Is Daniel Bard the Best Reliever in the American League?

During the first two months of the season, Daniel Bard didn’t look like the future closer for the Red Sox.

In late May after taking a loss in Cleveland, he stood at 1-4 with a 3.65 ERA and was one of many reasons for Boston’s lackluster start to the 2011 campaign.

The right-hander has only allowed an earned run in two appearances since then and threw a full two months of scoreless baseball in June and July. He’s now 2-5 with a 2.07 ERA and ranks as one of the best relievers in the American League.

Among A.L. relief pitchers with at least 35 appearances this year, only White Sox closer Sergio Santos (.158 opponent batting average) has been tougher to hit than Bard (.166).

Meanwhile, his WHIP of 0.82 is second only to Koji Uehara of the Rangers, meaning that he is allowing less baserunners than every single closer in the American League in 2011.

Based on those numbers, it might not be a stretch to say that Bard has been the best reliever in the A.L. this year.

The hard-throwing righty is just two holds away from tying his mark from 2o10 (32), and he’s blown five less saves than he did last year in his first full Major League season.

His last eight and two thirds innings have been nearly flawless, as he’s allowed no runs and three baserunners in that span.

Only time will tell if he’s ready to take over as the Sox’ closer in 2012 should Jonathan Papelbon depart through free agency this winter.

But that’s a discussion for another day, because for now, Boston has arguably the most reliable setup man around.

Alastair Ingram is the featured Boston Red Sox columnist for RantSports.com. For daily updates, follow him on Twitter at @AlastairIngram, follow the blog at @RedSoxRant, and join the fan page on Facebook.

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