It is no secret that a team's bullpen and its closer have the potential to be the difference between a good team and a World Series contender.
A perfect example is last year's Philadelphia Phillies. In the National League Championship Series, the Phillies lost in six games to the San Francisco Giants.
However, five of those games were decided by three or fewer runs. I'm positive that had the Giants bullpen been sub-par, the Phillies would have had a better chance of advancing to the World Series.
With the signing of Rafael Soriano, the Yankees now have two of 2010's best closers on their staff. There are very few teams in the league, if any, that can boast a late-inning staff as intimidating as the Yankees.
In this article, I will break down the league's deadliest bullpen duos. Whose eighth-and-ninth-inning relievers are the most consistent at finishing a game out?
Is there a duo more talented than that of the Yankees? How do the Padres, Red Sox and Phillies stack up?
The following teams have very reliable duos. However, they are not quite the best:
11. New York Mets: Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Acosta
12. Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson
13. Kansas City Royals: Joakim Soria, Dusty Hughes
14. Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez, Rafael Perez
15. St. Louis Cardinals: Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan
Andrew Bailey: 2010 Statistics - 1-3, 1.47 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.04 K/9, 25 Saves
Bailey followed up his 2009 Rookie of the Year season with another dominant season in 2010. He is certainly not the biggest threat in terms of striking batters out. However, he rarely walks batters and he blew just three saves in 2010.
Brian Fuentes: 2010 Statistics - 4-1, 2.81 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.82 K/9, 14 Saves
Fuentes spent the majority of his 2010 season closing for the Los Angeles Angels before being shipped to the Minnesota Twins. He finished the season very well, allowing zero runs in September and October. He has experience in the American League West and should complement Bailey very well.
Jonathan Papelbon: 2010 Statistics - 5-7, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.97 K/9, 37 Saves
Though Papelbon lost his status as an elite reliever in a down 2010, he is still very much a feared pitcher when the game reaches the ninth inning. In six years with Boston, 2010 was the first season Papelbon's ERA rose above 2.65. Can he return to his elite form? Maybe not, but he is still a strong option at closer.
Daniel Bard: 2010 Statistics - 1-2, 1.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.15 K/9, 3 Saves
Whatever the Red Sox have lost in Jonathan Papelbon's decline, they gained back in Bard's development. He proved in 2010 that he was one of the best set-up men in the game, posting a 1.93 ERA. Bard's ERA at home is an almost unhittable 0.81. If Papelbon ever falters, the Red Sox have nothing to worry about, as Bard appears to have the makings of a great closer.
Joe Nathan: 2009 Statistics* - 2-2, 2.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.65 K/P, 47 Saves
The only reason the Twins are ranked as low as No. 8 is because of Nathan's injury, which caused him to miss the entirety of the 2010 season. Nobody doubts that Nathan is an elite closer. However, it has yet to be seen whether he will be able to perform at the same level after his injury.
Matt Capps: 2010 Statistics: 5-3, 2.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.27 K/9, 42 Saves
When Minnesota acquired Capps in the middle of 2010, even the Twins could not have expected him to be so efficient. Capps converted on 16 of his 18 save opportunities with Minnesota and had a 2.00 ERA during that span. It seems that he will be relinquishing his role as closer to Joe Nathan; however, he will still be a major factor in the Minnesota bullpen.
*Nathan was injured all of 2010.
Craig Kimbrel: 2010 Statistics - 4-0, 0.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 17.41 K/9, 1 Save
Though he only pitched 20.2 innings in 2010, it is clear that Kimbrel has the potential to be among the league's elite relievers. His strikeout rate was out of this world and his 0.44 ERA was pretty decent as well. Billy Wagner's departure will certainly be felt by the Braves' staff; however, if Kimbrel can produce like he did in 2010, the loss will be greatly suppressed.
Jonny Venters: 2010 Statistics - 4-4, 1.95 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.08 K/9, 1 Save
Like most relievers on the Braves' 2010 staff, Venters was a dominant force. His high strikeout rate is one of his main weapons. Venters was a crucial part of the Braves' success in 2010, and if he can continue to put down hitters like he did last season, the Braves should have a very good 2011 bullpen.
Jonathan Broxton: 2010 Statistics - 5-6, 4.04 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 10.53 K/9, 22 Saves
The Dodgers are in a similar situation with Broxton as the Red Sox are with Papelbon. Broxton has been dominant in the past, though his 2010 campaign was very disappointing. A 4.04 ERA is unacceptable for a team vying for a playoff bid. If Broxton can return to his form of the past, he will be worthy of this sixth spot, though it is certainly possible he will not finish among the top 10 closers in 2011.
Hong-Chih Kuo: 2010 Statistics - 3-2, 1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 10.94 K/9, 12 Saves
Kuo was arguably the best set-up man in the league in 2011 before he took a more closer-esque role with Los Angeles in the second half. Kuo's .139 batting average against is a phenomenal statistic to boast and, like Daniel Bard, he can more than make up for a closer's struggles. After April, Kuo let up a total of six runs over 58.1 innings.
Francisco Cordero: 2010 Statistics - 6-5, 3.84 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 7.35 K/9, 40 Saves
Cordero had a very ho-hum season as the Reds' closer in 2010. He was certainly not an elite reliever, though he was able to manage 40 saves, which is not an easy task. His ERA dropped significantly in the second half of the season to 3.38, during which he saved 16 of 18 opportunities. Cordero has the ability to bounce back in 2011, and if he does, the Reds will have a very threatening bullpen.
Aroldis Chapman: 2010 Statistics - 2-2, 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 13.05 K/9, 0 Saves
The Cuban phenom lived up to all expectations in 2010, not letting up an earned run during his first 7.2 innings pitched. He should only improve in 2011, which makes for a very scary bullpen when paired with a potential comeback candidate in Cordero. At age 22, Chapman has a very bright future ahead of him.
Neftali Feliz: 2010 Statistics - 4-3, 2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.26 K/9, 40 Saves
The reigning 2010 American League Rookie of the Year award winner is arguably a top three closer in the league. Converting on 40 of 43 save opportunities is a difficult task for any reliever, especially a rookie. What is even more scary about Feliz is the fact that after the All-Star break, he posted a 1.42 ERA. Rangers fans will not have to break a sweat when Feliz comes out to close games in 2011.
Darren O'Day: 2010 Statistics - 6-2, 2.03 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 6.48 K/9, 0 Saves
The Rangers' bullpen couldn't have gotten much better in 2010. O'Day had a phenomenal season by any standards, allowing only 43 hits in 62.0 innings pitched. The pairing of an unhittable O'Day and a strikeout pitcher in Feliz is a force to be reckoned with in 2011.
Brian Wilson: 2010 Statistics - 3-3, 1.81 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.21 K/9, 48 Saves
Other than Rafael Soriano, Wilson was arguably the best closer of 2010. In the past, Wilson's consistency has been challenged. However, he put down any doubts in 2011. Wilson's 48 saves are an incredibly difficult feat to achieve, and Wilson was able to do this in just 53 save opportunities. Wilson's increased strikeout rate is what separated him from the pitcher he used to be, and if he is able to keep up his production, San Francisco has a chance to boast the league's best bullpen.
Sergio Romo: 2010 Statistics - 5-3, 2.18 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.16 K/9, 0 Saves
As if the Giants' staff wasn't good enough with Wilson, Romo was among the league's elite in terms of set-up success. The 2010 season was the first season Romo threw over 34.0 innings, and he showed no signs of wear or tear. He actually finished the season at his best, allowing zero runs in the months of September and October (excluding postseason). Look for Romo to thrive again in 2011 and for San Francisco to be a top three or four bullpen once again.
Heath Bell: 2010 Statistics - 6-1, 1.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.05 K/9, 47 Saves
It's hard to believe that Bell may not have been the best closer in his division in 2010, as Brian Wilson was as good as you can ask for. Despite this, Bell was almost flawless as well. Bell's ERA has been decreasing since 2008, ending at 1.93 in 2010. It is possible that Bell continues to improve, as hard as that is to believe. The only question for the Padres is whether they opt to trade Bell.
Mike Adams: 2010 Statistics - 4-1, 1.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.84 K/9, 0 Saves
The Padres could not have asked for a better season out of their star reliever, Adams. After the All-Star break, Adams' ERA was a scary 1.07, showing that his 2011 could end even better than last season's campaign. Paired with Bell, the duo lost only two games in 2010, a very impressive number. There is no reason to believe that in 2011 the two cannot repeat their numbers.
Mariano Rivera: 2010 Statistics - 3-3, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 6.75 K/9, 33 Saves
It would have been difficult to make a case against the best closer in Major League Baseball history. Rivera has shown no signs of old age, saving 30-plus games for his eighth consecutive season. Rivera has now kept his ERA under 2.00 for three years in a row, and is there really any reason to believe he will not do it again?
Rafael Soriano: 2010 Statistics - 302, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 8.25 K/9, 45 Saves
It is hard to believe that the best closer of 2010 will not be closing games in 2011, though being a set-up man to Mariano Rivera is nothing to be ashamed of. Soriano saved 45 games for the Rays in 2010 and he is accustomed to the American League East. There is no question that when he is paired with Rivera this season, these two will be the most fearsome duo in the league.