Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008 Red Sox Preview: Bullpen

Here’s where you might be a little concerned. The problem isn’t the closer. Jonathan Papelbon is as close to automatic as there is in the game. The problem is six months worth of how do you get to him. Of the starting rotation, only Josh Beckett (and to a lesser degree Tim Wakefield) is likely to be a real innings eating horse. The others have a tendency to throw a lot of pitches early in the game and therefore not last much past the 6th inning. So Terry Francona is going to need to depend on the bullpen crew to chew up somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 innings (3 innings a game, times 130 or so games). Most specifically, it’s the 5th/6th through the 8th. The best bet among the group is certainly Hideki Okajima. For the vast majority of 2007, he was money, plain and simple. After that, you’ve got a group that will include some combination of the following on any given day: Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Kyle Snyder, Javier Lopez, Julian Tavarez, David Aardsma, Craig Breslow, Bryan Corey, David Pauley and Craig Hansen.

This is going to be a big year for local kid Delcarmen, as the Sox will look to him to finally blossom into the 7th inning force and complement Okajima. If Manny Delcarmen produces as everyone hopes he will, this bullpen corps is going to be impregnable. What Terry Francona wants is simple: Delcarmen in the 7th, Okajima in the 8th, then Papelbon to shut the door in the 9th and finish the game. After Delcarmen, there remain smaller questions to be worked out. Mike Timlin just turned 42 a couple weeks ago. Hard to know how many innings he has left in him, but I’m guessing not a lot. On any given day, Julian Tavarez ranges from acceptable to abysmal. Kyle Snyder and Tavarez are going to be swingmen/spot starters who will need to settle into definable roles. The rest of the group will fill in the lefty specialist/key situational spot holes. Craig Hansen is running out of time. He needs to live up to the hype that’s been dogging him ever since he was drafted out of St. Johns in the spring of 2005. If he can’t satisfy, he’s going to be trade bait at the deadline. If Delcarmen doesn’t mature as expected, the load on everyone else increases.

When the Red Sox faltered and let the Yankees back into the race during the dog days of 2007, it was the bullpen that looked weak, tired and thin. Okajima was overworked. Delcarmen was uneven. Timlin was hurt. After the trade deadline, Eric Gagne was hideous This year, it may well be the Blue Jays that pose the bigger challenge to Boston down the stretch, but the six key questions remain:

  1. Will this be the end of the road for Mike Timlin? Yep. 17 years, a thousand appearances and 1150 innings exacts a cost, and the bell will toll for Timlin sooner than later.
  2. Will Julian Tavarez be serviceable? Probably not. Expect him to disappear.
  3. Will Jonathan Papelbon continue to be The Man throughout the year? He’d better be.
  4. Will Okajima and Delcarmen maintain a solid bridge between the starters and Papelbon? Most likely, but they can’t do it every single day.
  5. Will Theo Epstein still be hunting for bullpen help at the trading deadline? Absofreakinlutely.
  6. Is this bullpen good enough to get it done this year? Sure, but it’s going to need help from names that aren’t yet in the organization.

1 comment:

harry said...

Greetings,

Thought you (and maybe your readers) would enjoy Manny's secret blog on the humor site News Groper. It should be a fun read throughout the season. Here's the inaugural post that recently went up about the Japan trip ...

http://www.newsgroper.com/manny-ramirez/2008/03/28/soy-no-crazy-mira-ice-cream

Best,
--
Harry Cheadle
News Groper