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One way to mitigate the damage of a shaky starting rotation is to be smart about it. Don’t leave ’em in there too long! Maybe don’t pull them at the very first sign of trouble, but once you get through the 4th or 5th inning, tighten up that leash. A top-notch bullpen can cover up A LOT of warts on a pitching staff.
Edwin Diaz is the key to the whole thing, but consider this post a catch-all for the entire bullpen. Now, obviously, it’s early February, and therefore it’s too early to make any sort of valid prediction as to what the Opening Day bullpen is going to look like. For starters, it’s highly likely Steve Cishek starts off the regular season on the DL, and doesn’t come back until mid-April (if not later). There are guys we can be pretty confident about – Scrabble, Scribner, Vincent – but the only guy who has a guaranteed spot on this roster (barring injury) is Diaz.
Yes, he’s the closer. Yes, he’s got the best arm on the team. But, he’ll also only be 23 years old this spring, and he’s coming off of a little over half a season of Major League experience. AND, not for nothing, but he really struggled those last two months as his fastball lost a bit of velocity and as the rest of the American League figured him out. He was over-used and his command really faltered by season’s end. Not enough to lose him his job, but enough to leave a pile of doubt in my mind.
I don’t expect him to be perfect, but I do need him to be dominant. If we have to waste time with a switch at the closer position, that’s a hassle that’s going to doom this team. As it stands, the bullpen is far from a strength. Ideally, we’ll see Diaz, Cishek (when he returns) and Scribner all pitch really well from the right side, with Scrabble doing his thing from the left side. If those four guys pan out in a big way, I can see this team going pretty far.
What I do like about this bullpen as it’s currently constructed is its depth. We’ve got those top four guys, then we’ve got Vincent, Zych, Altavilla, and a bunch of other guys we’ve either traded for or brought up through the farm system. Guys with Major League experience and guys with tons of potential.
A bullpen is generally 7 pitchers deep, but over the course of a full season, you might burn through twice or three times that number! Guys get injured, guys perform poorly, guys get over-used and you’re forced to bring in fresh arms to get you through a rough patch. You’re only as good as your depth, as far as pitching is concerned, until September, when you’re only as good as your team’s health dictates.
The worst case scenario for this team is having its starters middle their way through the season, with the bullpen a total disaster. The Mariners have a lot going on as far as hitting and defense is concerned, but they don’t have enough to overcome what very well could be a trainwreck pitching staff. So, you know, let’s shock the world, huh? One way to do that: have the bullpen come out of nowhere to lead this team to the promised land.