Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy,

Dave Dombrowski had a choice to make ahead of the July trading deadline: he could either invest in his bullpen or he could leave it be and hope for the best.

He chose the latter, and he chose poorly.

Dombrowski willfully, deliberately, and consciously made the decision to not improve the most glaring flaw on his team, a move that looks worse with each passing day. As a result, we are now faced with the increasing likelihood that this bullpen will sink the Red Sox in the end.

Dombrowski will be the only person culpable if that happens. Failing to improve this bullpen was negligent. It was baseball malpractice.

It’s time to hold him accountable.

Make no mistake about it: this last series against the Astros was a playoff preview. It was a test, and the Red Sox bullpen failed the test spectacularly.

But we didn’t expect them to pass that test, did we? The only person who thought they could make the grade was Dombrowski, who has a lengthy track record of failing to build bullpens on otherwise excellent ballclubs.

Friday night was a disaster. 30-year-old rookie Ryan Brasier, who has been the best setup man on the team for the last two months or so, got his first taste of what a real Major League high-leverage situation is like.

It didn’t go well. Two inherited runners scored, another was charged to Braiser, and David Price’s 10-strikeout performance was ruined.

Sep 7, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Ryan Brasier pitches during the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Dombrowski insinuated on July 31 that he couldn’t acquire anybody better than Brasier, who was pitching for some team called the Hiroshima Carp in Japan last year and didn’t even have a job in February.

Joe Kelly was even worse on Friday, giving up three runs. I don’t want to write one more word about Kelly. What more needs to be said about a guy who throws 100 and can’t get anyone out? Send him to the Hiroshima Carp to take Braiser’s old spot for all I care.

Sunday was no better. Heath Hembree, who is apparently the inherited runners specialist, let every inherited runner he took on score. Brian Johnson was called on to get a lefty out. He failed too.

Since August 1, the Red Sox bullpen has allowed 61 runs in 33 games. They have allowed one run or more in 23 of those games.

Is anybody not named Dave Dombrowski surprised by the results?

The lack of reliable options has left manager Alex Cora scrambling for a solution, an unenviable task for even the most experienced of managers, let alone a first-year skipper.

For the Red Sox to succeed in October, somebody will need to catch lightning in a bottle and solidify the bullpen. The Astros were able to call upon their leftover starting pitchers, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, to save them last year when their bullpen fell apart at the worst time. The Red Sox might have to do the same, but it’s hard to feel as confident about the names available to Cora.

Who will be the savior of this group in October? Steven Wright? Nathan Eovaldi? A parade of Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez pitching in relief on their regularly scheduled side days in between starts?

If you’re looking for answers this late in the year, often times you will not find those answers.

What a shame it will be if the 2018 Red Sox meet the same fate as Dombrowski’s 2013 Tigers, a team that had the best starting pitching staff in baseball and a fearsome lineup anchored by baseball’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera.

That team, one of the best Dombrowski ever built, outclassed the Red Sox for much of the ALCS. But when the bullpen door opened, all hell broke loose.

It’s going to happen to Dombrowski again this year, isn’t it?

He never learns, does he?

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.