Tomase: This Red Sox bullpen is going to be the death of us all

John Tomase
October 06, 2018 - 2:23 am
Brandon Workman

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

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Uh, are we supposed to survive 10 more games of this?

On Friday night, the Red Sox won Game 1 of the American League Division Series with a 5-4 nail-biter over the Yankees that felt kinda like a loss by the time the middle relievers were done leaving their foul imprint on the game.

Things got so bad in the setup corps after Chris Sale carried a 5-0 lead into the sixth that manager Alex Cora was forced to use presumptive Game 3 starter Rick Porcello for the first two outs of the eighth and closer Craig Kimbrel for the last four outs of the game.

That's called living dangerously, and it's definitely not how Cora drew up plan A, B, or C.

"Might say C and a half, " he admitted.

The Red Sox somehow survived. I'm guessing not everyone in New England can say the same. R.I.P. No one said winning a World Series would be easy.

That the Red Sox are trying to do it with what easily qualifies as the worst bullpen in the postseason adds a degree of difficulty that shouldn't exist on a 108-win team.

The Red Sox bullpen is not very good and this is not revelatory. Watching the middle men struggle through meaningless extended spring training games in September was one thing. Watching through interlocked fingers as they tested the outer reaches of the K zone graphic in the first game of October was something else entirely.

To those who questioned the wisdom of Dave Dombrowski's decision not to acquire reinforcements by July 31 or Aug. 31 (or March 31, for that matter), we were all on to something.

Red Sox relievers turned Game 1 into something like a slow-motion heart attack. Catcher Sandy Leon spent the latter third of the game sprawling like a cat chasing yarn, or in this case, spiked curveballs. Because Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, and Matt Barnes couldn't throw strikes, Porcello needed to bridge the gap.

It worked, but not before New York cut a 5-0 lead to 5-4 in the ninth with mashers Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit getting their shots against Kimbrel. He struck out each as New England breathed a giant sigh of relief followed immediately by dry heaves.

This can't be sustainable, can it?

"I feel like our bullpen's definitely been under scrutiny, but when you look at it, we really did put up good numbers this season," Workman said. "The guys we have out there are more than capable of doing the job we need to get done throughout these playoffs. (Fans can) ask questions, do whatever, but I believe we're the guys for the job and we're going to get it done."

When Sale cruised into the sixth with a 5-0 lead and his pitch count climbing, the uneasy ripple that coursed through Fenway Park was 36,000 people simultaneously realizing what lay ahead: traversing the chasm between Sale and Kimbrel felt like Frodo Baggins stumbling towards Mt. Doom.

One by one, Brasier, Workman and Barnes searched in vain for the strike zone. Nearly half of their 52 pitches were balls. And so the Yankees pecked away with two in the sixth and one in the seventh. They pulled within a run when Aaron Judge ripped a Kimbrel offering into the bullpen in the ninth, but the closer slammed the door thereafter.

If the sound startled you, it's OK. We're all a little jumpy right now.

"We got through it," Barnes said. "When it comes down to October, wins are wins and it doesn't matter how you get them."

Welllll . . . can we agree that's not exactly true? When pretty much everyone who has ever watched a second of baseball agrees the bullpen represents the primary impediment to the Red Sox winning it all, and then that bullpen justifies every concern in Game 1 before we even learn that knuckleballer Steven Wright is probably done for the postseason with a knee injury, it's fair to label that result suboptimal.

And so it is that David Price will take the mound in Saturday's Game 2 with his own host of postseason demons to exorcise, but with this added twist: Red Sox fans who once would've preferred he not pitch in the playoffs at all are now hoping he throws a complete game.

Because when it comes to the Red Sox bullpen, there's only so much we can take.

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