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Joe Kelly is making us all feel awful about the 101-win Red Sox' playoff chances

Alex Reimer
September 14, 2018 - 10:04 am

It’s really not right, what Joe Kelly is doing to all of us. The Red Sox are the first team in baseball to reach the 100-win plateau –– they have the t-shirts to prove it –– and are poised to shatter the franchise record for victories within the next week. They have the best offense in baseball and two Cy Young winners on staff, along with Chris Sale, who has only pitched six innings since July 27, but will use the rest of the month to gear up for the pennant push. 

And yet, it’s hard to feel good about the Red Sox’ chances in October. The trepidation stems from monstrosities like Kelly’s performance Thursday against the Blue Jays, in which he walked one batter, allowed one hit and hit two batsmen before getting removed. The erratic flamethrower didn’t record an out.

The blame for this atrocious bullpen goes beyond Kelly. Matt Barnes, who was entrusted with eighth inning duties after the All-Star Break, saw his ERA balloon to 9.64 in August and is sidelined with hip inflammation. Heath Hembree fails in seemingly every high-leverage spot, including last Sunday night against Houston, when he allowed two runs to score in a four-run Astros sixth inning. Right now, the best bet for the eighth appears to be either minor league journeyman Ryan Brasier or knuckleballer Steven Wright. Brandon Workman could factor into the mix, too, especially after rescuing the Red Sox from their late-game nightmare on Thursday. 

That’s the plight of the $247 million Red Sox. The most expensive team in baseball is pinning its October bullpen hopes on Brasier, Wright and Workman. While Kelly isn’t solely responsible for this lousy predicament, he is the poster boy for the rickety bridge to Craig Kimbrel. On paper, he should be a dominant reliever, with his blistering fastball and penchant for strikeouts. At the trade deadline, Dave Dombrowski said he didn’t feel the need to grab another bullpen arm, because they “found something mechanically” with Kelly. 

Apparently, whatever the Red Sox found hasn’t helped Kelly throw strikes or keep runners off the bases. He walks 4.3 batters per nine innings and surrenders 7.5 hits. Since June 1, Kelly has been arguably the worst reliever in baseball, posting a 6.11 ERA (66th out of 67 qualified relievers) and 1.70 WHIP (67 out of 67). 

In the regular season, this exceptional offense has been able to overcome the bullpen’s mess –– due to errors like wild pitches from Marlins righty Taylor Guerrero and a dropped pop up from Toronto infielder Yangervis Solarte, which we saw Thursday night. But in the playoffs, it’s unlikely Boston’s opponents will throw up all over themselves.

Each Kelly walk makes it easier to imagine this magical Red Sox season slipping away. The end will almost certainly look like his most recent eighth inning performance, and what a sad sight it will be. 

It sounds ridiculous to feel poorly about a 101-win team entering the playoffs. But here we are.