can cherry-pick to demonstrate reasonable performance.

It becomes not how we will win but how we will lose for those glued to the TV. Someone called upon to douse the fire suddenly morphs into a baseball, Tomas de Torquemada for those of Red Sox Nation.  Hirokazu Sawamura has a special knack for delivering walks in bunches. A remarkable trait that brings back unpleasant memories of Heathcliff Slocumb. Sawamura is just painful to watch with his sloth pace.

Most frustrating for this observer is that these guys can be good to very good and occasionally great. Only Red Sox rookie Garrett Whitlock has discovered the magic dust of consistency. Will Garrett Richards follow suit? They need an even keel in nautical terms compared to the pick a disaster du jour that is now happening.

Continuing the path of frustration is when someone decides to fold like the proverbial cheap suitcase. It is not how often you cough it up but usually when you cough it up. Statistics can be annoying when overall it looks promising but breaking it down gives another more disheartening picture.

In a legal sense, the bullpen has an accomplice, the other part of defense – getting outs. This team is being quite cooperative in giving the opposition an additional out. Bonehead decision making, poor glove work, throws that occasionally hit their target and players in defensive positions that weaken the overall defensive alignments.

Digging deeper for excuses is the offense. Remember all those come from behind wins? Best in baseball. It’s never over until it is over. With the hole the pitching digs, the offense has a Sisyphean task in restoring the balance. The main culprit is pitching, with the excruciating bullpen taking the largest helping no matter how you slice this blame pie.

How do you cure the malaise?

Cora has already taken Barnes to the pitching woodshed. Now just how does Barnes get back on track after being derailed? The other evening in Cleveland, Cora showed he was ready to toss his enigmatic closer back into the deep end of the pool. That would be a start. Then comes the virus issues surfacing.

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With less than 30 games left, the problem is one of stability and quality depth. Whitlock, Ottavino, and pray for six innings from your starter. And starter indeed becomes an ingredient in the recipe for a meltdown. Going deep is not just for the long ball hitters but for the rotation. Less innings from a starter means more risk with each arm hustling in from the ‘pen. We’ve seen some outings where our starters have been able to give the bullpen some relief of their own, but those starts are still too few and far in between.

Cora has been on a fishing expedition regarding his bullpen arms. Trial and error, with the error being the more predominant outcome. If there is any redeeming feature, it is making the playoffs where Cora can condense his staff.

With today’s brand of baseball, the bullpen becomes the quintessential component to scratch out a win. Doing some forward-thinking, Boston does not match up favorably with other playoff-bound teams. The no lead is safe when we go to the ‘pen.

Whatever the results are until the final curtain comes down, Chaim Bloom’s task will be the bullpen. That will be a Big Dig construction project for management. But this season is now stepping uptime, and someone in the ‘pen needs to do just that – step up.

dark. Next. Bobby Dalbec earning his role with a scorching August