EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 9, 2013

Many positives, one negative from Red Sox' weekend

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — I wrote a column July 25 about how there was no doubt in mind the Tampa Bay Rays would win the American League East.

Boy, I was wrong. Yes, I admit it. I underestimated the talent of the Boston Red Sox.

Since spring training, I have believed in the grit and character of this Red Sox team. In my Red Sox season preview, I encouraged fans to give the 2013 club a chance because I realized it was comprised of a likable group of hardworking, blue-collar ballplayers. I told you all back then Boston would hang in the playoff race late into the season.

As this summer progressed, I began to believe more and more in Boston’s ability to make the postseason by way of the Wild Card. But there was something in the the back of mind telling me this team didn’t have the talent to win the AL East. I just felt the Rays were more talented in the starting pitching department and that would inevitably win out.

The Red Sox just had a tremendous weekend in the Bronx, beating the Yankees three out of four games. The only hiccup was yesterday’s 4-3 loss, which came when Ichiro Suzuki scored on a Brandon Workman wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth for a Yankees walkoff win right after Will Middlebrooks tied it 3-3 with a solo homer off the great Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees were on a roll entering this series, winners of 12 of their past 17 games.

But Boston showed them who was boss ... and the Sox continue to show the baseball world that they are true World Series contenders.

“We’re just playing good ball all the way around,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia told The Eagle-Tribune on the past homestand. “It’s not just here. It’s on the road. It’s tough to go on the road and play and I think we’ve done pretty well at that.”

The Red Sox did that very, very well in New York. Yet the weekend also showed one definite weakness of this club — the bullpen.

Matt Thornton surrendered two earned runs while recording only one out Thursday in Boston’s 9-8 win over New York. Meanwhile, Junichi Tazawa also surrendered two earned runs that night while getting just two outs.

Thornton then surrendered two hits against just the three batters he faced Saturday before Drake Britton gave up two earned runs on two hits and one walk over 1.1 innings. Next up was Tazawa who pitched a scoreless frame but was remover after surrendering a walk with one out in the ninth.

All that was rather ugly.

Also, Brandon Workman, who Baseball America rated as having the best control in the Red Sox minor league system entering this year, pitched extremely well Friday. But he hasn’t looked as comfortable relieving as he did starting. More evidence of that came yesterday with his walkoff wild pitch.

Workman has just four walks in 18.1 innings as a starter and nine walks 19.0 innings of relief with Boston.

Of all the relievers, Thornton looks like the scariest right now. He has done nothing lately to prove to manager John Farrell he can be trusted in a close, late-game situations. He is giving up too many hits and hasn’t had good control either.

Yes, the Red Sox won three of four games against a hot rival on the road. They have a 7.5-game lead over Tampa Bay, a 9.5-game lead over Baltimore and a 10-game lead over the Yankees with 17 games to play. These Sox have way too much character and grit to surrender that large of a divisional lead this late in the season.

Boston only needs to go 10-7 the rest of the way to end the regular season with 97 wins. That’s insane and Boston deserves a huge amount of credit.

But before the playoffs start, the Red Sox need to find that one additional late-inning reliable reliever. Maybe that someone is Workman. Maybe it’s Tazawa. Maybe it will be Allen Webster who just was recalled yesterday.

Somebody needs to step up. Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara can’t do it alone late in games.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB