Relievers key to Marlins' early success

The Florida Marlins have won 12 of their first 18 games and their bullpen is a huge reason why. Through Friday’s games, Florida’s relievers own a miniscule 1.63 ERA and have held opposing hitters to a .180 batting average -- both best in the majors.

Part of the success can be attributed to plain good fortune, as opponents own a .218 batting average on balls in play, second-lowest in baseball. But with the Marlins’ starters posting an ERA of 4.01 (15th in majors), their relievers have carried the staff thus far.

Marlins Relievers This Season
Through Friday

The contributions of middle reliever Brian Sanches cannot be discounted. He has yet to allow a run and has surrendered only one hit in his 10 ⅔ innings. Sanches is the only player in the majors to log at least 10 innings this season while allowing only one hit or fewer.

Sanches has been very effective against the first batter he’s faced in his six appearances. He’s allowed just one of those hitters to reach base, and that was via an intentional walk. Sanches has yet to give up a hit against his two primary offspeed pitches -- the changeup and curve.

Below-Average Joe

One of the great closers of this generation, Joe Nathan, has struggled mightily in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2010 season. His 250 saves are fifth-most among active pitchers, but the Minnesota Twins have already lifted him from his traditional closer role. Nathan has posted a WHIP above 2.00 and hitters own a 1.078 OPS against him. His fastball has lost about two miles per hour compared to 2009, as has his slider. That could be a big reason why Nathan has an ERA over 11.00 so far this year.

Under the Radar

Boston Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard had himself an impressive week. Between Saturday and Thursday, Bard logged 4 ⅔ scoreless innings. Of the 15 batters faced, he allowed just three to reach base. In that span, batters swung at pitches outside the strike zone over 23 percent of the time, including a chase percentage of 55.6 with two strikes (league average: 40.5 pct).