The White Sox, Tigers and Mariners are all playing above expectations while also turning a tidy profit for bettors. What does the trio of upstarts have in common? A top-shelf bullpen, that's what.
In this day and age, a dominant bullpen can send a club to great heights. We witnessed that with the two most recent World Series appearances by the Royals, which was largely predicated on the bullpen's three-headed monster patrolling the seventh through ninth innings.
It's more of the same this year for the Royals as they sport MLB's third-best bullpen ERA at 2.33.
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Conversely, a poor bullpen is almost impossible to overcome. Consider the current bottom-four teams in bullpen ERA (Reds Padres, Rockies, Braves). They were a combined 38-64 through the games of May 2.
With this in mind, each week Doc's Sports will provide look into the best and worst bullpen performances of the past seven days and what that might infer moving forward. Relief work can be streaky proposition. A quality closer blows one save opportunity and a couple more could be forthcoming. A reliable set-up man gets lit up, future performance is often impacted.
Below are what have been statistically the five best and five worst relief staffs in MLB through the games of May 2.
Best MLB Bullpens (by ERA)
Chicago White Sox (4-0, 9 SV, 1.60)
Baltimore Orioles (7-2, 7 SV, 2.23)
Kansas City Royals (3-1, 9 SV, 2.33)
Seattle Mariners (5-2, 8 SV, 2.41)
Oakland A's (5-2, 8 SV, 2.42)
The White Sox (18-8) have gone 8-2 over their last 10 games and are three games in front of the Tigers to lead the AL Central. After a reliable 2015 campaign, set-up man Zach Duke has been even better this season. He has a 1.93 ERA with six holds in 15 appearances through the first month-plus of the season. Closer David Robertson, who had 34 saves and a 3.40 ERA last year, has been virtually unhittable this season. He's given up just a single run while registering eight saves in 11 appearances. Robertson's previous bugaboo--giving up the long ball--has been a non-factor thus far. Such a back-end of the bullpen should keep the White Sox in the hunt.
The other noteworthy relief staff of this group is the Mariners. Closer Steve Cishek, who was acquired this winter after lackluster 2015, has returned to form in a big way in Seattle. He's a perfect seven-for-seven in save opportunities with a miniscule 0.75 ERA. Equally as impressive has been the set-up work from the triumvirate of Nick Vincent (1.74 ERA, 4 HLD), Vidal Nuno (2.16 ERA, 4 HLD) and Joel Peralta (2.45 ERA, 5 HLD). On top of that, off-season acquisition and projected main set-up man Joaquin Benoit (2.34 ERA in 2015) will soon be returning from the disabled list. Don't be surprised if the Mariners contend until the end in the wide-open AL West.
Worst MLB Bullpens (by ERA)
Cincinnati Reds (6-7, 1 SV, 6.54)
San Diego Padres (4-3, 5 SV, 5.27)
Colorado Rockies (4-4, 6 SV, 5.07)
Atlanta Braves (4-7, 5 SV, 4.88)
Texas Rangers (3-7, 9 SV, 4.88)
Just as a good bullpen can propel a club to new heights, a battered bullpen can plunge a team to new depths. That is the case with most of this group as just the Rangers are currently above .500. Neither the Reds, Padres, Rockies or Braves were expected to contend this season, so let's put our focus this week on the Rangers.
Texas (15-11) is currently a half-game up of the Mariners in the AL West, but it's no thanks to the bullpen. While the Rangers starting staff has posted MLB's fifth-best ERA at 3.15, the bullpen has been the fifth-worst in baseball. However, that's just the surface. The past two weeks things have improved in Arlington. First, closer Shawn Tolleson has rebounded from a rough start by converting seven consecutive save opportunities, which has lowered his bloated ERA to 5.40.Meanwhile, top set-up man Sam Dyson--who was also touched up early in the year--has failed to allow a run in nine of his last 10 outings. Everything else seems in place for Texas. If the Rangers bullpen can continue its current form, the division seems theirs for the taking.
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