A solid bullpen is more than just a closer. Today's game demands a plethora of arms to keep the game tight from the fifth inning on. When you have the ‘pen, the opposition can be deflated, knowing they will be hard pressed to score in the late innings.
Jose Valverde has been dynamite as the closer. Ryan Perry an emerging young reliever. Eddie Bonine the key long man. Joel Zumaya is throwing bullets. Phil Coke was a steal from the Yankees. There aren't many misses in this group – each with their own flair and ability.
"If our bullpen continues to perform as they have all year, we have an excellent chance to compete," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
Placing Neftali Feliz in as the closer was the one that put this squad over the top. Darren O'Day might be the most undervalued reliever in the sport. Darren Oliver has been his usual trustworthy self. Chris Ray is a former closer that is back to full strength after health issues. It is a team built for the trenches.
How do you compete with Mariano Rivera and his cutter? You don't. Joba Chamberlain has a defined role to thrive, displaying a lot of confidence with the clarity of his assignment. They have assembled a quality crew with Sergio Mitre and Damaso Marte providing more stability.
Wins are in the BAG with the combination of Heath Bell, Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson. Bell is proving he is no one-year wonder. Adams could be a closer for some teams. Gregerson may be the most impressive of the bunch. That doesn't take into account Tim Stauffer (on the DL) – the long man – who had a 17.1-inning scoreless streak.
Moving back to the bullpen saved Ryan Franklin's career. The right-hander has been a reliable part of a great bullpen. Only one pitcher who has appeared in at least 10 games has an ERA over 4.00. Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte are two emerging youngsters while veteran Dennys Reyes has yielded just three hits in 12.1 innings through May 22.
With Huston Street and Franklin Morales out, the Rockies have continued to find arms to keep them in the game. Manuel Corpas has performed well as the closer. Matt Belisle has posted zeroes, often over multiple innings. Joe Beimel is crafty and knows how to get hitters out with consistency. When Street and Morales return, this unit looks even more formidable.
The eyes glisten, the saliva begins to drip, the chops are licked. Hitters feast on poor pitching in the back half of a game. Knowing a bullpen is weak, hitters are more apt to work the count early to get to the trouble spots. These teams need help if they are to remain competitive.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
When Fernando Rodney is your most reliable option, things can't be good. Scot Shields – a sure thing of the past – suddenly looks his age. Brian Stokes wishes he was back in the NL. Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen can throw hard but lack command. Things could get worse before they get better.
Alfredo Simon has stabilized the closer spot. The addition of Koji Uehara has helped. Will Ohman has reverted to 2005 form but the more recent past has to be truer to form, right? There is no player that the team feels comfortable getting that big out, especially their lack of success in keeping inherited runners from scoring.
The Indians have something in Chris Perez – he was bred as a closer and is an emerging talent. Getting Kerry Wood back may have been a curse to the bullpen. They have a lot of young players that are maturing quickly in Mitch Talbot and Tony Sipp. Another year and this bullpen could quickly ascend to the upper tier. With their rotation, it may be asking too much of this group.
The loss of Valverde was a lot bigger than most would have believed. Aaron Heilman has been their best option. Mets and Cubs fans can tell you how well that worked out. He is the lone pitcher with an ERA under 4.95. Chad Qualls is better than the numbers but is likely feeling he must do everything. He needs help. The unit has surrendered more homers than any other bullpen in baseball.
A man with 596 saves doesn't get there without an abundance of talent. This year, Trevor Hoffman has blown as many as he has saved and looks less than ordinary. Has time finally caught up with the 42-year-old? LaTroy Hawkins has been terrible as well. Manny Parra might have the most electric arm but remains inconsistent.
Without Evan Meek, who has been outstanding, the Pirates pen is in shambles. While the unit can rack of the strikeouts, they also issue a large number of free passes. They are second in the majors in innings pitched and not contributing with consistency.