The standings won’t show it, but the Boston Red Sox have issues.
Entering Wednesday’s series finale in San Diego, the Sox stood tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the AL East, with the Baltimore Orioles one game behind them.
This isn’t just a good place to be, it’s a great place to be — in prime position to play postseason baseball for the first time since winning the World Series in 2013. And even if these current issues continue to haunt them, these Red Sox are still good enough to get into the tournament.
I’m a firm believer that, in most sports, all you have to do is get into the playoffs. Just get in, and you have a shot to catch fire and win it all. I don’t necessarily feel that way about October baseball. It’s a different beast. You need to have that check mark next to every aspect of the game in order for me to believe you have a shot to take it down.
Lately, the Red Sox have found some consistent starting pitching. Check. And the offense? Everybody knows just how good the Sox' offense is. Check. A dominant closer? Check. The team’s biggest issue lies somewhere between the rotation and that closer, Craig Kimbrel — in save situations, of course.
Manager John Farrell has come under fire from fans and local media once again this season for allegedly pulling all the wrong strings and making all the wrong decisions, especially when it comes to the bullpen.
Farrell will be the first to tell you that he isn’t perfect. Not this year. Not last year. Not in 2014. And not even while winning a championship in 2013. I’ve criticized him this year for sure, but not nearly as much as the majority in Boston. The area where I’ve criticized him most this season, though, has been the bullpen.
But most of his bullpen mismanagement came in April, May, and early June. Fortunately, for his sake, the Red Sox survived all of that. But unfortunately, for the team’s sake, they never fixed the issue.
Credit where credit’s due. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Mike Hazen tried. They acquired Carson Smith in the offseason, who was supposed to be the primary setup man until he went down with a season-ending injury. Then they acquired righty Brad Ziegler and lefty Fernando Abad at the trade deadline for some bullpen depth.
Still, here we are, in September, and the Red Sox are still trying to figure out who they can trust out of the ‘pen in big spots before they hand the ball off to Kimbrel. That’s where I stop pointing the finger at Farrell. For this is no longer a manager issue. This is an execution issue, and in some ways, a talent issue.
Whenever a Red Sox reliever crumbles on the mound, everyone screams at the manager. They wanted somebody else out there. He didn’t give the ball to the right guy.
But at this point, Farrell has a better chance of finding a setup man he can trust by pulling names out of a hat in the dugout.
Koji Uehara’s return from the disabled list could be the missing piece to the puzzle. He could turn out to be someone that Farrell can trust to hold a lead and hand the ball off to their closer. But so could Ziegler. So could Abad. So could Matt Barnes. So could Junichi Tazawa. So could Joe Kelly. So could Clay Buchholz. But again, it’s September, and we’re still talking about it. Which means that none of those guys have stepped up and none of them have assumed that role permanently.
This isn’t on the manager. This is on those players. And it’s time for somebody to man up, put their work boots on, and prove that he can be trusted in big spots on a consistent basis. If not, this story won’t have a happy ending.
Right now, the standings don’t reveal the whole story. But if they don’t fix the bullpen issues, their opponent in the postseason will certainly tell it for them.