The Red Sox and Yankees wrapped up the inaugural London Series this past weekend, with New York sweeping the two-game set from Boston. The Red Sox’s bullpen struggles were on full display under the international spotlight.
In the two extremely high-scoring games this past weekend, the Boston bullpen allowed a whopping 21 runs over 12 1/3 innings of work. Yes, the dimensions at London Stadium created a hitter-friendly park, but those numbers are ugly nonetheless. The worst part of the trip for Boston came Sunday when three Red Sox relievers (Marcus Walden, Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor) combined to give up nine runs to the Yankees in the seventh inning of an eventual 12-8 loss.
The Red Sox have the 15th-best bullpen ERA (4.37) in baseball, but their relievers combined for a 4.92 ERA in June — ranked 22nd in the majors — and blew eight saves over that span. Boston also has lost four games in which they’ve led in the eighth inning or later this season. It’s a stark contrast from the 2018 World Series championship team.
- 2018 Boston Red Sox: 97-1 when leading after eight innings; 90-4 when leading after seven innings
- 2019 Boston Red Sox: 33-4 when leading after eight innings; 35-7 when leading after seven innings
Craig Kimbrel and/or Joe Kelly might not have been the answer for this year’s team, but keeping one or both of the free agent relievers certainly would’ve helped things out. With both of them gone, the Red Sox are still searching for arms they can confidently turn to with the game on the line.
On Saturday, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported that the Red Sox are surveying the market for bullpen options that could be available before the July 31 trade deadline. Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the team’s front office don’t have much more time to wait, and they’re going to need to make some moves if they want to go after an AL wild-card spot or keep hope of catching the Yankees in the division. Shane Greene of the Tigers and/or Will Smith and Tony Watson of the Giants are three reasonably affordable options who could be available.
But Red Sox owner John Henry doesn’t seem to be 100 percent sold on buying at the deadline. Instead, he thinks the team just hasn’t performed at its full potential. Here’s what Henry told WEEI on Sunday:
“It’s not a luxury tax issue, it’s a question of how much money do we want to lose,” he explained. “We’re already over budget and we were substantially over our budget last year and this year. We’re not going to be looking to add a lot of payroll. And it’s hard to imagine fielding a better team. If we play up to our capabilities we’ll be fine. That’s the question: Will we? We’re halfway through and we haven’t.
“It’s a worthy team because we invested. Two years in a row we have the highest payroll. It’s not a matter of investment, it’s a matter of playing well. If we play up to our capabilities we will easily make the playoffs. That’s how I see it.”
With those concerns about payroll, the Red Sox are reportedly planning to make right-hander Nathan Eovaldi the The role will reportedly be as a traditional closer, and not as part of a bullpen by committee. Eovaldi to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. He made just four starts this season and hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since April 17. The Red Sox are hopeful that Eovaldi will be ready to return from the injured list shortly after the All-Star break. If Eovaldi in fact does take on a closer role, this would mean that he can return sooner than expected, since he would have to get more reps in to be ready for a starting role.
The Red Sox’s 17 blown saves is second-worst behind the Mets‘ 21. Barnes leads with six blown saves of his own. Heading into this season, Barnes appeared that he was going to be a solid, high-quality relief pitcher for the Sox. He owned a 1.99 ERA through his first 23 games but has a 10.50 ERA over his last 14 outings. Whatever the exact reason for the drop in consistency is, it doesn’t help when what’s supposed to be your most reliable reliever goes through a brutal couple of weeks leading into the All-Star break.
Boston also has the second-worst save percentage at 50 percent, behind the Mets’ 47.5 percent. If the Sox had their bullpen close out nearly half of the 17 blown saves (let’s say they blow 9 saves instead) they have so far this season, they’d be just three games behind New York.
The Red Sox will return to action on Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Toronto with David Price taking the mound. Boston (44-40) will look to end its three-game losing streak. As of Monday, the team is in third place 11 games back from the Yankees and Tampa Bay in the American League East. If the season ended today, the Red Sox would miss the playoffs as they’re two games out of the second AL Wild Card spot.
According to Fangraphs, on Opening Day, the odds for the Red Sox to make the playoffs were 88.7 percent. On June 30, those odds fell to 58.2 percent. The team can make a push for the playoffs, but the likelihood that this team catches the Yankees for first-place is highly unlikely. The Red Sox could help their odds a little bit by adding a reliable arm to the bullpen.