What a finish. What a game. What a series.
Now the real test starts. It’s not the World Series, because, well, the winner of the ALCS will still need to win 4 more games, but this is the hardest test that either the Astros or the Red Sox will have to face. With all due respect to the Brewers and Dodgers, the Red Sox and Astros are the two best teams in baseball.
So, you’ve heard it. The Red Sox can’t win the World Series because of their bullpen. It’s bad. It’s going to cost them the series etc. etc. Ever since the Yankees built their super-bullpen of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, then the Indians followed by deciding to use Miller at any point in the game for as long as they please, there has been the notion around baseball that you need an elite bullpen, and not only a bonafide closer, but at least two bonafied set up men to win a World Series.
That’s simply just not true, and compared to the past two World Series Champions, the Red Sox bullpen may not be the worst bullpen of all time and the imminent demise of a 108 win team.
Here’s the 2018 Red Sox bullpen compared to the 2017 World Champion Astros and 2016 World Series Champion Cubs, next to their regular season FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Read about it more here from Fangraphs, but FIP essentially accounts for only Home Runs, Walks, Hit By Pitches, and Strikeouts, as those are solely impacted by pitching
|2018 Red Sox||2017 Astros||2016 Cubs|
|Craig Kimbrel – 3.13 (CL)
Matt Barnes – 2.71
Ryan Brasier – 2.83
Joe Kelly – 3.57
Eduardo Rodriguez – 3.65
Heath Hembree – 4.19
Brandon Workman 4.42
|Ken Giles – 2.39 (CL)
Brad Peacock – 3.07
Will Harris – 3.33
Chris Devenski – 3.49
Collin McHugh – 3.82
Francisco Liriano – 4.13
Joe Musgrove – 4.38
Luke Gregerson 4.62
|Aroldis Chapman – 0.82 (CL)
Carl Edwards Jr. – 2.87
Pedro Strop – 2.91
Justin Grimm – 3.28
Hector Rondon – 3.50
Travis Wood – 4.54
Mike Montgomery – 4.74
Right off the bat, the Astros bullpen was not great last season, and is more than likely what forced them to keep 12 pitchers on their playoff roster. What ultimately paid off for the Astros was using starters in their pen as super-relievers, having the ability to throw Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh or an actual starter like Lance McCullers or Charlie Morton out of the pen for 3+ innings. Comparing the Sox to this Astros bullpen, the Sox almost definitely have the advantage. Craig Kimbrel was (generously) shaky, but is ultimately one of the best out there, and you take Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier over Will Harris and Chris Devenski, no?
Looking at the Cubs, they were very similar to the current Red Sox bullpen. Each team has the elite closer, two solid but not big name set up men, and some fine but not exactly reliable on a nightly basis arms behind them. Aroldis Chapman was ineffective in game 6 and blew game 7 of the World Series, but the Cubs still won it. The Red Sox starter-converted-reliever Eduardo Rodriguez is definitely an upgrade over Mike Montgomery, but the advantage for the Cubs is in the middle of that list, where Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon don’t quite have the implosion potential that Joe Kelly and Heath Hembree do.
But we’re comparing regular season numbers, and we’re all well aware that Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly can allow 4 earned runs in an inning. However, what the Sox’ bullpen just showed in the Yankees series is a huge vote of confidence. They almost blew Game 1, but take a look a the guys who pitched. Ryan Brasier struggled but was seeing his first playoff action, and settled in nicely with shut down innings in Games 2 and 4. Barnes and Kimbrel eached pitched well, with Brandon Workman being the only blemish despite getting a massive strikeout against Gleyber Torres. The bullpen ended the series with a 3.71 ERA in the 4 games. If they can keep at that pace or even lower it, that may be good enough with their offense.
And then there is the Alex Cora and starting pitching factor. Rick Porcello came into 1 and got two outs on just 15 pitches, staying fresh enough for a start later in the series, and Chris Sale pitched a dominant 8th on just 13 pitches in game 4. That’s going happen more, and it’s going to be a huge factor against Houston. Nathan Eovaldi’s 7 innings and a blowout game may be the exception to what we see here on out from Cora. Cora didn’t want the Yankees lineup to see Rick Porcello for a third time, and took him out despite cruising through 4 of his 5 innings and throwing just 65 pitched in total. Will that be the same in a close game with Chris Sale? David Price? Eovaldi? If so, it’ll be 4 innings from the bullpen and potentially a fill in starter on a nightly basis.
The Red Sox’ bullpen isn’t great, they are going to allow runs, and they are going to make us all incredibly nervous, but they certainly have enough to get it done. They’re going to need Kimbrel, Brasier, and Barnes especially to all step up, and they all showed that they can in the Yankees series. Take into consideration the mastermind behind the whole thing, Alex Cora, and this once Achilles heal may be what pushes the Red Sox over hump.
Huh, they may actually do this thing.
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