The beating the Orioles put on the Chicago White Sox bullpen Monday night — five runs in the eighth inning off three relievers with ERAs over five — was born of the same offseason strategy that the Orioles took with their bullpen.
Both teams traded away their proven closers — Jim Johnson from Baltimore, and Addison Reed from Chicago. Both tried to essentially piece it together with what they had. Only one succeeded.
The Orioles success in that department, and the lack of it in Chicago, is a big reason why the White Sox, who like the Orioles are in the top-10 in offense in several categories, are seven games under .500 while the Orioles are flying high, 7.5 games ahead of Toronto and two games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League.
The hometown team's bullpen success is well documented. Left-hander Zach Britton assumed the closer role from Tommy Hunter and has been spectacular, racking up 26 saves with a 2.08 ERA. Hunter, who floundered in the closer’s role, has been strong as a set-up man, as has Darren O’Day, he of a 0.98 ERA.
Even the interchangeable parts at the front of the bullpen — Brad Brach, Ryan Webb, and Preston Guilmet — are giving the Orioles competitive outings. Overall, the Orioles’ relievers are in the top 10 in baseball in ERA (3.18, eighth) and batting average against (.235, 10th).
The other side of the coin is a sad study in what could have been. The White Sox young relievers have pitched well — including Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, and Daniel Webb — but established relievers such as Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom have failed them. Chicago's bullpen ERA is 28th in the league (4.52) and opponents are batting .261 off them, which is 27th in the league.
Bullpen construction is a volatile thing. What works one year can be a disaster the next, and vice versa. But for this year, a series with the White Sox should be all the Orioles need to assure them that their bullpen is one of the best in baseball — though that success was hardly guaranteed.