“The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, who played for the Cleveland Indians from 1941-58 and later managed the Yankees, is often credited with this quote. So, too, is Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who racked up 251 wins and had a 2.91 ERA in 17 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
A brief internet search attributes the quote to each of the men. Some sources say Lemon said it; others claim Gibson did. Whichever Hall of Fame pitcher named Bob who made the remark must have witnessed a week like the Rockies’ bullpen just endured.
Because, if anything, the most recent week of Rockies baseball proved how important a good ‘pen is. Five times in the their last seven games, Rockies relievers blew a lead in the seventh inning or later. Colorado kicked it off squandering a 3-1 lead on Miami in the ninth inning. The Rockies ended the seven-day stretch by blowing their fourth save in six games (although they ended up winning 12-9 over the Rangers because they scored five runs in the eighth.)
The end result: a 2-5 record on the week. Colorado relievers’ logged 22 2/3 innings pitched in the stretch of games, gave up 20 earned runs and 15 walks, and plunked three hit batters. The Rockies sunk to 56-59 — 4 ½ games out of the National League Wild Card race.
The bullpen situation is a dumpster fire right now.
Rookie Carlos Estevez lost his closing job when he blew two saves in four nights against Miami and Texas. He fulfilled the role nicely for a while when Jake McGee went to the DL in early June. But as the stakes became greater for Colorado, Estevez looked uncomfortable as the closer, struggling with his fastball command both outings.
Oh, and speaking of McGee. He’s looked lost this year. His fastball velocity is down. His 4.98 ERA is the highest it’s ever been in his seven-year career. The Rockies desperately need him to look like he did in Tampa Bay. Scott Oberg and Jordan Lyles haven’t been dependable options all year, and both had bad weeks.
Really, who can manager Walt Weiss trust in the ‘pen right now? Definitely not Scott Oberg or Jordan Lyles, who both played a part in the bullpen’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week. Lefty Boone Logan (2.86 ERA, 38 strikeouts) and recently installed closer Adam Ottavino, who hasn’t allowed a run since returning from Tommy John on July 5, are the only two names that come to mind.
Ottavino put out some of the flames by preserving the Rockies’ win Thursday; he struck out the side in the ninth against Texas in Colorado’s 12-9 win. But what preceded it — Chris Rusin and Oberg combining to allow four runs on four hits in two innings — was more of the same troublesome pattern.
Apart from the bullpen, the Rockies really do look like they have the pieces in place to compete for a playoff spot. Carlos Gonzalez has been in and out of the lineup, Trevor Story is sidelined indefinitely, and they’re still producing at the plate. The starting pitching, by Rockies’ standards, has been fantastic. The bullpen is what’s holding Colorado back. If this club wants to make the leap and truly contend for a playoff spot next season, addressing the bullpen is the first step.
Bob — whichever one it was — was onto something: It’s almost impossible to compete with a shaky ‘pen.