The Kansas City Royals made it look all so easy in 2014. With their bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals were almost unbeatable when they had the lead in the seventh inning or later.
It’s no surprise that a number of teams have sought to emulate that success. Even this past week, as the days and hours ticked down to the trade deadline, some contenders clearly felt one capable closer wasn’t enough. The Washington Nationals added Jonathan Papelbon to a bullpen that already included Drew Storen. Joakim Soria was traded to Pirates, where he’ll join Mark Melancon in the late innings.
That’s the new trend — teams hoping to assemble such outstanding bullpens that the opposing offense is in trouble from about the seventh inning on. Here’s a look at a few teams — besides Kansas City — that now look pretty tough in relief:
New York Yankees: Closer Andrew Miller missed about a month with a forearm problem, but he’s back now, and 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances has struck out 87 in 54 2/3 innings.
Baltimore: Zach Britton has 27 saves in 28 chances, and Darren O’Day is holding right-handers to a .152 average. Brian Matusz is similarly tough on lefties, although he’s had control issues this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Depth has been an issue for the Dodgers, whose bullpen ERA ranks among the worst in the National League. But with starters like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Los Angeles might not need to use too many of its relievers in the biggest games. Kenley Jansen remains one of the game’s top closers, while J.P. Howell and Pedro Baez have had fine seasons. The Dodgers also added Luis Avilan and Jim Johnson in their flurry of deadline activity.
St. Louis: The Cardinals, on the other hand, lead the NL in bullpen ERA by a wide margin. Trevor Rosenthal is the most familiar name, but Kevin Siegrist, Miguel Socolovich, and Carlos Villanueva also have ERAs under 2.00. Jordan Walden hasn’t pitched since April because of a bicep problem, but he’s now on a rehab assignment, working his way back.
Houston: The AL West-leading Astros are chasing their first postseason appearance in a decade, and relievers Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Josh Fields and Pat Neshek are a big reason why.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
It wasn’t too long ago that the Los Angeles Angels looked like the class of the AL West, having won 17 of 20. Since then, the Angels have dropped nine of 10 to fall four games behind Houston. The Angels were swept in consecutive three-game series by the Astros and Dodgers, and now they’re in the middle of the muddled mess that is the AL wild-card race.
The fallout from the trade deadline was extensive. Storen is no longer the closer in Washington thanks to Papelbon’s arrival, and the New York Mets now have another closing option in Tyler Clippard, although Jeurys Familia still seems to be their top choice.
Daniel Norris, one of the left-handed prospects traded to Detroit for David Price, is already in the Tigers’ rotation. He pitched into the eighth inning to earn the win against Baltimore on Sunday.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Taijuan Walker, Mariners, threw a one-hitter in Seattle’s 6-1 victory over Minnesota on Friday. Walker struck out 11 with only one walk — after a stretch in which he’d allowed 19 earned runs over his previous four starts. It hasn’t been the greatest season for Walker, but the Seattle right-hander doesn’t turn 23 until later this month, and Friday was quite a glimpse at his potential.