The numbers the Sox’ bullpen has posted over the last two weeks speak for themselves. The unit has been among the best-throwing pens in baseball.
But that does nothing to explain why the group seems to peak and valley together like a bunch of frat guys walking sorority row.
Relief pitchers don’t throw off the mound holding hands or on each others’ shoulders. Fact is — and an obvious one at that — they never play together. So why is their success and failure so closely intertwined?
“Success in the bullpen is building off everybody else,” reliever Daniel Webb said. “It’s kind of like a relay race when it comes down to the bullpen.
“You go out there and get the outs they ask you to get and then you hand it off to someone else to finish the next inning.”
Over the last 13 games heading into a 4-3 loss on Saturday night to the Arizona Diamondbacks at U.S. Cellular Field, the bullpen owned a 1.57 ERA with 41 strikeouts and nine scoreless games. That’s the lowest in the American League during that span.
And the key to those stellar numbers has been minimizing the damage, just as Zach Putnam did Saturday.
Heading into the game, Putnam had retired 23 of the last 25 batters he had faced and one reached on an error. But after entering the game in the top of the seventh, Putnam pitched himself into a one-out, bases-loaded jam and allowed a run to score.
But instead of allowing the game to spiral out of control, Putnam was able to induce a ground ball double play on the next at-bat. That kept the game close, ultimately allowing the Sox to bring the game to within one with a chance to send the game to extra innings.
In a game in which the Sox trailed throughout and struggled to hit, that’s about as much as the team could ask of its relievers.
“Guys that are throwing in the sixth and seventh and eighth innings, they got to get the ball to the closer and our guys have been doing an unbelievable job lately,” closer Matt Lindstrom said. “We all understand that there are going to be peaks and valleys, too.
“We know that our success is nice and everything. But we know that those can be short-lived and we just kind of got to wash it away and go to the next game.”
Ultimately, it could prove difficult for a group of young relievers to keep pitching at this clip.
An example of that came when the bullpen’s streak of 23 1/3 scoreless innings ended on Thursday when the relievers allowed the Cubs to score six runs. But give them credit for bouncing back the next day by pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
Looking to the older members of the staff has helped the younger ones stay even keeled.
“Most of the guys in the bullpen are young and you got a couple older guys,” Webb, 24, said. “So the younger guys are always picking the older guys brains and just trying to get extra little tidbits for how to get certain guys out.”