Bullpen woes mirror team struggles

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It has all pretty much fallen apart now, but when it first started to turn in the second half it was a string of bad luck that befell the White Sox.

The White Sox are 30-33 in the second half, and have pretty much been dealing with bullpen injuries that entire time.

The unfortunate events first started with a sore lower back for Bobby Jenks on the 10-game road trip to open the second half. A month later it was both Matt Thornton (elbow inflammation) and J.J. Putz (knee tendinitis) going to the disabled list on the same day. Jenks is hurt again, this time with ulnar neuritis (a sore forearm).

“It throws the bullpen alignment in shambles a little bit,” Matt Thornton said about injuries to key relievers. “We had a good going there where Sergio [Santos] would come in and finish an inning out for a starter and then J.J. [Putz] and myself would throw the seventh or eighth inning depending on the matchups and Bobby would be our closer. When you name somebody the closer everybody works to get him the ball. That’s what we had going real well.”

Consistency from the starting rotation also started to wane in the second half, adding additional strain to the bullpen.

“Everything revolves around our starting pitching, always,” Thornton said. “When we were in the midst of our great run in June, July and the start of August, it was all starting pitching. Starting pitching and defense is going to win baseball games.”

It was the bullpen that had to absorb all of the outs in Monday’s game at Oakland, when starter Gavin Floyd had to leave while facing the leadoff hitter due to tightness in the back of his right shoulder. Tony Pena delivered sox scoreless innings, but Scott Linebrink gave up three runs (one earned) in one inning and the White Sox were left with a 3-0 defeat.

Where the first half was good times for the bullpen, things seemed to change after the All-Star break, especially with key relievers.

  • Santos had a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings in the first half and has a 4.71 mark in 21 innings of the second half. He had a .216 batting average against before the All-Star break and a .311 mark after it.

  • Thornton had a 4.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half and just a 3.29 ratio in the second half while watching his ERA jump from 2.70 to 3.86.

  • Putz had a .200 opponents’ on-base percentage in the first half compared to a .354 mark in the second half. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also jumped from 6.67 to 3.00

  • Jenks gave up 14 earned runs over 32 2/3 innings in the first half. In just 20 innings in the second half he gave up 12 earned runs. Jenks, though, improved in some areas like his 2.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio compared to a 5.50 second-half mark. He also had 14 first-half walks compared to four after the break.

    “You have ups and down in a year and everybody’s going to have their bullpen struggle at different times of the season,” Thornton said. “Very rarely do you have a team that’s lights out from the beginning of the season to the end and we’ve had five really good months of baseball form the bullpen, quality pitching and done a good job or the most part. You’re always going to have bad games here and there but consistently over the long haul we’ve done a pretty good job.”

    Indeed, the bullpen’s 8.97 walks per nine innings would be a franchise record if the season ended today. That mark is the best in the American League. The White Sox relievers are also third in save percentage (73.6) as well as fifth in saves with 39. Their 3.90 ERA was sixth.

    “I think the pieces we have a lot of teams would die to have,” Thornton said. “With the addition of [Chris] Sale here in the last month and Sergio had a great year, J.J. had another solid year, Bobby was great when he was healthy. It’s one of those things where you have a lot of great arms out there and a lot of teams where these guys would be closers for. It’s one of those things where you hit a rough patch and get exposed a little bit.”

    By the numbers

    7: Consecutive defeats for the White Sox after Monday’s 3-0 loss to the A’s. It is the club’s longest losing streak since losing seven consecutive April 28-May 5 2008.

    “Very bad [play]. I don’t know if it was a late night last night but today was kind of flat. Hopefully we change back to the [regular] emotions. Today was kind of a lousy game. I don’t think we got anything done. We had something going on the bases with two outs and struck out. Meanwhile if we have to make an excuse, that’s the excuse for the way we played today,” - Guillen, after the team arrived at its Bay Area hotel at 4 a.m. Monday and was shut out by the A’s later that night.

    Look ahead

    White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle (12-11, 4.16) will try for his second career victory at Oakland when he pitches there Tuesday. His first career victory in the A’s home park came earlier this season. He is 1-6 at Oakland in his career with a 4.23 ERA in 13 games (11 starts). Buehrle needs 7 2/3 innings to reach 200 for the 10th time in his career.

    Buehrle will be opposed by A’s right-hander Trevor Cahill (16-7, 2.84), who has posted all of his victories since the start of May. As of Monday, Cahill was tied for sixth in the AL with his 16 victories. He is 10-2 at home this season with a 1.58 ERA in 13 starts.