White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer has modest expectations for the team’s loaded bullpen this season.
“I don’t expect to lose a game if we’re leading after the fifth inning,” he said. “I really think that the talent in our bullpen is that good to where we should be able to hold leads for our starters regardless of the score.”
Wait, did we say modest?
“I don’t necessarily care if we end up the No. 1-rated bullpen or the No. 4-rated bullpen or No. 7,’’ Bummer said. ‘‘I want to be 90-0 with a lead after six innings or whatever that may be.”
Oh, 90-0. Is that all?
Everyone is excited about the collection of arms in the Sox’ bullpen, from rocket-armed future starters such as Garrett Crochet and Michael Kopech to elite late-inning lefty Bummer and newcomer Liam Hendriks, who might be the majors’ premier closer.
The group includes veteran right-hander Evan Marshall, who calls himself the “lowest guy on the totem pole” because he tops out at only about 93 mph. Marshall is a key piece, though, and, speaking of him, guess who else has visions of bullpen infallibility?
“You’ve got two top-10 relievers in the game right away in Hendriks and Bummer, and wherever I fit into that count somewhere,” Marshall said. “We want to go 90-0 if we have the lead after six innings. I think that’s entirely possible. Hiccups and bad things happen, but we have the talent to do it.”
Coincidence that Marshall and Bummer both said 90-0? Of course not. Clearly, talk of pulling something like this off is pinballing around the pen. Led by Hendriks — “a guy that’s not afraid to be himself and a guy who is himself all the time,’’ according to Crochet — it’s a highly confident group.
Manager Tony La Russa knows a state-of-the-art bullpen when he sees one, and he’s not ready to go there yet with the Sox. But he managed perhaps the Rolls Royce of bullpens a few decades back in Oakland, which boiled down to lefty setup man Rick Honeycutt in the eighth and Dennis Eckersley in the ninth. American League opponents couldn’t do a dang thing about it. The Athletics also had fireballers Gene Nelson and Eric Plunk among others.
La Russa also won two World Series in St. Louis while having to operate in scramble mode with his bullpen. The 2006 Cardinals ended up without injured closer Jason Isringhausen and turned to rookie Adam Wainwright to save their bacon down the stretch. The 2011 Cardinals never really settled things in the bullpen, with La Russa eventually sending for Jason Motte to finish things in the postseason.
So this is a manager who has won with a Rolls Royce and with buckets of halfway decent bolts. Does that mean the pen isn’t the key to the season for the Sox? No. It could be just that.
“You want to have what’s on paper now,” La Russa said. “You want to have the last three or four guys and just a matter of when they’re available, and you go with them. Knock on wood, that’s the plan. As far as the depth, right now, it’s excellent.
“But you don’t want to assume that these great young talents can’t benefit from experience. You have Marshall and Liam, but Crochet, [Codi] Heuer, Bummer, these guys are young guys. . . . Experience is the great equalizer.”
Experience would tell anyone that 90-0 isn’t going to happen.
Chances are, all involved would be pretty happy with, say, 89-1.
“I hope that we’ll be the bullpen that a lot of people try to emulate,” Bummer said.
They’re aiming high.