Silverman: Vulnerable Bullpen Will Lead To Postseason Heartbreak For Red Sox

Steve Silverman
September 19, 2018 - 1:38 pm
Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly (56) reacts after hitting Toronto Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar (11) with a pitch that brought in the tying run during the eighth inning at Fenway Park.

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The Boston Red Sox are going to be the American League East champions in a matter of hours or days.

They have had a brilliant season and should end up with 108, 109 or 110 wins this season. They will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason, and based on their record, they will have no problem salting away their fourth World Series title since 2004.

It could work out just that way – but don’t bet on it.

As good as the record is, much of it has been accumulated against an American League schedule. The American League is as top-heavy as it has ever been. The Yankees have 92 victories, the Astros have 95 wins, the A’s have 90 victories and the Indians have clinched the AL Central with 84 triumphs.

The rest of the American League is awful – OK, the Rays are overachievers -- and the Red Sox have beaten up on the bad teams. They have ripped apart the Blue Jays and Oriole, and punished the rest of the league as well.

They are 8-6 against the Yankees, 2-2 against the Indians, 3-4 against the Astros, and 2-4 against the A’s. That’s not exactly the stuff of legends.

The Red Sox may be in for quite a fall. They have an excellent lineup featuring Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. If Chris Sale is in top form for the playoffs, the starting pitchers should be as good as any team’s. Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and the underappreciated Eduardo Rodriquez are formidable.

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So what’s the problem and why won’t the Red Sox win by acclamation? How about the bullpen? It is vulnerable every step of the way, and that includes closer Craig Kimbrel, who has not been the lights-out finisher he was last year.

The Yankees won Tuesday night because the Red Sox bullpen blew it again. This time, it was Brandon Workman who walked two of the three batters he faced in the seventh inning and then gave way to Ryan Brasier.

Neil Walker quickly solved him for a three-run homer and the Yankees had their lead. They tried to give it back in the ninth inning with two errors, but the Red Sox refused to take advantage.

Last night it was Workman and Brasier. It could have been Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree. All three of them have brought more than their share of gasoline to keep the party going.

Kimbrel is very good and has 41 saves, but he is not quite what he has been. He struck out 126 batters in 69.0 innings a year ago. This year, he has fanned 90 times in 59.0 innings. He has blown five saves, and there is at least an air of vulnerability.

Winning in the playoffs is all about bullpen dominance, and the Red Sox relievers regularly bring extra gasoline with them when they hit the mound.

The teams with the best lineups – the Yankees, Astros, A’s and Indians – could turn the fire into a conflagration of epic proportions.

The Yankees will have to beat the A’s in a single game to get at that bullpen. If Aaron Judge can stay in the lineup – he took his first at bats since his DL stint Tuesday night – and Aroldis Chapman can return, the Yankees are likely to have at the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will be favored, but the Yankees know that one win in a five-game series at Fenway may be all they need to survive and advance.

Playoff baseball has not been kind to the Red Sox for the last two years. They have had a brilliant regular season, but there’s a vulnerability in the bullpen, and one of the other American League’s powerhouses is going to figure out how to take them down.

Heartbreak is on the horizon in Boston.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy​.

 

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