You never want to hear the home crowd groan when the bullpen door opens.
The Rangers’ relief corps has stabilized, helping to make their current eight-game win streak possible. Similarly, the fingers are off the panic button in Arizona after five consecutive scoreless appearances by Fernando Rodney. Finally, the recently resurgent Giants just got Mark Melancon (elbow) back from the DL.
However, not every would-be contender is so fortunate. Six that must address late-inning leaks:
The best record in the National League and an eight-game lead in the NL East provide plenty of cushion, but it’s more obvious than ever that Washington eventually is going to have to acquire late-inning help. Blake Treinen, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero and even Matt Albers have been used in save situations, but a strong case can be made for each being better off in middle relief/setup — where Joe Blanton also is struggling.
Now comes word that the Nationals are converting top pitching prospect Erick Fedde into a reliever for a possible major-league promotion later this season. It’s past time to pick up the phone and call the White Sox (David Robertson), Royals (Kelvin Herrera) or Rays (Alex Colome).
USA TODAY SportsPatrick McDermott
With lights-out closer Zach Britton — who was untouchable last season but never quite right this season — resting a sore forearm for at least another month, Baltimore’s bullpen suddenly has a vulnerability. New closer Brad Brach has been scored upon in four of his past five outings and has a 10.13 ERA since April 28 (after not allowing an earned run in his first 11 appearances this season).
The Orioles' ability to win 13-11 games (see: Tuesday’s busted-bullpen win over the Tigers) has masked this blemish so far, but the bullpen must stabilize.
USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Speaking of that Tuesday relief debacle, Detroit’s bullpen suffered a blown save (new closer Justin Wilson) and a loss (former closer Francisco Rodriguez) in that game after the Tigers' offense erased a 7-3 first-inning deficit and rallied for three runs to tie the game at 10 in the 12th inning.
The bullpen has been the Tigers’ Achilles heel for a decade, no matter how much money they’ve thrown at it or how many relievers they’ve developed. If they had a solution, we’d have seen it by now.
USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
At no point this season has Seattle been above .500, and the bullpen — MLB-worsts in ERA (5.39) and HR allowed (26) — is even more to blame for that than the banged-up rotation (Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly all are on the DL). Second-year closer Edwin Diaz was removed from his ninth-inning role earlier this week after back-to-back poor outings hiked his ERA to 5.28.
The Mariners will turn to an in-house committee for now in hopes that Diaz can pitch his way back into the stopper role. And it’s imperative that he does so.
USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
They’re playing so poorly (seven-game skid) that the opportunity to protect a late-inning lead has been a non-issue, and they are so battered and bruised that it’s hard to identify their biggest area of need as they fade from contention.
But with Jeurys Familia (shoulder clot) sidelined for several months — and quite possibly the rest of the season — the bullpen gets even weaker. Addison Reed, dependable in a setup role, has shifted to closer — leaving a hole in a relief corps that ranks 27th in the majors with a 5.13 ERA.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
Because it is playing with house money by hanging around this late into the season — after losing an MLB-worst 103 games last season — Minnesota isn’t facing the same urgency as the previous five teams on this list. Closer Brandon Kintzler has been solid, though not overpowering (5.3 K/9 ratio), and Craig Breslow and Tyler Duffy have been steady.
However, the Twins have used 12 relievers this season for a reason (4.65 bullpen ERA). And because they aren’t in position to be buyers, they’re more likely to continue to dip into their system to audition more arms.