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by ASA - 06/11/2009
Thriving â€“ Minnesota Twins
Iâ€™m going to throw Tuesday nightâ€™s bullpen performance out for now as an aberration. The Twins won the game 10-5 over Oakland, however they led 10-0 entering the 9th. Starter Scott Baker pitched brilliantly until the 9th where he ran out of gas giving up three runs. Relievers Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares didnâ€™t fair any better and in fact, Joe Nathan was able to pick up his 12th save even though his team had a 10-run lead entering the 9th. Again, despite that poor inning on Tuesday, Iâ€™m still sticking with the Twins as my â€œhotâ€쳌 bullpen.
If you simply look at long term numbers, you wouldnâ€™t put the Twins bullpen in this spot. However, they are coming together nicely as of late. They have ranked toward the bottom of the A.L. for much of the early season, however they have dropped their ERA down to 4.21 with some recent success. One overlooked factor in the bullpenâ€™s early struggles was the absence of catcher Joe Mauer. His replacement for the month of April was rookie Jose Morales who was shaky defensively. He also wasnâ€™t really familiar with the Minnesota hurlers or opposing hitters which can be a big detriment to a pitching staff. Since Mauer returned in May, the results from the pitchers have been much more positive.
Joe Nathan remains one of the top closers in baseball with 12 saves in 14 opportunities and an ERA of 2.01. Nathan had a whopping 197 saves from 2004 through 2008. Thatâ€™s an average of 39.4 saves per season. He is a constant that isnâ€™t going away. As far as middle relief and set up men, Minnesota is looking solid. Luis Ayala struggled early in the year but has now given up only one earned run in his last eight appearances. Opposing batters are hitting just .216 against Ayala during that eight game stint. Lefty specialist Sean Henn was called up from the minors in mid-May to replace Craig Breslow who was waived. Henn has been solid in his nine appearances with an ERA of 2.70. As I mentioned earlier, Jose Mijares pitched poorly on Tuesday night, however he has been very good giving up only two earned runs in his last 10 trips to the mound. Matt Guerrier has been a great innings eater with 28 appearances without a loss this season. Knuckle baller R.A. Dickey has also been a very effective long inning man and his ERA is just 2.45. The only glaring weak link right now in the pen is Jesse Crain. He pitched poorly on Tuesday and has all season with an ERA over 8.00.
The Minnesota starting rotation is not performing as well as most expected, however their bullpen is really coming around. The Twins have already won three one-run games in June and their bullpen has had a lot to do with that. They are back near the .500 mark and if they are to make a run at the A.L. Central again in 2009, the bullpen will have an important say in that.
Struggling â€“ Arizona Diamondbacks
This is the polar opposite situation when comparing it to my Minnesota analysis above. Thatâ€™s because Arizona has been really under performing in the bullpen with the exception of last Sunday when they put up nine innings of scoreless relief in a 9-6, 18 inning win over San Diego. Again, as I did with Minnesota, Iâ€™ll call this an aberration as the D-Backâ€™s relievers were reeling for the most part and the Padre hitters are last in the Majors with an average of just .236. Truth be told, the relievers got the team into that situation to begin with as starter Dan Haren pitched a gem only to have the pen allow five runs in the 9th to push the game to extra innings. Thus, Iâ€™m sticking with Arizona as my struggling bullpen.
As a whole, this bullpen has the fourth worst ERA in baseball at 4.91. They also allow their opponents to rip the cover off the ball on their way to a .274 average. That is also the fourth worst mark in the Majors. They have walked 105 batters while striking out only 136. That 1.29 strikeout to walk ratio is the second worst for any bullpen in all of baseball. Despite solid efforts this season from their starting rotation, this team is in last place in the N.L. West and they currently sport the 3rd worst record in all of baseball. Three starters have put up very solid numbers (Dan Haren 2.33 ERA, Doug Davis 3.36 ERA and Max Scherzer 4.10 ERA) and the Diamondbacks are 3rd in the Majors in quality starts at 33. Yet despite those solid stats, this team is near the bottom of the league well below .500. That tells you enough about their bullpenâ€™s performance.
Itâ€™s been even worse as of late. The relievers have allowed five or more runs in three of the last seven games. Arizona has won only two of those seven games despite having a lead entering the 5th inning in four of their five losses. The only game they did not lead was tied at zero in the 6th inning. In other words, they had a great chance to win most or all of those games but all turned into losses. The bullpen was at fault for most.
Not only have the D-Back relievers pitched poorly, they have also had some bad luck. Tom Gordon was counted on to be a solid, veteran out of the pen, however he injured his hamstring early and has not come back. Gordon has pitched only 1.2 innings this year. Lefty Scott Schoeneweis was sporting an ERA of just 2.53 when his wife passed away in mid-May. He took a long leave of absence and actually considered retiring. He has since decided to return and was just reactivated on Tuesday but hasnâ€™t pitched since May 16th. Also, key starter Brandon Webb has been a nice â€œreliefâ€쳌 in the past for the pen as he has a tendency to pitch deep into games. Webb has been out since April 6th but should be back soon which should help. Excuses or not, the Arizona bullpen better improve quickly or this team will stay at the bottom of the N.L. West.
BULLPEN POTENTIAL COMINGS AND GOINGS
Houston Astros â€“ Interim closer LaTroy Hawkins has done a great job replacing Jose Valverde who went on the D.L. in late April. Hawkins has saved eight of his 10 opportunities with an ERA of 2.55. Valverde is scheduled to come off the D.L. this weekend and that could put Hawkins on the trading block. Despite having a top notch closer, the Minnesota Twins have shown some interest in Hawkins.
Cleveland Indians â€“ If the Indians donâ€™t get back into the A.L. Central race soon, closer Kerry Wood has the interest of a number of teams that are currently in contention. Woodâ€™s numbers arenâ€™t all that impressive with an ERA that exceeds 5.00, however he has saved eight of his ten chances in 2009.
Los Angeles Angels â€“ No names have officially surfaced, however you can expect the Angels to aggressively pursue some relief help. They are currently three games behind Texas in the A.L. West, however if it werenâ€™t for their horrendous bullpen (worst ERA in the Majors), the Halos would be comfortably in first place in that division.