The battle in baseball is centered around pitching, especially relief pitching. It is a treasured position. Just as the Milwaukee Brewers found out this past season by having their relief pitchers fail with 28 blown saves, the most in the entire major leagues, it is all about that guy coming in out of the bullpen late in the game to preserve the lead and save the game. These guys are a different breed. They think differently. Hall of Fame relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, probably said it best. “I focus on making that one pitch. That’s what I tell myself, “One pitch.” You can’t worry about the next one. Even with a good hitter, he’ll get out seven times out of ten. I want to make sure that this is one of those seven.”
This off-season, especially in the Western Division of the National League, it is completely about that…finding the guy who can concentrate on that one pitch that will make a difference and take their team to the World Series and win it. Of import is the knowledge that in order to win the World Series, teams first have to defeat the San Francisco Giants and their amazing bullpen which will only improve with the return of one Brian Patrick Wilson. With his four-seam fastball, slider and cutter, teamed with Sergio Romo’s slider, two-seamer, change-up and three World Series saves against Detroit this past season, the team that resides in The City is once again the team to chase.
Arizona Diamondbacks made the first move to beef up their bullpen by signing closer Heath Bell. GM Kevin Towers was able to release him from Miami Marlins hell and bring him into the world of Gibson, which is much different from the world of Ozzie. Gibby will grunt where as Guillen simply blows his top with expletives. Look for Bell to reclaim his old form that was his calling card in San Diego two years ago.
The Dodgers made their big move in strengthening their bullpen by re-signing their top reliever this past season, Brandon League. General Manager Ned Colletti understood League’s importance to his team’s rise to the top of the NL West was resting on the guy he traded for last July 30th from Seattle. League went 6 for 6 in closes after succeeding Kenley Jansen who went on the disabled list with an irregular heartbeat.
In San Diego, they are set through 2015 with their closer, Houston Street. With an excellent ERA of 1.85, Street, the former Rookie of the Year in 2005 for Oakland, finished last season with 23 saves in the 40 games in which he appeared. He earned All-Star status for the first time in his career last season.
For those who live in the East, you may be in a bit of a time-warp. Not everything in baseball revolves around New York and Boston. What may appear to be a little late for many in the Eastern time zone to see, fabulous play has been going on this decade West of the Rockies. It’s understood that you can’t read about it in your morning newspapers anymore (but who reads the newspaper anymore for news?). In those early Eastern slumber hours, when head hits the pillow, they are playing baseball out West, good solid baseball. In fact, the last three champions have come out of the National League and in two of those years, the Western Division champion became the champion in all of baseball.
The key this coming season will be to find out which team in the NL West can come up with the bullpen that can deliver the save, especially on the road. Tom House, the former Atlanta Braves reliever stated, “When I’m on the road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo.” That’s what the rest of this division is hoping they have on their staff…the ‘on-the-road boo leader. Look for it this coming season as the newest stat in baseball, the EBL, Earned Boo Leader.
No. Don’t look for that stat in your newspaper. This is the season to look for it on your mobile. It’s under “E” as in Earned Boo Leader.