Generally speaking, the Red Sox are in the midst of the best stretch of baseball they have played all year long. They are winning seemingly every series in the month of August and it’s helped them climb to a 4.5 game lead in the American League East. The offense still has its inconsistencies, but for the most part it’s been much better over the last few weeks than it was in the few months prior to that. The rotation has been mostly spectacular and is giving the team a chance to win each and every game. On the whole, it’s hard to complain too much about anything regarding this team right now.
Of course, we are who we are so we do find things to complain about. Right now, chief among those things is the bullpen. For as impressive as this stretch of baseball has been, the team could have racked up even a few more wins if the bullpen hadn’t blamed a couple of late-game leads. Obviously, there is no bullpen in baseball that is going to hold on to a lead in each and every game, but that fact doesn’t make it any less frustrating when it’s happening to your team. For as well as the unit has performed all year to this point, people are starting to lose faith in a number of the late-game options. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the recent performances, but while John Farrell gets the bulk of the spotlight when it comes to bullpen struggles it’s up to the pitchers to get the job done. They deserve more blame for this recent run.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Farrell has not been perfect by any stretch. Personally, I’ve taken issue with multiple decisions he’s made in recent games with respect to whom he’s put in games in certain situations. He was criticized by me and many others, which of course is part of his gig. It’s just that many of us get too carried away with criticism of the manager that we forget it’s the pitcher’s job to pitch. It’s fair to mention that Farrell’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed, but they aren’t really giving him many options to work with during this recent stretch.
While in theory Boston should have a fairly deep well of relief options, Farrell isn’t left with many inspiring choices right now. Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel have come together to form an impressive 1-2 punch in the back, but the rest of the unit has been inconsistent. As for those two, Farrell has used them about as well as you could expect. He’s shown a willingness to move Reed around in the game based on matchup rather than marrying him to the eighth inning. Some, myself included, would like to see a more dynamic role for Kimbrel that sees him coming in earlier in games rather than sticking with the ninth inning, but it’s hard to get on Farrell too much for that. He’s shown a willingness to get him up early in desperate times, and that’s really all we can ask for. No manager in baseball is using their closer in such a dynamic role. This is an MLB issue, not a John Farrell one.
As for the rest, well, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Brandon Workman are all jockeying for position to join Reed and Kimbrel as the third main late-game reliever. For most of the year, Barnes has been the most reliable of this group and Farrell has rewarded him for that performance. Unfortunately, over his last few outings, Barnes has returned the favor. I’ve defended Barnes many times, but he’s been straight-up bad lately and it’s hard to blame Farrell for that. In the specific context of Monday’s game in Cleveland, it’s hard to blame Farrell for using Barnes considering that he was trying to avoid using Reed, Kimbrel and Workman, though the latter did end up being used. Kelly has also been inconsistent, though he’s been better than Barnes. If anyone in this group is stepping up, it’s been Workman, and even he’s had some issues here and there.
The main point here is that it seems, no matter who Farrell puts in from the non-Reed/Kimbrel section of his bullpen, the results aren’t going to be pretty. It’s a bad combination of regression and slump that is making the entire team look worse than it is. Granted, the team as a whole is still thriving and Farrell deserves credit for that as well. However, for as much as I gripe about individual moves the manager makes in the bullpen, it’s on the pitchers to do more. Barnes needs to get back to where he was in the first half of the year, Kelly needs to get back to where he was prior to hitting the disabled list, and Workman just needs to keep building himself up. If everyone pitches to their potential, Farrell will have a lot more leeway in how to deploy his options. For now, it’s basically just picking a name, closing your eyes and praying, and that’s on the players.