On my car-ride home from a family party this weekend, I decided to pop on WFAN, as one does when living in the Tri-State Area. In my experience, callers into New York sports radio typically run the gamut from hair-trigger to downright inconsolable. On Sunday, they were at their angriest, venting about the Mets’ bullpen blowup in an ugly loss to the Cubs. This vitriol went well beyond the usual post-defeat saltiness as increasingly unhinged Manhattanites aired their collective grievances over Mickey Callaway’s latest botch job. The whole messy ordeal, which I was left to digest alone in my Rav4 on I-84, gave me an epiphany. Because while the Mets’ relief struggles might be more pronounced than some, New York is hardly alone in its late-inning woes.
Bullpen mayhem is all around us. It truly is a league-wide epidemic and not an especially hard one to diagnose. Even the scorching-hot Yankees had a relief hiccup over the weekend with Jonathan Holder blowing a lead against Houston. The late innings in Major League Baseball have become the Wild West with bullpens collapsing on a near-nightly basis. As we near the halfway mark of 2019, the league’s average ERA among relievers sits at an underwhelming 4.48, the highest we’ve seen since the turn of the century (4.58 in 2000).
The bullpenning craze—a phenomenon first championed by the Rays before spreading to Oakland (the A’s employed an opener, right-hander Liam Hendriks, in last year’s Wild Card loss to the Yankees), Texas and virtually everywhere else—appears to have backfired. While a good idea in theory, the rise of bullpen ERAs across baseball would suggest that giving starters a shorter leash has had an adverse effect on relievers, who are logging more innings than ever before. Bullpens across the league averaged 581 innings last season, a far cry from five years ago when that figure was at 487. Predictably, the average reliever ERA in 2014 (3.58) was almost a full run lower than it is now. With workhorse starters all but extinct, relievers are running on absolute fumes, a fact illustrated by their dwindling effectiveness.
I can’t be the only brainiac to notice this trend and surely there will be a market correction of sorts as the flaws of bullpenning become more apparent. There’s a balance to be struck, the sweet spot where starters and relievers work in symphony without either being compromised by fatigue, but we haven’t arrived there yet.
Speaking of calls to the bullpen, I’ve been summoned to relieve Drew Silva (who is vacationing on Cape Cod) for this week’s Power Rankings. And what better time to make my annual Power Rankings cameo than Week 13, my lucky number (I was born on Friday the 13th)? Now let’s shift the focus to the Dodgers, who maintained the top spot in this week’s rankings.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
What a weekend for the Dodgers’ rookie trio of Matt Beaty, Alex Verdugo and Will Smith, who each delivered walk-off homers in a three-game sweep of Colorado. Walker Buehler notched a career-high 16 strikeouts in a complete game win over the Rockies on Friday while running his season record to 8-1. Flexor tendon strains are often a precursor to Tommy John surgery, but veteran Rich Hill (4-1, 2.55 ERA) is confident he’ll make it back by the end of 2019.
2. New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
Much has been made of the Yankees’ starting rotation, perceived by many as the biggest obstacle in their quest for World Series glory. But does any of that matter when your offense has homered in a franchise-record 27 straight games? Gleyber Torres has been especially lethal, homering in three of his last five contests including Wednesday when he slugged his first career grand slam in a rout of Tampa Bay. Wednesday’s victory was the 250th of CC Sabathia’s career, making him one of just 14 pitchers in league history to reach both 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
Last Week: 3
Minnesota is running away with the AL Central but don’t ask Jorge Polanco to slow down. The shortstop’s .326 average ranks second to Yankees ringer DJ LeMahieu, who stands alone at the top of the AL batting mountain (.331). The Twins’ lineup has grabbed most of the headlines this year (MLB leader in both home runs and average) but don’t discount their starting pitching, which ranks fourth in ERA (3.72) behind only the Dodgers, Rays and Marlins. Jake Odorizzi’s defeat Thursday at Kansas City marked his first foray into the loss column since April 10.
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4. Houston Astros
Last Week: 2
Yordan Alvarez zapped Houston out of its tailspin, supplying a two-run bomb as the Astros halted a seven-game losing skid Sunday in the Bronx. The rookie has been a machine for Houston, slashing an absurd .333/.429/.813 with seven jacks and 16 RBI since his call-up earlier this month. Jose Altuve has been his usual productive self since coming off the injured list, batting .304 with a homer and two doubles in 23 at-bats. Former World Series MVP George Springer will return from a month-long injury absence Tuesday as the Astros welcome the Pirates to Minute Maid Park.
5. Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Dallas Keuchel had a rough go of it in his Braves debut Friday in D.C., surrendering eight hits and four runs (three earned) in a losing effort. Josh Donaldson has been too hot to touch, contributing an explosive .390 average (16-for-41) with six bombs and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games. He’s tied with teammate Freddie Freeman for the NL lead with eight homers this month. Mike Foltynewicz, who represented Atlanta in last year’s All-Star Game, will try to work out the kinks in Triple-A after compiling a miserable 6.37 ERA in his first 11 starts.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 6
Plagued by chronic poor attendance and one of the league’s worst stadiums, the Rays have reportedly contemplated playing half their home schedule in Montreal, though it doesn’t sound like the mayor of St. Petersburg is willing to play ball. Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell unraveled in Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees, recording just one out before getting the hook from manager Kevin Cash. Wednesday’s disaster moved his ERA from 3.70 all the way to 4.40. Ace reliever Jose Alvarado is nearing a return after leaving to tend to a family matter in his native Venezuela earlier this month.
7. Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 8
Javier Baez reached the century mark in round-trippers with his game-winner Sunday against the Mets. Baez leads all shortstops in home runs (19), RBI (52) and slugging percentage (.554) but has also whiffed 96 times (fourth-most in MLB). Adbert Alzolay shined in his debut Thursday at Wrigley, allowing just one hit (a solo bomb to Todd Frazier) over four standout frames in a winning effort. Newcomer Craig Kimbrel could be ready to join the Cubs’ pen as soon as this weekend.
8. Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 10
Boston’s bullpen laid another egg Saturday as the Sox coughed up a six-run lead in a loss to Toronto. Only the Mets and Pirates have blown more saves than Boston this year. Xander Bogaerts was hung out to dry by All-Star voters, a shame considering he’s having his best season (.296, 14 HR, 51 RBI). After they wrap up their three-game set with the White Sox, the defending champs will be off to London for a weekend series against the division-leading Yankees.
9. Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 7
Christian Yelich has had a month for the ages. The reigning NL MVP has surged to a jaw-dropping .422 average with nine blasts, 21 RBI and seven steals since the calendar flipped to June. Brandon Woodruff stymied the Reds with a career-high 12 strikeouts in Sunday’s victory. He’s tied for the NL lead in wins with nine. Jimmy Nelson hasn’t exactly lit it up in his return from shoulder surgery (0-2, 9.75 ERA in three starts). He’ll work out of the Brewers’ pen until further notice.
10. Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 14
Mike Clevinger’s return from the injured list lasted all of one start as the right-hander headed right back after spraining his ankle in a loss to Texas. No matter though—Aaron Civale got the call from Triple-A and didn’t disappoint in his major-league debut against the Tigers, hurling six shutout frames for his first win. Now in his second stint with Cleveland, Carlos Santana has been a catalyst for the Tribe, leading the team in home runs (17), RBI (47), walks (56), doubles (15), slugging percentage (.538) and well, you get the idea.
11. Texas Rangers
Last Week: 11
Danny Santana has been a man possessed, hitting .414 with four round-trippers, seven RBI and two steals over the length of his eight-game hitting streak. Asdrubal Cabrera lost his cool Thursday in a win over Cleveland, chucking his batting gloves at home-plate umpire Bill Miller after arguing a called strike three. That resulted in a three-game suspension, which he’ll begin serving Tuesday. Injury-prone Drew Smyly was hoping to resurrect his career in Arlington but couldn’t get the juices flowing, faltering to an 8.42 ERA before the Rangers DFA’d him last week.
12. St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 15
An MRI on Jordan Hicks’ injured elbow revealed a torn UCL, a diagnosis that’s usually solved by Tommy John surgery. With the flame-balling closer sidelined indefinitely, ninth-inning duties in St. Louis will likely fall to Carlos Martinez. Jack Flaherty got picked off to end Thursday night’s loss to Miami (the pitcher was pinch-running for sludge-footed Yadier Molina), then stood frozen at second base and might still be there for all we know. Cue the Simon and Garfunkel.
13. Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 12
Charlie Blackmon has been on the heater to end all heaters this month, producing an epic .411 average with eight homers over 73 June at-bats. The Rockies lost a weekend full of heartbreakers to the Dodgers, dropping all three games in walk-off fashion. The Dodgers have had the Rockies’ number recently, winning each of their last 11 matchups. After a brief minor-league demotion, former third overall pick Brendan Rodgers is back in Denver to man the shortstop post vacated by Trevor Story, who is nursing a sprained thumb.
14. Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 16
It’s been a trying few days for the A’s, who lost shutdown closer Blake Treinen to a shoulder strain, an event preceded by the announcement of Frankie Montas’ 80-game suspension. If not for the PED ban, Montas (9-2, 2.70 ERA) would have been a shoe-in for next month’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. Sean Manaea had been nearing the finish line in his rehab from shoulder surgery but last week’s setback will obviously push back the left-hander’s return date.
15. Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 9
It’s been a frustrating season for first-year Phillie Bryce Harper, at least by his usual gaudy standards, but perhaps he’ll get a jolt from hitting out of the leadoff spot, a part of the lineup he rarely occupied during his seven-year run in Washington. Jay Bruce has feasted in his return to the National League, going deep seven times in just 17 appearances since arriving in a trade from Seattle. Chase Utley’s retirement ceremony at Citizen’s Bank Park included a cameo by long-time admirer Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because of course it did.
16. Washington Nationals
Last Week: 21
Trevor Rosenthal’s doomed tenure in Washington ended with his inevitable release Saturday. The former Cardinals closer has been a shell of the pitcher he was before Tommy John surgery, posting a horrifying 22.74 ERA at the big-league level this season. Max Scherzer reached back for something extra in Wednesday’s win over the Phillies. His average fastball clocked in at a blazing 96.2 mph, the hardest he’s spun it in nearly seven years. And he did it all while sporting a Kramer-esque shiner and a busted nose.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 13
Zack Greinke has been his usual dominant self on the mound this year (8-3, 3.08 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) but he’s also been a force offensively, batting a surprising .306 with three bombs (including a tape-measure shot off Clayton Kershaw Monday night) in 36 trips to the dish. Ketel Marte has been piping-hot for the D’Backs, cruising to an impossible .655 average (19-for-29) over his seven-game hitting streak. Marte’s 20 homers this year are almost as many as he had in his first four seasons combined (22).
18. Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 22
Apparently Derek Dietrich, who has homered more times than he’s singled this year (18-16), never learned the five D's of dodgeball because he got plunked an MLB record SIX times over the weekend. Yasiel Puig started the month in a 3-for-25 rut but he’s shrugged off the slow start by hitting an even .400 (18-for-45) over his last 12 games while improving his season average from an embarrassing .207 to a more respectable .240. Scooter Gennett has been nursing a strained groin since spring training but should be back for the Reds’ next homestand, which kicks off Friday against the Cubs.
19. Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 18
Albert Pujols gave us all goosebumps with the well-deserved standing ovation he received Friday in his return to St. Louis. His homer Saturday was the 205th long ball he’s slugged in St. Louis as well as his 111th round-tripper at the new Busch Stadium. Los Angeles finally cut bait on its failed Cody Allen experiment, releasing the embattled right-hander last week after struggling to a 6.26 ERA across 25 appearances for the Halos. Mike Trout has been a fiend recently, hitting a ferocious .485 with four homers and 12 RBI over his last eight outings.
20. San Diego Padres
Last Week: 17
Manny Machado underwhelmed in his first two months as a Padre but he’s turned it on in June, stacking up seven homers and 20 RBI this month. He’s hit a blistering .469 (23-for-49) throughout his 11-game hitting streak. Chris Paddack returned to the mound Saturday after taking a short breather in the minors. The stud rookie went five innings in a no-decision at Pittsburgh. Logan Allen threw the kitchen sink at Milwaukee in his debut Tuesday night, yielding three hits and no runs over seven electric frames.
21. New York Mets
Last Week: 20
Mickey Callaway didn’t seem all that apologetic after lashing out at Newsday’s Tim Healey over the weekend, a bold strategy after two of his fellow coaches (Dave Eiland and Chuck Hernandez) were axed last week. Pete Alonso, who many expected to begin this year in Triple-A, continues to rake. He’s already passed Darryl Strawberry for the most homers by a Mets rookie and we’re not even at the All-Star break. New York’s new pitching coach, 82-year-old Phil Regan made his major-league debut with the Tigers in 1960, a full 34 years before Alonso debuted on Planet Earth.
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
The Pirates have played good ball of late, winning four straight to move within six games of the NL-Central-leading Cubs. It’s been a pedestrian June (.233 AVG in 73 at-bats) for Josh Bell but even with his recent struggles factored in, the talented 26-year-old still leads the majors in both doubles (28) and RBI (66). The Bucs will hope to fly the Jolly Roger Tuesday against their former ace Gerrit Cole, who faces Pittsburgh for the first time since his trade to Houston last year.
23. Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 19
Even after struggling his last two turns, Lucas Giolito should still be in the mix for starting honors at next month’s All-Star Game. His MLB-high 10 victories are as many as he had all of last season. Eloy Jimenez, the key return piece in Chicago’s Jose Quintana trade two years ago, slugged the Pale Hose to victory with a go-ahead two-run shot to sink the Cubs Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The outfield prodigy has seen the ball well this month, hitting a robust .313 with six taters across 67 June at-bats.
24. Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
Domingo Santana has swung a hot stick for Seattle, tallying four homers and 10 RBI throughout his seven-game hit streak. The ex-Brewer leads the AL in both RBI (59) and strikeouts (100). Even after spending half a month in Triple-A, turbo-charged outfielder Mallex Smith still ranks second in the majors with 21 steals including seven thefts in the month of June. Maybe the Mariners should dust off the VCR and pop in a tape of Tom Emanski’s Defensive Drills. They’ve already committed 81 errors, 20 more than the next-worst team.
25. San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 24
Madison Bumgarner took a beating Thursday as the Dodgers trolled him to the tune of 10 hits and six runs over 3 2/3 innings. Thursday’s humiliation raised his ERA from 3.87 to 4.28, a career-worst for the future Yankee. Ace lefty Will Smith should be one of the most coveted relievers at the trade deadline. He’s been a rock for the Giants, pitching to a stellar 2.01 ERA while converting all 20 of his save chances. Mike Yastrzemski (grandson of Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski) has found his power stroke by bopping three homers in his last six contests.
26. Miami Marlins
Last Week: 27
Zac Gallen brought the house down in his debut Thursday night, limiting the Cardinals (who traded him to Miami a year after drafting him in 2016) to a single run over five excellent innings. The former UNC Tar Heel will hold down the rotation spot vacated by breakout right-hander Pablo Lopez, who is on the shelf with a strained shoulder. Take a bow, Wilkin Castillo. The veteran catcher delivered a two-run double in Saturday’s win over Philadelphia, his first hit at the big-league level in over a decade.
27. Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 28
Marcus Stroman boosted his trade value with a dominant showing Sunday at Fenway Park (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 6 Ks, 1 BB). In doing so he miffed Dennis Eckersley, who wasn’t impressed with the right-hander’s mound theatrics. Billy McKinney treated Kawhi Leonard to a show Thursday night at Rogers Centre, burying the Angels with his first career walk-off homer. Ken Giles coughed up a run in the ninth inning Saturday in a win over Boston. Before that, he hadn’t allowed a run since April 16 at Minnesota.
28. Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 29
The injury gods took Adalberto Mondesi (league-leader in triples and stolen bases) from us but gave back Hunter Dozier, who returned Friday following a three-week bout with chest tightness. While it could be tempting for the rebuilding Royals to gauge Whit Merrifield’s trade market ahead of next month’s deadline, GM Dayton Moore is adamant the 30-year-old jack-of-all-trades isn’t going anywhere. Jorge Soler is on pace for 43 homers, which would eclipse the franchise mark currently held by Mike Moustakas (38 long balls in 2017).
29. Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 26
The Tigers haven’t exactly been God’s gift to baseball this year. They’ve lost eight of their last nine to fall 22 games back of the first-place Twins in the AL Central. Their saving grace has been bullpen stalwart Shane Greene, who hasn’t allowed an earned run since mid-April. Matthew Boyd has also been a bright spot, ranking fourth among AL hurlers in Ks per nine innings (11.22). Panic spread earlier this month when Casey Mize, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, exited a start with shoulder inflammation. Luckily his MRI results came back relatively clean.
30. Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 30
A few weeks after getting bumped from the starting rotation, the Orioles finally put struggling right-hander Dan Straily out to pasture, designating the former Marlin for assignment. Straily has been exceedingly generous to opposing hitters this year, serving up a league-high 22 homers in just 47 2/3 innings. Things may look bleak for Baltimore now but the future is bright. Adley Rutschman, who was drafted first overall this month following a standout career at Oregon State, signed his rookie deal Monday, netting a cool $8.1 million in the process.