Friday, October 12, 2007

Quantity AND Quality

This series will showcase the two best bullpens in baseball. Both have depth, length, and can hit you from both sides. These two pens are the envy of all other teams. As we did last series, we will skip discussing the rotations as Paul Cousineau from and The DiaTribe put together this in-depth piece that is all you need to read.


CLOSER: Jonathon Papelbon (1-3, 1.85 ERA, 37 Saves)
RHP Eric Gagne (4-2, 3.81 ERA)
LHP Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.22 ERA)
RHP Mike Timlin (2-1, 3.42 ERA)
LHP Javier Lopez (2-1, 3.10 ERA)
RHP Manny Delcarmen (0-0, 2.05 ERA)
LHP Jon Lester (4-0, 4.57 ERA)

Talk about a place where there is no weakness. When I was putting together the stats for the Red Sox bullpen, I looked at the group as a whole in awe. Four Righties and Three Lefties. It starts with powerhouse closer Papelbon. One of the most dominant stoppers in the game, Papelbon throws a high 90's fast ball with a wicked breaking pitch from the same arm slot that can slow down down to the mid-70's. But don't kid yourself, he is hard-stuff first and foremost. If the Red Sox get to the ninth with the lead, it's most likely curtains for the Tribe. Setting him up from the Left side is Okajima and Lopez. Okajima was perhaps the best set up man in the league the first half of the season before struggling through mid-August and early September. Manager Terry Francona sat him for a three week stretch in September to revive his tired arm for the playoffs. It worked as the Lefty pitched two scoreless innings in the ALDS. Lopez is a side-winder who faced the Indians four times this year in situational spots and didn't allow a run. Lester is the long man who could start Game Four if Tim Wakefield can't go.

From the Right side, the Sox have three solid options in Gagne, Timlin, and Delcarmen. When Gagne was acquired from Texas at the trading deadline, conventional wisdom said if the Sox led a game going into the seventh with Okajima, Gagne, and Papelbon, it was game over. That hasn't been the case. Gagne has been a collasal dissapointment, blowing several leads in big spots before settling down. He didn't allow a run in his last five regular season appearances. Timlin is still doing it at age 41. He doesn't scare anyone with his stuff, but his sinking fastball still keeps hitters off base. The best shot the Indians will have at getting to the Sox pen will be if Timlin is pitching late in a game. Delcarmen is the wild card of the group. His stuff is electric and is the future of the Sox pen with Papelbon. Indians GM Mark Shapiro held out for Delcarmen in the Coco Crisp/Andy Marte deal, but Sox GM Theo Epstein refused to part with him.


CLOSER: Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07 ERA, 45 Saves)
RHP Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47 ERA)
LHP Rafael Perez (1-2, 1.78 ERA)
RHP Jenson Lewis (1-1, 2.15 ERA)
LHP Aaron Fultz (4-3, 2.92 ERA)
RHP Tom Mastny (7-2, 4.68 ERA)
LHP Aaron Laffey (4-2, 4.56 ERA)

The Yankees series was the national coming out party for the Tribe bullpen. Betancourt, Perez, and Lewis were remarkable. Betancourt was unhittable with his fastball and his ability to locate just about wherever he wants to. Perez lived up to his billing as one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. His one trouble spot ended with the double play ball he induced off the bat of Derek Jeter in the sixth inning of Game Four. The beauty of Raffy Right and Raffy Left is that they can face any player from either side of the plate. They aren't just strictly matchup guys. With that said, you can bet Red Sox slugger David Ortiz will be seeing Perez on several occasions during this series. Then there is Lewis. The kid who started his season in AA Akron has become almost a Betancourt-light. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out four in his two ALDS appearances. Expect to see Lewis in the games Jake Westbrook and/or Paul Byrd start. Rookie Lefty Aaron Laffey did not see any action against the Yankees, but at one point thought he would; he was ready in the second inning of Game Four. If Byrd or Westbrook implode early, the kid will be pressed into service. Veteran Lefty Aaron Fultz wasn't so hot during his one inning stint in Game Three, allowing two hits and two runs (unearned, thanks to the Trot Nixon error). Against this lineup and with his weak stuff, I wouldn't expect Fultz would get anything more than mop up duty in a blow out. The same goes for Tom Mastny.

What is amazing is how the Indians bullpen evolved throughout the year. In April, Borowski was the closer, Betancourt was the 8th inning guy, but Roberto Hernandez was right there with him. Fultz was the matchup lefty, and Fernando Cabrera was a key cog. By May, Hernandez was pushed to middle relief, Mastny assumed the Hernandez spot in front of Betancourt and Fultz was still in his role. Come June, Fultz was down with an injury, Perez was pitching middle relief, Hernandez was released, Cabrera was a mess, Mastny was settling in as the only other reliable reliever to go along with Betancourt. July hit and Mastny couldn't get anyone out, so he was pushed to middle relief, Perez was dominating in middle relief so he was given a bigger role pitching in the 7th, Cabrera was designated for assignment, Fultz was still hurt, Jason Stanford was the long man, and Jenson Lewis was brought up for a trial run. All the while guys like Edward Mujica and Mike Koplove were given shots, but they didn't take. By mid-August, the roles were defined, things were set and the Tribe went on their run to the AL Central crown behind Closer Borowski, Betancourt and Perez in late innings, Lewis in middle relief, and Mastny and Fultz as the mop-up guys.

Advantage: Red Sox - You have got to respect the number of quality guys they can run out at you. Lopez can be a matchup lefty and tough to hit because of his side-winding delivery. He is what Mike Myers used to be for the Sox. Okajima was key for them all season in getting the ball to Papelbon. Delcarmen has nasty stuff and is in the Jenson Lewis role for the Sox. Timlin still does it with smoke and mirrors and is trusted to the end by Francona. Gagne, if on, is one of the nastiest pitchers in the game with his 95-plus fastball and his 70 MPH change-up. Then you get to the best closer in the game in Papelbon. Wow. The Tribe is about the only team that can come close to matching the quality the Red Sox possess in their bullpen, but they cannot touch the quantity. Betancourt, Perez, and Lewis are all guys who would be the best set-up man on 90% of the teams in baseball.

The biggest difference is closer. To quote the great Peter Gammons of ESPN, "I have a feeling that this series is going to come down to one huge home run off of Joe Borowski that will be the difference between two evenly matched teams." While Perez and Betancourt serve as a superb bridge to the ninth inning, Borowski could make that bridge collapse when the Indians least need it. On the other side, nobody is worried about the same thing happening to Papelbon.

No comments: