The soup du jour among talking points surrounding the Boston Red Sox has been the question of when the team should begin selling. With 95 games to go, the Sox sit 31-36, and though they are just 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees for the second AL Wildcard, Boston is pulling up the rear of a line that stands eight-deep at the door of the American League pennant race.
The names have been laid out. Names like Jake Peavy, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski, John Lackey and Jon Lester are players who could be viewed the final piece of a World Series team, while giving the Red Sox good players in return.
A name that hasn’t been tossed around is middle reliever Burke Badenhop, despite serving the blueprint of a role that is vital to October success.
The 31-year-old reliever is in the midst of a career year. In 30 relief appearances, Badenhop has allowed just seven earned runs on 33 hits and 10 walks to 30 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 14 innings, and has allowed just two earned runs over his last 31 2/3 innings of work. Badenhop leads the MLB with 10 double plays induced.
Arguably the best Red Sox reliever not named Koji Uehara in 2013, Badenhop has fit the model as a pitcher essential for postseason success.
In 24 of his 30 appearances, Badenhop entered with the Red Sox either tied or losing. Of those appearances, he’s held opposing bats scoreless in 20, not allowing a base runner in seven. Of the 26 runners he inherited in those situations, just six have scored.
In the six games where Badenhop has had the virtue of a lead, he’s been even better, allowing one unearned run on four hits and two walks to five strikeouts over an aggregate five innings of work. None of the five runners he’s inherited have scored.
The lack of interest could be the lack of sexiness the position brings.
A name like Burke Badenhop doesn’t jump out like that of Jon Lester or A.J. Pierzynski. It’s similar to what is seen in the NHL, when bottom-six forwards and depth defensemen — keys to winning the Stanley Cup — don’t make fanbases giddy as names like Marian Gaborik or Martin St. Louis does.
And just like it’s the fourth-liners and third-pairing defensemen who control the puck, forecheck and kill penalties that help acquire hardware in hockey, it’s the guys like Badenhop who come in the sixth or seventh inning and can be depended upon to hold a lead or keep the opposing bats in check to set up a rally. Guys like that help bring pennants to a ballpark near you.
Had it not been for the performances of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings throughout the 2013 postseason, the Red Sox wouldn’t have defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
On the other hand, had the Detroit Tigers got something better than what they received from Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Drew Smyly and Jose Veras to compliment the outstanding starting pitching from Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, there’s a good chance we see a rematch of the 2006 World Series as opposed to a rematch of the 2004 edition.
In other words, having the best pitcher on the planet isn’t what wins a championship. Does it help? Of course. But a pitching staff needs those middle-inning guys who form the bridge to the ninth. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.