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Bullpen Banter

   by ASA - 08/25/2009

Thriving – Cleveland Indians

If you take a look at the overall pitching and bullpen numbers for the Indians this year, it might leave you scratching your head as to why I have the Tribe in this position. However, the fact is, this pitching staff, in particular the bullpen, has gotten much better as of late. The relievers are pitching better than they have all year long which directly correlates to Cleveland’s 20-15 mark since the All Star Break.

For the season, the Indian bullpen has an ERA of 4.82 which is the fourth worst in all of baseball. However, their .255 opponent batting average and 1.8 strikeout to walk ratio indicates they have pitched better than that lofty ERA might indicate. Over the last 10 games, this relief corps has an ERA of just 2.95. The pitching staff as a whole has allowed five or fewer runs in 14 of their last 17 games which is an improvement for a staff that has an ERA of over 5.00 on the season.

Many of the Cleveland relievers have been improving their stock as of late. Here are a few. Closer Kerry Wood has registered a save in seven of his last eight attempts. His ERA since the All Star break is 3.38 which is a drastic improvement over the first half of the season. Chris Perez, who was acquired in the Mark DeRosa deal, gave up six runs in his first three outings. However, since then he has gone 16 straight scoreless innings and dropped his ERA under 3.00. Joe Smith has an ERA of just 3.34 on the year, however since the All Star break that number is just 1.42. Finally, left handed specialist Tony Sipp has allowed only one earned run in 11 August appearances.

Improved starting pitching has also helped the bullpen numbers improve. This team lost Cliff Lee to the Phillies, however Fausto Carmon had pitched very well since returning from the minors in late July. Justin Masterson was acquired from Boston in the Victor Martinez deal and he has shown promise. Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers have been fairly solid starters.

This team can score runs. Their 631 runs place them 7th in the league. They also hit nearly .270 as a team. With the pitching improving lately, especially the bullpen, this team can be a spoiler in the A.L. Central race.

Struggling – San Francisco Giants

In direct contrast to the Indians, the Giants have some of the best bullpen numbers on the season. However, as of late, they have not pitched up to those impressive seasonal numbers. That is partly attributed to AT&T Park which surrenders the second lowest OPS of any ballpark and just 7.85 runs per game.

On Saturday, the Giants bullpen blew a huge game with Colorado allowing eight runs in just three innings of work. Things didn’t get any better for the relievers on Monday as they allowed four runs in the 14th inning, blowing a three run lead and losing to the Rockies. That was the Giants fourth loss for the bullpen in San Francisco’s last nine games. All of those losses have been on the road which lends to the ballpark theory. Monday’s bullpen effort, five earned runs in 7.1 innings, pushed their ERA to near 4.50 over the last 11 games.

Due to poor offensive numbers, this team has been carried for much of the season by their starting pitching and bullpen. Now it looks as if the starters might be beginning to fade which will continue to negatively affect the bullpen. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have been Cy Young contenders all season long. However, Lincecum has now not won a start since August 1st and Cain in winless in his last five outings. With Zito, Sanchez and Martinez being up and down, the strain on the bullpen looks like it will continue.

Closer Brian Wilson has 30 saves on the year, however he has blown two of his last five attempts. Veteran Bobby Howry now has a 1-6 record out of the pen after losing another game last week. Even Justin Miller, who has put up fantastic numbers for much of the year is slowing down. On Saturday he allowed four runs while getting only two outs. Monday was worse for Wilson when he gave up three earned runs and failed to retire a batter.

San Fran has a very tough schedule down the stretch. They still face the Dodgers and Rockies six more times. They face off against the Cubs four times and the Brewers and Phillies three more times each. The bullpen will have immense pressure applied down the stretch and I’m not so sure they have the depth or talent to hold up. Especially of the starters continue to struggle.

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