Massarotti: John Farrell’s Eighth-Inning Russian Roulette Taking Its Toll

BOSTON (CBS) — I was surfing the web this morning and stumbled upon this nugget from Mark Simon at ESPN.com:

“My Stats & Info colleague Jason McCallum shared this note: Koji Uehara was injured on July 19 and has not pitched since then. Since July 20, the Red Sox bullpen has a 7.02 ERA in the eighth inning when the score is within two runs. That is easily the worst in baseball during that span. The major league average is just under 3.00.”

OK, so none of us are surprised by this. Still, it’s nice to put a number on what has become a black hole for the Red Sox as they enter September two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East and two games ahead of Baltimore for the final AL wild card spot.

So here’s the question: How much is John Farrell to blame for this?

Look, we get it: you don’t like Farrell. Based on a recent, extensive survey by Channel Media and Market Research, Farrell is inspiring little confidence among the Red Sox fandom. Veteran right-hander Brad Ziegler seems like the obvious choice to get the eighth inning for the Red Sox, which makes Farrell’s reluctance to use him there downright maddening. One can only wonder whether president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski agrees or disagrees, because you just never know what is going on behind the scenes in any organization.

Years ago, Red Sox ownership and management did not want Steve Avery to start late in the season because it would trigger an option in his contract. Then-manager Jimy Williams did it anyway – and kept his job.

So does Farrell deserve some blame? Sure. But it’s not as if anyone in the Boston bullpen has made his job any easier. Boston relievers have lost 23 games this season, fourth-most in the AL behind Minnesota (24), Tampa Bay (24) and, interestingly, Toronto (26). But the Jays bullpen has been better of late. Boston’s has been worse.

Purely for the sake of discussion, after Ziegler, whom would you trust in the eighth inning? Matt Barnes? Clay Buchholz? Fernando Abad or Junichi Tazawa? Farrell has tried them all – and all have failed. Farrell seems to be playing Russian roulette every time he opens the bullpen door, and one can’t help but wonder whether he is now traumatized by his own bullpen.

Can the Red Sox still recover in time to have a productive bullpen in the postseason, assuming they get there? Sure. Bullpens have come together in less time, most notably in 2003, when Sox relievers finally began to click in the American League Championship Series. The problem was that then-manager Grady Little was so shell-shocked by that point that he couldn’t think straight.

Maybe, as ESPN writer Simon suggests, Uehara is the answer. Maybe it is Joe Kelly, who will soon rejoin the team. Whatever the case, the Red Sox need to find a solution soon – and one that Farrell believes in – or run the risk of missing the playoffs altogether during a season in which they have emptied the bucket on personnel moves.

More from Tony Massarotti
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