Red Sox

McAdam: Sox need continuing relief

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McAdam: Sox need continuing relief

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- The winning hit was delivered by Jacoby Ellsbury, the winning slide from unlikely pinch-runner Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

But perhaps the real key to the Red Sox' 3-2 win over Cleveland Tuesday night came from the bullpen, which provided three innings of one-hit relief.

Franklin Morales, who recorded three strikeouts in two innings of work, pitched as well as he has since arriving in a trade from Colorado earlier this season. Jonathan Papelbon, entering a tie game in the top of the ninth, overpowered the Indians in an impressive ninth.

It's precisely this kind of contribution from the bullpen that the Red Sox are going to need in the coming weeks.

Consider:

Clay Buchholz is likely finished for the regular season, replaced for the next two months by Erik Bedard.

Bedard has thrown all of 1 13 innings at the major-league level over the last five weeks. He'll be on a pitch count Thursday when he makes his Red Sox debut.

It's likely to take at least two starts for Bedard to fully build up stamina and be cleared to go as deep into games as the situation dicates, without regard to pitch count.

For the time being, the Sox will continue to use both Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield in the rotation.

In eight starts to date, Miller has yet to pitch beyond the sixth inning. In fact, in three of those starts, he's failed to get into the sixth.

Wakefield, meanwhile, turned 45 Tuesday, and while he pitched well in his last start in Chicago (three runs in seven innings), he pitched past the sixth just 6 times in 14 starts this season.

Finally, there's John Lackey, who remains as enigmatic as ever.

Though Lackey has generally pitched better since coming off the disabled list with an elbow injury, he remains far from dependable when it comes to going deep into starts. Just 7 times in his first 18 starts has Lackey gotten an out past the sixth inning, and seven times, he's given up five or more runs, putting his team sometimes hopelessly behind.

Boston's collective bullpen ERA is 3.49, ranking it sixth in the American League, about half a run higher than the league-leading Yankees at 3.07. Ranked against all teams, the Red Sox are 14th among the 30 clubs, decidedly middle-of-the-pack.

At the trade deadline, the team understandably focused on upgrading the rotation, armed with the-then undisclosed news that Buchholz was not likely to return during the regular season.

That strategy was in contrast to the approach taken by the Texas Rangers, who, ranked 11th in AL bullpen ERA, determined that they had to prop up the back end of their pitching staff. The Rangers landed Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.

The deals gave the Rangers arguably the deepest and most dominant bullpen in the American League.

If the Red Sox had a bullpen upgrade in mind, they didn't address it. They could use a more experienced lefty for matchup purposes, especially given the makeup of some of their potential opponents come October (New York, Texas).

(Despite needing a roster spot to make room for Bedard's activation, the Sox held on to Randy Williams Tuesday, giving them a second lefty option in the bullpen with the left-leaning Indians in town and the Yankees due this weekend).

But Williams and Morales aren't proven matchup lefties. Williams has had too little consistency at the major-league level and Morales has frequently struggled with his command.

There may still be time to pick up a reliever in a waiver deal this month, but for now, the load will fall on Daniel Bard, whose scoreless streak of 26 13 innings was snapped Monday, and Matt Albers to bridge the team to Jonathan Papelbon.

(Papelbon, it should be noted, has exactly one blown save at almost exactly the two-third mark of the season).

Partiuclarly as they navigate the next few weeks, Alfredo Aceves may be one of the most importnat pitchers on the staff, with the ability to provide multiple innings in relief. Seven times this year, Aceves has pitched three or more innings; the Sox are 6-1 in those games.

Without reinforcements, the trio of Aceves, Albers and Bard will be counted upon greatly from the sixth through the eighth. How well they respond will go a long way in determining how the Red Sox finish the season.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.