Bernstein: Sox Bullpen Off To Bad Start
By Dan Bernstein–
Ten games into a major-league season is no time to declare a crisis. There will be normalization of underperformance, just as there is in the other direction. In time, players will be who they are.
It adds to the stress of early struggles, however, when the players involved have not compiled enough innings in their current roles to give us the confidence to reference this kind of regression to the mean.
Simply, Matt Thornton’s three blown saves in three chances mean more than they otherwise would because he’s only fully proven as an All-Star setup guy. Chris Sale has blown a save, sports a 5.06 ERA, and has provided only the smallest evidence sample of his ability to close games.
We look to history for reassurance in these cases, and the history’s not there.
Ozzie Guillen pulled Mark Buehrle after 99 pitches last night, ostensibly, to save wear and tear on a guy they count on to give them 200 innings. “We have to take care of Buehrle,” Guillen said.
The other (main?) reason, if you know Ozzie, was to right the listing ship that is Thornton, and perhaps, the closer position itself. He wanted to see Thornton get a three-out save against a lesser offensive team, and he wanted Thornton to see himself get it.
Blame Juan Pierre’s gaffe if you want, but the rolling slider to Andy LaRoche on an 0-2 count was appropriately tagged for a double, and Coco Crisp’s shot to Paul Konerko was hit even harder.
Already, Guillen is dropping other names into the hopper for potential auditions as closer, mentioning both newly-acquired Jesse Crain and hard-throwing Sergio Santos. Crain didn’t help his cause with the 0-2 meatball he placed on a tee for Kurt Suzuki’s game-winning homer last night, and Santos – still developing after a rapid transition from playing shortstop in the minors — does little to depressurize the uncertainty.
It’s never a good sign when the manager says “I’m going to go with my gut feeling” regarding closing games, and we’re not even two full weeks into the season. And notice I have yet to mention veteran LOOGy Will Ohman, he of the 12.46 ERA, 10.18 FIP and 2.08 WHIP.
It’s a stumble out of the gate for a bullpen that appeared to be a strength of the team in spring training, and still should be, when the total number of pitches, innings and opportunities smooth out the bumps.
The good news, in kind of a twisted way, is that the Sox have led every game that they have played in 2011. With late-relief performances of merely league-average quality, they’d be 8-2 or 9-1. It’s a good bet that this group will attain at least that level, however Guillen sorts things out.
Blown saves feel worse than garden-variety, not-our-day losses because of what could have been. They sting. But don’t forget that they already have one on the other side of the ledger from the impossible string of hits against Joakim Soria last Wednesday in Kansas City.
Once again, as so often is the case in pro sports, what looked like an embarrassment of riches at a position has been quite the opposite so far. When you hear “We have a lot of guys who can do the job,” it can mean you have not one.
An attempt at an early re-boot of Thornton failed, due to bad pitches and defensive buffoonery in the outfield. The wheel spins. It will get better, yet we have no idea how soon, or to what degree.
Somewhere, Bobby Jenks is drinking, and eating. And laughing.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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