We are rolling into the last stretch of the first stretch of the season and a few things are becoming clear:
1- The bats are still a little cold, save Melky "It's not a tumah!" Cabrera. Thankfully, the rest of the AL East also features icy bats so the division is drum tight. The Jays are on top, but it really could be any of these teams at this point.
2- Hell is a bullpen that can't throw strikes. That second of the double header in Minnesota on April 17th was horrific. There were so many ways to get out of it with a double play, but the Twins didn't even have to swing at anything. It was bad to the point of being farcical. Walk, walk, sac bunt, walk, wild pitch, walk and wild pitch, stolen base, walk and wild pitch, stolen base, walk, walk, single, walk, strikeout, groundout.
I've thought a little bit about what the hell happened and I've come to the conclusion that two things contributed. It was frigid for those games. Why the Twins decided to build an open air stadium when the temperature is what it is in the spring and fall is quite mysterious.
Bullpen pitchers are creatures of habit. They have a set number of pitches as a part of their warm up. And when it's 20 C, the number is probably enough but when it could snow it's probably not. The balance between warming up and getting tired before actually being called into the game is a fine one. Also, everyone in Canada knows what it feels like when you forget your gloves and your fingers get that painful, tingling feeling. Touch is vital in pitching. As for why the Twins' pitchers didn't seem to be as affected, it may be that they are just more used to it. Or I'm totally wrong and the Jays bullpen was due to suck.
One of the reasons that it was due to suck is extreme overuse. As John Lott reports in the National Post today, the Jays`starters collectively rank 24 of 30 in innings pitched and the bullpen ranks second in innings pitched. They'd likely be first in innings pitched if it weren't for the stupendous start of Mark Buehrle.
Buehrle, who usually starts Aprils rather slowly, is 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA and averages 7 innings per start. Watching him pitch has become one of my favourite things so far about the 2014 season. It's like he toys with hitters. On his hot start, Buehrle has this to say, “I haven’t changed anything in 10 or 11 years,” he said. “I’m not going to keep asking questions. I’m going to go out there and run with it and see what happens.”
Watching the last two starts from Morrow and Hutchison, the problem with relying heavily on the strikeout becomes apparent. Striking out nine, as Hutchison did in his last start, is great but not when you are done for the day early and your already taxed bullpen is expected to pitch three or four innings consistently. The normally reliable Aaron Loup blew the game vs Cleveland on Sunday, continuing the suddenly crappy bullpen trend.
Buehrle works quickly, throws a lot of strikes so he doesn't walk anyone and he isn't afraid to put the ball in play. One of the reasons I think he does that is because he likes to see Brett Lawrie do something interesting and a little crazy. A bit of in game entertainment.
“It’s not just today, it’s been his first four starts and probably for the majority of his career,” Francona said. “He gets a lead and he kind of puts you in a rocking chair. Little fastball, cuts it in to keep you honest, expands the plate, takes something off of it, throws a lot of changeups. We’ll get a guy on, he’ll get you to roll over, he’s really good at that.”
The staff in general needs to take a page out of Buehrle's Book of Awesome.
Be More Buehrle.