Oh, hello again. I remember you from back in 2018. You drove me out of my damn skull then, and I’m even more pissed off to see you now. You gave me nothing but trauma and sorrow for that entire year. Until, thank Christ, Alex Cora figured out how to hold you back just long enough to not screw up our World Series aspirations.
I’m talking, of course, to you, Mr. 8th inning.
Amazingly, a bunch of average white bums that all threw 95 mph heat and a curve ball were not a good enough middle relief core to bring home the World Series in 2018. So, Alex Cora made the revolutionary move to just tell all those plain Jane losers to pound sand and use his starters from two games ago as his set up guys for each game. That 2018 team might have won 120 regular season games if they had one single reliable guy in that bullpen other than Craig Kimbrel. But this was the Dave Dombrowski era. He shopped for his players like Peg Bundy with a stolen credit card, buying only the flashiest, most expensive crap in the front window of the best shops in town. Dave knew as much about “stuff” and “mental toughness” as I know about nuclear fusion. Therefore, the best Red Sox in-game manager of all time had to clean up his mess and make everyone happy.
I don’t think this year’s bullpen is that one-dimensional. Barnes seems to have really worked on his control and has improved by leaps and bounds the last three years. However, he’s the closer now. So we need someone else to do the job that Barnes never really figured out how to do well back when he was intended to be the set up guy. Garrett Whitlock, though a rookie, has something no Boston middle reliever had in 2018 … a third pitch. He’s been lights out so far, but he’s a rookie with injury concerns and an innings restriction.
Thus far, I believe the Red Sox are pinning their 8th inning hopes on another Yankee castoff. But as of tonight, I’m putting Adam Ottavino officially on notice. I don’t trust you, Adam, and lately you’re doing the worst thing a middle reliever can do. You’re walking too many people. You were a choker in New York last year, and if we see more of the same in Boston this year, I hope Chaim Bloom has the good sense to dispose of you quickly.
Josh Taylor deserves even less rope. Don’t get me wrong, he’s always been a great TV dad.
But I’ve never been impressed with Josh on the hill, and if he weren’t lefthanded I doubt he’d have ever made the roster. Last night against Toronto was the last straw for me. As a reliever taking the hill in the 8th inning, not being able to find the plate is the cardinal sin. At least make the guys work to get on base. Don’t let them just stand there with the bat on their shoulder and Bellhorn their way to first. If you get knocked around a bit, that sucks. But I have no respect whatsoever for a guy that can’t at least put the ball over the plate and let his fielders try to do the job that he can’t do himself.
Darwinson Hernandez is a different case. He’s 24-years-old and has electric stuff. But he’s got no command of the strike zone and he’s really green. He can’t be trusted late in a close game.
Matt Andriese is off to a good start and can throw three or four pitches. But it’s mostly about the gas when you’re pitching in the late innings, and he can’t even hit mid-90s with his fastball. I’m afraid he may be getting by with smoke and mirrors for now.
Hirokazu Sawamura would probably be my pick to give the ball to in the 8th, and it’s not for the racist reason you may think. I do understand that being a Japanese relief pitcher does not automatically make you Hideki Okajima or Koji Uehara (although they are certainly two of my three favorite Red Sox relievers of all time). The reason I like Sawamura is because I think an upper-nineties fastball mixed with a good splitter is the best possible pitch combination for a reliever in the late innings. It is virtually impossible to hit a good splitter, and forcing a hitter to guess between elite heat and a pitch that drops dead just before it gets to the plate seriously messes with his head. Splitter guys get tons of groundouts and strikeouts, and the good ones very rarely give up home runs.
Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree … they all threw nothing but 95 mph fastballs and a curveball (though Kelly could get his heater to 98-99 at times, and pulled a Pedro-esque changeup out of his rectal cavity for the ’18 playoffs). Everyone in that 2018 crew went through really long, bad stretches of walking way too many people. I’m done with the 8th inning walks. I’ve seen enough to last me 50 lifetimes. If you’re gonna lose, lose to the hitter. Don’t beat yourself.
Let’s hope Sawamura becomes the official setup guy moving forward. JD, Bogaerts, and Devers aren’t gonna mash every night, and the Red Sox don’t have a juggernaut lineup 1-9. On top of that, none of their starting pitchers are guys that will dominate all season long. Their bullpen is gonna have to be sharper and cleaner than that of the Yankees, White Sox, Astros, Rays, and Blue Jays if they’re gonna contend this year.
Luckily, I’m confident that Chaim Bloom isn’t the type of GM that will force Cora to reinvent the wheel in order to get things in order. Bloom is creative and not afraid to shake things up. He’s basically the anti-Dombrowski. I think the solution to the 8th inning is actually in-house this year. Let’s hope all the pieces fall into place.