By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After making three trades in the month leading up to Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline, Dave Dombrowski was all done making moves.
The Red Sox let the MLB’s 4 p.m. trade deadline come and go Tuesday without adding another arm to their bullpen, meaning they’ll rely on their current crop of relievers for the rest of the regular season, and more importantly, the playoffs. That should cause a spike in Pepto Bismal sales around Boston come October.
“We improved our club in a lot of other different directions,” Dombrowski told reporters Tuesday after the deadline. “We felt the other areas were more significant for us.”
With nearly 20 relievers moving to contenders since the All-Star break (including all American League teams currently chasing Boston), it’s a major disappointing that Dombrowski couldn’t improve what could be the Red Sox’ one major flaw this season. Throughout his lengthy career as a baseball executive, it’s been Dombrowski’s bullpens that have done his teams in once the calendar turns to October, especially during his time with the Detroit Tigers. He is once again taking a huge gamble with this current bullpen.
“We think, realistically, our bullpen is pretty good,” said Dombrowski. “The improvements can come from within.”
A strong bullpen shortens games in October. The Red Sox have a talented bullpen on paper, but they are anything but strong. And it will be hard to feel confident in any of them when the pressure ramps up in the fall.
At the moment, Matt Barnes is Boston’s setup man in front of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. He’s pitched well for much of the season and especially as of late, allowing just six runs in his last 23 innings pitched while holding opposing batters to a .182 average. In that span, he’s K’d 39 batters.
While he’s on an impressive run at the moment, picturing Barnes in a high leverage situation against the Yankees, Astros and Indians in the playoffs arrive is uncomfortable. On that front, he is not alone in the Boston bullpen.
Joe Kelly was the setup man to start the season, but has struggled mightily since June 1 and lost that role to Barnes. Over the last two months, Kelly owns an 8.83 ERA with opponents hitting .278 off him.
There’s hope that Tyler Thornburg is rounding into form after battling a shoulder injury over the last year-and-a-half., and in his last five appearances, the righty has allowed just one baserunner while striking our five. Fellow righties Heath Hembree and Ryan Brasier are also in the pen, but neither strike fear into opposing hitters despite their success this season.
And you may have noticed that all of those pitchers are righties. The Red Sox don’t have any southpaws in the current mix, unless starter Brian Johnson — or even David Price — can give them some important outs out of the pen. Lefties Zach Britton (Yankees) and Zach Duke (Mariners) both moved ahead of the deadline, but the Red Sox were apparently not interested in either.
Dombrowski deserves some credit for the moves he pulled off prior to Tuesday. He got utility outfielder Steve Pearce from Toronto to give Boston a reliable right-handed bat off the bench, righty Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays for some more depth in the starting rotation, and veteran Ian Kinsler as a healthy body at second base. Eovaldi may find himself in the bullpen when the playoffs arrive, which could be the bullpen boost the team needs. Dombrowski made all of those moves without giving up much out of the minor league system.
But he did not address Boston’s biggest need for a reliable eighth-inning guy at the deadline, someone who can get those three (or more) important outs leading up to Kimbrel. It’s a monster risk that may come back to haunt Dombrowski, and ruin the Red Sox’ chances at a World Series title.