Don't look now, but the Boston Red Sox are legitimate playoff contenders. And they need to act like it over the next month-plus.
After a dismal 10-19 start to the 2022 campaign, the Red Sox currently sit eight games over .500 and in the second American League wild card spot thanks to a 16-4 record in their last 20 games.
That turnaround means they should be buyers ahead of this year's Aug. 2 MLB trade deadline. So, which position should they target?
Red Sox general manager Brian O'Halloran identified relief pitching as an area of focus during an appearance Thursday on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show."
"Yeah, that is certainly a possibility," O'Halloran responded when asked if Boston may look to trade for a reliever. "When you talk to contending teams every year around the trade deadline, almost all of them want to improve their bullpen. So, it's an area that you can almost always improve.
"We have had some ups and downs there, but we've also had some (good) performances, so we'll see how that goes."
"Up and down" is an accurate description of the Red Sox bullpen, which has blown more saves (14) than all but one AL team (the Tampa Bay Rays) this year. Former All-Star closer Matt Barnes allowed 15 runs in 17 innings before hitting the injured list, while top reliever Garrett Whitlock is also sidelined with a right hip injury.
Manager Alex Cora has patched together the late innings with a combination of Tanner Houck, Matt Strahm, Jake Diekman, John Schreiber and Hansel Robles, and those relievers have found some success during Boston's hot streak. But the Red Sox may need more consistent firepower in the bullpen if they want to be serious contenders.
"Definitely an area that we're watching," O'Halloran said of the relief pitcher market. "When you want to win a championship and you want to make the postseason, you have to be able to hold leads."
There should be no shortage of bullpen talent available over the next month, with Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander David Bednar; Detroit Tigers righties Michael Fulmer and Andrew Chafin; Chicago Cubs right-hander David Robertson; and old friend Daniel Bard among potential names to monitor.
Dealing for a quality reliever would require O'Halloran and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to part with talented prospects, however. So, it will be very interesting to see how aggressive Boston is on the trade market between now and Aug. 2 -- with relief pitching likely a top priority.