Photo credit: espn.com
By: Amaury Pi-González
Two Western Division teams fighting for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League. One of them, the Seattle Mariners was supposed to be a contender, while the other one, the Oakland Athletics, is the biggest surprise in baseball this season.
Nobody can win a World Series without bullpen talent, all you have to do is go back during the past few years and see the bullpens of the teams that won the title. The game today lends to starters–with some exceptions–to go between 5 to 6 inning, and then it is bullpen time.
Both clubs have made additions to their bullpens. Earlier this season, M’s manager Jerry DiPoto, brought veteran Alex Colomé from the Tampa Bay Rays (with 12 saves) to join their tremendous closer Edwin Nuñez (43 saves). This year, the A’s began with Blake Treinen, who saved 17 games for the team last season, but this year, he became one of the best closers in the game with 29 saves as well as his first ever selection to the MLB All-Star Game.
When the A’s got really hot and passed the M’s for the No. 2 position in the wild card race, the A’s management went to work. First, they acquired the New York Mets’ Jeurys Familia, a man that saved 51 games in 2016, then Minnesota Twins’ Fernando Rodney, who is 40 years old and a 16-year veteran who has played for five different teams and made 325 saves in his career. He packed his imaginary arrow and came to the Bay Area.
The A’s have 10 games remaining with the M’s, seven in Oakland, beginning next Monday for the first three and then three in Seattle during the last week of the season. This could be a battle of bullpens. The M’s Félix Hernández has been their No. 1 starter and he still is on paper.
However, King Félix, a leader on that pitching staff for 14 years, doesn’t bring the same dominant stuff to the mound anymore. He has a 8-10 record with a 5.73 ERA in 23 starts. Many years ago in Seattle, I saw Félix make his last start at Triple-A with Tacoma. Tremendous stuff, but that doesn’t last forever. Their No. 1 today was lefty James Paxton is 10-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 23 games (two completed games). He is their real top of the rotation man.
Edwin Jackson has done a terrific job for the A’s and now Mike Fiers, after a very good outing against the Dodgers, is part of the rotation. The A’s No. 1 is without a doubt, Sean Manaea, the young lefty is 10-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 24 starts and one complete game, a no-hitter against the Red Sox in Oakland back in April. It is worthy to mention that M’s Marco Gonzáles is having his best season. He is 12-7 and 3.79 ERA in 23 starts with one complete game.
As far as for both of these contending team starters, the M’s might have a slight edge, but when it comes to the bullpen, the A’s bullpen is much deeper than the M’s. That is just a fact. Will the A’s bullpen continue to perform as good? It is hard to find a better bullpen in baseball, maybe the Yankees, but definitely not many as solid as the A’s relievers. The A’s also picked up Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley, who began his career with the M’s, who gave up a completely meaningless ninth inning home run to Austin Jackson, which turned the Nats’ 23-run win into a 21-run win. He was mad about giving up that homer, threw his glove really hard on the ground, and that was his last game with the Nats. So the A’s told him, “Pick your glove up”and come our way!
Starting next Monday, when the A’s return from their trip to Anaheim against the Angels, I expect a bullpen battle between the A’s and M’s. This is when the rubber meets the road. Also, in this home stretch, the A’s will be facing other division teams like Houston, Texas and Los Angeles Angels, and of course a battle royale when the New York Yankees invade the Oakland Coliseum in the first week of September.
Fastens your seat belts, it going to be quite a ride!
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