Boston Red Sox: 3 keys to taking down the Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Verdugo #99, Enrique Hernandez #5, Hunter Renfroe #10 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Alex Verdugo #99, Enrique Hernandez #5, Hunter Renfroe #10 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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Boston Red Sox
Manager Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

3 keys to the Boston Red Sox taking down the Tampa Bay Rays

No. 3: Using the bullpen correctly

It’s clear that Boston’s biggest weakness is their bullpen. After being so dominant in the first half, featuring one of the best closer/setup combos in Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino, the bullpen has collapsed, with Barnes leading the charge. Barnes was so bad in the second half of the season that he was left off the ALDS roster entirely, leaving Boston without a true closer.

The bullpen plays an even bigger role in the postseason, with managers typically riding the hot hand to get them through the middle and late innings. Manager Alex Cora is familiar with how to properly use the bullpen, as he rarely made a mistake with the bullpen during the 2018 World Series run. He will need to be just as good this time around if Boston has any shot.

The lack of a closer isn’t ideal, but it won’t be an issue if the Sox can’t hold leads late in the game anyway, and that falls on the rest of the bullpen. Boston has a couple of really solid relievers, such as Ryan Brasier and Adam Ottavino, but they also feature some that struggle with consistency too often, such as Hansel Robles and Martin Perez. The thought of Perez as a viable late innings option isn’t exactly an enticing proposition.

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Cora has to be careful in picking his spots with the bullpen here. Half of the guys, such as Perez, Garrett Richards, and Tanner Houck, are just starters who have been thrown in the bullpen, so no one really knows how they are going to react to coming out of the pen in the playoffs. Houck is probably one of the more reliable guys out of the pen ironically enough, and he was solid in the wild card game against New York.

Cora called on Garrett Whitlock to get the ninth inning against New York, and while I initially tabbed Whitlock to be Boston’s new closer due to Barnes’ struggles, I wouldn’t count on him being locked into any one role throughout the playoffs. Whitlock is easily Boston’s best reliever, and you can bet Cora will be quick to call on him to get out of some sticky situations throughout the game. Whether they come in the ninth inning or the middle innings remains to be seen.

Overall, how the bullpen is utilized is easily one of the biggest pieces of winning this series. Cora played his cards right in the wild card game, and that’s a big reason why they are in Tampa Bay right now. That will have to continue in this series, otherwise the Rays will make light work of Boston in this series.