October full of iffy bullpens awaits

Updated: September 27, 2009

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

J.A. Happ is healthy and could be called upon to help the ailing Phillies bullpen in the postseason.

With one week left in the regular season, each contender headed to the postseason (according to Monday's standings) shares a common identity crisis: With the exception of the Yankees, every team has bullpen issues that will likely make or break them in October and, perhaps, November.

The Phillies have the most glaring closer calamity, with Brad Lidge falling apart. Nate Easler, from ESPN's Stats & Information, points out opponents are hitting .421 against Lidge's first-pitch fastballs. That number during Lidge's perfect season last year was .176. After Lidge's 11th blown save of the season Wednesday, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies would consider other options for closing games. The problem is, none of those options appear immediately reliable.

J.C. Romero and Brett Myers both hope to be back this week, but neither guy may be healthy enough to close through the entire postseason grind. Tyler Walker is a righty who'd been holding lefty hitters to a .222 average until we watched him serve up a Ryan Braun walk-off moonshot in Milwaukee on Saturday night. Ryan Madson got a closer audition when Lidge's struggles worsened, but Madson has only two more saves than he has blown saves and has allowed five ninth-inning home runs.

J.A. Happ seems to have recovered from that strained right side muscle that forced him to miss two recent starts, and could be their best non-Lidge closer option. As a big 6-foot-6 lefty, he could provide an intimidation factor late in games. In his 12 relief appearances this season, opponents have hit only .184 against Happ. Heading into the postseason, the Phillies' bullpen has plenty of identity issues and undefined roles but, as of now, no closer.

In St. Louis, Ryan Franklin's September raises questions about his October. After cruising through much of the season allowing only six runs in his first 52 appearances, Franklin allowed seven runs over his next eight appearances, while opponents went 12-for-30 against him. Franklin has had a wonderful year as the Cardinals' closer, but his September was shaky, and remember this: He has never thrown a postseason pitch.

Colorado rebuilt its entire bullpen over the course of this season, and it's a big reason why the Rockies are leading the NL wild card, but their relievers have raised a few eyebrows lately. Huston Street will head into October after missing 21 days in September with a biceps injury. Franklin Morales has allowed runs in five of his past six outings, including a game against the Padres on Thursday in which he threw 11 balls and only four strikes.

Rafael Betancourt allowed runs in consecutive outings for the first time since his first two appearances this season. However, opponents are hitting only .182 against him in September. Yes, the Rockies' reclamation bullpen has been solid all season, but you can't sit here today knowing what you'll get from the group next month.

As far as the Dodgers go, they won't win. In fact, they won't survive the division series. I'll go you one better: Put me down as the Dodgers going three-and-out in the first round. That's my bold prediction. Nearly every year, one September favorite forgets to show up in October. This year, it will be the Dodgers.

Their bullpen will be the reason the Red Sox don't survive the postseason. Manny Delcarmen's walk rate per nine innings this season is 5.1. Last year, it was 3.4. A year ago, right-handed hitters batted .218 against Delcarmen. This season, it's .324. Ramon Ramirez? Opponents are hitting .280 against him since the All-Star break versus .199 before the break. Hideki Okajima was sent from New York back to Boston this weekend for treatment of soreness in his side. That guy that came out of the Red Sox bullpen and got those big postseason outs in the sixth and seventh inning isn't there.

Boston's eighth-inning mix looks like Daniel Bard from the right side and Billy Wagner from the left. Yes, Bard throws over 100 miles per hour, but can he get a critical out in a postseason road game? He'll likely have to. Heading into last weekend, Bard was 0-2, with a 5.70 ERA on the road this year with 18 walks in 23 1/3 innings.

Yes, Tigers fans, I took some shots at your bullpen earlier this year, and now I'll certainly admit the Detroit relievers have been better, especially Brandon Lyon, who is 5-0, 1.64 at home this season. Fu-Te Ni has done a very nice job as a situational guy, but opponents hit .393 against Bobby Seay this month, and now he has a pectoral strain near his throwing shoulder. There's also this: Fernando Rodney has had four outings this month in which he's allowed multiple runs.

The Angels' bullpen has an interesting mix. Rookie right-hander Kevin Jepsen has become so good against right-handed hitters that now he's pitching into the ninth inning until a left-handed hitter steps up. Jepsen has steadily improved to the point that opponents, who hit .389 against him before the All-Star break, have hit only .216 against him after the break, including .154 in September. Jason Bulger has been equally effective with opponents hitting only .169 against Bulger since the break.

However, while Jepsen and Bulger have blossomed in the season's second half, Brian Fuentes has had problems. The Angels closer went into last weekend with a 5.66 ERA since the All-Star break, while opponents have hit .293 against Fuentes over that span. You could make the argument that the Angels might be best served in the postseason having Fuentes get the big left-handed outs late in the game and then let Jepsen close. Stay tuned.

The Yankees seem to be the lone contenders to buck this troublesome trend. I've said all season that the way the Yankees have developed a solid bullpen corps will turn out to be one of 2009's critical storylines. When they left Tampa in April, the Yankees' bullpen meant potluck in the sixth and seventh innings, Brian Bruney in the eighth and then Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees, however, did a wonderful job of creating a dependable group of arms to get those big outs late in games. They stuck with and developed their current mix of Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson, Phil Coke and Phil Hughes to lead into Rivera. Robertson had to be shut down with elbow tightness but reportedly threw a problem-free bullpen session last week and, barring a setback, will be on New York's ALDS roster. The chance to add Joba Chamberlain to that mix, if he's not in the rotation, makes the Yankees group even more formidable.

So often, postseason survival comes down to one thing: Can your bullpen get those critical outs late in games? As of this moment, nearly every team we'll see next month still can't answer that question with certainty.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 24 | Sept. 23 | Sept. 22 | Sept. 21 | Sept. 20

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem points.

Web Gem points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem points leaderboard
Ryan Zimmerman 61
Mark Reynolds 53
Jack Wilson 37
Brandon Inge 37
Cristian Guzman 29
Carlos Gomez 27
Jacoby Ellsbury 27
David Wright 26
Ronny Cedeno 25
Michael Bourn 25

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 19
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 13
Mark Reynolds Arizona Third base 13
David Wright New York Mets Third base 10
Jack Wilson Pittsburgh-Seattle Shortstop 9
Chone Figgins L.A. Angels Third base 8

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Pittsburgh 44
Washington 38
Cincinnati 33


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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield
12 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield

WEB GEMS

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at just how dominant the Yankees have been over the years. The Bronx Bombers clinched their first AL East title since 2006 by finishing a sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday:

Most AL East titles
Divisional era (since 1969)
Yankees 16
Orioles 8
Red Sox 6
Blue Jays 5

-- Excludes 1981/1994 strike seasons

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
A. Gonzalez, SD40BucknerTop 4: 3-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Teixeira, NYY38BardBot 8: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Cruz, TEX33PriceBot 2: 2-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Zimmerman, WAS32LoweBot 1: 1-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Morales, LAA32GonzalezBot 3: 0-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Granderson, DET28HudsonTop 1: 0-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Willingham, WAS24LoweBot 1: 0-0, 2 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Matt Cain• The Giants were reeling, losing four of five to significantly hinder their chances of catching Colorado in the NL wild-card race. Matt Cain stabilized things a bit Sunday, pitching eight shutout innings against the Cubs in a 5-1 win. Cain permitted only three hits and struck out eight, but the Giants are still five back in the wild-card chase.
WORST
Frank Francisco• The Rays could not score over the first seven innings against the Rangers. That all changed over the final two innings, when Tampa Bay put seven runs on the board to earn a 7-6 win. Frank Francisco had the most forgettable line of the day -- two-thirds of an inning, 3 hits, 2 walks and 4 runs for his fourth blown save of the season.

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Twins at Tigers, 8:05 p.m., 7 p.m. ET

Neither team could take advantage of the other's loss Sunday. The Tigers take a two-game lead into the series. Detroit starter Rick Porcello has won four of his past five decisions. The one loss? Yes, against the Twins. Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn has given up 15 hits and 11 runs in 12 1/3 innings against the Tigers this year.

Marlins at Braves, 7 p.m. ET

The Braves have sneaked up on the Rockies, displacing the Giants as Colorado's No. 1 pursuer in the NL wild-card race. Atlanta is 2½ back and sends Jair Jurrjens out the mound against Florida. Jurrjens has won each of his past three starts, allowing only three earned runs in 22 innings during those outings. Anibal Sanchez is coming off his best start of the season; he went eight shutout innings against the Phillies, allowing two hits in a 3-0 win.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

The Tigers and Twins head to Comerica Park on Monday for a four-game series which will have a big impact on who wins the AL Central. The two teams have already played each other 14 times this season, with the Twins holding a 9-5 edge in those games.

The Twins have had a distinct advantage against the Tigers' fastballs, especially those over the outside part of the plate. The Tigers have also been powerless against the Twins' sliders, particularly from Brian Duensing and Carl Pavano, who pitch Tuesday and Wednesday. On the other hand, the Twins have done nothing against the Tigers' curveballs. Fortunately for the Twins, their most formidable opponent in that area has been Edwin Jackson, whom they will not face in this series.

The Twins feast on off-speed pitches left in the strike zone (.355 BA). They also jump on first pitches at a better clip.

Twins vs. Tigers
Head-to-head BA this season
Twins Tigers
Overall .287 .244
Fastballs .292 .262
Fastball away .313 .218
Sliders .312 .163*
Curves .176 .217
Off-speed, in zone .355 .267
First pitch .472 .338

* Miss percentage is 35.2

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 10 games on Monday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

AL CENTRAL
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Tigers 83-72 -- 77.0%
Twins 81-74 2.0 23.0%
NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 88-68 -- 84.7%
Braves 85-70 2.5 15.0%
Marlins 83-73 5.0 0.2%
Giants 83-73 5.0 0.2%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October.