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Bring it on

This bullpen rules.

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three
Kimbrel and Kelly, man.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Much like it was last season, the Red Sox bullpen is good as hell. Its star is Craig Kimbrel, who is at this moment clearly the best closer in the game and perhaps the best I can remember at any one time. Mariano Rivera was better overall, of course, but he barely counts because he was not human, and he wasn’t overpowering like this anyway. No one is. Kimbrel really is that dude.

We have perhaps gotten used to this now, and that’s cool, but it’s crazy that basically strikes out half the guys he faces. He is an amazing luxury to have, and his hold on the job so strong, his dominance so fundamental, that it allows the rest of the relievers to mix and match in free-flowing ways that, one hopes, keeps them all sane and good. Call it a bullpen-by-committee except for the last part. Call it the right way to do things, probably.

You can even do this without a merely defined closer, of course, but the idea of having a primary “setup man” is, if not outdated, only somewhat applicable to these Sox. Aside from Kimbrel, there are some guys who pitch the sixth and seventh innings and some guys who pitch the seventh and eighth innings.

Among them, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and the now-injured Bobby Poyner are the ones in whom Alex Cora seems to have the most faith. Carson Smith got up in the bullpen during Heath Hembree’s ultimately clean seventh inning, but Barnes was the one who came on to start the eighth. This could and would be different tomorrow, but I think that’s the point.

If I had to rank Cora’s overall confidence in relievers not named Craig Kimbrel, I’d say it goes:

  1. Matt Barnes
  2. Joe Kelly
  3. Bobby Poyner
  4. Heath Hembree
  5. Carson Smith
  6. Marcus Walden

There’s a good argument to be made for Bobby Poyner No. 2 or even No. 1, and for Carson Smith No. 6, but this is more of a weather report than a gauge of the climate. (I’ve left off Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson, as long relievers and spot starters, as they seem to fill a different role.) This is just a look at this specific time, overly influenced by recent events.

Smith hasn’t looked great recently, but the stuff has been there. It’s a long season. It’ll come. Until it does, Barnes and Kelly seem like the top dogs, especially now that Kelly is a hero for a minute. In a world that is pure and good and like the 2013 baseball season — as this 2018 one has been in the early going — it can happen. Kelly knows. He was there, on the Cardinals, when our Red Sox beat them back to win it all. He’s got that ‘13 Jonny Gomes magic, and it is unleashed. But -- BUT! -- he’s Joe Kelly. That comes with red flags. It always has.

At least now, it comes with green ones too. Kelly has finally become his best self on the Red Sox. Among his other wise choices, he has blocked this account on Twitter (likely to focus on something other than these perfect words), and perhaps that’s behind the slow transition from arrogant ex-Cardinal Cy Young Award wannabe to, only two weeks into this year, the mascot of the hottest-starting team in Red Sox history. That done it *despite* being the culprit for one of the team’s two losses on the year, the Opening Day game in which he blew a late lead extremely hard, is extra impressive. It’s not that our memories are short. It’s that the Yankees suck and a 13-2 start cures all.

It turns out that when you start 13-2, though, there is room for more than even two heroes. We haven’t even gotten into the weeds on the injured Poyner, and guys like Hembree have been fine too. If it’s setup-man-by-committee, this committee, sign me up. Or, put another way: Bring it on. There’s a lot of season left, but I feel good about this group, good enough to pay them the ultimate compliment: They don’t terrify me. That’s a high hurdle for a bullpen to clear, but these guys are way over it.