Due to some recent sub par performances the Rays' bullpen has come under fire. That's a shame really, because for a majority of the season the bullpen has been stellar. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but the life of a reliever is as volatile as they come. The Rays will soon have to decide on a bullpen for the post season - I'm assuming they make it unlike some other more cynical fans. Before they make those decisions let's take a look back at their month by month FIP:
Those numbers are somewhat skewed, more negatively than positively, by relievers who will see very little time come October. In any case those numbers, save for September, as a whole are good, and they look even better when you drill down to the relievers the Rays will rely on most in the playoffs. Those relievers would be Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano and Randy Choate. Separating it by FIP, those four lead the team in that order, with the lowest being 2.64 and highest 3.52. Those four also lead the team in high leverage appearances with 27, 20, 29, and 43 respectively. It was slightly surprising to see Choate rank second on that list, but when you consider he just set a team record for appearances in a season and faces key left handed hitters late in games, it makes sense. With the priority of rest being less important, and off days built into the playoff schedule, I'd have to expect a large amount of the post season relief appearances will be theirs.
I see the Rays keeping eight relievers on the ALDS roster. Along with the four I've already mentioned I'd think they'd keep Wheeler, Qualls, McGee and Niemann.
As I mentioned before, I think the core of Soriano, Benoit, Balfour, and Choate will be used extensively. The other four will get their chances to fill in when called upon:
If the starter goes six innings I don't see much of a reason for Wheeler to see action. If the starter struggles then Wheeler will likely face any cluster of right handed bats. In no situation should he face a lefty, unless a situation like Game 2 of the 2008 ALCS happens again.
Ground ball specialist. Will play the Chad Bradford role circa 2008.
The second lefty in the pen. Other than sharing a dominant hand, McGee and Choate couldn't be more dissimilar. Choate gets hitters out with a big sweeping slider while McGee sends fast balls whizzing past their bats. He isn't the secret weapon that David Price was in 2008, but McGee has only faced the Yankees once and the Twins and Rangers have never seen him. That should bode well for the Rays.
I debated giving this last spot to Jeremy Hellickson, but there's little chance this spot sees much action and Hellickson hasn't pitched well out of the bullpen thus far and is coming up on his innings limit. However, Niemann has time to lose this position with another bad outing.
I truely believe that this Rays bullpen can out pitch anything the Twins, Yankees, or Rangers can put together. If used properly those seemingly pessimistic fans shouldn't have anything to worry about next month.