If the Boston Red Sox want to challenge for the AL East crown in 2018, they are going to have to have a strong season from their bullpen.
Oh, baseball season. It spans a ridiculous 7 months and takes you through parts of 3 different seasons. On March 29th this year’s rendition of the 162 game season will begin, and man this year should be a good one. The season starts in under a month, and it’s time to start looking at how the Boston Red Sox will fair in the loaded American League.
A key aspect of the Red Sox quest for a 4th world series title since the turn of the century will be, whether or not they can get a quality season from their bullpen.
In 2017, the Sox had a fantastic bullpen, second in the entire league to the Cleveland Indians. With a great starting rotation, the bullpen did a great job, in allowing a solid 3.15 ERA. This is solid of course, but the 2018 pen should be even better.
Setting up the closer
The best closer in the game Craig Kimbrel now has some solid pieces around him.
Last season, Matt Barnes was overused in the setup spot due to the horrific Robbie Ross Jr. and Heath Hembree. But now, Kimbrel has some serious help in Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg.
Carson Smith was a complete stud in Seattle. In over 78 innings in Seattle, Smith allowed just 8 runs and had a fantastic 102 strikeouts. In December of 2015, the Mariners shipped Smith off to Boston in exchange for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro.
At the time, this trade looked like an utter steal for the Sox. Wade Miley was way past his prime and Aro struggled extremely hard in Boston. Smith, however, was a setup man on the rise and was primed to be a solid addition to the Boston Red Sox bullpen.
The only issue is, Smith has only pitched in 11 games since 2015. At the beginning of the 2016 season, it had been discovered that Smith would need Tommy John surgery. He didn’t play again until September of 2017. Now healthy, a big year from Smith could be in order. If he doesn’t get hurt, Smith could really help bolster the Red Sox 8th inning spot, something they haven’t had in many seasons now.
Tyler Thornburg is another old Red Sox acquisition yet to be healthy enough to impact the team. In December of 2016, the Sox acquired Thornburg in exchange for Travis Shaw.
Unfortunately, Thornburg missed the entire 2017 campaign with a shoulder injury. On a lowly Brewers pitching staff, Tyler was a bright spot, posting a 2.15 ERA with the team in 2016. If he can shake off the injury bug, Thornburg would be a fantastic addition to the Red Sox staff.
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The new kid on the block
This spring, a new face has been making a case for a big bullpen role: Bobby Poyner.
The southpaw Poyner last year put up a great 1.49 ERA splitting time in Salem and Portland.
The Boston Red Sox need help on the left side of their bullpen, and Alex Cora has been very impressed with what the left has done this spring. In his last game, Poyner pitched 7 innings, only allowing one run off four hits and striking out four. If he makes the opening day roster, I can see Poyner being a large part of the Sox pen in 2018.
Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes are coming off the best years of their careers since being in Boston, and that should continue in 2018. Kelly seemed to be a bust since arriving in Fenway in July of 2014, but since migrating to the bullpen he seems to be having a career renaissance. His control his as good as it has ever been, and he´s been able to top out in the low 100s with his fastball.
Barnes has never been incredible, but he can have stretches where he is very solid. He is a great strikeout guy, and also has a phenomenal fastball. If he can actually control his pitching this year, big things can be in store from 32. However, if control is still an issue, I would not be surprised if Barnes ends up in Pawtucket.
And of course, you cant talk about the Red Sox bullpen without Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel is the best weapon there is in any bullpen in baseball. He has a nasty slider, a great fastball and one of the best curveballs in the majors. Craig just has this swagger about him that is just must watch TV. Lots of Red Sox games once again will end in a Kimbrel fist bump.
Barring injuries, this Boston Red Sox bullpen is the best it´s been in years and will help lead them to defeat the Evil Empire in New York to win the East for back to back years.