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Bullpen Banter

   by ASA - 07/01/2009

Thriving – Cincinnati Reds

How does a team hitting .247 (26th in MLB) that has scored only 319 runs on the season (23rd in baseball) hang around .500 and stay in the post-season race? Solid pitching of course, especially from the bullpen. That has been the scenario so far this season for the Reds as they continue to struggle at the plate, yet remain in the hunt in the N.L. Central.

While the starters, led by Johnny Cueto, have been OK this year for Cincinnati, the relievers have been lights out. Their success has been spread throughout the bullpen, however closer Francisco Cordero has been the beacon. He has converted on 18 of his 19 save attempts this season. His numbers this year give Cordero 96 saves in his last 110 opportunities dating back to 2007. Mainly because of their solid closer, Cincy has the fewest blown saves in the Majors this year at just four. If they have the lead late, this team simply wins.

As a whole, the Cincinnati relievers have a combined ERA of just 3.29 which is second best in MLB. They have allowed opponents to hit just .230 and have given up only 17 home runs which is the second lowest total in baseball. They have also allowed only 194 hits which is good for third best in the league. The numbers from top to bottom have been very good for most of the season.

Not only has this team been great at closing out games, they have also been among the best in baseball through the middle of the bullpen. Amazingly, of the six relievers who have made 25 or more appearances this year, five of them have ERA’s of 2.45 or less. Three of those five pitchers have ERA’s of less than 2.00. That includes Cordero at 1.97, Nick Masset at 1.76 and Arthur Rhodes at 1.62. They have a great combination of long relievers, set up men, lefties and righties to go along with a great closer and that shows up in the stats.

Between June 19 – 24, the Reds struggled to a 1-4 mark and the bullpen also didn’t back up their strong numbers. During that one win stretch, the Red relievers allowed 8 earned runs in 15.1 innings for an ERA of nearly 4.80. Because Cincy was down in those games late, it kept Francisco Cordero on the bench as he made only one appearance during that five game stretch. In the five games since then, Cincinnati has gone 3-2 and the relievers seem to be back to their solid form. The bullpen has allowed only 2 earned runs in the last five games spanning 17 innings pitched. That’s an ERA of 1.06. Not only that, the relievers have held opponents to a miniscule batting average of .129 over those five games. I guess they are officially back on track after a brief trip “southâ€쳌 so to speak.

If the Reds can pick up it up at the plate, this team could cause some problems in the second half of the season. That’s because their bullpen looks as solid as any in baseball.

Struggling – Washington Nationals

I realize I have had Washington in this article already once this year as the “strugglingâ€쳌 bullpen, but man are they bad. They continue to falter and their numbers are astoundingly poor. That’s one of the main reasons, along with a few other glaring weaknesses, this team has had the worst record in MLB for much of the season. I don’t see that changing and don’t be surprised if this team pops up again down the line in this article. My guess is it won’t be as the “thrivingâ€쳌 bullpen.

With a winning percentage of less than 30%, Washington ranks as the worst team in baseball. They are currently an insurmountable 17.5 games behind N.L. East leading Phillies. It’s not as if Philadelphia is running away from the pack either as they are only 4-games above .500 as of this writing. Washington is just that bad. The bullpen numbers are embarrassing. The reliever’s ERA as a whole is 5.64 which is easily the worst in baseball. They are the ONLY team in the Majors with more blown saves than actual saves and it’s not really close. The Nationals have blown 17 saves while collecting only 12 actual saves. They have the fewest wins of any bullpen at 7. They have the most losses of any bullpen at an incredible 26! To give you an idea on how bad that second number is, their closest rival on reliever losses is the Mets with 16.

It actually looked, for a brief couple of days, that this Washington bullpen was actually looking pretty good. From June 17 – 20, the relievers logged 13.2 innings and allowed only one earned run. It was not simply a coincidence the Nats were a perfect 4-0 during that stretch beating solid teams in the Yankees and Blue Jays. However, since that 4-day successful spurt, the relievers have again fallen apart. Over the last eight games the relievers have pitched 21 innings and allowed 21 runs for an ERA of 9.00. Again, it’s no coincidence they limped to a 2-6 record during that eight game stint. In those six losses, Washington was tied or leading entering the 7th inning in four of them. So they did have their chances, however the bullpen faltered.

Manager Manny Acta might have some hope however. That’s because the Nationals recently made a deal with Pittsburgh to acquire left-handed reliever Sean Burnett. He had been superb for the Bucs making 38 appearances with an ERA just over 3.00. He has been fabulous against left handed batters as they are hitting only .189 off Burnett this season. Acta, however, plans on using him as much more than just a situational pitcher vs. lefties. We’ll see if it helps this bullpen because we all know they need it.

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