Discussing the flaws about a team that has won 103 games in mid-September really makes you feel like a jerk.
Do Red Sox fans really have any justifiable reason to complain about anything right now? Most wins in baseball, just a win and Yankees loss away from clinching the AL East for the third straight year, and a team that looks like it should absolutely be the favorite to win the World Series in October. In essence, Red Sox Nation should be nothing but blissful right now.
And yet, the biggest flaw with this Red Sox team was on full display at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, as it has been for much of the last month and a half. The Boston bullpen wasted an outstanding start by Nathan Eovaldi (something we haven’t seen so much of late), giving the game away to the Yankees when a victory would’ve clinched the division.
For Sox fans who have been watching this team day in and day out since April understand that it’s hard to feel good about this group of relievers going into the playoffs given their performance over the last six weeks. It doesn’t matter what their collective ERA is. The only thing that matters is that no lead seems safe with these guys right now.
For the most part, we feel good as long as the starting pitcher is in the game. But then as soon as the starter leaves, and another pitcher comes jogging in from the bullpen, we get nervous. It doesn’t matter who it is, and that isn’t even an exaggeration. It doesn’t matter at all which relief pitcher is coming into the game. Every single one of them is capable of blowing a lead in the blink of an eye. At this point, you can almost bet on it. We’ve seen it happen with every single one of them.
In a tight situation, there’s not a single relief pitcher in the Red Sox bullpen that makes you say, “You know what? We’ve got this. I’m not worried at all.”
Craig Kimbrel is the closest thing the Red Sox have to a sure thing, which he should be as the closer, but even he has had stints this season where he’s just been really bad. To be fair, Kimbrel is looking better lately and has been largely trustworthy. Ass for the setup guys (Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman etc,), a.k.a. the guys that we usually see in the seventh and eighth inning? Well, it’s been hard to feel safe when any of them are coming into the game.
So it really just begs the question: can the Red Sox win the World Series with this bullpen?
Let’s imagine a little scenario here. It’s Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Astros at Fenway Park. Chris Sale started the game, and he threw 114 pitches through seven innings, allowing one run on five hits. The Red Sox have a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, but since Sale is well over 100 pitches, Alex Cora decides to take him out before his arm implodes from being overworked.
Kimbrel will be ready to go for the ninth, but first, a reliever has to get this team through the eighth inning while keeping the lead intact. Who do you have complete confidence in to get the job done?
Joe Kelly? No.
Matt Barnes? No.
Brian Johnson? No.
Ryan Brasier? No.
What about one of the other guys I didn’t name? Someone has to come in and pitch the eighth inning. They might get the job done, and they might not. The point is, nobody can be fully trusted in this situation. As great as the 2018 Red Sox have been as a team, this bullpen might be the Achilles’ heel that keeps them from winning another championship.
Of course, bullpens inherently deal in small samples and high-pressure situations, and we are inclined not to have confidence in those situations. It seems like this bullpen is setting up to be a fatal flaw, though I would love to be wrong about this.