With the playoffs set to begin in less than a week, the Boston Red Sox have found themselves in an extremely fortunate position. Not only have they secured their first American League East crown since 2007, but they also hold the best record in the American league which has given them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Moreover, barring anything unforeseen, Boston will enter the American League Divisional Series with a completely healthy roster. For the most part, the Red Sox playoff roster fills itself out. After all, there isn’t much to question about an offense that leads the major leagues in runs scored, RBI, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Likewise, Boston’s starting rotation also give the Red Sox coaching staff little to question. While they aren’t the most dominant group of arms; Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey have made a formidable trio for the Red Sox to rely on in October. Even the Red Sox bullpen has it’s fair share of “no-brainers” when it comes to choosing the post season roster. Koji Uehara is obviously a lock to remain as Boston’s closer since he assumed the ninth inning role back in June and historically locked games down for the Red Sox. Craig Breslow has also become a fixture in the Sox pen, pitching over 50 innings and posting a sub 2.00 ERA. And while right handed pitcher Junichi Tazawa has struggled so far this September, tossing over 65 innings with a 1.18 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 5.92 on the season makes him invaluable to the Sox bullpen. As for other bullpen shoe-in’s, the Red Sox have converted two season long starters into relievers for their October run; Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront, both of whom aren’t strangers to the bullpen. The 16 year veteran, Ryan Dempster, holds a 4.06 ERA in 230 career bullpen innings and has held batters to a .246/.338/.348 slash. But while, most of Dempster’s relief numbers come prior to 2008, Dempster has had some recent exposure after Boston sent him to the bullpen in preparation for the playoffs. Likewise, Boston also sent the 26 year old, Felix Doubront to the bullpen in anticipation of October baseball. Although Doubront has no where near as much experience or success as Dempster does in the bullpen; his .249/.318/.393 career platoon split against left handed hitters suggest that he could be a valuable lefty specialist. Newer bullpen arms like the rookies Brandon Workman and Drake Britton have also proven a semblance of value through their short tenure in Boston. The 25 year old Workman has held batters to a .250/.282/.472 slash in 14 high leverage appearances. And while the left handed Drake Britton has had less major league exposure than Workman, he has shown an ability to retire batters by posting a 3.86 ERA over 21 innings. It’s obvious that the sample size for both major league newcomers isn’t all that large but based on the limited pool of middle relievers the Red Sox have to chose from to fill out their post season bullpen, it appears that one of the two will make it. However given the amount of left handers that Boston’s relief core touts, it appears that the Brandon Workman will get the roster spot. After digesting the group of 6 relievers highlighted above, it seems that Boston is down to one spot with two potential candidates.
It seemed like Matt Thornton was set to solidify the Red Sox bullpen when he was traded to Boston before the July 31st trade deadline. But since joining the Red Sox relievers, Thornton hasn’t lived up to Boston’s expectations. In 14 innings Thornton holds a 3.21 ERA while batters have touched him up for a .362/.406/.362 slash. However, over Thornton’s career he has shown the ability to be an effective left handed specialist holding batters to a sub .230 average in over 900 plate appearances. But his past career numbers seem to be the only thing that is keeping him in consideration for the final spot. To me, Red Sox left hander Franklin Morales is the front runner to land the final bullpen spot. While Morales has missed the bulk of the season with two separate upper body injuries the southpaw has posted a 2.13 ERA in 12 innings since his August return from the disabled list. Over that span of time, Morales has held batters to a .205/.327/.205 slash in 13 games. But perhaps the most impressive was Morales’ .189/.268/.189 platoon split against left handed batters. Moreover, Morales has a 6.00 K/BB and has yet to allow an extra base hit to a left handed hitter in 17 games. It’s funny when you think about it. When the Red Sox entered the 2013 campaign the bullpen seemed like the one certainty amid a slew of line up and rotation questions. But now it’s the offense and rotation that has become solidified while the bullpen has become a bit grainy. But a bullpen anchored by Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara, with lefty specialists Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales, and two solid middle innings relievers in Ryan Dempster and Brandon Workman will give John Farrell enough weapons to put up quite a fight in the postseason.