Well this isn’t good.
During Saturday’s game against the Angels, Red Sox left-handed reliever Andrew Miller was pulled with an injured left foot, unable to walk off without assistance. Today, news has come down that Miller had sustained significant damage to the ligament in his foot, and would have season-ending surgery.
Make no mistake; while Miller may not be a big-name star, or even the Red Sox closer, he was essential to the success of the team thus far. The towering southpaw had a 2.64 and 48 (!!!!!) strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings in the season, while seriously reining in the control problems that plagued him so much earlier in his career (and even earlier this season). His June was spectacular: 12 1/3 innings, 8 hits allowed, 2 ER, 15 K, and consistently flashing his outstanding pitching power. A few weeks ago, I had him as the 3rd best option to replace Andrew Bailey as the next Red Sox closer, and the argument could be made since then that he was just as good an option as Koji Uehara. He was also a really great presence in the clubhouse/bullpen: always agreeable with the press, but fiery on the mound, pumping up the crowd when he delivered the team out of jam after jam.
This injury raises a lot of questions for a bullpen that had already been under much scrutiny. The back end of the bullpen now consists of Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Bailey, and Craig Breslow. Breslow has remained quite efficient, but has been used almost exclusively as a specialist. Uehara, while performing admirably, is clearly a bit unsettled in the closer position. Tazawa is looking good, but 14 hits in 13 2/3 innings of June ball isn’t great. And Bailey is still struggling to regain confidence post-injury/meltdown. Alfredo Aceves (trying not to cry) has been brought up to play (what is now increasingly) a critical part in the bullpen, and Alex Wilson is still anything but a sure thing.
One rumor, that is now almost certainly a sure thing, is that the Red Sox will be huge buyers for bullpen help around the deadline.
Is this the answer?
I’ve already talked about bringing in Papelbon, who, despite a few iffy outings of late and his very ugly exit from Boston, would provide that 9th inning rock that would allow the rest of the Red Sox relievers to fall where they’re more comfortable. Other potential targets include Jesse Crain or Matt Thornton, though neither seem like they have the makeup to be AL East closers, and would more likely provide support behind Koji/Bailey/Tazawa. There have been talks of converting Anthony Ranaudo or Brandon Workman to relievers to help this season, and there’s also Rubby De La Rosa, but to expect any of them to provide instant help in playoff season would be risky. The bullpen, which at the beginning of the year looked like such a strength, has now becoming a glaring question for the Red Sox, and their decision to fill the spot left empty by Miller may change whether this is another lost season, or if they can remain contenders in the American League.