A third of the way through the season which AL bullpen has been the best? I'll make the case for the top four pens and you help decide. I have my choice, which I'll reveal at the end, but look over the candidates and let me know your vote. First, the surprises.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES: 8 - 7 with 18 Saves
The Orioles could have the most surprising pen because Chris Ray has been out all season with an injury, but, that hasn't stopped them from compiling a 3.17 ERA.
Newcomer George Sherrill is 1 - 1 with 17 saves as the closer. He's had a few rough outings and walks too many hitters, but he's gotten the job done with a 3.57 ERA.
The situational guys are Chad Bradford (2-1, 2.70) and Jamie Walker (1-0, 4.20), who has been torched by lefties so far but he has the highest ERA on the staff.
The middle relievers are Dennis Sarafate (2-1, 3.38) Matt Albers (3-1, 2.25) and Jim Johson (0-2, 1.27) who have been big surprises and keep the O's in plenty of games.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS: 8 - 4 with 14 saves
The entire A's pitching staff has been one of the biggest MLB stories after it seemingly was stripped down for a refurbishing. The pen has been a huge part of that with a 3.11 ERA. They have done a terrific job keeping guys off base, allowing 90 hits and 36 walks in 119 1/3 innings, while striking out 129 batters.
Huston Street's ERA is a little high (3.70) but most of the damage has come in a few games and he's been mostly dominant with 12 saves.
The biggest surprises have been Santiago Casilla (0.93) and Joey Devine (1.23). Combined they have allowed 5 earned runs in 41 1/3 innings pitched and have simply shut down the opposition.
Middle relief is led by veteran Keith Foulke (2.92), Andrew Brown (2.45) and Alan Embree (4.30), the only lefty.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 9 - 4 with 14 saves
This is what the Sox were expecting last year. Their pen's ERA is 3.07 and they have been very consistent, as no reliever has an ERA over 3.57.
Bobby Jenks (1.69) continues to dominate. He's gone 2-0 with 13 saves and isn't relying on the strikeout to do his work. With just 5 walks, he's becoming more of a complete pitcher.
Scott Linebrink (1.17) is 2-0 and is back to his San Diego ways, allowing only 20 base-runners in 23 innings. He has filled the set-up role that had been missing from this team.
Boone Logan (2.65) and Matt Thornton (3.57) are the lefties and Nick Masset (3.38) is the long man. Octovio Dotel (3.48) has experienced bouts of wildness, but he also has dominated with 34 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings pitched.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS: 4 - 8 with 21 saves
Despite losing eight games, this bullpen has been rock solid with a 2.90 ERA. The short relievers have all been dominant and when they're in a close game, the Jays are always in it.
Lefty closer B.J. Ryan is back. He's simply dominated in his 16 innings, allowing just 1 run for a 0.56 ERA. He's struck out 20 and walked just six.
The other three lefties in the pen are the reason this pen is so good. Jesse Carlson (1.74), Scott Downs (2.08) and Brian Tallett (1.21) are allowing few base-runners and striking out nearly one per inning.
Jason Frasor has pitched well in middle relief, with a win and 3.63 ERA. Only last year's closer Jeremy Accardo (6.57) has struggled.
The Jays' lefties are the reason this is my pick for best pen. They have shut down both lefties and righties and keep their team in every game. They have allowed only 48 runs in 54 games and those eight losses are an anomaly. If Accardo gets straightened out, this pen will be tough to beat.
There are other quality pens that have two or three guys who are pitching as well as anyone, but they lack depth.
So, which do you think is the AL's best?
** NL bullpen evaluations scheduled for tomorrow