The Boston Red Sox have been one of MLB‘s most surprising teams, and are now heading into the last month of the regular season with the Tampa Bay Rays right behind them — a young, hungry club that refuses to go away. Boston could make it to the playoffs, but they have an issue that they need to fix soon before they go deep in October, if they make it.
The Red Sox have one of baseball’s most dominating closers since the All-Star Break, Koji Uehara. They also have a solid setup man who can handle the eighth inning pretty well in Junichi Tazawa. However, beyond those two pitchers, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else with a defined role who can help get to Uehara.
Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers was the textbook example of what is going on with the Boston bullpen currently. It took John Farrell four pitchers to get three outs in the eighth inning, and he needed Uehara to come in and get four outs to get the save the first time this season.
Thankfully they won that game, but what if they hadn’t? Farrell’s decisions would be second-guessed for a long time.
Tazawa was pitching well, and certainly well enough to strike out Mark Ellis on a beautiful off-speed pitch. Adrian Gonzalez hits lefties very well, leading the Dodgers last year in that category. It could be that Farrell didn’t want Tazawa to give up another home run, which he has been prone to do recently. However, why have your main setup man only face one batter? Why bring him in at all, in that case?
For Boston to succeed in the postseason, they need to shorten games, and that means a reliever coming in the seventh, eight and ninth innings to shut the door and put out fires. They have a few guys who can fill those roles, but they haven’t been put in those situations with any consistency.
Brandon Workman sure looks like he has the stuff and attitude to be that kind of pitcher, but he seems to be used more as a spot starter or long relief man. One player who was filling that role early in the season and was doing well until he was injured was Andrew Miller. He could be absolutely dominating at times with his fastball, especially in a one-inning role.
Boston does have a pitcher who is similar in terms of having swing-and-miss type of pitches in Franklin Morales. He has been injured twice and is virtually forgotten, but he has the ability to strike out batters when it matters, which is so important for a reliever in a big situation. Also, he has an incredible pickoff move.
Now I know this sounds crazy, but Bobby Valentine did do a good job managing the bullpen last season. That was one of the few parts of the Red Sox that wasn’t a real issue. Pitchers had their defined roles, and everything seemed to fall in place due to the solid bullpen.
And in October, that’s a must.