During the regular season the Rangers had one of the most effective bullpens in the American League. The relief unit managed a 3.38 ERA, second in the league by a mere 0.05. They also worked more innings than any other team’s bullpen, 503.2 innings. That looked like a major advantage heading into the postseason, but it has ended up as one of the team’s vulnerabilities. In each round the bullpen has cost them games.
The bullpen didn’t factor much into the first two games of the series, since the Rangers’ offense staked the team to a lead while its top two pitchers, Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, absolutely dominated Tampa Bay. Game 3 was a much closer affair, with the Rangers leading 201 heading into the eighth inning. Darren Oliver, who had pitched a scoreless seventh inning, started the frame by striking out Sean Rodriguez. From there it was all downhill.
Dan Johnson started the rally with a double and was singled home a batter later by Carlos Pena. Darren O’Day then came in to strike out one batter before Ron Washington went to his closer, Neftali Feliz, to keep the game tied. He responded by walking the first batter he faced. One more single allowed the Rays to take the lead. Feliz then allowed a home run to lead off the ninth; his replacement, Dustin Nippert, allowed another one to make the score 6-2.
In Game 4 Derek Holland allowed two runs in four innings. Under normal circumstances this might not be bad, but it did allow Tampa Bay to increase the lead from 3-0 to 5-0. Thankfully for the Rangers, Lee made the bullpen a moot point in Game 5.
The Rangers’ bullpen melted down just once in the ALCS, but it was their gravest offense of the postseason. It actually started with the starter, Wilson, who allowed the first two runners to reach base in the eighth inning of Game 1. That made the score 5-2. Oliver then entered the game and issued walks to both hitters he faced. Washington had seen enough and went to O’Day, who gave up a two-RBI single to make the score 5-4.
With the lefty Robinson Cano coming up Washington opted for a left hander, despite Cano’s success against left-handed pitching (.368 wOBA on the season, .348 for his career). Cano responded with a game-tying single. That led Washington to make yet another change, this time bringing in Holland to face the lefty-mashing Marcus Thames. Thames broke his bat, but the ball went over the infield and allow the go-ahead run to score.
The Rangers’ WE heading into the inning was 95.9 percent. When Wilson left it was still at 86.5 percent. After Thames’s single it was just 17.9 percent, and at the end of the inning it was 32.5 percent. The bullpen did everything in giving away that game.
Lee caused the greatest damage in Game 1, allowing seven runs (six earned) in 4.2 innings. But the bullpen put this one away. O’Day started by alllowing a run in relief of Lee. Mark Lowe allowed the death blow, though, by allowing three runs in the eighth inning. The Rangers responded with three of their own in the ninth, but by that point it didn’t matter.
In Game 2 the bullpen implosion was far worse. Wilson, despite a blister issue, managed to keep his team in the game through six innings, allowing just one run. A run in the seventh made that 2-0 Giants, but the Rangers still had a chance. That is, until the eighth inning, when Holland threw 12 of his 13 pitches for balls, resulting in three straight walks. Then, for some reason, with his team down just three runs, Washington again went to Lowe, who didn’t record a single out before letting the game get away. Michael Kirkman finished it off by allowing three more runs on a triple and a double.
Take away one of a team’s strengths and chances are things are going to go wrong for them. The Rangers have suffered because of their bullpen this postseason. While their offense hasn’t been stellar, their starters have for the most part kept them in games. Without that bullpen that pitched so well during the season, they haven’t been able to compensate. And so they will once again need Cliff Lee to eat as many innings as possible. And once he’s out, it’s time Washington handed the ball to Feliz.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.