Don't forget Chaim Bloom's top priority this offseason

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The Red Sox are coming off a surprising run to the American League Championship Series, but now it is time for Chaim Bloom to put this team over the top.

Yes, The Sox had an amazing victory over The Yankees at Fenway Park that no Red Sox fan will ever forget, but wouldn’t you like to avoid a do-or-die one-game playoff in 2022?  Well, how do they make that happen?  The answer is simple. All Bloom needs to do is look at his former team.

The Sox did beat The Rays in the postseason, but Tampa was eight games better than Boston during the regular season. How did Tampa get there? Everyone knows they had a great lineup, but The Sox already have that even if Kyle Schwarber does not return.

The Rays real strength was their bullpen.

Nowadays managers are doing everything they can to avoid a starter facing a lineup the third time through. The problem for Alex Cora in 2021 was his bullpen was not reliable. Sure, certain guys had their moments, but there was no consistency. Matt Barnes went from an All-Star closer to a guy left off the ALCS roster. Barnes posted a 6.11 ERA, a 1.64 WHIP, and a 12 percent walk rate after signing his extension on July 11. Prior to the extension, Barnes had a 2.68 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP, and a 7.2 percent walk rate.

Hirokazu Sawamura faded hard after his injured list stint. Opponents hit .276 against the righty after July 29. Josh Taylor had 26 straight scoreless appearances, but he still had his issues. Taylor could not put righties away. They hit .327 with an .884 OPS against the southpaw. Darwinzon Hernandez still walks the ballpark. His 17 percent walk rate ranked 190th of the 191 relievers that threw at least 40 innings last season.

So, you get the point. The Sox do not have a lot of dependable arms returning in 2022. Garrett Whitlock is certainly one, but that’s pretty much it if Tanner Houck is going to start the season in the rotation.

Back to the Rays. Their bullpen threw 703 innings last season. The Sox pen threw just 607. Kevin Cash used his relievers as weapons.  Cora had to hope his bullpen would not cough it up. The Sox relievers also struggled with command. They posted a 10.8 percent walk rate.  That ranked 24th in the bigs, and 14th in The American League. The Rays had just a 7.6 percent walk rate. That was second in MLB, and tops in the American League.

Alex Cora was able to work his magic in the postseason. He used Houck for five innings in that Game 2 win over the Rays, and Nick Pivetta tossed 8.2 innings out of the pen in the ALDS. However, that formula is not workable over 162 games. This is where Chaim Bloom comes in.

The reliever market is loaded.

Raisel Iglesias is coming off a stellar season with the Angels. His 37.7 percent strikeout rate ranked 8th among relievers, and his 0.93 WHIP ranked 9th. Iglesias has a powerful fastball, a nasty slider, and a filthy changeup. The 32-year-old should be No. 1 on the list, but he will be expensive.

Kendall Graveman is also a free agent. The Sox saw his nasty stuff in the ALCS. Graveman finished the year with a 0.98 WHIP, and a .180 opponent batting average. He features a sinker, a four-seamer, and a slider that righties cannot touch. He had a 43.8 percent whiff rate with the slider in 2021.

Ryan Tepera is also out there. The righty was traded to the White Sox prior to the deadline. Craig Kimbrel was the big move for Chicago, but Tepera was the better reliever. He finished with a 0.88 WHIP and a .161 opponents batting average. Tepera was actually tougher on lefties thanks to a nasty changeup. The Sox need to land one of these three to add another consistent arm to go along with Whitlock. Two of the three would be great, but let’s not get greedy.

There are other options to add to the mix. Old friend Joe Kelly is looking for a new home after the Dodgers released the flamethrower. Kelly is recovering from a biceps strain, but he had an impressive 2021 season before the injury finishing with a 0.98 WHIP and a 2.86 ERA. Collin McHugh is another possibility. The Sox signed the righty in 2020, but he opted out of the season. McHugh spent 2021 with Tampa finishing with a 1.55 ERA. Kelly and McHugh would certainly be massive upgrades to The Sox pen.

Again back to The Rays.

They piled up 100 wins by dominating the late innings. Tampa scored 285 runs after the 6th inning and gave up just 161. Both were tops in Major League Baseball. That comes out to a plus-124 run differential. The Sox had a minus-15 run differential after the sixth inning.  The Sox need to hit better in the late innings, but one thing is for sure they need more consistency from their bullpen. The answers are not in the organization.

Bloom needs to go shopping in the reliever market. The Jays and The Rays both have loaded lineups that Alex Cora’s club will have to battle. The Sox can win the division if they upgrade the bullpen, but if they don’t they risk watching the postseason from home.