As the 2010 Season dwindles down to a handful of games, two National Leagues teams are bracing for an epic showdown that will likely decide the winner of the National League West Division. The loser in all likelihood will miss the post season altogether.
The San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres are neck and neck in the NL West standings. It's time to put up, or shut up for these two clubs.
Starting pitching has been a huge factor in the success of the Giants and Padres. Offense and each team's ability to put runs on the board eventually decides the winner.
The bullpen on any team is often a group of unsung heroes that will, in my opinion, be the deciding element in the formula of success.
Much has been made of the San Diego's relief staff, and rightfully so. The Padre's bullpen is arguably the best in the National League. The statistics for the Padres' relievers speak for themselves, topping the charts in too many categories to name.
In the coming slides we will discuss just how the Giants' bullpen matches up with San Diego's own unit.
Mike Adams, San Diego RP
Usually when a team can knock out an opposing team's ace, they are happy to get a chance at facing relief pitchers.
The Padres have been the exception in 2010, and Mike Adams is no small part of that fact.
Mike Adams is a strong 6'5 right-hander who can come into a game and immediately cause heartburn in the opposing team's dugout. Adams, a six year veteran in the league is enjoying his best season in the bigs.
In 57 games, Adams has unbelievable numbers. His ERA is a smoldering 1.82, and has racked up 60 strikeouts against 20 walks. Closer stuff.
Seeing Adams getting warmed up in the bullpen is not neccessarily something you want to see.
Within the Giants bullpen, the best answer San Francisco has for Mike Adams is Sergio Romo.
Romo has been a hot potato for the Giants. His motion is deceptive, his movement is nasty. Although he can seem a little show-boaty at times, I see more of a natural competitor with strong emotions.
Refined or not, Romo is a deadly pitcher. His propensity to challenge batters will either be his success story or his downfall.
Romo has already had some late inning explosions doing exactly that, challenging batters that he probably should have not. Earlier in the season Romo gave up game winning home runs in almost back to back appearances.
Lately Romo has tightened it down and got back to doing what he does best, getting outs. His ERA for the season is 2.50 and has struck out 59 batters while walking only 13.
Luke Gregerson is another one of the many Padres relievers torturing opposing lineups.
Just before the 2009 season Gregerson was acquired by the Padres along with Tim Worrell for shortstop Khalil Greene.
In his second full year with the Padres Gregerson has found his role and played it well. He has a whopping 76 strikeouts to his 16 walks, and an ERA at 3.48. His 3-7 record as a reliever is mainly due to getting ball in high pressure moments.
Lately Gregerson has been a little shaky. His ERA climbed a full point in his last ten games as the Padres went on a ten game losing streak.
His performance as the division race heats up will be key for either team, good or bad.
While Santiago Casilla may not be our number one option out of the 'pen, he has definately been someone Bruce Bochy has leaned on heavily.
When injuries and catastrophic failures plague the bullpen at the mid point of the season, Casilla was called on time and time again. And for the most part, the 30 year old Dominican native answered the call.
His 6-2 record as a relieve paints a picture, telling of his ability to take a tight game and manufacture a win. He has an ERA of 2.34, with 48 strikeouts and 24 walks. His strikeouts don't exactly jump off the page, and the walks are a problem.
Before it is all said and done, Casilla's performance will likely be a key contributor to the Giants success or downfall in their hopes to win the division.
Edward Mujica is a terror late in the game. The Venezuelan right-hander is as stingy as they come.
He doesn't like base-runners, and likes giving up runs even less.
Mujica is quite capable of putting together scoreless innings across multiple starts.
His 13.2 to 1 ratio of strikeouts to walks is a major reason why the San Diego bullpen is so dominant.
When faced with the alternative of keeping a Padre starter in, or facing Mujica - I'm not sure which a Giant hitter would prefer. He has 66 strikeouts, and six walks. That just tells you that he will get after you in bad way.
Ramon Ramirez is one of the many new faces in the Giants clubhouse this summer. Right away the former Red Sox reliever was put to work.
When he was acquired, I'm not sure the 4 year veteran imagined he was going to be the workhorse of the rotation. Ramirez often pitches back to back days, sometimes runs of 3 or 4 games.
Since joining the Giants, Ramirez has only allowed two earned runs. He is exactly what the Giants need in the bullpen if the starters cannot get it done. Ramon Ramirez has been damage control for a starting rotation that has been underachieving in August.
For what seemed like decades, the Padres would call on the legendary Trevor Hoffman to come in and close out games.
When Hoffman's ship sailed with the Padres (and likely his best pitching days), San Diego turned to Oceanside native Heath Bell.
Bell has been very good for San Diego. Very good. Through September 7, Bell has converted 26 consecutive save attempts.
His 39 saves are currenly second in the National League behind Brian Wilson.
Bell's 1.70 ERA and 79 strikeouts are indeed a nice cap to a bullpen that is one of the best in the game.
If Bell continues to get chances to save games, the Giants have a tall task before them if they want to unseat the Padres atop the NL West.
Can the Giants ring Heath's Bell?
Through ups and downs in the bullpen, Giants closer Brian Wilson has been the most reliable arm in the last few years for the club.
The two time All Star has been one of the best closers in baseball since earning the job in 2008. His fastball is consistantly in the mid to high 90's on the gun and sets up his wicked slider.
Wilson sometimes tends to get himself in trouble, allowing baserunners and hits in moments that truly put the game's fate on his next pitch. With surprising consistency Wilson is able to get it done, his 41 saves are tied for the most in all of Major League Baseball.
Wilson also carries an impressive 1.85 and has struck out 80 and walked 23. If the Giants offense can get a lead against their opponents, and more importantly the Padres, Wilson's abillity to close will never be more vital.
No one gave the Padres much credit, even after they rode first place into the All Star break and through July. The rumor mill kept expecting this huge drop off in performance. Until lately, I was wondering if that drop off would ever come.
Recently the Padres lost ten straight games. San Diego's pitching staff collectively did not shine during that stretch.
Whether this is the let down the experts predicted or not, it is clear that San Diego can pitch.
A look over the Padres statistics will show high strikeouts against few walks.
The Giants offense will need to be dynamic and persistent if they are going to take the crucial games they need to get ahead of the Padres in the NL West.
We talked about how good the San Diego bullpen has been this year. The Giants bullpen has also performed really well as a unit in 2010.
They rank in the top three in the National League in ERA and earned runs, and lead the league in saves.
Last year's bullpen stud, Jeremy Affeldt has on and off the DL all year, but appears to be healthy again and his command has returned. Lefty Javier Lopez who came over the Pirates mid-season has been another valuable assett.
Another left hander, Dan Runzler, who's recent return from the DL adds versatility to Bruce Bochy's bullpen that he just didn't have a month or two ago.
While no one pitcher stands out in the bullpen as the hero or go-to-guy, this bullpen has performed this well as a team. By committee they are ranked among the best bullpens in the NL.
If San Diego's bullpen is indeed coming back to the pack, it is a perfect time for Giants relievers to prepare to give it their all.
As the two teams face each other next weekend, and close out the season against each other, the Giants bullpen will need to be as tough as they have been all year. Even more tough.