Clinging to a 5-3 lead and short arms, Red Sox manager Alex Cora needed the two newest members of his bullpen to deliver on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
They failed. Trade deadline acquisitions Hansel Robles and Austin Davis instead combined to allow three runs, the latter taking a 7-5 loss that denied the Sox a sweep.
The defeat continued an underwhelming run for the two relievers who represent the entirety of the pitching reinforcements acquired on July 30. While each has had his moments -- Robles nailing down a white-knuckle save vs. the Twins after Matt Barnes imploded, Davis stringing together six straight scoreless outings before Sunday -- on the whole, neither has emerged as a trusted, reliable weapon.
And that leads to a reasonable question. Considering all of the relievers that changed hands at the deadline, could Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom have done better to address what has emerged as the club's most pressing need with September looming?
The short answer is, yup, uh-huh, most definitely. Of the 24 relievers moved to contenders at the deadline, Robles ranks 23rd in ERA at 7.94, ahead of only Brewers right-hander John Curtiss, who threw four innings before blowing out his elbow. Davis ranks 17th at 5.11.
That hasn't stopped Cora from leaning on the newcomers out of necessity. Davis (12.1) ranks third and Robles (11.1) ninth in innings with their new club, Cora forced to summon each frequently since July 30. The Red Sox are 3-9 when Robles pitches and 3-8 when they use Davis. Each has only appeared once in a win decided by fewer than six runs.
Sunday's loss was illustrative. Robles entered in the seventh with the Red Sox leading 5-3 after Rafael Devers' second home run of the afternoon had seemingly given them breathing room. He recorded two quick outs before allowing Amed Rosario to single on a 1-2 count. Two pitches later, the dangerous Jose Ramirez smashed an RBI double to left-center.
Davis came on for the eighth and repeated the same pattern. He retired the first two men before trying to sneak a two-strikeout fastball by Austin Hedges. The light-hitting catcher did not miss, socking it down the left field line for the game-tying homer. One single and RBI double later, Davis was lifted and the Red Sox were losers.
"We had two outs and two strikes and AD tried to quick pitch Hedges and the ball cut into his honey hole and he hit it out of the ballpark. And then after that, we're scrambling," Cora said. "Today was going to be a tough one as far as the bullpen, trying to survive in a sense, that's why we were so aggressive yesterday with a few guys and we ended up pulling that off. But today we had to be perfect and it wasn't."
So where else might Bloom have turned instead of getting Robles from the Twins and Davis from the Pirates?
Contrast their performances with that of A's left-hander Andrew Chafin, who has posted a 1.15 ERA in a league-high 15.2 innings since coming over from the Cubs for a pair of non-prospects. Or Astros righty Kendall Graveman, the former Mariners closer who was traded within the division and has posted a 1.50 ERA while walking just two in 12 innings. Or White Sox righty Ryan Tepera, who also left the Cubs to travel crosstown, where he has produced a 1.54 ERA and outpitched more ballyhooed arrival Craig Kimbrel.
Maybe they could've landed former Orioles righty Mychal Givens, who compiled a track record of success in the American League East from 2015-20. He instead went from the Rockies to the Reds, where he has posted a 1.54 ERA in 12 outings. The price to acquire him was two minor-league pitchers, one of whom Baseball America ranked 15th in the Cincinnati system.
Even accepting that a number of successful relievers swapped at the deadline probably couldn't have come to Boston because they were traded out of the division -- New York sent Justin Wilson (1.86 ERA) and Luis Cessa (2.61 ERA) to the Reds, and the Rays shipped Diego Castillo (3.86 ERA) to the Mariners -- there were still better arms to be had.
The Pirates alone traded two other relievers who have outperformed Davis. The Braves acquired Pittsburgh closer Richard Rodriguez for young starter Bryse Wilson and injured minor league hurler Ricky DeVito, and Rodriguez has posted a 1.29 ERA in 14 games as a setup man for one of the hottest teams in the National League. If the Red Sox didn't want to pay a similar price as Wilson -- we're probably talking right-hander Tanner Houck -- that's understandable.
The same case can't be made against right-hander Clay Holmes, however. He went to the Yankees for nondescript minor league infielder Diego Castillo and utilityman Hoy Park, a return not that different from Michael Chavis, whom the Red Sox shipped out for Davis.
Holmes has responded by going 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA, 11 strikeouts, and only one walk in nine appearances. He debuted in a 14-0 loss to the Rays, and since then has only pitched in one game decided by more than two runs. The Yankees have won his last eight appearances.
Bloom has said that the Red Sox considered a number of different moves, but ultimately found the prices too high. From a prospect perspective, that may be true. But in the here and now, his failure to acquire a more viable bullpen arm is exacting a steep toll.