No bullpen, not the worst in the majors, should blow a 9-0 lead. It is a sign of collective collapse to have so many pitchers, nearly every member of the bullpen, come into a game and fail. This is not a bad day, this is a virus running through a pen that didn't sound so bad a few weeks ago. Now that yesterday's game was rained out, which might be a blessing for the Red Sox, they have a chance to reboot.
The bullpen began to unravel when Andrew Bailey, the new All-Star closer acquired this winter from the A's, went down with an injury during spring training. His acquisition meant that Daneil Bard, who was lights-out as a setup man the past two seasons and seemed ideally suited to take over the closer role after Jonathan Papelbon left for Philadelphia, could attempt his long-desired switch to the starting rotation. Bard has been a fine #5 starter--despite being 0-2, he has pitched well--better than you could expect from a #5. If he could give you 180 innings or so of solid pitching over a season, he would have increased value for the Red Sox over a 60 inning reliever. But that is only if the bullpen can hold up their end.
Houston's ace closer of last season, Mark Melancon, has lost his groove--he has been completely inneffective this season, and was sent to AAA Pawtucket to regain his shattered confidence. He had a sub-3.00 ERA as a rock-solid closer for the Astros last season, so this is a mental hump for him to get over. Alfredo Aceves, like Bard, wanted to start, but was last season's best reliever out of the pen, doing spot starts, multi-inning relief work, and even closing. With Bailey out, rather than ask Melancon to switch mentalities from set-up man to closer, Aceves was given the role. Not a bad idea, as he seems to crave the cache of being either a starter or closer, but he has converted only 2 of 4 save chances already. They need him in long relief--he's the one who should have come in before the 9-0 lead was lost and sutured the wound. But he was unable to do so.
The Sox bullpen looks fragile while the rest of the team looks solid. Sure, they're off to a shaky start, but so is the rest of the AL East, aside from Baltimore, which surely cannot keep up their great play all season long (if they can, more power to them). The Sox are hitting a ton since the first week. Any starter who leaves the game leading 9-0 is entitled to feel that their win is safely in the bag, and to be furious if it is squandered. The bullpen managed to squander it.
With the acquisition of Marlon Byrd from the Cubs as a cheap stop-gap to all the injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury out for awhile, and the AAA center fielder, Jason Repko, injured himself on a play the other night, plus Carl Crawford slowly coming back from injury), the Sox should be covered for offense. Byrd has been awful this year (0.70 BA so far), but he's a solid major league player of many years' standing, and he comes dead cheap to the Sox--the Cubs were willing to eat $6.1 million to get him off their hands. The Sox just need a warm body in center, so anything he can provide will be a bonus. David Ortiz and Ryan Sweeney have absolutely rocked the house this season (Ortiz has the highest BA in the game right now). Pedroia and Gonzalez are solid as ever, and Youkilis is working his way back to form. Mike Aviles has done well a SS, with a solid .300 BA that we can expect from him all year. Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia mean well but have not provided consistently, though both should improve as the season continues. Getting Ellsbury and Crawford back from injury will be like mid-season acquisitions for the team, a boost of energy.
Bobby Valentine just announced that, for the time being, Bard will return to the bullpen. This means that Aaron Cook can be called from Pawtucket as a 5th starter, and Aceves can move to long relief, with Bard closing. This just makes more sense. If Melancon can get himself back on track as the setup man, then things are looking up, although the Sox could sure use another two reliable arms. When Bailey comes back from injury, they can always shift Bard back to the rotation.
Let's hope the rainy day will bring a bit more bullpen sunshine.
Noah Charney is a best-selling author of fiction (The Art Thief) and non-fiction (Stealing the Mystic Lamb). He invites you to join him on Facebook or to read his regular column on art and crime, The Secret History of Art.