Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Sept. 2, 2018 – Source: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America)
Barring a collapse which would make the 2011 Red Sox September look like a two-game losing streak, the Boston Red Sox are making the playoffs. More than likely, the Sox will win the division. With the home stretch of the season winding down and the postseason a foregone conclusion, it’s time to look ahead to what the Boston Red Sox playoff bullpen will look like.
Typically, most teams carry seven relievers when the playoffs start. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume an ideal world where Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Rick Porcello are all healthy and starting. With those four as the starters, the Red Sox will probably carry an additional seven relief arms. Who are the best fits for the job?
Creating the Boston Red Sox Playoff Bullpen
The Locks: Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier
These three are easy choices for the postseason roster, and will likely serve as the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning options in the pen. Craig Kimbrel and Matt Barnes have struggled of late, but there’s no reason for long-term worry. Kimbrel is a great pitcher with no real history of late-season fatigue. He’ll figure it out.
As for Barnes, we’ve already taken a deep dive into his struggles. He’s been the victim of some bad luck, but he’s also struggled with falling behind in the count. If he starts locating his early pitches, he should return to the good Matt Barnes from earlier in the season.
Ryan Brasier has been one of the best surprises of the 2018 season. The former Japan-league pitcher has been nothing but dominant. In 24 innings of relief, the 31-year old righty owns a 1.50 ERA, 2.61 FIP, and a 23.9% strikeout rate. He’s been arguably the most consistent arm in the bullpen since joining the club.
The Long Arms: Steven Wright, Nathan Eovaldi
Steven Wright battled injury ever since 2016, but the knuckleballer appears to be healthy heading into the final month of the season. While he won’t crack the rotation, Wright has the ability to solidify a game should the starter struggle. Wright owns a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings as a reliever, including two recent scoreless outings.
Nathan Eovaldi has struggled of late, but he’s still the best option for the second long arm. Eovaldi is still capable of hitting 100 miles per hour, and he still has elite command. His pitches just don’t seem to have enough movement to fool major league hitters. Eovaldi will need to develop into a smarter pitcher if he’s to truly make the most of his natural gifts.
The Rest: Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman
At the moment, the Red Sox are lucky to have The Good Joe Kelly pitching. At his best, Joe Kelly is a strong eighth inning guy capable of bridging the gap from the starter to the closer. If Good Joe Kelly is the fourth best setup man in the bullpen, the Red Sox are in good shape. However, Bad Joe Kelly could be right around the corner. If the playoffs started today, he’d be an easy choice for the final roster. However, should he struggle down the stretch, the Sox could turn to somebody else.
Brandon Workman has been one of the best relievers whenever he’s been on the major league roster. However, Workman still has minor league options, so he hasn’t been a mainstay in the majors. However, he’s answered the call whenever he’s had the chance, tossing a 2.41 ERA in 33.2 innings. While his 4.28 FIP suggests he’s been incredibly lucky, you can do a lot worse at the bottom of the bullpen.
Just Missed: Heath Hembree, Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson
Heath Hembree is the next man up should something happen to one of the setup men. Hembree has had a quietly solid season for the Red Sox. While his 4.00 ERA and 3.93 FIP don’t impress, Hembree has been fantastic when inheriting runners. Manager Alex Cora loves using Hembree in this specialized role, and he’s mostly done well with those situations. That said, with a shorter bullpen, Cora needs to trust each of his bullpen arms to go further than just one or two batters.
Should Eovaldi’s struggles continue, Velazquez and Johnson both have a chance to take his spot. While neither player has fantastic stuff, each knows how to utilize what little they do have to its maximum potential. The Red Sox should hope for better than these two, but it’s not the end of the world if one of these guys finds their way into the postseason.
Highly Unlikely: Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg
Drew Pomeranz has improved in his last few appearances, but he’ll need to do a lot more before earning a postseason spot. Pomeranz owns a 1.59 ERA in his past 11.1 innings, including throwing 4.1 innings of scoreless baseball against the Chicago White Sox. His fastball is back to 93 miles per hour, up from the 89 miles per hour he was stuck at earlier in the year. Despite how horrible he was earlier in the year, there are some signs of life. While it’s probably too late for him to earn a playoff spot, it’s not entirely impossible.
Tyler Thornburg, on the other hand, has no hope. The righty has struggled ever since returning from injury, throwing 20.1 innings to the tune of a 5.31 ERA, 5.17 FIP, and a 1.48 WHIP. It’s hard to envision any scenario in which Thornburg ends up pitching in the playoffs.