Relief pitching is one of the most important components of organizing an efficient pitching staff. Although its introduction to baseball came later than most innovations (a save wasn’t officially acknowledged as a statistic until 1968), it has been one of the major ingredients in the formula for a World Series championship for many teams.
Now, in 2014, the Boston Red Sox‘ bullpen is trying to assert themselves as the best relief corps in baseball, making significant strides in key situations over the past few years. Entering Friday’s game with the Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox’ bullpen has a cumulative ERA of 2.41, which is tops in the American League. With the consistent efficiency of their relievers, the Red Sox have been able to gain an edge over most teams in the American League in that their relief corps is for the most part unstoppable.
In order for a bullpen to be properly functional, all parts of it need to be consistent and get key outs when needed. For instance, the Red Sox have the pieces that can effectively fill in for starters if they struggle. Chris Capuano and Burke Badenhop have been utilized when games are out of hand or if the Red Sox need to hold a lead in the sixth or seventh inning. If those players succeed in holding opposing offenses, then the job for middle relievers Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow will be much easier.
The Red Sox also have an edge in the relief department in that their setup pitchers and closer have experience in tight-game situations. In the eighth inning, Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica have the shutdown efficiency that makes them lethal relievers. Their consistent domination paves the way for Koji Uehara, who has asserted himself as the most dominant closer in the American League. In a sense, the Red Sox’ bullpen has the pieces to go far in any situation, which is a big part of why the team won the World Series in 2013.
Alongside the notion of having the best bullpen on paper, execution of the roles from each Red Sox reliever has been prevalent during the early going of the season. A notable example of the flexibility of the Red Sox’ bullpen came on April 16 against the Chicago White Sox. In that game, in which the Red Sox won 6-4 in fourteen innings, Boston used all of their relievers (except for Uehara, who was battling a shoulder injury) in the winning effort. Capuano and Miller both went more than two innings, giving the Red Sox flexibility in relief.
Essentially, through 16 games of the 2014 season, the Red Sox’ bullpen has asserted themselves as the best bullpen in the American League. The flexibility and consistency demonstrated by the seven Red Sox relievers has made them a force to be reckoned within the American League, asserting themselves as a top AL team despite a 7-9 start.