Boston Red Sox: How Chris Sale & James Paxton could fix the bullpen

Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox are one of the hottest teams in the MLB right now. Winners of 12 of their last 16, as well as four straight series, Boston is finally beginning to shake off the rust after a month-long slump to open the season.

The main catalyst for the Sox finally heating up is their lineup. At one point, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers were the only guys batting above .220 on the team. Safe to say that isn’t the case anymore.

The starting rotation has also finally begun to find their form after slow starts to the season from guys like Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck. Alex Cora has done a good job of piecing the rotation together so far, and it’s beginning to pay off.

The one lingering question on this team is the bullpen. There’s still no real closer, and everytime it seems like they are figuring things out, somebody comes in and throws away a game. But there are two guys who could inadvertently fix the bullpen, and they are Chris Sale and James Paxton.

The Boston Red Sox could get both Chris Sale & James Paxton back this season

Both Sale and Paxton have missed the start of the 2022 season as they recover from injuries. But both are beginning to ramp up their rehabs, and they could be back on the hill sooner rather than later.

Sale has been throwing some bullpen sessions recently, and he will continue to do so this upcoming week. If all goes well, he could embark on a rehab assignment at some point in the next week or so, and find himself back in Boston at some point in June or early July.

Paxton on the other hand hasn’t had any bullpen sessions yet, but he’s been throwing from 60 feet on flat ground recently, and hopes to throw from 75 feet next week. He’s clearly a bit behind Sale, but he should be able to return at some point this summer if all goes according to plan.

Both these guys would have a massive impact on a pitching staff that, while having a good stretch lately, is really holding on for dear life right now. There are only so many more times the team can escape putrid relief outings from a guy like Matt Barnes.

OK, but both Chris Sale & James Paxton are starters; how does this help the Boston Red Sox bullpen?

Sale will definitely have a spot in the rotation waiting for him once he returns, whereas it’s a bit murkier with Paxton. However, bringing back one or both of these guys will have a profound impact on the bullpen because it will allow Garrett Whitlock to return to where he belongs, which is, you guessed it, the bullpen.

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For whatever reason, Cora and the Sox have decided Whitlock belongs in the starting rotation. He’s been OK (although he did get rocked by the Seattle Mariners in his most recent outing), but the bigger issue is they have taken their best arm out of the bullpen for no reason.

Getting Whitlock more innings makes sense, but if he can close out a one-run game by pitching the eighth and ninth or throwing four scoreless innings in a starting capacity, I’d take the first option everyday of the week. The fact of the matter is that good starts mean nothing if you don’t have guys who can come in and close it out; right now that’s just not how Boston’s bullpen is constructed.

Getting one of Sale or Paxton back would pretty much force Cora’s hand here. They can bump Whitlock back to the bullpen in his do-it-all role, which could be just what they are missing back there. Hansel Robles, Austin Davis, and Jake Diekman have formed a pretty effective trio from time to time, and adding Whitlock to that group would certainly help.

Paxton on the other hand could be a long-reliever, or bump Rich Hill to the bullpen. Whereas the Whitlock experiment has failed, the Hill experiment, which basically involves him pitching four or five innings before handing things off to Houck, has worked like a charm. Having Hill come out of the bullpen in the later innings really just doesn’t make sense.

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The Boston Red Sox bullpen is still a work in progress, but if they can get Sale and Paxton back, this team could be in a really good spot. Boston’s hot streak isn’t going to last forever, but it’s encouraging to know that if they falter, reinforcements will be on the way.