A good bullpen can make all the difference in the postseason. The intensity of each game ratchets up to 11, meaning managers are more willing to turn things over to the pen the instant their starter shows fatigue. [restrict]
That’s not just our opinion, though. Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians dominated the juggernauts of the American League last year by utilizing his cadre of flamethrowers regularly. Sure, it helps to have studs like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but Francona needed to trust every single member of his staff to advance. Remember when Trevor Bauer lasted just two-thirds of an inning due to his bloody finger? Cleveland won that game on the strength of all its relievers.
Teams seemed to recognize that at the trade deadline, as seemingly every contender added yet another weapon to the back-end. With bullpens basically set for the stretch run, we asked our experts to tell us which team’s relievers they trust the most in October.
As you can see in the video above, Mike Oz went with Cleveland. Tim Brown decided to go with the strong depth of the New York Yankees. The rest of the teams were up for grabs.
The Cubs’ bullpen doesn’t have the lights-out closer it did in last year’s postseason, but it’s still really formidable. Even though their closer, Wade Davis, is having a roller-coaster season (an ERA of 3.48 since June 1 isn’t great), Davis has solid postseason experience. In 2015, he was absolutely spotless for Kansas City, and now he’s got a ring. But Davis isn’t really the reason the Cubs’ bullpen can be trusted. Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop have been fantastic. Strop is back in 2014 form, and Duensing is having a career year. The two of them should be able to protect whatever lead the Cubs can give them. Of course, the Cubs offense has to actually get a lead first, and that’s a whole other story. (Liz Roscher)
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
There’s no reliever I would trust more in the playoffs than Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Having that anchor is a big reason why I’m confident their bullpen will hold up under the pressure of the postseason. The biggest reason though is the incredible amount of depth they’ve been able to build up, which should give manager Dave Roberts a leg up on his counterparts.
The Dodgers seem to have every role covered, in some cases two or three times over. For example, Luis Avilan has been a quality left-hander for Roberts to selectively use all season. But instead of relying on him solely in that role, the Dodgers went out and acquired an All-Star lefty in Tony Watson, in addition to wildcard Tony Cingrani. That gives them extra options for a potential series against a left-handed heavy team, where other clubs might be locked into the same crew.
From the right-handed side, the Dodgers are getting stellar seasons from Brandon Morrow and Pedro Baez. Beyond them, they have a plethora of starting pitchers who could transition to the bullpen, making it even deeper and more dangerous. We’ve already seen Kenta Maeda make successful appearances there.
Then there’s the starting rotation. If Clayton Kershaw is healthy, Yu Darvish pitches like an ace and Alex Wood stays on a roll, there might not be a great need to rely on the bullpen for outs. If the starters keep the bridge to Jansen short, the Dodgers will keep mowing opponents down like they have in the regular season. (Mark Townsend)
BOSTON RED SOX
I guess the team with the best bullpen ERA falls to me. Red Sox relievers have combined for a 2.93 ERA, which is the best in the league. Craig Kimbrel has turned back the clock, and is putting up a vintage season. He’s struck out 50 percent of the batters he’s faced this year. Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman have all been above average as well.
After a rough first month, Fernando Abad has turned things around. His ERA was 5.06 in April, but hasn’t been higher than 3.60 in a single month since. The club also went out and acquired Addison Reed, who quietly blossomed into one of the best relievers in baseball with the New York Mets. People seem to be sleeping on that move. He gives them yet another dependable weapon to utilize if David Price fizzles again in October. (Chris Cwik)