As crucial as the starting rotation for the Athletics during the playoffs will be, the bullpen will be every bit as important. Besides, what good is a quality start and a lead going into the late innings if the bullpen cannot protect that lead? Every bullpen has their off days, and coughs up a lead they shouldn’t have, but by and large the A’s have one of the stronger bullpen corps in baseball. Of the teams still in the hunt for the playoffs, their 3.29 bullpen ERA ranks third in the AL. If the Rangers are eliminated, they’ll have the second best bullpen ERA behind the Boston Red Sox.
August 2, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics bullpen dance to “call me maybe” during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The A’s bullpen features stalwarts like Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Cook, each of whom have had their struggles during the season. Right now though, Balfour and Cook are giving us the most cause for concern. But they aren’t going anywhere. Neither will Jerry Blevins or Dan Otero, two pitchers who have played a big role as middle relievers to bridge the gap between the starters and the set up guys. If the A’s carry seven relievers, that would leave Jesse Chavez and Brett Anderson to likely occupy the final spots.
That leaves the likes of Pat Neshek and Evan Scribner on the outside looking in. Adding one of them to the postseason roster would mean the A’s are probably activating four starting pitchers, and keeping eight arms in the bullpen, giving them four players on the bench for the positions. It’s tough to say which way Billy Beane and Bob Melvin are leaning as they construct the best roster possible to make a deep run into the playoffs, but as key matchups come into play in the late innings of big games, having an extra arm in the bullpen can be the difference between winning and losing.
If I were the A’s brass, I would get Pat Neshek onto the roster somehow. While he’s struggled a bit this season, in a single at bat he can be torturous for a right handed hitter like Miguel Cabrera or Torii Hunter should the A’s meet the Tigers in the ALDS, just make sure he doesn’t go anywhere near the mound when Prince Fielder comes to bat. Neshek’s numbers may be a bit skewed negatively because he’s been relegated to a mop up role at times, and has been put in situations not conducive to his success. He’s a better pitcher than he has showed, and can undoubtedly help this team win in October.