The Red Sox bullpen has been pretty mediocre lately, and many fans aren't too happy.
For fans, most of that frustration falls on Dave Dombrowski for not doing enough to improve it in the offseason. Failing to re-sign Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly was one thing—countering that with only adding Colten Brewer to that pen is another.
In fact, Brewer really was the lone pick-up by the team in the offseason. Everyone returned with the exception of Kelly, Kimbrel, and Ian Kinsler. It was the same group, without a few guys, basically. Then there's Brewer. And to put it mildly, he hasn't been great this season.
In 21 appearances across 23 innings, Brewer is 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. He was briefly sent down after recording seven scoreless outs in relief against the Astros on Sunday, but is back on the 25-man roster after a string of roster moves this past week, which included Hector Velazquez (10 earned run in 15 innings as a reliever) hitting the injured list.
But although Brewer has struggled, others haven't. Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, and Marcus Walden, in 69 games, have combined for a 2.11 ERA across 76 1/3 innings. For the most part, they've been pretty reliable, save for a few times out between them.
Then you have Ryan Brasier, who had a 1.42 ERA through April, but an 8.00 mark in May has seen it jump to 3.97 on the season. His most recent outing was probably the worst of the season for a Red Sox reliever, coming on Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway. It was the easiest of save opportunities—up by three runs and needing three outs. Not to mention, he was facing the seven-eight-nine hitters. And in the blink of an eye, the game was tied after those three hitters—the last of which was Greg Allen, who tied the game at five with a two-run blast—crossed the plate. (Allen was hitting under .100 with no home runs on the season entering the game; Allen followed it up with two triples the next night.)
Just pitiful. One of the most worst performances you'll see by a Major League pitcher, quite honestly, given the situation. I heard somewhere that the Red Sox had a 99.6% chance of winning entering the top of the ninth. I believe it.
Brasier is a guy the Red Sox are supposed to trust. And they have, as he's their main closer, leading the team with six saves and nine save opportunities (one of those blown saves coming in the seventh inning, the other two came in ninth). He flat-out sucked on Tuesday, no way around it. But he's not going anywhere right now. His ERA before that outing against Cleveland was 2.78. Really, a few bad games have kind of inflated his ERA on the year. You just have to hope he figures it out, and how long he'll have to do so. After all, this is just his second full season in the majors, and he's approaching 32. Despite his success last year, can he follow it up by turning his season around? He'll need to, or else the Red Sox will have some serious decisions to make. Maybe it'll be time to give someone else the closer's role?
Heath Hembree is another regular in the pen. Right now, he's second on the club with 26 appearances. He started the season slow, posting a 5.56 ERA in his first 11 games, although he's lowered that to 2.88 in his last 15 appearances (since April 25). Currently, he has a 0.78 ERA in May, as this month also saw him record his first career save (Workman did as well).
So it's been those five guys—Barnes, Brasier, Hembree, Walden, and Workman—who've been the most effective as a whole, combining so far for a 2.61 ERA, which is 32 points better than the current Major League leader (Houston). The rest, though? a 6.32 mark, currently, between twelve others (one of them being Eduardo Nunez, who allowed an earned run in one inning in his lone appearance).
Travis Lakins is one of those other guys. He came up in April to make his Major League debut, and was recently called up again. He relieved Brasier in his disastrous outing against the Indians, coming on in a 5-5 tie with no outs in the ninth (should've been Hembree), only to take the loss, allowing two runs on a hit and three walks in his lone inning of work. Lakins has since been sent back down in favor of left-hander Josh Taylor, who just made his Major League debut on Wednesday. He's the only lefty currently in the pen, although Brian Johnson (a 12.71 ERA in 5 2/3 innings) is getting closer to returning. Neat I suppose. Then of course, prospect Darwinzon Hernandez is another option, as he's been used in one Major League game this season (I assume the team is being extra careful with him).
Tyler Thornburg is another. He's currently on the injured list, not having pitched since May 21. He's been complete garbage on the season with a 7.71 ERA in 16 games. He was really just the mop-up guy, never being used in any high-stress situations. I really wish the Sox would just move on from him already.
Throw in Ryan Weber. He made three relief outings from May 6-18 (one earned run in eight innings), and has made two starts since. Six innings of one-run ball at Toronto, and then a total stinker against the Indians on Wednesday, seven earned runs in four innings for the loss. Once the rotation is fully healthy, I wouldn't be surprised if he remains on the team for a relief role.
So, do the Red Sox need another reliever? It's a nice idea. You can never have too many relievers. The question is whether or not they're good. Right now, though, it's important for the rotation to be fully healthy. Nate Eovaldi looks like he's another couple weeks away, not having pitched since April 17; and once he returns, the Sox will have their top-five starters healthy together again. On paper, it's one of the best rotations in the game, you'd think. With that rotation, and the lineup the Red Sox have when it's fully clicking, maybe five solid, durable relievers (with others in the mix, of course) is all it takes to get you through the regular season and to the playoffs, which would be another story, of course, in terms of managing the pitching.
Right now, the Red Sox are 7.5 games behind the Yankees in the division, but are tied for the second Wild Card spot with the Rays. It's still very early, and the Sox are still in a position to make the playoffs. Maybe not thanks to a division win, but big whoop. A playoff birth is a playoff birth. A lot can happen over the next four months. And let's see that rotation get healthy first. Once it does, I think it'll make life easier for everyone. Eovaldi will provide more innings and that will make it easier for Cora to manage the pen. Barnes, Brasier, Hembree, Walden, and Workman is a solid top-five. Very durable, capable righties out of the pen. And Taylor, let's see what he can do for the time-being. I like how he's a lefty. The Sox's pen needs those.
To sum it up, I think it's too early to tell if the Red Sox need another reliever, but I'm leaning towards yes. The top-five is nice, but who do you have after that? Brewer? Thornburg? Velazquez? Weber? You just want to see how this team performs approaching the All-Star break, with the trade deadline being just around the corner after that. An established, proven guy would be nice, though. That would be six top relievers, in addition to the five-man rotation. That's a total of 11 pitchers, which is how many the Red Sox used in last year's playoffs.
I think the Red Sox have enough starting pitching and offense for now to get by. I think it'll be a good month of June. Let's see how the season progresses. Will they add a bullpen arm? A notable one? I say, at some point, they will. I think there's a lot of pressure on Dombrowski to do that, this time around.