With all of the records that the Boston Red Sox have set in this magical ride of a season, there remains one major question—what can the Sox do about their bullpen?
The bullpen has been much maligned this season, plagued by injuries and riddled with inconsistencies. Manager Alex Cora has played with multiple combinations of players to take the later innings and bridge the gap between the starters and closer Craig Kimbrel.
Come playoff time, the bullpen is even more vital, as demonstrated by the last two American League champions, the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros. Both teams had a plethora of high powered arms ready to come in at any moment, which paid massive dividends when they pulled their starters early. Last year against the Astros, it was David Price’s phenomenal relief appearance in Game 3 that gave the Red Sox their only postseason win the last two years. This begs the question, who should the Red Sox put in the bullpen for the postseason?
For starters, the closer is obviously going to be Kimbrel. Unlike last year when the Sox had Addison Reed as the setup man or Brad Ziegler the year before, the Sox don’t have the luxury of having two closers ready to go in. This year is tenuous at best. People have gone back and forth on the setup man issue, but I would give it to Ryan Brasier or Joe Kelly.
After an atrocious June and July, Kelly is rounding back into early season form, when he proved he could be a viable setup man in front of Kimbrel. Brasier has also impressed in high leverage situations, and while Cora might not have the same trust in him, I think he’s earned the right to be there in the big moments.
To round out the pen, I would put a combination of Matt Barnes and Tyler Thornburg to be the sixth and seventh inning guys, and Heath Hembree can be deployed whenever there are runners on early in the game if Cora takes out his starter. Hembree or Eduardo Rodriguez should consistently be the first guys out of the pen if the starter struggles. I think that may be Nathan Eovaldi would be the last guy in to round out the pen, but I would personally prefer Brandon Workman instead.
There is immense pressure on the Sox as they head into the postseason. The ‘Killer B’s’ and J.D. Martinez need to perform in October, and Chris Sale and Price need to redeem themselves from past postseason failures. But if any hardware is coming to Boston this fall, it won’t come without a strong performance from Boston’s relievers. The bullpen will be the key to another duck boat parade in the streets of Boston, and it will be very interesting to watch the Red Sox come this October.