It seems as if whenever one player goes in a slump or gets hurt (which has happened an inordinate amount of times), other guys step up to the occasion.
Boston?s lineup currently has its usual one-, two- and three-hole hitters — Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Victor Martinez — on the disabled list. But the reserves, like Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, and Jason Varitek (before he got hurt), have filled in nicely.
In the rotation, Opening Day starter Josh Beckett, All-Star Clay Buchholz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka have all spent time on the DL. But guys like Felix Doubront and Scott Atchison have been admirable substitutes when needed.
The bullpen, on the other hand, has pretty much been the one constant, in terms of health, for the Red Sox in 2010. That said, Boston?s bullpen could use some beefing up heading down the stretch.
Red Sox relievers rank just 13th out of 14 American League bullpens with a 4.55 ERA.
Daniel Bard has been sensational, holding opposing hitters to a mere .155 batting average. But other than him, nobody in the Red Sox ?pen — including closer and four-time All-Star Jonathan Papelbon — has been particularly impressive in 2010.
So what?s the good news? Well, it?s that time of year again, the time when Red Sox GM Theo Epstein whips out his checkbook and brings in someone to help Boston make a playoff push.
This year, that “someone” could be anyone, really. But with Beckett, Martinez, Ellsbury and Buchholz all due back to the big league club shortly, it?s unlikely that Epstein will try to acquire a big bat or a starting pitcher.
He will undoubtedly look at bullpen help, though. So here are five relievers that the Red Sox could and/or will target in the next two weeks, leading up to the July 31 trading deadline.
Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
Soria may not get a lot of chances to close games for the lowly Royals, but he makes the most of them when he does. The 26-year-old right-hander leads the AL with 25 saves in 27 opportunities, and has a 2.43 ERA to boot. Soria has a spectacular .198 opponents? batting average in his four-year career, and was named to the All-Star team in 2010 for the second time. He may be the best relief pitcher on the block this year, but that is why the Red Sox could stay away. Soria, who is on his way to his third straight 30-save season, is a closer by nature, and that job belongs to Papelbon.
Octavio Dotel, Pittsburgh Pirates
Another closer, Dotel has been lights-out at times for the last-place Pirates. The 36-year-old veteran right-hander has 19 saves for Pittsburgh — the eighth different team for Dotel in his 12-year career. But the difference between Dotel and Soria is that Dotel has the ability to be a setup man. In fact, he has the ability to be one of the best setup men in the game, as he showed in his years with the Astros (2000 to 2004) and the White Sox (2008 to 2009). Dotel has 42 strikeouts in 36 innings for the Pirates this season, and opposing hitters are batting just .235 against him. He could be the perfect seventh-inning option for Terry Francona, right before Bard in the eighth and Papelbon in the ninth.
Scott Downs, Toronto Blue Jays
There might not be one contending team that wouldn?t want Downs? services heading into a postseason push. The 34-year-old is one of the best southpaw relievers in the game, and left-handed batters have hit just .196 against him in 2010. Hideki Okajima, Boston?s only current left-hander in the bullpen, has allowed opposing left-handed batters to hit a whopping .321 against him. Downs, who has a 2.56 ERA in 2010, would be a huge addition to a Red Sox bullpen that often struggles against left-handed hitters.
Craig Breslow, Oakland Athletics
Much like Downs, Breslow is a lefty who is dominant against left-handed hitters (.214 opponents? average). But surprisingly, right-handed batters have struggled even more against the New Haven, Conn., native — hitting just .173 in 98 at-bats against Breslow. With 43 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings, Breslow has the ability to punch out anyone at any time. Unlike most left-handed specialists, Breslow has the ability to pitch to more than just one batter. In fact, Breslow has gone at least one inning in eight of his last nine appearances.
Brandon Lyon, Houston Astros
Lyon was on the 2003 Red Sox team that lost in Game 7 of the ALCS. That year, he went 4-6 with a 4.12 ERA and nine saves as a part-time closer. Seven years later, Lyon is still kicking around, but he?s as effective as ever for the Astros. The 30 year-old has a 3.63 ERA and 17 holds for Houston in 2010, and has only given up one home run in 39 2/3 innings of work. Lyon would be a perfect candidate for the seventh inning, or even the sixth.
Will the Red Sox acquire one of the aforementioned relievers? That?s up to Theo Epstein to decide, but he knows as well as anybody that a team can never have too much pitching.