The defending champion Red Sox sit last in the American League East at 10-13 and sixth from the bottom of the Major League standings overall. Needless to say, Boston’s been missing much of that 2013 magic.
Blame the injuries. Blame the leadoff position. Blame the lack of depth. Blame the virtually nonexistent success with runners in scoring position. Blame the defense. Blame the inconsistency of the starters.
But don’t blame the bullpen, even after its latest showing.
Sure, new additions Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica, who I remain very high on, have had their struggles. After Thursday’s implosion, you can add Craig Breslow to that mix. The three have combined to allow 22 runs (20 earned) and a whopping 39 hits in just 30 innings for a 6.00 ERA, but the rest of the pen has been lights out.
Closer Koji Uehara, setup man Junichi Tazawa, West Springfield native Chris Capuano, Andrew Miller, and Brandon Workman have surrendered a total of two runs in 46 innings. That’s good for a 0.39 ERA. Apparently Uehara's high-fives have transferable powers.
Overall, the Boston bullpen led the AL and ranked third in the game with a 2.17 ERA over 70 2/3 frames entering Thursday’s rubber game with New York (it’s now 2.69, aided by outfielder Mike Carp’s walk-happy mop-up duty). Opponents have hit only two home runs and had posted a .583 OPS, the latter ranking fourth among baseball’s 30 clubs. The pen does have three losses, but it’s blown just one of eight save opportunities, and it sat second with a 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio (behind Milwaukee’s 4.53).
While Uehara, despite his brief injury absence, has continued to live up to what were thought to be unrealistic expectations of perfection, Capuano has been the most pleasant surprise. The veteran has worked 13 innings, and he’s yet to allow a run while limiting opposing batters to eight hits and one walk. Dating back to his time with the Dodgers last season, he’s gone 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
Tazawa hasn’t had to face the Blue Jays and, in turn, has boasted 10 scoreless frames and a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, third on the team behind Uehara (14/1) and Capuano (11/1).
Miller, back from a foot injury that cost him much of 2013, has a 1.04 ERA over 10 appearances spanning 8 2/3 innings. Workman has a 1.42 ERA in limited big league time this season, though he hasn’t had quite the same success as a starter for the PawSox (0-0, 6.48 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over two starts).
Regarding the supposed problem children of the pen, Badenhop is 0-2 in his nine games with a 4.02 ERA, but four of the seven earned runs he’s been charged came in a 10-7 loss to the Rangers back on April 8. He’s also gone multiple innings without allowing a run three times, including a tremendous 3 2/3 innings, one-hit performance in a 7-6 loss to the Orioles on Patriots Day. Over Badenhop’s last five games, he’s allowed one run for a much improved 0.93 ERA. He’s also stranded all seven of his inherited runners this season.
As for Mujica, the former standout Cardinals closer, his worst and most costly outing came in the home-opener against the Brewers on April 4, when he gave up four runs (the most hed permitted in one game since 2010) in the ninth in an eventual 6-2 defeat. Beyond that, his appearances – even when he’s been touched up for a run – haven’t hurt the team much (his lone blown save still resulted in a win in Chicago).
Breslow, meanwhile, displayed a 1.80 ERA in four games before getting tagged for a five-run (four earned) inning by the Yankees, which ballooned his ERA to 7.50. Don’t stare too closely; it’s not all bad.
Only 23 contests into an arduous 162-game regular season, there’s a long way to go for the Red Sox – now 3.5 games back – to return to the top of the East or, at least, compete for a Wild Card spot. In time, some of the trouble areas will work themselves out.
Count on the bullpen to be one area Boston won’t have to worry about.
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