Indians Need Pen To Be A Relief

By: T.J. Zuppe

For whatever reason, the Indians bullpen always seems to be cause for concern. The team’s success has been closely tied to the gentlemen that reside in center field at Progressive Field.

During stretches of 2005 and 2007, the relief-corp for the Tribe had been lights out.

Indians Closer Chris "Pure Rage" Perez

It is no coincidence that the team experienced much more success in those years. Even 2008’s second half surge could be a direct result of stability found at the back-end of the staff.

On the negative side, when the Indians relievers have faltered, the team has gone into a tailspin.

It is truly the hardest thing to predict in baseball from year to year.

Based on that alone, it does not take much to realize how much of a key the guys that enter the game in late-game situations will be. You could make a case that they will be the most important part to keeping the Indians respectable, in 2011.

In the recent past, the team had the likes of Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski closing out ballgames. While both provided plenty “lose your lunch” moments, when the Indians were winning games, both were racking up more than 40 saves.

In their favor this year, righty Chris Perez is better than both of those gentlemen, on the mound in the 9th.

In a partial season as the club’s closer last year, Perez picked up 23 saves, posting an earned run average of 1.71.

He was nearly untouchable after right-hander Kerry Wood was dealt away in July.

Perez, the man affectionately referred to as “Pure Rage,”  allows the staff to match-up late in games. With his rock star persona owning the final frame, the rest of the pen can fall into place.

From there, the Indians have to get the Dr. Jekyll versions of lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp, as opposed to Mr. Hyde. Both ranged from excellent to downright awful in 2010.

The Tribe also needs side-winding righty Joe Smith to return from injury, and hope that the combination of Vinnie Pestano, Justin Germano and Frank Herrmann are able to eat up some middle innings.

If one of the three emerge as a late inning candidate for Manny Acta, along with the addition of Chad Durbin, the Indians relievers could be a strength of the team.

However, it is very likely that none will be able to fill the void.

If that is the case, the shuttle will be back to Class-AAA Columbus to pick up right-hander Jensen Lewis, or a familiar name in Adam Miller. At one time one of the best prospects in the game, Miller has been quietly trying to become healthy once again.

Indians Pitcher Rafael Perez

He should start the season in the Class-AA Akron pen and if all goes well, could be a sleeper to helping the team at some point in 2011.

Even if the team is light in the hitting category, previous track record has shown that if you get hitters out late in games, you will at least hang around the .500 mark.

A team like the Oakland Athletics were fourth worst in the American League when it came to scoring runs, yet finished with a record of 81-81, good enough for second place in the AL West.

That was largely thanks to their outstanding staff of relievers.

In the National League, San Diego rode their pen to second place in the NL West, despite being fifth worst in the league in runs scored in 2011.

The moral of the story clearly becomes this – if the Indians can find the right formula from the sixth inning on, the season should be much easier to stomach.

If it is back to “gas can baseball” when the relievers hit the mound, it is going to be a very long season for the Wigwamers.

There is no doubt that the men asked to clean up late-game messes will be the biggest key to the Indians season.


1 Comment

  1. Raffy L is the key. I am puzzled how the jacked Jensen Lewis around after only a couple of years ago he was 14-14 in Save opportunities.

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