Around the NL West: Stingy Bullpens


Standings as of 4/12/12

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers 7-1
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks 5-2
  3. Colorado Rockies 3-4
  4. San Francisco Giants 3-4
  5. San Diego Padres 2-6

The Rockies bullpen is off to a great start. In recent days they have worked 9 2/3 scoreless innings in their last two games. They kept the score at 4-1 to give the team a chance to rally in a tough loss to the San Francisco Giants Thursday, then outdid themselves with 6+ shutout innings last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks to bail out Juan Nicasio and set up a thrilling 7-6 victory. From the looks of things early on in the NL West, the Rockies will need their bullpen to maintain that effectiveness to keep pace with the rest of the division.

The first place Los Angeles Dodgers are 7-1, and closer Javy Guerra has recorded the save in 5 of those victories. For those of you who find the ‘save’ statistic to be meaningless, stupid, etc., these numbers ought to persuade you: Guerra has allowed a scant 1 hit and 1 walk in those innings to go with 5 strikeouts. Matt Guerrier boasts a matching 0.00 ERA and a filthy curveball. Kenley Jansen has struggled some early, including the classic blown save/win combo that he pulled last night. But on balance, the performance of the pen, combined with certain inexplicable individual accomplishments (Aaron Harang did what?!?), has propelled the Dodgers to a lightning fast start.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have their own back-of-the-bullpen success to thank for their 5-2 record, even with Todd Helton plating the go ahead run in the 8th inning against Bryan Shaw last night. With key players on their offense struggling, Arizona grinded out wins against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres by locking things down late, including victories by the following final scores: 5-4, 5-4, 4-2, and 3-1. The Snakes are hoping their bullpen can pick up where it left off on its historical improvement from last season. They are presumably encouraged by the performance of J.J. Putz so far, as he and his gnarly soul patch are already in mid-season form.

The familiar foes that anchor the San Francisco Giants in the bullpen have had an adventurous go of things up to this point. Most of this was at the hands of the Rockies, with the 17 run eruption on Wednesday night and the late inning drama on Thursday in what was eventually a Giants victory. Lefty specialist Jeremy Affeldt will presumably recover since he has survived the Coors Field carnival before. The key for San Francisco will be whether Brian Wilson is getting into significant jams just to get out of them (like the glory days and World Series run) or if his struggles reflect deeper problems, such as his declining velocity. Sources close to the situation tell me that scouts believe his XXS sized pants might also be hindering his performance.

While the San Diego Padres find themselves in last place with a 2-6 record, it looks as though they will pose problems for opponents on the rare occasions that they hand their bullpen a late lead. Even with some bumpy moments, Luke Gregerson has started the season unscathed in three appearances, and the artist formerly known to Rockies fans as “heart attack” Huston Street is perfect so far, with 1 save and o walks. The wild card would seem to be flame throwing Andrew Cashner, who has struggled in the last week. On Thursday night he threw a fastball into Chris Young‘s white-hot swing for an insurance home run, and he was tagged with the loss last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers after issuing 3 consecutive 2-out walks. He still has the potential to be formidable as he gets more experience, and the Rockies can count on a challenge as they try to steal close games in San Diego over the course of the season.

Fun fact: Huston Street finished 25th in AL MVP voting in 2005. You can look at that two ways. 1) It means nothing because nobody cares who finished 5th in MVP voting, let alone 25th or 2) Huston Effin Street actually, officially, seriously received votes to be MVP…of the league. My stomach hurts…

We all know how those middle of the season games on the west coast tend to go for Rockies fans. It’s like 11:15 P.M. mountain time on a Tuesday night, the Rockies are down 2-1 to the Giants/Padres/Dodgers in the 7th or 8th inning, and in your sleepy haze you know the odds of any meaningful late offense against those tough bullpens, in that thick-west-coast-sea-level air, are depressingly low. That combined with the continued improvement of the Arizona pen mean that the Rockies need to match that stinginess in the late innings. Matt Belisle needs to keep being Mr. Steady, Rex Brothers needs to consistently throw strikes to allow his dirty stuff to do its work, and Rafael Betancourt needs to sustain his success as the closer. It’s up to the starting pitching to keep the Rockies competitive early in games, but it is profoundly important that the bullpen hold the fort when they are handed late leads.

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