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Red Sox Bullpen Remains Glaring Weakness Even During Recent Surge

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On May 10, the Red Sox dropped their fifth straight game to fall to 10-19 on the season, putting them in last place in the AL East. Since then, they’ve gone 33-14, which is better than every team except the Yankees. A 20-6 month of June vaulted Boston into second place in the AL East, though they still trail the Bronx Bombers by 13 games. However, the Red Sox dropped two of three in Toronto to close out the month, including a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday night with the Jays scoring two runs in the bottom of the night for a walk-off. While Boston’s starting rotation boasts the sixth-best ERA in MLB at 3.55, the Red Sox bullpen ranks just 14th with a 3.74 ERA and has 16 blown saves (against just 17 saves). In a competitive AL East, the Red Sox need to look for solutions as their bullpen continues to produce middling results.

Possible Solutions

Address the Tanner Houck Situation

Tanner Houck has been one of Boston’s best relievers and appears to have won the closer role from Alex Cora. In 18 appearances (30 2/3 innings) as a reliever, Houck has a 2.93 ERA and a 1.141 WHIP with 34 strikeouts (10.0 K/9) while converting all six of his save opportunities. However, Houck wasn’t available during the team’s series in Toronto because he hasn’t gotten the Covid-19 vaccine. As the Red Sox bullpen struggled to close out games this week and still has three more regular-season games north of the border, Houck’s absence could continue to hurt the team, especially if they match up with the Jays in the postseason. Cora recently voiced his confidence that Houck will be vaccinated by the time his team returns to Toronto, but that doesn’t ensure that anything will change between now and then.

Make John Schreiber the Alternative Closer Option

After kicking around the minor leagues for most of his professional career, John Schreiber has found his stride in 2022. The 28-year-old sidearmer has pitched to a sparkling 0.73 ERA/2.03 FIP and a 0.689 WHIP with 29 strikeouts against just five walks in 24.2 innings. Schreiber has allowed just one homer this year and has allowed just five hits combined against his slider and four-seam fastball. His slider has registered an impressive 44.1-percent whiff rate and his opponents have an average launch angle of just 5.8 degrees. Schreiber has two saves on the year, and he’s proven that he deserves to rank highly in the team’s circle of trust. On days where Houck is unavailable, Schreiber certainly should be the man closing games.

Make a Trade

Almost every contender looks for more pitching depth at the trade deadline, and there is rarely a shortage of available arms. As for who the Red Sox could target, Tanner Rainey, David Robertson, Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto, Scott Barlow, and Daniel Bard are all having strong seasons on non-contending teams. None of these pitchers will likely cost Boston any of their top prospects, especially with Bard, Robertson, and Fulmer set to hit free agency this offseason. Boston could seek to get both Soto and Fulmer in a trade with Detroit, and they could also try to package Rainey in a deal with Josh Bell since the team also has a need at first base.

Prediction: Bard Returns to Boston

Given that Bard was a member of the Red Sox organization for eight years and had some success in 2009 and 2010, he could be the fix the Red Sox bullpen has been looking for. Bard is throwing harder than ever, averaging just under 98 MPH on his fastball, and has a 2.12 ERA despite pitching half of his home games in Coors Field. In return, the Red Sox can give up right-handed pitcher Frank German (the organization’s 29th-ranked prospect according to MLB.com) and outfielder Tyler McDonough (#17).

main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.