It has admittedly been tough to find the positives with the Rays as they have limped through their schedule of late with both Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce out. Scoring four runs in a nine-inning game these days is nearly cause to break out the good champagne and celebrate success.
The frustrations with the offense have been compounded by the starting pitchers not named David Price struggling in their starts in recent weeks but overlooked in the struggles of the offense and the starters has been the improvement of the bullpen.
To say that the 2012 bullpen got off to a slow start would be a significant understatement. The bullpen had a collective 8.49 ERA on April 21st and the 4.78 FIP was not much kinder. To that point, the bullpen had allowed 33 earned runs in just 35 innings of work with Josh Lueke, Dane De La Rosa, and Joel Peralta owning most of that damage. Lueke and De La Rosa piled up runs in some of the ugly blowout losses of May where they came in and added fuel to the fire and they alone represented 36 percent of the runs allowed and 27 percent of the hits allowed to that point.
Since then, the bullpen has gradually improved and in July, has been the success story of the team.
At the player level, the surprising of success of Fernando Rodney has been well-documented, but he has had some rather unnoticed help from his teammates. Wade Davis and Jake McGee have combined to face 140 batters with men on base this season and they have allowed 27 hits, 15 runs, just one home run, 12 walks, and have struck out 39. McGee has been the most impressive in that run allowing less runs and striking out 33 percent of the batters he has faced with men on base while limiting them to a .208 wOBA.
After a season of many moving parts in the bullpen, the Rays have appeared to find their seven arms to fill the variety of roles that Joe Maddon likes to have filled. Rodney is the only player with a set role as Peralta and Farnsworth have both made 7th and 8th inning appearances of late while McGee, Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, and Wade Davis are used in matchups.
In each of the last two games, the bullpen has been asked to get at least two outs and has done a fantastic job both times as they continue to show improvement from their early season malaise. Lately, they have done an outstanding job of filling in the gaps left by the struggling starting staff in games, almost as a payback for the heavy lifting the starters did last year to help the bullpen stay fresh throughout 2011 and into the post-season. This trend must continue if the team has any hopes of making it into the post-season as a strong bullpen is a prerequisite for any contending team.