Posted: Friday August 24, 2012 12:17PM ; Updated: Sunday August 26, 2012 7:53PM
Joe Lemire

Dominant bullpen has Reds hoping for familiar ending to the season

Story Highlights

Reds bullpen ERA of 2.78 this year is third-best of any team since 2000 season

Dusty Baker has mixed and matched all relievers but closer regardless of inning

Dominant relief corps has reminded many of Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen in 1990

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Aroldis Chapman
Aroldis Chapman's 16.3 K/9 inning rate leads a Reds bullpen in which five of his set-up men average near one strikeout per inning.

PHILADELPHIA -- The adjective "nasty" is a great compliment in baseball, a descriptor for a pitch that's interchangeable with "unhittable." Nowhere is this more prevalent or spark such memories as in Cincinnati, which was home to the Nasty Boys -- Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers -- a trio of heat-throwing relievers who helped the Reds to a World Series championship in 1990.

And now Ohio's Queen City is again witnessing relief-pitching history with a new batch of nastiness harvesting in the Reds bullpen, this time with a septet of hard-throwers and curveballers who are collectively carving up opposing lineups and striking out 10.11 batters every nine innings, the best rate of any team of relievers in any season in baseball history.

The bullpen's 2.78 ERA this year leads the majors and is the third-best mark of any team since 2000. Cincinnati also ranks third in batting-average-against (.223) and fourth in inherited-runners-scored percentage (22.8).

Not bad for a team that lost its high-priced free-agent closer, Ryan Madson, for the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training and lost its top set-up men from the previous season, righthander Nick Masset and lefthander Bill Bray.

"You've seen in the past a little bit, teams that respond to the great adversity like we have early on in the bullpen shake-up," righthander Sam LeCure said, "those are big storylines as the season goes on."

Though Cincinnati lost three important pieces from its bullpen, it also traded for Sean Marshall from the Cubs during the offseason and Jonathan Broxton at the trade deadline, as well as claimed Alfredo Simon off waivers from Baltimore back in April. They joined two 2005 draft picks, LeCure and Logan Ondrusek, and Jose Arredondo, who signed before the 2010 season after the Angels non-tendered him.

Those relievers, all leading to closer Aroldis Chapman, have been mixed and matched regardless of inning by manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. It's a largely unsuspecting group to be keying a Reds turnaround that has resulted in the National League's second-best record and a seven-game divisional lead in the Central.

Bullpens are notoriously fickle, with annual reliability among relievers lower than at any other position. But creating an effective bullpen is also the finishing touch of championship building.

In the last five years there have been 12 teams whose win totals increased by 12 or more games as they made the playoffs after failing to qualify the previous season. It's probably no surprise that 10 of the 12 teams saw its bullpen ERA improve, but in most instances the improvement was substantial: nine clubs saw their bullpen ERAs decrease by at least 0.39, and the average change was a decline in ERA of 0.69.

Bullpen Improvement of Playoff Teams Making One-Year Turnarounds
Team Bullpen ERA differential Win differential
2012 Reds -0.77 +19*
2012 Orioles -1.06 +19*
2012 Pirates -0.87 +16*
2012 Athletics -0.87 +13*
2012 Nationals +0.03 +21*
2011 Diamondbacks -2.03 +29
2011 Brewers -1.17 +19
2011 Tigers -0.03 +14
2010 Reds -0.39 +13
2010 Rays -0.40 +12
2009 Yankees +0.10 +14
2009 Rockies +0.36 +18
2008 Rays -1.40 +31
2008 White Sox -1.47 +17
2007 Indians -0.93 +18
2007 Cubs -0.27 +19
2007 Rockies -0.67 +14
*Projections for 162-game schedule based on current winning percentage.

This is not to suggest that improving one's bullpen is the sole determining factor in a club's turnaround, but to note that if the other core pieces are in place, that quality relief can complete the job.
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