The Orioles are surprise contenders behind an excellent bullpen. Or, more accurately, behind a bullpen that has pitched excellently.
Pedro Strop was a utility infielder who spent three years in short-season ball and never slugged as high as .350 before the Rockies decided, in 2006, to try his live arm on the mound. In his first try as a pitcher, he struck out 22, and walked just two, in 13 innings. But the Rockies released him two years later, and the Rangers picked him up, waited him out, and eventually promoted him to the big leagues. He had an ERA over 7, with 22 walks in 27 big-league innings, when they traded him to Baltimore as the non-famous half of an August waiver-period trade for Mike Gonzalez.
That was a year ago this week, and Strop has been far more significant in this year’s pennant race than Gonzalez ever was with Texas. He has the second-best ERA in the American League (minimum 30 innings), and among relievers, his win probability added is sixth, ahead of all but four closers. He has the fifth-best groundball rate in the majors, a fastball that averages 97 mph, and no platoon split worth worrying about. The Orioles entered play Sunday tied for a Wild Card spot, though their playoff odds were just 13.4 percent. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that, without Strop's work this year, those odds would be close to zero.
Joe Girardi's questionable moves during Game Two may have cost the Yankees a commanding 2-0 series lead.
You're Joe Girardi, manager of the Yankees, the AL's second-highest scoring team this year, and the one that led the majors in home runs. You're sitting on a 1-0 lead in the Division Series against the Tigers because the night before, your lineup exploded for six runs in the sixth inning against a flagging starter. Of your A-list relievers, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano last pitched five days ago, while Mariano Rivera has gotten four outs in three appearances over the past week. You're down 4-0 in the seventh inning of this contest, but you've got two on and one out with your number-nine hitter, Brett Gardner, coming to the plate. Gardner has been struggling (.223/.320/.313 since July 31), but his two-run single broke open Game One, and he lined out in his last at-bat. After him, you have Derek Jeter, who is 0-for-3 but had two hits late Saturday night, followed by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, your two most dangerous hitters this season.
The short-handed Yankees relief corps has succeeded by limiting homers and outpitching its collective track record, but can its run of success be sustained?
As the season began, the AL East bullpens took center stage in this space. As I noted then, the team whose bullpen had the highest WXRL had won the division in each of the past five years, and with some AL East clubs saddled with starting staffs chock full o’ question marks, relief arms figured to play a key role this season.
Last week, the division’s bullpens again drew headlines. The Yankees, armed with the American League’s best bullpen, saw their last remaining depth crumble away as set-up man Joba Chamberlainlanded on the disabled list with a strained right elbow flexor. He has since undergone Tommy John surgery and will not return until early 2012. Although he says he felt no pain and couldn’t pinpoint when he was injured, it's clear that the Joba Rules failed to protect him, if indeed they didn't contribute to the damage.
Ronnie Belliard and Luis Hernandez head for Triple-A, Brandon Belt breaks camp with the big squad, and Matt Holliday loses an appendix but keeps a roster spot.
By my count (or more accurately, Rob McQuown’s), Christina Kahrl has devoted 952 articles to analyzing transactions, and that’s probably selling her short, since our database doesn’t go back quite as far as her byline. In the first Transaction Analysis entry that I could find, Ozzie Guillen appears not as a manager, but as a shortstop and the owner of an exceedingly low OBP; given that Guillen has just entered his eighth season at the helm of the White Sox, it’s clear that Christina has been at this for some time, and unlike Guillen, she didn’t overstay her welcome before shifting to a new role.
Tonight is the night for Johan, and a brief op-ed piece on instant replay.
Let's make one thing clear: that the 2008 Mets blew a 7-0 lead and lost to the Phillies, 8-7 in 13 innings, to fall out of first place, has absolutely nothing to do with 2007, has nothing to do with anyone's character, and does not determine who will win the NL East this season.