Boston Red Sox

Apr 22, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Darwinzon Hernandez (63) pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the tenth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

We warned you of this after the Texas series, so don’t act surprised. The Red Sox have a bullpen problem and Alex Cora knows it.

And their deficiencies are most striking against a team like the Oakland A’s, who now have the best record in the American League.

A few quick facts here:

After starting out the season 3-0 and 5-1, Sox relievers are 1-6 in their last seven decisions. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it should. Bullpen wins and losses are a critical statistic for any team, especially in an age when starting pitchers are asked to do less. Last year, Tampa Bay relievers were 25-11, a .694 winning percentage, and the Rays obviously went to the World Series. The A’s were 14-5, a .737 winning percentage and posted the fewest relief losses in all of baseball en route to yet another postseason appearance.

Get the picture? In the close games – especially against good competition – the bullpen makes all the difference. In two games so far in this series – wins by the scores of 3-2 and 4-1 – the Oakland bullpen has pitched six scoreless innings. When Eduardo Rodriguez cracked last night, the Oakland relievers sealed the deal. The night before, in a 1-1 game, Sox lefty Darwinzon Hernandez couldn’t have found the plate with a fork and knife and threw up on himself in an eventual 3-2 loss.

Apr 27, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes (32) celebrates with catcher Christian Vazquez (R) after defeating the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After the game, Cora admitted the Red Sox were “searching” for the formula to get the ball into the hands of closer Matt Barnes, which is a nice way of saying the Sox have a rather sizable hole in their bullpen.

As for the bullpen ERA and their overall numbers, they’re deceiving. To date, the two best strike throwers in the Red Sox bullpen have been Barnes and Garrett Whitlock, the latter of whom is being used selectively. Minus those two, Red Sox relievers are averaging almost five walks per nine innings with a WHIP of 1.50. That smells.

How the Red Sox address that – or don’t – may very well determine whether we are all still keeping an eye on this team in late August and September.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.