By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A few weeks back, when things weren’t completely off the rails for the Boston Red Sox, we posed the simple question: Do the Red Sox miss Craig Kimbrel?
The answer was a matter of debate, sure, but generally speaking, the Red Sox were clearly lacking a reliable closer to finish off much-needed victories. To say that problem has gotten worse since then would be putting it lightly.
The most recent case came Monday night at Fenway Park, following a sterling start by Chris Sale. The left-hander allowed just one unearned run over seven innings of work while striking out 10 Rangers and walking just one. A clean eighth inning from Brandon Workman had the Red Sox in position to walk away with a 2-1 victory.
But Matt Barnes entered for the ninth, and disaster soon followed. After being gifted a first out on a bad bunt by Delino Deshields Jr., Barnes surrendered three straight hits — a single, a double, and another single over a drawn-in infield. That last hit — which came after Barnes hung a breaking ball on a 3-1 count with first base open — scored two runs, allowing the Rangers to grab a 3-2 lead.
Brock Holt delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, before getting thrown out at home by a comical distance to send the game to extra innings.
And though Heath Hembree navigated the end of the ninth and the 10th innings for Boston, Ryan Brasier couldn’t do the same in the 11th. Brasier very promptly gave the lead back to the Rangers, as Danny Santana led off the 11th with a double and Elvis Andrus lined a 2-0 fastball into center field to plate what proved to be the winning run.
The Red Sox were retired in order in the bottom of the 11th, and with the loss, they dropped to 34-33 on the season. They now trail the Rays by 8 games and the Yankees by 7.5 games in the AL East, and they’re two games out of a wild card spot.
The Red Sox have now blown 10 saves through 77 games. That’s not particularly far off the pace of recent years — last year, the team blew 20 saves over 162 games, after blowing 18 saves in both 2017 and 2016. But in those seasons, Craig Kimbrel was there to actually convert the saves. This year, that’s just not happening.
The Red Sox have converted just 58.33 percent of their save opportunities this year. That’s better than only Seattle, Oakland and Kansas City — teams with a combined record of 81-120.
In the three seasons with Kimbrel, the Red Sox converted 70.49 percent, 68.42 percent, and 69.70 percent of their save opportunities. Kimbrel himself converted 108 saves (plus a pair of holds) while blowing just 11.
Boston’s bullpen ERA is now at 4.12. Barnes is tied for the AL lead with four blown saves. Brasier is tied for fourth with three, while Hembree, Workman and Marcus Walden each have a blown save to their names.
The plan entering the season was a committee of sorts. It’s not working. And after kicking away another victory on Monday night, the Red Sox are in danger of falling so far out of contention that a midsummer bullpen addition may be too late to salvage a season. In a year where so much of what went right a year prior cannot be replicated, the one major roster change — that is, the choice to enter the season without a clear closer — certainly ranks among the biggest reasons why.