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This Red Sox bullpen thing is getting ridiculous

Rob Bradford
September 18, 2018 - 10:21 pm

NEW YORK -- The Red Sox are going to win the American League East. Up until about 9:38 p.m. Tuesday night that's what everyone was talking about when it came to this team.

But with 15 days, 16 hours and 16 minutes until what will be their first postseason game Alex Cora's team was left to replace its postgame champagne with the question that will make the days before and after any celebration uneasy.

As we sit here, the Red Sox bullpen still isn't postseason-ready.

This time the dagger came courtesy Ryan Brasier, one of the few who had offered some certainty while Alex Cora was trying to bob and his weave his way to identifying the roles leading up to Craig Kimbrel. For the better part of his previous 29 appearances, the righty was nails, carrying a 1.53 ERA and .182 batting average against.

This time, however, the result was a game-changing, three-run home run delivered to the Yankees' Neil Walker on a full-count slider. That left the Red Sox with a 3-2 loss and a Magic Number that remained at two. (For a complete recap, click here.)

"I didn’t expect it when I let it go," Brasier said. "But I felt behind and I made a pitch that was hittable instead of under the zone like I was trying to do and he made me pay for it." The reliever added, "My slider is my best strikeout pitch and I threw him my best one and unfortunately it was a little flat and he did what he was supposed to do with it. There’s nothing else to say about it."

He was the guy Dave Dombrowski had been right about when evaluating what the Red Sox' bullpen had on July 31. Tyler Thornburg? Not so much. But Brasier's Cinderella Story never saw an ending in sight. It didn't matter to the Red Sox that his biggest moment on a mound (according to the 31-year-old) was getting out of a July 23 jam in Baltimore. Yankee Stadium, game on the line, at the end of September? The Sox and Brasier were willing to cross that bridge when the came to it.

Well, the Red Sox are still in need of some sturdy bridges.

Tuesday night, after Nathan Eovaldi's six shutout innings, Cora started the quest for postseason definition once again. First, he brought in Brandon Workman, the pitcher who had been making a late push for a postseason roster spot with some improved velocity and a World Series resume. By the time he came out, there were runners on first and second and just one man out. That led to Brasier.

With both Brasier and Bobby Poyner warming up, Cora decided to call on the guy who as close to a consistent eighth-inning option as he has had over the last few months. The move had to be considered a postseason test for the righty considering the batter he was brought on to face, switch-hitting Neil Walker, was hitting 56 points worse against lefties than right-handers.

If not for the growing perception that Brasier could be counted on in such situations (he had allowed just one hit in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs), it would have seemed to be a great time to see what the Red Sox had in the way of a high-leverage lefty. But Cora explained that he would have only brought in Poyner with two outs, looking for a possible ground ball from Brasier.

"The hanging slider, that [doesn’t] happen if you execute the pitch, it’s a swing and miss," the manager said.

It didn't work out. And that's been the problem, just when Cora and Co. think they have locked down a winning bullpen formula something like this comes around.

Sometime soon these tests need to start being passed without fail. But we've been saying that for a while now.

"When we get healthy we get everybody healthy we should be fine," Cora said. "I think as you guys know (Matt) Barnes is a big part of what we’re trying to do in the bullpen. We’ve relied on him the whole season when he comes back we know we have Craig (Kimbrel), Barnesy, Ryan and we’ll go from there."

Related: Bradford: Ryan Brasier's unbelievable path to the Red Sox