Friday, September 02, 2005

« A closer look at each team's ... closer (AL) »

By Suss
Cleveland Indians. It's difficult to find a better bullpen -- top to bottom -- outside Cuyahoga County. Bob Wickman is the definitive anchor, saving 35 of 40. Indeed, he does have five blown saves, four of which have been losses, and his ability to save "the big one" has been questioned. His save count may be inflated because his bullpen is so good, he gets more opportunities. Setting him up is either Arthur Rhodes or David Riske. Both of them could close if needed. Beyond them are Matt Miller, Bob Howry, Rafael Betancourt, and lefty Scott Sauerbeck. Other teams may have a more dominant Front Three, but try and find seven legitimate relievers on the same roster. You may only find them here.

Los Angeles Angels. While the Indians may have the deepest, their Front Three of Riske/Rhodes/Wickman pales next to Brendan Donnelly/Scot Shields/Francisco Rodriguez. This trio is a true 7th-8th-9th inning combo. Esteban Yan, Jake Woods and Joel Peralta have been OK as the bullpen's backend, but the real question is the innings this bullpen has logged so far. Among AL relivers, Donnelly leads in innings pitched (over 77 in 62 games) total decisions (8-9 record) and is second in strikeouts (80). This man could burn out quickly in the playoffs. Now you have yourself a two-man bullpen, and -- like the Yankees -- that's not good enough.

Oakland A's. Proof that the A's bullpen is new age: their lone all star was setup man Justin Duchscherer. He's done a bit of everything: 6 wins, 5 saves, 8 holds. And that 1.77 ERA and 1.01 WHIP are just as attractive. But closer Huston Street is making a late, great case for Rookie of the Year by posting a 1.23 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 18/22 saves. The pen is rounded out by inconsistent lefty Ricardo Rincon and veterans Keiichi Yabu, Kiko Calero and journeyman Jay Witasick. The collective ERA (3.41) is a direct result of Duchscherer and Street's tiny ERA's and high inning counts, but since the A's have a loaded starting rotation, they may not need any more bullpen help (although who never has enough relievers!) and can kick their #5 starter -- possibly Kirk Saarloos -- into the pen for the playoffs.

New York Yankees. Do I really need to explain how Mariano Rivera will become the first first-ballot Hall of Fame closer? Well, I won't, but I will iterate that he's having yet another Mariano Rivera season. 1.42 ERA. 32 saves. 0.86 WHIP. Just amazing numbers. His set-up man is Tom "Quit calling me Flash" Gordon, whose 2.59 ERA and 27 holds protect the lead for Rivera to cut down the 9th with his cutter. Beyond Gordon and Rivera, the 'pen is a patchwork quilt. After cutting ties with aging pitchers Paul Quantrill, Mike Stanton and Buddy Groom, the rest of their relief features Tanyon Sturtze and Felix Rodriguez. They also signed the recently-released Alan Embree from the Red Sox. The pitching in general is hodge-podge for the Yankees, and with anchors in the pitching staff like Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, Gordon and Rivera will muster enough clutch performances to keep them in this tight race.

Boston Red Sox. After the Bruce Springsteen concert in Fenway Park, the groundscrew took so long to repair the centerfield grass that the upcoming game was delayed. But becaues of the bullpen, they may want to mow the word "HELP" back in the outfield. The BoSox bullpen needs help. After Keith Foulke and his 6.23 ERA went down from injury, Alan Embree became the closer, until he was let go from the team. Then Curt Schilling came back from injury and experimented as the closer, which was slightly less hit-or-miss than Foulke. Now that Schilling is back in the rotation, the reliable righty Mike Timlin has asserted himself as the closer, whose 1.88 ERA is a breath of fresh air for Boston. The rest of the hodgepodge staff includes lefty specialist Mike Myers, finesseman Jeremi Gonzalez and submarine thrower Chad Bradford. They've also gone through John Halama, Matt Mantei and Mike Remlinger like water (although Mantei is still on the roster, just injured) and currently have Matt Perisho and Chad Harville in their bullpen, although neither has contributed thus far. Suffice to say, the Red Sox bullpen has been the most volatile, which is not a good descriptor to have for a staff who is supposed to keep a game close.

Chicago White Sox. The kings of the AL prove why they're on top. They've got a very deep bullpen. After Shingo Takatsu faltered early, they released him and found a gem in Dustin Hermanson (1.68 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 32/35 saves) and an unheralded supporting cast in Damaso Marte, Neal Cotts, Cliff Politte, Bobby Jenks and Luis Vizcaino. Their 3.12 cumulative ERA ranks third in the AL behind Cleveland and Minnesota.