As the Red Sox look for a division title, their main weakness is not a mystery. Their bullpen struggles have come up far too often this season, costing the Red Sox games in the late innings. The biggest problem for the beleaguered bullpen has undoubtedly been getting the ball to Craig Kimbrel, as they have been terrible in the eighth inning.
All season long, John Farrell has had to wrestle with whom he can send to the mound in the eighth inning of a close game. Most of the guys he has tried there have had injuries or career-threatening implosions on the field. These eighth inning woes have certainly contributed to the Red Sox’s 3-50 record this season when trailing after eight.
It seems rather sensible to put Koji Uehara in that role. Uehara started the season there and obviously has some closing experience. After a torn pectoral muscle that has kept him out close to two months, it’s unclear just what you’ll get from the 41-year old though. Brad Ziegler finds himself in a similar scenario. As a guy who has closed a majority of his career, he seems like another good man for the eighth. However, his recent illness, as well as command issues, have certainly placed him out of that conversation. Junichi Tazawa has also been hurt this season, but that has not been his biggest issue. Since he came back from the DL in July, Tazawa’s ERA has been 6.75 and opponents are hitting .328 off him. His ineffectiveness has been so bad that he may not have a career after October.
The most recent guy thrown into that role has been Clay Buchholz. Buchholz was not bad in that role, but obviously now he can not be the guy. Since Steven Wright may be out for the season, Buchholz has been thrown back into the rotation and has flourished. It would be very smart for the Red Sox to keep him there and use this hot streak before he inevitably gets injured.
So Who Should Really Be The Eighth Inning Guy?
That leaves the most intriguing and most qualified candidate. While the trade for him now seems like a bust, Joe Kelly could be absolutely perfect to fill this void. Kelly’s stuff is tremendous; it always has been. However, he clearly does not have great baseball IQ and gets hit hard the second time around the order. Luckily, he should not face that problem anymore. Kelly has three potentially devastating pitches and he has clearly let himself loose out of the bullpen. His fastball touching 100 MPH on the radar gun and with good location, he can be unhittable. If he can locate those pitches consistently, the Red Sox could potentially throw two Craig Kimbrel’s at opponents in the eighth and ninth inning.
Joe Kelly may have finally found purpose on this team and could really live up to a role. Kelly has seems a few different scenarios out of the bullpen since his return to the club, but the eighth inning is the most sensible for him. Let’s face it, if the Red Sox can solve this problem, they will be a really dangerous team in September and into October. If Joe Kelly can electrify and baffle hitters like his stuff shows he can, watch out for the Red Sox.