Boston fans might not believe this, but the Red Sox's bullpen actually hasn't been terrible.
Heading into Wednesday's game against the Chicago White Sox, the Red Sox ranked seventh in the majors in bullpen ERA, eighth in win probability added, first in strikeout rate and tied for fifth in lowest batting average allowed.
Of course, this is the wrong time to suggest that in this season of bad bullpens, the Red Sox's pen isn't so bad, given what happened in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday. After the Red Sox had scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 7-6 lead, Matt Barnes came on in a save situation. He gave up a leadoff single to Leury Garcia, but Garcia was caught stealing. Yolmer Sanchez then singled. Jose Abreu then battled for 10 pitches, fouling off five pitches with two strikes, and did this to a 96 mph fastball:
It doesn't get more clutch than this! pic.twitter.com/Eofg5D8VQL— #VoteMcCann (@whitesox) June 26, 2019
Now, about those numbers I just cited above. They are a little misleading in one important regard. The bullpen hasn't exactly been clutch late in games. The Red Sox have lost four games they led heading into the ninth inning, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for most in the majors, and only the Orioles have a worse winning percentage. Compare that to the team's record late in games in 2018:
When leading heading into the eighth
2018: 90-4 (.957)
2019: 35-7 (.833)
When leading heading into the ninth
2018: 97-1 (.990)
2019: 33-4 (.892)
Barnes has 61 strikeouts in 34⅓ innings, but he continues to struggle when pitching on back-to-back days. In 10 appearances with no days of rest, he has now given up 10 runs in 8⅔ innings for a 10.38 ERA. In all other appearances, he has a 2.10 ERA.
Barnes made only nine appearances last season with no rest, so he already has exceeded that figure. I trust the Red Sox know this, but that's the problem when you don't have the same kind of bullpen depth -- or, most significantly, Craig Kimbrel on hand to lock down the ninth inning.
So while Boston's middle relievers have actually done an excellent job of keeping the Red Sox in games -- Marcus Walden and Brandon Workman are a combined 13-1 with a 2.25 ERA -- the end of the game remains an issue. Indeed, manager Alex Cora has had to lean heavily on Walden and Workman as Walden ranks seventh in relief innings (and two of those ahead of him are "bulk" guys who follow openers) and Workman's 40 appearances are third most in the league.
Though Cora has been comfortable splitting up the closer duties, the Red Sox need to go out and get one guy for the job. Trade targets should include Will Smith of the San Francisco Giants, Shane Greene of the Detroit Tigers, Kirby Yates of the San Diego Padres, Ian Kennedy of the Kansas City Royals, and -- he'd be expensive given his contract -- Felipe Vazquez of the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Washington Nationals or New York Mets decide to sell, Sean Doolittle or Edwin Diaz could be available. It's time for Dave Dombrowski to make a bold move.
LOL Mets: Speaking of bad bullpens ... the Mets did it again. They blew a 4-0, sixth-inning lead and eventually lost 5-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies in 10 innings. Somebody named Stephen Nogosek picked up the loss, entering in the 10th and failing to retire a batter:
Wednesday: Led 4-0 in the sixth, lost 5-4
Tuesday: Led 5-2 in the sixth, lost 7-5
Monday: Led 2-0 in the first and 6-5 in the fifth, lost 13-7
Sunday: Led 3-1 in the fifth, lost 5-3
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last time the Mets blew multirun leads in four straight games was April 10-14, 2011, when they did it in five in a row. Since May 27, the Mets' bullpen has an 8.17 ERA and has given up 109 hits and 21 home runs in 79⅓ innings.
Manager Mickey Callaway will once again get a lot of heat, this time for pulling Jason Vargas in the seventh after only 77 pitches, even though Vargas had recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts. Even more bizarre, before the game Callaway said this to reporters:
Mickey also said: "We were so far back last year, and then we had the best record in the National League the second half. I'm not saying that's OK, but we worked. We continued to work. We'll always do that."— Matt Ehalt (@MattEhalt) June 26, 2019
As others pointed out, the Mets had the sixth-best record in the National League in the second half last season (but did tie for the best record in the NL East). Still, defending your 2019 team by referencing a 2018 team that finished 77-85 is a strange angle to take. Callaway's half-hearted apology after Sunday's locker-room incident with a reporter is one strike against him. His inability to get better work from the bullpen is now strike two. If things don't turn around soon -- like, the rest of this week -- strike three might be coming.
Mike Minor, All-Star starter? The Texas Rangers left-hander tossed his second complete game, beating the Tigers 4-1 on a smooth 108 pitches in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 19 minutes. He was even left in after the first two batters reached in the ninth, but he got a strikeout and a game-ending double play:
4-game winning streak! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/1V3tJzJ70l— #VoteRangers (@Rangers) June 27, 2019
How often do a see a starter face the tying run in the ninth inning these days? Minor improved to 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA, best in the AL and second in the majors behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. Entering the game, Baseball-Reference had Minor's WAR already at 5.1. That will be a little higher after this effort. He has a chance to post the best season in Rangers history, at least via WAR:
Fergie Jenkins, 1974: 7.7
Ken Hill, 1996: 6.6
Charlie Hough, 1985: 6.3
Jon Matlack, 1978: 6.2
Jim Kern, 1979: 6.1
And Jenkins needed 328 innings to compile his WAR. Minor also is in position to start the All-Star Game. He and Justin Verlander are probably the top candidates. Minor was in trade rumors in the offseason, after the Rangers had signed him as a free agent and turned him back into a starter following his comeback from Tommy John surgery. (He missed two full seasons before reemerging as a reliever with the Royals in 2017.) The Rangers resisted trading him and now that they're in the playoff chase, and with Minor signed through 2020, he's not going anywhere.
Mike Minor finishes off a complete-game victory and now has gone 8+ IP an MLB-high five times this season, including in three of his past four starts.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) June 27, 2019
There are five teams this season that do not have a single start of 8+ IP.
PLAY. OF. THE. YEAR👀👀👀 pic.twitter.com/Stgvuxa9od— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) June 26, 2019
Dyson had another key play leading off the bottom of the first against Tony Gonsolin, making his major league debut. For some reason, the Dodgers shifted against the speedy Dyson, who simply laid down a bunt for a leadoff single. Tim Locastro -- another burner -- beat out an infield single when Gonsolin was a step late covering first base, with Dyson dashing all the way to third. Joc Pederson then made an error and Eduardo Escobar bashed a three-run homer. It was 4-0, all set up by a silly shift.
Inside-the-park home run of the day: Ben Gamel rounded the bases in 14.89 seconds, the fastest trip around the bases this season. And he was even sprinting out of the box:
Alas, the Milwaukee Brewers lost 4-2 to the Seattle Mariners, their second straight loss to a bad AL team. Wade LeBlanc gave up two runs in five innings and Roenis Elias earned a six-out save. Good news for the Mariners: J.P. Crawford had three more hits and is up to .318/.387/.509 in 29 games. The strikeout rate is a little high for a guy without big power (25%), but he takes a few walks and has 11 doubles in 110 at-bats.
Oddly, his defense continues to be a bit of an issue, given that was his supposed strength. He has made seven errors after making eight errors in limited duty last year with the Phillies. Still, he's showing signs that getting him for Jean Segura could end up being a big long-term win for Seattle.
It will be interesting to see what the Mariners do with Dee Gordon. They would love to trade him and give Shed Long time at second base in the second half, but Gordon doesn't have much value with his .296 OBP, plus he's owed $13.8 million next season. The Mariners go for the road sweep on Thursday.