Last night, the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen had another bad game, bringing the problem to the forefront once again.
Leading 6-5 with two outs in the eighth inning, Joe Smith served up a homer to Chad Tracy, now hitting .145 on the season, on an 0-2 pitch. The next inning, Vinnie Pestano gave up a game winning gopher ball to Anthony Rendon, his first big league circuit shot.
Rendon is a top prospect, but his blast followed miscommunication between Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, which resulted in his foul pop up dropping harmlessly to the ground. However, that doesn’t excuse Pestano serving up a meatball to the rookie.
The Tribe bullpen, considered a strength coming into the season, is leaking oil. Outside of Scott Barnes’ three inning save against the Red Sox in a 12-3 blowout on May 23rd, the last time an Indians’ reliever picked up a save was over a month ago, on May 12th vs. Detroit, when Cody Allen came in and recorded the last out in an extra inning win.
That was Mother’s Day. Today is Father’s Day. The only save recorded between the two days honoring our parents was a “rule” one, because Barnes’ went three innings.
Now, losing 16 of 20 contests drastically lowers your chances of getting saves. They don’t award them in losing efforts. But, there were several games in the losing skein that the bullpen could have changed the outcome.
Most famously, there were the two games in Boston where Terry Francona’s squad were winning late.
On May 25th, Cleveland was leading 4-3 in the eighth inning, when Pestano allowed four runs to the Boston, the last two on a another pop up that dropped in with Asdrubal Cabrera trying to catch it.
The very next day, Chris Perez blew a great start by Corey Kluber in the ninth, turning what looked to be a 5-2 win into a 6-5 defeat.
On Memorial Day, which was the day after Perez’ struggles, Nick Hagadone came into a 2-2 games and promptly allowed a two run shot by Joey Votto to give Cincinnati a lead it never relinquished.
Hagadone was victimized again early this week against Texas, when he allowed another tie breaking HR, this one to Lance Berkman.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. The last game before the Indians entered the losing period, the relief corps allowed game tying home runs in three consecutive innings against Seattle in a game the Tribe would up winning 10-8. The culprits were Pestano, Perez, and Smith, who earned the win when Yan Gomes belted a three run dinger in the 10th inning.
All in all, Cleveland relievers are last in the league in saves, with just nine on the season. To show that saves aren’t the be all, end all for a team, the next two lowest bullpens are Boston (13) and Detroit (14), both of whom reside in first place in their respective divisions.
However, the Tigers have the second best ERA in the American League, which a great starting rotation, and the Red Sox are seventh. The Indians are 13th in that category.
The problem has arisen in two areas: The left-handers (primarily Hagadone and Rich Hill) have been terrible, and the late inning guys, most notably Pestano and Perez have allowed a lot of long balls (a combined eight in 34-2/3 innings).
Smith has a 1.48 ERA, allowing just four runs for the season, but two of them were game tying home runs.
The middle relievers (Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, Allen, and even rookie Matt Langwell) have been solid.
Perhaps it is time to use them in later game situations.
The Indians have not had a lot of save chances so far in 2013, the problem is, when they have had them, they haven’t done the job. This has to make Francona wonder why he wanted to manage again.