Patrick McDermott/USA Today Sports

Red Sox 1, Orioles 0: Have Red Sox found American League's best bullpen?

Rob Bradford
September 20, 2017 - 12:09 am

BALTIMORE -- Dave Dombrowski has taken some hits when it comes to building bullpens over the years. But now, credit has to go where credit is due.

The way things are going, this Red Sox team might be carrying the best group of relievers of any American League postseason participant.

It's an easy narrative right now considering it was Carson Smith, Addison Reed, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes who combined to carry the Red Sox to yet another extra-inning win, this time beating the Orioles, 1-0, Tuesday night at Camden Yards. But it's more than just the latest and the greatest. The way things are trending, the pieces could be coming together like Dombrowski could have only dreamed of heading into 2017. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' win, click here.)

Drew Pomeranz pitched well (6 1/3 innings, no runs), and Andrew Benintendi (throwing out Manny Machado at home) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (robbed Chris Davis of a home run) certainly could stake claim to doing their part in keeping the Red Sox three games upon the Yankees. But when you come away without a single RBI and still manage to improve to 15-3 in extra-innings, the night's ultimate weapon shouldn't be hard to identify.

It has become the bullpen.

"It’s extremely impressive," said Red Sox manager John Farrell of his bullpen. "And when you think about so many innings with their back against the wall, they’ve executed. They’ve been able to, to a man, hand it off to the next guy, continue to build a bridge until we were able to scratch out a run. Tonight, not even with an RBI, we find a way to push a run across. There were two key plays inside of this one that preserved it: Jackie going over the wall to bring back a home run, and Benny throws a strike from left field to cut down Machado. It then goes back to what our bullpen has done for, really, the better part of the entire season. It’s certainly a strength of this team, and then when you get Carson Smith back to the group, that was really another good outing for him tonight, the first time back to back in a couple of years. Things by that group have been tremendous."

Since the beginning of this month, the Red Sox relievers have thrown the fourth-most innings of any team in baseball. But while they have done that, the results haven't suffered, with the bullpen's ERA standing at 1.28 for September.

And it seems to be trending upwards at just the right time.

The importance of Smith coming in for his first back-to-back outing since Sept. 26-27, 2015 and wipe out Austin Hays and Caleb Joseph with two straight strikeouts -- punctuated by wicked sliders -- can't be understated.

"It's been a long time," said the righty of his consecutve days of work. "It was good to get back out there. Honestly we didn't have a lot of conversation about it. I talked to the trainers and a couple of staff members. For the most part I think I was perceieved as down depending on the game. But as I was walking out Skip [Farrell] asked me if I was available, and I said, 'Yeah, I'm available.' I felt a few affects from last night, just like any pitcher would. But I think that's something I've learned to battle through my whole career. Coming off surgery, it's nothing new. It may be something I haven't done in a while, but it's something I'm used to doing."

Then there is the momentum being gained by the likes of Joe Kelly, who still hasn't given up a run this season when appearing in extra-inning games after striking out the side in the 10th.

Addison Reed has all of a sudden become the dominant eighth inning guy the Red Sox signed up for, while Craig Kimbrel has shown no signs of not being Craig Kimbrel.

And just to top things off, Matt Barnes was the one who closed out the one-run win with his second impressive inning in as many nights against the Orioles.

Throw the David Price we saw Sunday afternoon in to the equation, then you've got something next-level. You've got what Houston, Cleveland and New York all thought was theirs' alone.

Make no mistake about it, these teams the Red Sox could face in the playoffs are also living their lives with the comfort of pretty good bullpens. In September, the batting average against the relieving corps for the Yankees (.199) and Indians (.222) have been good. The Astros? Not so much (.290 batting average against, 7.09 ERA).

But none of the postseason roadblocks have matched the Red Sox' relievers this month, with John Farrell's bullpen now carrying a .183 batting average against despite pitching 19 more innings than New York and 25 more than Cleveland. And they seem to only be getting better.

At least that's sure how it looked Tuesday night.

The Red Sox' Magic Number to clinch a postseason berth is down to two. They can earn a spot in the playoffs as early as late Wednesday nigh with a win over the Orioles and a loss by the Angels to the Indians.

 

Matt Barnes Player of the Game Interview 09-19-17

Joe & Tim talk with Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes who got the win in last night's game and he gets the save in tonight's as the Red Sox beat the Orioles in back-to-back 11 inning games.

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