Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy,

The Red Sox have now played six playoff games and it’s safe to say their relievers have outperformed the expectations placed on them entering October.

Except for the most important pitcher in the bullpen.

Craig Kimbrel has done nothing to alleviate concerns about his reliability in big moments with his performance in the last two weeks. His October has been shaky at best, nearly disastrous at worst.

It’s hard to feel good about him at this point.

Kimbrel gave up another run Sunday night, and has now given up five runs in three postseason appearances. He’s struggled in every way possible: walking batters, hitting batters, giving up hits.

Even the outs have been loud. Both Alex Bregman and Gary Sanchez narrowly missed game-tying and game-winning home runs in Kimbrel’s last two outings.

Be still my heart.

There’s no way Kimbrel is trustworthy in a close game with the way he is pitching at the moment. He has become a major concern.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned setup group has been as good as anyone could have possibly hoped for.

Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier have been strong, especially after shaky outings in Game 1 of the ALDS. They have both bounced back with gusty performances in big spots, no bigger than the six outs they combined for at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.

Oct 14, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Matt Barnes (32) pitches against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning in game two of the 2018 ALCS playoff baseball series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Both Barnes and Brasier have not been charged with a run in October. Who saw that coming?

Barnes was excellent again in Game 2 against Houston, working his way out of an inherited jam. Brasier also pitched well, tossing a scoreless seventh.

Even Joe Kelly has pitched well. What’s going on here?

Somehow, someway, some of the members of the Wheel of Gutless Bums are starting to earn some trust. It couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with the way the closer is pitching.

It’s clear they are more deserving of trust than Kimbrel at this point.

Kimbrel’s command has left him, which should come as no surprise given his uneven performance this year. His walk rate shot up this year to 12.6 percent, way up from 5.5 percent last year.

His wildness nearly cost the Red Sox in the Bronx in Game 4. Somehow, a disaster was avoided, but it’s hard not to feel like this tightrope act will eventually catch up with Kimbrel in a big moment.

If you had asked Red Sox fans what their number one concern was entering October, the majority of them would have said the bullpen.

It turns out that may still be true. It just might not be the name we would’ve expected that is the cause for the most concern.

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.

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