Bird’s House: Betting on the bullpen

Written by on August 13, 2014 in Orioles, Sports - No comments
Mariano Rivera in 2009. - Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Mariano Rivera in 2009. – Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Six-inning games.

From here on out, that’s all the Baltimore Orioles need to win. Six innings.

Sounds simple, right? While it might not be that simple, it’s certainly a recipe for success that should pay off huge dividends.

Before I get into the Orioles’ situation, I would like to call upon another successful situation, and while it might pain you to read this, it is very relevant.

Back in 1996, the New York Yankees had average starting pitching. Their team ERA was 4.65 on the season, ranking them just below the league average of 4.60. Their rotation consisted of pitchers Andy Pettitte, Kenny Rogers, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key and David Cone. Ramiro Mendoza also started a few games, but he would soon become  a mainstay in the New York bullpen.

While the above rotation doesn’t seem too scary—keep in mind this was the post-Mets Dwight Gooden—it was certainly serviceable.

The Yankees’ bullpen was what made them scary. Two names in fact: Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland. Other relievers like Jeff Nelson, Graeme Lloyd, and Bob Wickman certainly did their part as well, but when Rivera is your setup man, you know you better get those runs early in the game, because, come the seventh inning, you’re going to get nothing.

Come World Series time, the Yankees only needed their starters to go six innings, as they could use Rivera, Lloyd, and Nelson to set up Wetteland, who was the eventual World Series MVP, saving  all four New York wins.

What happens when you are a starter and have confidence in your bullpen and know that you only really need to give six quality innings? You can pitch to the situation much better, knowing that you don’t have to conserve your pitch count to last seven or eight innings.

Now back to the Orioles of 2014. They were already armed with Zach Britton and Darren O’Day in the bullpen before they went out, and they added Andrew Miller, who has been lights out this year for the Boston Red Sox. If they correctly use Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz in situational match-ups only, then their bullpen is set up for success.

We all know the Orioles’ offense can score runs. The main question is can the starting pitchers hand over a lead to the bullpen after six innings? If the answer is yes, I have a feeling the Orioles will make it far into October this year.

by Andy Mindzak

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