It’s hard to find a flaw in a team that is 9.5 games up in the AL East with just 15 games remaining and currently holding the best record in baseball at 89-58 going into Thursday, but the Red Sox are still searching for reliable bullpen arms before getting to closer Koji Uehara.
Within the Red Sox’ streak of winning 14 of their last 17 games, the bullpen has been up and down. From Aug. 27-Sept. 4, over 27 2/3 innings, the Sox bullpen allowed just two runs and 11 hits, equating to a 1.54 ERA, but over their last six games from Sept. 5-Sept. 11 they have allowed 11 runs in 18 1/3 innings, with a 5.40 ERA.
There is no doubt the back end of the bullpen is under control with Uehara, who is in the midst of a stretch even the greatest closers of this generation would admire. The right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 30 and of the last 93 hitters he has faced, just seven have reached base. He has sat down 34 straight since Aug. 17. The issue of late has been getting to Uehara.
Brandon Workman has allowed three runs in his last 2 1/3 innings of work over two outings, the latter coming Wednesday night, when he allowed the Rays to come back to tie the game in the eighth. After not allowing a run over his first 10 1/3 innings as big leaguer, Drake Britton has allowed eight runs over his last 9 2/3 innings, while Rubby De La Rosa has allowed five runs in nine innings this season.
The Red Sox have other options in Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Matt Thornton and Franklin Morales. While no one in that group has posted alarming stats of late, no one has emerged as a guy who can be fully dependable entering close games either, with the exception of possibly Breslow and Tazawa.
While the bullpen has gotten away with their recent struggles, due to the offense bailing them out with clutch hits and piling up runs, this likely won’t happen in the postseason as pitching is the name of the game.
The bullpen will receive additional arms in, likely, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster for the postseason as the team will likely only use four starters, but there is no guarantee when moving pitchers from the rotation to the bullpen, especially in high leverage situations.
With the dominant starting pitching and powerful offense the Red Sox have received of late, their bullpen is the one thing which needs some tightening up, as it would be a shame to see their season come to an end because of a few poor bullpen appearances when it matters most.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84