KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When the White Sox were sprinting to that 23-10 start, they had the best bullpen in baseball. Since then, it has come apart at the seams.
With little depth at AAA Charlotte to fill in the gaps, injuries to Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka were too tough to take. Matt Albers, who opened the season with 12 scoreless appearances and putting together a streak of 30 scoreless innings overlapping the end of 2015, became ineffective. His ERA has climbed to 5.91, with a a 7.59 mark over his last nine appearances after giving up the game-winning run in the 14th inning of the Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Royals Wednesday night.
Before Albers, $46 million closer David Robertson blew a save for the second straight night and fourth time in his last eight opportunities.
Nobody, save for the only left-hander in the bunch (lefty Zach Duke was traded before the deadline for outfield prospect Charlie Tilson – whose season ended with an injury in his debut) Dan Jennings, seems to be reliable of late. As a whole, the pen has been a hazard since April, when it posted a 1.69 ERA. Here are the bullpen ERAs in the months that followed: May, 4.60; June, 3.69; July, 4.72; August, 4.23.
It was fun while it lasted, which wasn’t for long. The Sox took a 54-59 record in Thursday’s game, with the bullpen ranking 10th or worse in the AL in average, walks, home runs, OPS and slugging percentage.
“We started off great — really good,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said. “Having to go the whip to Albers, [Nate] Jones, Duke, Robby took its toll. Then we had the series in Texas where we lost [two] heartbreakers and the series [sweep in Kansas City in late May].’’
The sweep in KC was epic, with three leads lost as Sox relievers gave up 14 runs over 6 1/3 innings.
“Those are very, very difficult losses for the team as well as the individuals,’’ Cooper said.
The Sox are playing for pride now and, as Cooper said, seeing what Carson Fulmer, Jacob Turner and Michael Ynoa have to offer as they look ahead to 2017.
When they signed Robertson to a four-year deal two off-seasons ago, they figured he would clear up their big question mark in the ninth inning. His 4.18 ERA would be a career low, and while he has saved 34 and 27 games for the Sox, he has blown six opportunities this season.
Robertson looked at video Thursday trying to figure out what’s going on.
“Last year when he wasn’t good he got his [arm] angle too high, which did not allow the ball to cut as freely, didn’t allow the curve to curve as freely,’’ Cooper said.
Robertson feels fine physically.
“The biggest thing recently is I’m falling behind,’’ he said. “I’m in bad counts right out of the gate. Then I feel like whenever it’s time to make the quality pitch to get the out, I’m not making it. It’s frustrating for me because my whole career I’ve been able to escape jams. Whenever I make a mistake, I’ve been able to get out of it.’’
Complicating matters, as Cooper suggested, is the relievers feeling heightened pressure to protect leads for Cy Young candidates Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. But isn’t pitching in relief all about performing under pressure?
“They might be putting a little more pressure on themselves,’’ Cooper said. “That’s not an excuse in any way, shape or form. This is what they’re supposed to be doing is nailing down the innings.’’