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Bullpen Banter -- Oakland Arms Play Role

   by ASA - 08/10/2009

Thriving – Oakland A’s

After making a flurry of trades dumping their best players for prospects, the A’s have become a forgotten team in the A.L. race. However, the way this team is pitching as of late, including the bullpen, this team will play the spoiler role down the stretch.

Oakland has been playing solid baseball with a 9-5 record over their last 14 games. That includes series against playoff contenders Boston and Texas and a decent Toronto team. The bullpen has definitely done their part as of late. Over the last 11 games, the Oakland relievers have an ERA of just 2.08. During that 11 game span, the pen has allowed only eight runs. In only one of those 11 games did Athletic relievers allow more than one run.

Closer Andrew Bailey doesn’t have astronomical save numbers with only 16, however a look at the whole picture is more impressive. As a team, the A’s have 26 saves and have blown only 9 opportunities. That’s the third fewest blown saves in MLB behind only Cincinnati and Texas. This relief staff also has a fantastic 2.28 strikeout to walk ratio. Only one bullpen has accumulated more strikeouts this year than this one. Their 3.85 ERA is currently good for 11th in MLB.

Oakland has three relievers who’ve made 48 or more appearances with ERA’s at 3.33 or lower. Brad Ziegler, a former closer, made the successful change to set up man / long reliever this season. His 2.82 ERA is only behind Bailey with pitchers logging double digit innings this season. Michael Wuertz has put up an impressive 6-1 record in his 52 appearances. His strikeout to walk ratio is a very good 4.3 with 69 K’s and only 16 free passes. Also, Justin Duchscherer, who surprised with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts last year, is close to making his Major League debut for 2009. Duchscherer, who had elbow surgery in March, recently threw well in a Triple A rehab start and once back he’ll make this staff deeper.

Watch out for the A’s in upcoming weeks. They have better bullpen numbers than most of their August opponents. That includes Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, NY Yankees, Detroit, plus the Angels and Royals at the end of this month.

Struggling – Detroit Tigers

Detroit remains on top of the A.L. Central, however more than their own success, it has been due to the recent struggles of the Twins and the White Sox. In fact, the Tigers are only 7-8 over their last 15 games and the bullpen has been a strong contributor to those struggles.

Over that 15 game span, the relievers have allowed 27 earned runs for an ERA of 5.17. In 8 of those 15 games the bullpen has allowed multiple runs. Opposing hitters have been reaching base at an alarming rate as of late vs. this relief corp. This bullpen has pitched 47 innings in their recent 15 game downturn and allowed a whopping 80 runners to reach base. A major part of the problem has been walks as the relievers have given up 27 free passes in that 47 inning stretch.

With the recent addition of starter Jarrod Washburn the Tigers’ rotation is very good. All five starters have pitched 110+ innings on the year and three of them have an ERA below 3.50. However, the bullpen can’t brag about their numbers. The ERA of the relievers this year is high at 4.35.

Closer Fernando Rodney has 23 saves and just one blown opportunity, however a closer look reveals that he has allowed runs in 13 of his 48 appearances (27%). After Rodney, there is a major problem with closing out games. Detroit already has 19 blown saves which is the third worst number in all of baseball. The depth of the pen took a hit in late July when Joel Zumaya has been shelved for the season with a bad shoulder.

There are other potential red flags popping up as veteran Bobby Seay, who’s been solid all season, has now allowed runs in five of his last seven outings. After a dominant start to his Major League career, Fu-Te Ni has allowed earned runs in three of his last nine trips to the rubber.

Young starters Rick Porcello and Armando Galarraga have shown some signs of potentially wearing down late in the year which will put more stress on this leaky bullpen. The schedule also plays against the Tigers they play Boston, travel West at the end of the month, play seven games yet with Tampa Bay and have a stretch in September where they are on the road for 15 of 22 games.

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