Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Dave Dombrowski looks pretty good with playoff heroics from Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce and much-maligned bullpen

Alex Reimer
October 17, 2018 - 12:23 pm

As the Red Sox marched towards their franchise-record 108 wins this season, attention kept shifting back towards Dave Dombrowski, who was being prematurely blamed for a playoff collapse well before the calendar flipped to October. The Red Sox led the league in runs scored and feature a starting rotation with two Cy Young award winners and Chris Sale. Their erratic bullpen was the weak link all season long, and inexplicably, Dombrowski chose to act passively when quality relievers were being moved on seemingly a daily basis up until the trade deadline. Twenty arms were moved before July 31, and the Red Sox got none of them.

At the time, Dombrowski said he didn’t think anybody was worth acquiring. "When you look at a lot of the pitchers who had been discussed around the trading deadline from a bullpen perspective, a lot of them have scuffled too," Dombrowski told reporters. "Just because you mention names doesn't necessarily mean they make you better at that particular point.”

Dombrowski’s dismissal of the reliever trade market was laughable in August, as the Red Sox routinely climbed back from late-game deficits their bullpen had handed to them. Perhaps the low point came Aug. 28, when Matt Barnes was tagged with two home runs and Kimbrel allowed an additional run to score in an 8-7 victory over the Marlins. 

Sure, Dombrowski improved the team in other ways this season, with the moves to bring in Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi and Ian Kinsler. But much like Dombrowski’s time with the Tigers, it seemed like he left the Red Sox undermanned at the end of games. It was easy to forecast how this could end.

The worst fears nearly came to fruition in Game 1 of the ALDS, when Red Sox relievers struggled with control and just hung on to defeat the Yankees 5-4. Since then, however, the relief corps has been excellent. The much-maligned foursome of Ryan Brasier, Barnes, Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly hasn’t allowed a single earned run all month, with Brasier and Barnes pitching two scoreless frames against the Astros in Game 3. Brasier also appears to be developing that playoff swagger, personified by his demand that Gary Sanchez get back in the batter’s box, before striking out the Yankees’ catcher on a fastball.

A significant portion of the credit for the bullpen’s success lies with Rick Porcello and Sale, who have combined to throw three scoreless eighth innings to get to Craig Kimbrel, who ironically has been the worst pitcher on staff this postseason. But that could’ve been part of Dombrowski’s plan as well. In the playoffs, it’s not uncommon for starting pitchers to throw an inning or two of relief when it matches up with their scheduled. It’s likely Dombrowski knew manager Alex Cora would have at least one starter at his disposal to summon when needed.

Eovaldi was pegged as the probable playoff fireman, but he’s emerged as the Red Sox’ best starting pitcher instead. The flamethrower has only allowed three runs in 13 innings, delivering six quality frames of two-run ball Tuesday. Most impressively, Eovaldi remained in the game after allowing a run in the fifth –– thanks to a misplay from Rafael Devers at third base –– and pitched a breezy sixth inning to set things up for Brasier and Barnes. Eovaldi’s fastball velocity was still strong, too, fanning Josh Reddick on 96 mph heat in his final inning. 

While Jackie Bradley Jr. has rightfully garnered much of the attention for his eighth inning grand slam, the game turned Tuesday when Pearce took reliever Joe Smith deep in the sixth to break the 2-2 tie. With Mitch Moreland hobbled, Pearce has played in all seven games this postseason. Dombrowski basically picked up a starting first baseman for a minor leaguer and cash.

The Red Sox have a long ways to go before they reach the promised land, and there’s still time for Barnes to walk the ballpark or Eovaldi to implode. But right now, as the Red Sox stand two wins away from a World Series berth, their roster seems flawless. Dombrowski did his job.