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Red Sox 5, Nationals 4: Big Time Bullpen

After a troubling start, the bullpen (and defense!) went 4 2⁄3 scoreless innings to secure the win for the Red Sox.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The general attitude surrounding the Red Sox and the status of their season was much better coming out of this weekend than just seven days ago. The Red Sox followed up a sweep at the hands of their division — and Wild Card — rival Blue Jays by winning series against Kansas City and Detroit in a 5-2 week. Following the last of the team’s off-days until the 31st, their lengthy road trip started in Washington against the Nationals.

The Nationals have not had a great season, coming into this one 53-66, but this Red Sox team has been characteristically streaky, so with the final AL Wild Card spot within grasp, no series is worth writing off as a surefire win or loss. Boston’s starter tonight was everyone’s favorite superstitious quasi-bullpen starter, or whatever you want to call him, Nick Pivetta. He was otherworldly coming out of the bullpen following an opener, but he’s been no slouch since deservedly returning to the rotation. Despite amassing a 4.41 ERA in those 3 starts and taking the loss 2 of the 3 games, he went 7.1 against Seattle with 10 strikeouts, has walked just 4 in 16 innings, and generally looks to have his confidence back.

On the opposite side of the mound, the Nationals turned to Josiah Gray to start the series. Gray, the 25-year-old righty, is seeing a vast improvement in metrics from his first full season last year, leading the team in ERA and placing second in strikeouts. But, wouldn’t you know it, Alex Verdugo still crammed a ball into the notably empty seats to lead off the game and give the Red Sox an early lead. I had actually just finished saying “Cora, why is Verdugo leading off in this slump?” That’s why, Dean. And it wasn’t just Verdugo getting to Gray early; In the 3rd inning, Reese McGuire had some fancy footwork stealing second after a leadoff single, and the Sox rallied with two runs to score Reese as well as Devers (who reached on a walk) with a Triston Casas textbook at-bat that culminated in a full-count line drive to right. The Sox left two stranded, but it was 3-0.

Unfortunately, Pivetta couldn’t keep the positive momentum going after striking out four o the first seven hitters, as he quickly loaded the bases and gave up a 2-run double to known power threat Keibert Ruiz. After recording strikeout five, Stone Garrett ripped a two-run double of his own that bobbled by Triston Casas to set Pivetta and the Red Sox behind, 4-3.

But, never fear, the bottom of the lineup is here! Pablo Reyes got on, and McGuire got another catcher’s interference and allowed Reyes to reach third with no one out, which would end Gray’s night a little early. Alex Verdugo got a bit greedy on an outfield fly but drove Duran in. You can laud the Verdugo overextension to second as greedy, but it does not matter, because Pablo Reyes exists: he outran a wild pitch to the backstop to let Boston regain the lead.

The next couple innings progressed uneventfully. Nick Pivetta was pulled after 4 1/3, a bit earlier than you’d like to see, but he left with no one on, and he did tally seven strikeouts. Brennan Bernardino and John Schreiber went quietly thanks in part to a beautiful play on a grounder by Trevor Story and gave way to Chris Martin to pitch the seventh inning, who was particularly Martin-like. Josh Winckowski completed the trusty bullpen formula in the eighth and even the double he gave up (and subsequent old friend Michael Chavis coming in to pinch-run representing the tying run) was a short-lived terror scenario, as Devers put a great spin move on a grounder to end the inning for Josh.

After a quiet ninth by the Red Sox, in came Kenley Jansen, along with Connor Wong as his catcher. He didn’t disappoint, and five efficient pitches later, he was jogging to join his teammates having earned his 28th save of the season. The Red Sox improve to six games over .500, and remain three games away from that coveted final spot. This bullpen was a key factor in this win, slowing down the breakneck pace Pivetta invited, and it’s easy to get excited for Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock coming back and Chris Sale staying healthy. I can’t remember the last time I trusted every member of this bullpen, usually favoring some over others, as well as a bath in thumbtacks over those others.

A few weeks ago, we were cursing management for being noncommittal at the trade deadline with several big arms being shipped out to more aggressive — or perhaps more straightforward — front offices. While we can still absolutely do so, it’s also important to recognize that the sentiment that our biggest acquisitions would be the depth we received from having a healthy team may have been right, after all. I’m very wary of putting the rose-colored shades on after a 6-2 streak against the basement of the league, but these games count the same as any other games and all of a sudden, we’re in arms reach of contention with most things seemingly going right. I can think of worse places to be.

Three Studs

Pablo Reyes: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K

Triston Casas: 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K

John Schreiber: 1 IP, 0 H, 2 K

Bonus: Kenley Jansen, 1 IP, 0 H, 1 K, five pitches


Who was the Red Sox’s Player of the Game in their 5-4 win against the Washington Nationals on 8/15/2023?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Pablo Reyes
    (40 votes)
  • 27%
    Triston Casas
    (41 votes)
  • 2%
    John Schreiber
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Kenley Jansen
    (3 votes)
  • 37%
    I can’t decide between these bullpen arms
    (56 votes)
  • 2%
    Reese McGuire???
    (4 votes)
148 votes total Vote Now

Three Duds

Justin Turner: 0-4, 1 K

Trevor Story: 0-3, 1 K, 1 BB (though he did have a fantastic play defensively)

Nick Pivetta: 4.1 IP, 4 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 7 K

Play of the Game

It had to have been either Verdugo’s lead off homer to set the tone in this one, or Pablo Reyes anticipating the wild pitch to take a run after his fantastic double. That judgment and mad dash for home plate was the difference in this game. It’s those smart plays that ensure that Reyes stays on this roster as an everyday player, and ensures that the Red Sox stay as an everyday player in the Wild Card race in a season where it seemed so improbable just a couple weeks ago.