By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox scored five times in the 10th inning to escape with a 10-7 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
That’s a pretty good way to start a nine-game road trip, but even in victory, concerns about the Boston bullpen continue to boil over.
We’re used to seeing Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes allow runs, as they both did Tuesday night. The duo is wildly inconsistent and have been playing musical chairs all season as Craig Kimbrel’s setup man. But when Kimbrel himself is allowing runs, as he’s done at an alarming rate over the last few weeks, it’s easy to fret about the Red Sox’ bullpen as a whole.
Kimbrel let a 5-4 Boston lead slip away in the ninth inning, serving up a game-tying homer to Justin Smoak to force extras. Kimbrel struck out the side in the inning, and actually picked up the win when the Sox mashed a pair of homers of their own (a three-run blast by Mitch Moreland and a two-run dinger by Jackie Bradley Jr.) in the top of the 10th.
The fireballer remains one of the best closers in the game, and this stretch could just be a small smudge on the lens of an otherwise stellar season. Blowing saves has become a bit of a trend for Kimbrel as of late, as he’s allowed runs in four of his last five trips to the mound, blowing two of his four save opportunities since July 23. In that span, Kimbrel is sporting an 8.44 ERA with opposing hitters batting .300 against him.
Smoak’s homer came on a 3-0 fastball, and Kimbrel threw only 12 of his 22 pitches for strikes. He said his command has been the biggest issue during this difficult stretch.
“I think it’s been command of everything. You can throw strikes but it depends on where you’re throwing them,” Kimbrel told reporters after Boston’s win. “You can have command in the zone or out of the zone. You kind of float through those as the year goes on. The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with some things and working through them. Fastball was a little better tonight and breaking ball was sharp at times. It’s frustrating, but happy we won the game today.”
Add Kimbrel’s 6.92 ERA against current AL playoff teams this season, and yeah, there is reason for some concern. But that shouldn’t mean Red Sox fans should lose complete faith in their seven-time All-Star closer. These stretches happen to the best of them and, like just about every closer, Kimbrel is not infallible to the occasional blown save. Thanks to Boston’s ridiculous offense this season, the Red Sox are 7-3 in games that Kimbrel allows a run.
Kimbrel has seven weeks to work out these command problems before the games really start to matter, and there’s a good chance he’ll iron out any issues before then. If these troubles continue into mid-September, then there’s real reason to hit the panic button. But given Kimbrel’s track record, the ninth inning should be in good hands come October.