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White Sox Tue Sep 11 2012
For most of the season, I thought the White Sox bullpen was pretty good. There have been times -- I don't know, maybe in May or July -- that I believed that when the Sox took the lead and turned it over to their relievers, the game was over. I was that confident and that impressed in the Sox' 'pen, that if they blew a game, I treated it as an aberration.
After the last few weeks, I pondered why I ever thought that in the first place.
This is not to rag on the relievers, to take pot shots at this mish-mash of young and old guys that have united to form a semblance of a reliable bullpen. Robin Ventura and the Sox organization has done the best with what they have, and that's some rookies who get regular appearances (Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Leyson Septimo, as of late), and a patchwork of over-30 arms (Matt Thornton, Brett Myers and Jesse Crain). They've even had to alter their plans for certain guys on the fly - Hector Santiago went from closer to long reliever to starting pitcher, and Philip Humber went from starter to long reliever and middle reliever. Every so often with the Sox, everything goes smoothly, and the middle relief, set-up men and closer all close out the game swiftly and easily, with no issues.
Yet, for the most part, the bullpen is not cutting it. Sox relievers rank towards the bottom of the American League in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, and pitches per plate appearance. Over the second half, Reed, Thornton and Myers all have ERAs over 4, which is worrisome because, you know, those are the Sox end-of-game pitchers. Basically, Sox relievers as a whole get behind on hitters, put their share of guys on base, allow big hits and make games interesting.
The series versus the Royals over the weekend embodied that. Reed untied Friday's game by coming into a 5-5 game and allowing a first-pitch single and a towering homer to Lorenzo Cain. Cain, not particularly a power hitter, got a hold of a Reed slider that didn't slide, low and in. In Sunday's game, Brett Myers blew a scoreless game in the tenth inning. After getting two outs, the Royals worked Myers for a walk and a duck-snort single. Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur each then lined hard-hit singles for two Royals runs. Even in Saturday's victory for the Sox, the bullpen allowed three late runs and Reed got the last out with the tying run on second. About as shaky of a save you will see.
I'm not sure that the Sox could do much to combat this. Nate Jones, who has been great, already has the role of fireman, the first guy called upon when the starter leaves and there are men on base. No one else is completely suited for that job. Donnie Veal and Brian Omogrosso aren't ready for expanded roles yet. Though Reed hasn't been sharp, he has the strongest arm among the relievers and has pretty good stuff otherwise, so he'll remain as the closer. Leaving the starters out there longer has not gone well for the Sox, as there have already been starts when Jake Peavy and Chris Sale got burned by staying too long.
Add the bullpen to the list of the problems the White Sox have encountered over the last month, a list that includes losing on the road, cold bats, and Jose Quintana's last few shellings. Yet, if the Sox bullpen could just regain that magic that I may or may not be imagining... it would help their postseason chances exponentially.