Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor

Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor

With just four weeks to go until the July 31st trade deadline, the Red Sox find themselves in a strange position. After winning seven of their last 10 games, Boston currently sits six games back of the first place New York Yankees, despite still being in the basement of the American League East.

Boston’s shortcomings this season have been well documented. While Clay Buchholz has been everything an ace should be, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson have consistently thrown batting practice. While Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have been cogs in Boston’s line up, Mike Napoli and David Ortiz have been offensive speed bumps. And while Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara have continued to solidify the back end of the pen, arms like Matt Barnes and Craig Breslow have proven ineffective.

But even with all of the Red Sox deficiencies, even having to leapfrog 4 other teams, Boston still has a legitimate shot at a playoff position. But in order to make a playoff appearance, or, better yet, a playoff run worthwhile, the team will need to plug some of the larger holes in their roster.

Lately, the offense has been solid. Over the past 30 days, Boston is hitting .281/.338/.453 with 140 runs scored. In the last two weeks, Boston starts — mainly Clay Buchholz — have kept their head’s above water by posting a 3.32 FIP in 13 games; fourth best in the American League. Things may not have “turned the corner” officially, but the team’s recent performance has at least made one wonder if that “turn” is beginning to start.

Say what you will about the sustainability of the offense and the starting pitching, but perhaps the biggest flaw with the current roster lies in the bullpen. Right now Boston has, more or less, four solid relievers to rely on; Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Alexi Ogando, and Tommy Layne. Those four arms have combined to tout a 3.00 ERA in 129 innings pitched, with two of the four relieves averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

Now let’s look at who remains in Boston’s pen omitting the four aforementioned names. We’re left with Matt Barnes, Craig Breslow, and Robbie Ross. Together, these three arms round out Boston’s relief core with a 4.50 ERA over 78 innings pitched.

The run of the mill major league bullpen houses seven arms, with two being a closer and set up man. Obviously, Uehara and Tazawa’s role’s in Boston’s pen are defined at the back of the pen. This leaves Ogando and Layne as the only two middle innings relievers you can, for better or worse, feel okay about, but they also come with some concerns.

Until recently Ogando held a 14 inning scoreless streak, but his 4.92 FIP ranks fifth worst in the MLB. Tommy Layne was Farrell’s go to man in May, and held a 1.64 ERA in 14 games. Since then, however, the lefty holds an ERA of 4.35 in 15 games, and possesses night-and-day platoon splits.

With a starting staff that doesn’t typically go deep into games, Boston can’t rely on porous relief if they’re realistically looking to make a run. Whether it’s an internal or external arm, Boston desperately needs someone of help lengthen the bridge to Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. While Alexi Ogando and Tommy Layne have been serviceable to this point, the red flags are at full mast on both relievers. All of this, of course, isn’t to say that the Red Sox are a solid middle reliever away from a bullet proof playoff contender, but it would undoubtedly inch them closer.

  • Gone are the days of the Red Sox sending four or five sluggers and aces to the All-Star game. Brock Holt was the lone member of Boston’s squad selected by American League manager Ned Yoast as an reserve player. Xander Bogaerts, who was snubbed by both the fan and player vote, has a chance to squeak into the game as part of the Final Player vote. (Red Sox All-Stars: Surprise! Holt headed to Cincy; Bogaerts too?)
  • For the better part of his three year career in Boston, Mike Napoli has been a productive bat in the middle of the Red Sox order. But his season long funk this year has some wondering if the free-agent-to-be will be out the door earlier than scheduled. (What should the Red Sox do with Mike Napoli)
  • If the Red Sox want to make a strong push for the playoffs in the second half of the season, they will need to fortify their bullpen. Up to this point, Boston has used 14 different pitchers which has resulted in a team ERA just under 4.00; 25th best in the league. While Boston has received strong preformances from arms like Tazawa and Ogando, the team will need another arm to emerge. (Boston Red Sox bullpen needs some relief of its own in the second half)
  • The Red Sox enter the final week of the regular season in need of a strong finish. After a brief two game bout with the Miami Marlins, Boston will get another shot to ascend up the AL East ranks against the New York Yankees. With Boston still stuck in between buy and sell mode, this week should help swing the pendulum in one direction. (Reality of Red Sox: Primary for season’s most important week)
  • Tweet of the day: It’s definitely his hair