MIAMI -- Easy to cast judgment on the Boston Red Sox's bullpen, to simply mark it with a red X and schedule its demolition.
Not so easy to understand how it got to this point, these first 12 days of August, in which the team's pen has allowed 37 hits and 15 walks in just 25 innings, lost three games, blown four saves and posted a collective 8.64 ERA.
You know how they say you don't have to watch an NBA game until the last two minutes? With the Red Sox these days, you are best advised to avert your eyes in the last few innings. The team's pen has given up the most home runs in baseball, 53. It has allowed the most hits (383) and the second-most runs (176) in the American League.
Two losses in Miami underscore that point. The Sox had a 4-0 lead behind knuckleballer Steven Wright on Tuesday and lost 5-4 in 10 innings, Craig Breslow saddled with the defeat after Dee Gordon tripled and Justin Bour singled him home.
Wednesday afternoon, the Sox were down 8-4 when starter Eduardo Rodriguez departed in the sixth, a sizable deficit but not out of reach. But newcomer Ryan Cook gave up four singles to the next five hitters and Robbie Ross Jr. served up a grand slam, and the team that had the majors' worst record until the Sox showed up coasted to a 14-6 win and a two-game sweep.
Cook, just acquired at the trading deadline from Oakland, knows how it looks. Nobody wants to hear that he feels like he's throwing the ball pretty well and that soon enough, the results will catch up.
"Obviously it doesn't look good on paper," said Cook, an All-Star for the Athletics in 2012 who also pitched Tuesday and allowed two inherited runners to score, "and it doesn't look good for the team, but I've got to stay confident in what I'm doing and just know the results will be there."
The results, as manager John Farrell grimly noted, did not show up Wednesday.
"We couldn't shut anybody down," Farrell said. "You're looking at a spot where right-handers are coming up and you look at a right-hander to get some outs and shut something down," he said. "Then it's limited availability based on recent usage. That's the tough part. Matchups almost become irrelevant when you're going to the guy most rested."
The pen has been cast into further disarray with the season-ending wrist injury sustained by Koji Uehara. The ineffective Justin Masterson was designated for assignment, joining two other relievers who were here on Opening Day and were DFA'd, Edward Mujica and Anthony Varvaro. In essence, the Sox are conducting open auditions for Cook and waiver claim Jean Machi, two veterans deemed eminently expendable by their former clubs.
When the entire pen seems to be disintegrating, including the team's most dependable setup man for the past few seasons, Junichi Tazawa, it becomes convenient to forget that the burden does not fall solely on its occupants. The starters have the American League's highest ERA at 4.96. Of the 10 starts the Sox have made this month, five have ended in five innings or fewer, including both here in Miami. The pen had the majors' heaviest workload in the season's first couple of months, and still rank fifth in relief innings.
So often in baseball, the bullpen is referred to as if it was a single entity. Indeed, the nature of a reliever's life, and the amount of time he spends in close proximity with his fellow relievers, lends itself to a group identity. But how does a pen that has lost its way regain its equilibrium?
"Certainly there's kind of a residual effect," said the reflective Breslow, "where one guy's performance absolutely has an effect on the next. Maybe it could be something as simple as a good start, where a starter goes deep into a game and allows us a chance to line up, gives us a chance to re-set ourselves.
"The other thing where there's a little bit of that residual effect, we probably carried a significant load early on and maybe we're starting to pay the price now."
That seems to be particularly true of Tazawa, who has been hit hard in his past four outings, allowing seven hits and five earned runs in four innings.
"If you start to look at [Tazawa's] workload, it's been pretty heavy for a few years now, and you start to wonder," Breslow said. "He's been so good, so reliable for so long, it's so easy to continue to run him out there, because it seems like an anomaly every time he goes out there and struggles.
"Maybe we have to consider how we got here, not just where we are. But I can't say it enough, that doesn't change the fact we have a job to do and have got to figure out a way to do it."
Breslow has not been immune from the pen's struggles. He had two horrific outings seven days apart, one in New York, then Tuesday night in Miami.
"The life of a reliever, unfortunately your workload is incredibly sporadic," he said. "You pitch well, and you pitch very frequently. You go out and pitch well a couple of times in a row, you start to gain the manager's trust. And then maybe you get a little tired, a little overworked and struggle a little bit, and then you have to go out and prove yourself once again.
"It seems like collectively we've had a guy or two throw the ball well at a time, but never four, five, six guys so that we can equitably distribute the work.
"So much of being an effective reliever is consistent work. When you don't get it, it's a lot harder to be sharp again. That doesn't change the fact and the expectation is you're going to get the job done, and we have to find a way to do that."
The Sox return home Friday for a homestand against the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. The splits suggest that Breslow should benefit from being back in Fenway Park. He has a 2.38 ERA in 15 appearances at home, a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances on the road.
"Everyone has shown a flash of being who they're capable of, what they were in the past," he said, "and everyone comes in with a track record of being a proven big leaguer. It's not like everybody out there is an experiment. There are some résumés.
"Nonetheless, we still have to find a way to get the job done. Now we've got some fresh arms, we've got some guys who we've brought up, certainly they have shown they can be successful in the big leagues and have a chance to do that here. How do you get back on track? Because success or failure can be so contagious, it takes a good outing by one guy that allows everyone else to line up. Right now we're searching for that.
"Maybe it's a couple of deep starts, or somebody going out and kind of saying, ‘Enough.' That's what we're looking for. It's kind of a simple thing to explain, but a much more difficult thing to execute."