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Postseason primer: Questions (and wins) keep coming for Red Sox

Rob Bradford
September 14, 2018 - 12:54 am

Twenty days. Fifteen games. That's how long they have to figure this thing out.

So while every Red Sox' win -- such as the 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays Thursday night -- means something, and helps chips away the Magic Number (now at 6), the real focus is on how each and every moment might impact Alex Cora's team's impending postseason run. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' 101st win, click here.)

Here were the takeaways emanating from Fenway Park:

- When it came to Joe Kelly, Cora described the reliever's plight succinctly after the game.

"He didn’t execute tonight," said the manager. "He’s been good lately but today he wasn’t. He needs to get better and he knows it. Today wasn’t great for him. We trust the guy. It’s two outs in the eighth. We expect him to go out there and get the out. He didn’t do it today but if we have a situation tomorrow where we can bring him in."

To repeat, "He needs to get better and he knows it."

Before Thursday night Kelly was easing his way back into the set-up man mix. Yes, he had suffered through an uncomfortable three-run, one-inning stint last Friday, but prior to that, the righty had allowed just one run over his last 10 outings. This was a significant turn for the worse, not retiring any of his four batters thanks to a hit, walk and two hit batsmen.

It was the latest reminder that when it comes to figuring out life leading up to Craig Kimbrel uncertainty still reigns supreme.

- Bobby Poyner is getting a chance to make this postseason roster, but this one did nothing to help his cause. The lefty allowed the Blue Jays to close within a run thanks to Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s solo homer in the eighth inning. The reliever did sandwich the homer with a pair of pop-ups. This was an opportunity to test the rookie in a high-leverage situation. The grade was incomplete, at best.

"Bobby just left a fastball right down the middle to Gurriel," Cora said. "Target was up. He’s 6-5 so we’ve got to go higher than that. We feel like if he executes the pitch, he swings and misses. But he didn’t."

- The night wasn't without some optimism for the bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel continuing to show lively stuff in cruising through a 1-2-3 ninth inning. And Ryan Brasier had no problem in pitching a perfect seventh. But it was Brandon Workman's outing that may have presented the most intrigue.

Throwing a fastball that touched 94 mph, Workman came on with the bases loaded and two outs to strikeout Toronto pinch-hitter Billy McKinney. Lefty hitters are now hitting just .191 against Workman, who has allowed batters from that side just two hits since Aug. 9.

"I feel like right now I’m throwing the ball as good as I’ve thrown it in my career," Workman said. "I feel confident that I’m able to go in and execute pitches as I have ever been able to do."

What makes Workman increasingly interesting when considering him for a postseason roster spot is his previous success in big spots. He was the guy who gave up just one run in seven relief appearances as a 25-year-old rookie during the 2013 postseason run.

- Just when it looked like the third base spot was sorting itself out due to Eduardo Nunez's production and Rafael Devers' downturn, along came Thursday night.

Thanks to an awkward approach of first base after hitting a grounder up the middle, Nunez tweaked his balky right knee. After clearing being slowed by the aggravation when doubling in his next at-bat, Cora chose to take him out in favor of pinch-runner Tzu-Wei Lin.

"Honestly, talking to (head trainer) Brad (Pearson) we don't feel it's something serious," the manager said. " It's just, he felt it shifted a little bit I guess but he should be fine. He was running well on that ball off the wall. So like I said, we'll see how it goes over the weekend. He won't play tomorrow. If he doesn't play over the weekend we've got Monday off so we'll go from there."

Devers used the opportunity to get back into the conversation when it comes to doling out playing time, launching his first home run since Aug. 8.

- As it turns out, J.D. Martinez isn't ready to slow down.

Playing right field for the resting Mookie Betts, Martinez hit his 41st homer, bringing him even for the American League lead once again with Oakland's Khris Davis.

In his last 43 games, Martinez has hit .349,  going 58-for-166 with 34 runs, 13 doubles, 12 homers, and 40 RBI. He also remains in position to make a run at the Triple Crown, The righty hitter has a comfortable lead in RBI, sitting only behind Betts in batting average (although his .330 clip is 10 points behind his teammate).

- The start by Eduardo Rodriguez was one of the most encouraging developments of the night, with the lefty bouncing back from his first subpar outing since late June with six innings of one-run ball, striking out seven and not walking a batter. He once again offered the image of a pitcher who the Red Sox could start in a postseason setting with some confidence.

"The last two games, I would say the one with Chicago (5.2 innings, run) I was throwing mostly fastballs, but I was painting the corners," Rodriguez said. "The game with Houston I was missing a lot of the plate and they take advantage of it. And today, we decide to use more of my pitches early in the count and we’re using it today."