There's cause for concern in bullpen with SF reeling
LOS ANGELES >> Giants starter Alex Wood was in line for the loss when he left Wednesday's series finale with the Dodgers, but the 3-1 deficit was a manageable one. The chances at a comeback crated as the bullpen allowed the Dodgers to score six more runs.
It has been all too common of a scene over the past week, as the Giants have dropped five of their past six games leading in to a seven-game homestand that begins Thursday against St. Louis.
“Just ebbs and flows of the season. It's going to happen,” Wood said, restating his confidence in the relievers behind him. “We got off to such a great start, an unbelievable first month from top to bottom. The starters and the pen threw really well. You can't pitch a 2.20 ERA as a team for the whole season, or whatever it was.”
Actually, it was 1.57, at least from the bullpen, which just a week ago ranked as the best mark in the majors.
But over their past five games, Giants relievers have surrendered more runs (20) than they did during their first 19 (16), raising the group's season ERA to 3.07, still seventh in the majors. Their 9.45 mark over the past week, though, puts them on par with the miserable Cincinnati Reds (9.47) as the worst in MLB.
It would be a stretch to call the bullpen the sole culprit for the Giants' struggles — twice surrendering five runs within
the first three innings with an offense that has eclipsed that total once during this stretch — but it's reasonable to wonder if there is cause for concern.
Look no further than who has logged the majority of the innings over the past five games.
Tyler Beede – 3.2 IP … 3 ER Mauricio Llovera – 3 IP … 1 ER Sam Long – 2.2 IP … 3 ER Jarlin Garcia – 2.1 IP … 1 R (0 ER) John Brebbia – 2 IP … 1 ER Jose Alvarez – 2 IP … 0 ER Yunior Marte – 1.2 IP … 5 ER Jake McGee – 1 IP … 3 ER Camilo Doval – 1 IP … 0 ER Kervin Castro – 1 IP … 5 ER
That's 20 1/3 innings of relief, with almost none of it covered by the Giants' highleverage relievers. Notice a name absent from that list:
Tyler Rogers. One late-inning man hasn't pitched in a week — Rogers' last appearance coming Wednesday in the loss that started this 1-5 skid — and his partners in the backend of the bullpen have only appeared once in the five games since.
Two other important pieces of the middle-innings puzzle — Dominic Leone and Zack Littell — have been on the COVID IL and unavailable.
On the one hand, the Giants' bullpen has been bad. On the other, it's mostly come in games that were already out of hand. The Nationals scored five runs in the first inning one game and five in the first three innings in another. The Dodgers were up 3-1 on Wednesday when Kapler turned the game over to Llovera, Long and eventually Beede.
“I think what you'll notice is that over the last couple of years, when we're in that
two-run range, we want to stay in the game with our leverage arms,” Kapler said. “If the lead gets extended, even dating back to last year and 2020, you'll see us give the ball to guys that we still trust and think highly of – and Llovera's been really good for us, Sam Long has had a nice year – these are not guys that we're just throwing to
the wolves. These are guys that we think can keep the score exactly where it is and we trust them to do so, and they've done that so far this season.”
“I don't think this is about workload at all,” Kapler said. “These guys are not particularly taxed. We had an expanded roster. These guys got plenty of time off.”
Notably, Giants' relievers FIP (fielding independent pitching) over the past week belies their poor outcomes. Their 3.19 mark in that metric, which mirrors ERA if it was measured using only outcomes within the pitcher's control (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and home runs), is more than six full points lower than their actual ERA and ranks 13th in MLB.
The absences of Leone and Littell shouldn't be overlooked, either.
When they return from the COVID IL this week, the Giants will replace two fringe major-league relievers with two trusted veterans. Leone logged 53? innings last season with a 1.51 ERA; he had a 2.57 mark so far this year. Littell, who posted a 2.92 ERA last year, had been called on in an increasing number of high-leverage situations before testing positive for COVID.
It's expected that two of Llovera, Long and Beede will be the odd men out. Llovera and Long have minorleague options available, while Beede does not and has stuck around until now despite limited and ineffective usage (yet is almost assured to be claimed on waivers).
“It'll be nice to have some of those guys back, for sure,” Wood said. “When you're down two guys like that, two leverage middle-innings guys, you start having to use guys in different situations than they otherwise would be in on any given night. I think Kap does a great job … of putting guys in the best position possible to have success. When you're shorthanded as we are in the `pen right now, missing a couple guys, those things become a little bit harder to do.
“We've treaded water for the last five or six days, but that happens.”