BOSTON — There are three points to consider when looking at the Red Sox bullpen: how good it has been, whether it should continue to be this good, and whether it’s built to compete in the playoffs.
So far, they’ve been great, with a 3.04 ERA, the second best mark in the American League and the third best in the majors. But Sox manager John Farrell prefers rather delineated roles, and the eighth inning hasn’t exactly been a job held wire-to-wire.
Whether Joe Kelly can hold up and go back-to-back in the second half; whether Robby Scott can find his way after scuffling lately; whether Matt Barnes can settle his control; all of this adds up to some questions, even for Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s father.
“We were sitting there on Monday,” Dombrowski said. “My parents are in town. So, they're sitting there and my dad's a big baseball fan, he follows us. And he said, 'Gosh, it looks like you really need a setup guy, right?' And I said, 'I'm not sure why we need a setup man.' I said, 'Dad, Joe Kelly hasn't given up a run in 2 1/2 months. It's the first run he's given up in 2 1/2 months, and now all of a sudden, we need a setup guy.'
“Can you get better? Yes. I don't think it's a glaring need for us. I think we'll keep an open mind again. For example, I don't think we're going to get starting pitching. I think our starting pitching is set. There's a couple of other places that you could be open-minded to, but I don't feel it's a glaring need in the sense that we do have, I think it's the second-best bullpen in the American League. Kelly's thrown well, Barnes has thrown well. We need a little more consistency from him. And [Heath] Hembree’s done a good job. Again, I think it's an area to keep an open mind to.”
The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals of recent years have shown how power bullpen arms can swing the pendulum in short series. The Sox aren’t lacking in velocity, but, in a way that’s similar to their third base, they do lack guys with long track records — Craig Kimbrel aside.
Still, Dombrowski has a point. To say the second-best bullpen in the American League has a glaring need would be hyperbole.
Carson Smith’s supposed to get on a mound soon, but it’s hard to put much stock in him as he comes back from a shoulder injury suffered rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.