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The Bullpen May Be Best for the Boston Red Sox in 2012

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COMMENTARY| It was a tough 2012 for Boston Red Sox fans. In fact, it's been tougher for longer than that. After the collapse in 2011, then a last place finish, Sox fans are looking for any kind of optimism entering the new season. With Boston not making major splashes in the starting rotation or field, it has left fans turning to the bullpen for salvation.

And what a bullpen it should be. While there are obvious holes in the starting rotation, the Red Sox (and fans) should feel confident that the pen will be ready to roll. The acquisition of Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara, along with Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller and others should create a very deep and versatile group. A group that will carry Boston.

In fact, many pundits believe it is one the strongest units in the AL East. This is a very important factor considering the rotation is one of the weakest in the division.

The big acquisition was Hanrahan. He was traded to Boston (along with Brock Holt) for pitcher Mark Melancon and three prospects. The Red Sox are hoping Hanrahan can fill the closer spot. Melancon, Bailey and Alfredo Acevas all struggled with consistency in that roll last season. Hanrahan did have a WHIP above 1.2, but still pitched confidently. He finished 2012 with 36 saves and a solid 2.72 ERA.

This deal shows that the Red Sox believe Hanrahan will bring the stability that hasn't been around seen since Jonathan Papelbon left for Philadelphia. The 31-year-old Hanrahan is a two-time All-Star, and is arbitration-eligible at the end of the season. Expect the Red Sox to keep him around if he has success in 2013.

Another key move for Boston was the signing of Koji Uehara . The reliever was fantastic for Texas last season, finishing with a 1.75 ERA and the best WHIP in baseball (.64). He incredibly walked just three batters in 36 innings of work. The Red Sox will look for him to work either the 7th or 8th inning, depending on where they want Bailey. No matter the situation, Red Sox fans will be excited to see what Uehara can do for this team. Yes, he is a bit older age at 37, but his numbers continue to improve.

Bailey will go from closer to setup man. This will relieve the pressure a bit for the often-injured pitcher. It's hard to get a read on Bailey's 2012 performance due to his long injury absence. However, the Hanrahan deal shows that the Sox were ready to move him out of the closer role. With good reason, considering Bailey struggled in his few opportunities. Bailey has been very vocal about supporting the Hanrahan move. Red Sox fans just hope he can be a good supporting character in the bullpen.

Tazawa seems to be the wild card in this group. Following three years of starting, relieving, and dealing with injuries Tazawa finally got some consistency last season coming out of the pen. It paid off greatly for him and the Red Sox. Tazawa finished 2012 with 1.43 ERA, 45 strikeouts and a .95 WHIP in 44 innings of work. He was indeed the breakout star for Boston. Look for Tazawa to be a multipurpose performer in the bullpen for the Sox this season.

Miller had a very nice bounce-back year. After a move from the rotation, Miller found some control out of the pen. He performed adequately in a variety of relief rolls. The former starter should be looked upon as the primary backup lefty.

The group may also include Aceves, Craig Breslow, Daniel Bard, and Chris Carpenter. It's certainly never a problem for a team to have too many arms, especially when injuries are a yearly guarantee. It's easy to overlook a solid bullpen when the rest of the team may still have holes. However, ask Baltimore Orioles fans about having a strong bullpen last season. They'll tell you it led their favorite team to the playoffs. Could it do the same for the Red Sox?

Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.

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