The Boston Red Sox have lost four of five on their first of two west coast trips in 2014, the latest defeat a 12-3 waxing at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. Save for Sunday, when the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 7-6, the offense has been putrid. The Red Sox are hitting just .220 as a team on the trip, scoring just 16 runs. It’s an issue followers of Boston baseball aren’t accustomed to seeing, but one that has become central.
However, an issue that has been masked by the lineup has been the recent struggles of the Red Sox bullpen. One of the best in the MLB for the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season, the Red Sox relief corps has turned into a pumpkin in recent weeks. Losing four games in eight days, blowing leads in two of them, it was universally agreed that the losses weren’t a result of bullpen ineptitude, but rather offensive ineptitude.
Yet, the problems came to light on Sunday, when Burke Badenhop relieved Jon Lester in the eighth inning with a 6-1 lead. The bullpen had a five-run lead to protect, needing to make just four outs. Badenhop didn’t make a single out, allowing three consecutive hits and three runs to score, narrowing the margin to 6-4.
Koji Uehara later entered in the ninth with a two-run cushion, one went disappeared quickly. The closer hung fastballs up in the zone to Stephen Vogt and Chris Gentry, both of whom took advantage of by turning on the pitches and putting them in the stands, tying the score at 6-6.
That came one day after another you-can’t-blame-the-bullpen-for-this-one loss, a 2-1 final vs. Oakland, in which Uehara allowed the game-winning hit to Coco Crisp after he relieved Edward Mujica, who had another shaky outing. Mujica faced two batters, walking the first one he faced and throwing just three of 10 pitches for strikes.
Another such loss came Monday night in Seattle. Cruising through the first three innings, John Lackey couldn’t get anyone out in the fourth inning, looking like Charles Barkley trying to play basketball in Space Jam after the Nerdlucks steal his talent. The result was John Farrell going to Chris Capuano with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning with Boston down 7-2.
Capuano failed to do his job as the long reliever, allowing five runs on six hits over 2.1 innings. He could be pitching his way out of a roster spot, as he has now allowed 10 runs on 14 hits and four walks over four innings in his last five appearances, his ERA ballooning from 1.95 to 4.55.
Craig Breslow came in and wasn’t much better. Though he threw two scoreless innings, he put four runners on, walking three Mariners. Of the 28 pitches he threw, just 13 were for strikes. Though Breslow hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last five outings, he’s walked seven batters and put 11 men on base. He’s thrown just 49 percent of his pitches for strikes over that span, as his WHIP is now nearing 1.8.
While he didn’t pitch Monday, you can add Badenhop to the list of those who haven’t thrown the ball well over this 10-game stretch. Opposing hitters have hit .421 off him over the span; in 23 games prior, that number was just .189. Uehara hasn’t had a clean outing in any of his last three times out, though he is the worst of their problems.
The Red Sox’ collective bullpen ERA over the last 10 games has been 4.23 with 13 earned runs allowed and 11 walks. The unit has allowed 38 opposing batters reaching base over the last 27.2 innings. Compare that with a 2.85 ERA and 251 opposing batters reaching base over 205 innings.
Whether it’s a legitimate issue or just a 10-game blip on the 162-game grind, the Red Sox will find out in upcoming weeks. The hope for the Red Sox is that it’s just an aberration, because they can’t win without a bullpen.