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The Red Sox bullpen was once thought to be a strength but is now the only thing holding this team back. As we approach the mid-season classic, the Sox stand at 57-37 with a 3.5 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. While few analysts predicted it, the Boston Red Sox are among baseball’s best in the first half; and lately, it has been with very little help from their bullpen.
On the offensive end, Boston has performed head and shoulders above every other team in the majors. While they lead all other offenses in runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, they trail only the Detroit Tigers in batting average.
Their starting pitching has been scary good as well. Despite the fact that Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched in over a month and Jon Lester has been maintaining a disappointing 4.60 ERA, the Sox staff is seventh in all of baseball in quality starts and has demonstrated a depth that hasn’t been in Boston since 2008.
The bullpen has been a completely different story.
On the night of July 6, the Red Sox led the Los Angeles Angels 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Three more outs would’ve meant a six-game winning streak to go along with sole possession of the best record in baseball for Boston. After coughing up the four run lead and eventually the game, the Red Sox started a three game skid that cut their six game lead in the AL East standings in half.
Since that night, the Boston bullpen recorded 21 2/3 innings of work to go along with 18 runs surrendered. Winning baseball games is a challenge when your bullpen is giving up almost a run every inning, but the Sox have still managed to go 3-3 during this stretch thanks largely to the 34 runs they plated in their four game series against Seattle.
Ironically, a team that started off the season with two reputable closers now finds itself with none. Joel Hanrahan underwent season ending surgery in May and Andrew Bailey has failed to pitch consistently in his place and has also lost the job. With Andrew Miller done for the season and Franklin Morales back on the DL, it is safe to say any depth the Boston bullpen may have had is now gone. Even worse, there are no signs of it coming back.
While the offense has been potent, it’s safe to say it can’t be relied on to score over eight runs per game for the rest of the season. The bullpen will need to get its act together if the Red Sox want to maintain their elite level of play in the second half of the season, and this may require the front office to make a move before the trade deadline.