Before Game Four, Rangers manager Ron Washington was caught on camera giving pitcher Derek Holland a pep talk right before first pitch. He may want to do the same tonight with Matt Harrison, as the Rangers need a good outing from him tonight.
For the World Series, the Rangers’ cumulative bullpen WPA is -1.065. The four relievers Washington has used most — Alexi Ogando (five appearances), Neftali Feliz (four), Scott Feldman (four) and Darren Oliver (three) all have a negative WPA. Ogando has been the most egregiously bad, and also the most frequently used. He has compiled a negative WPA in four of his five appearances, and in his one positive outing he probably would have been tagged with runs — and a negative WPA — if Albert Pujols had not forgotten about the hit-and-run he had apparently called for. Feliz had been fine until last night, but even when he has performed well enough, he has been treading on thin ice, as he has walked at least one batter in all four of his World Series appearances.
It’s not just that the Rangers bullpen is failing — they’re also failing in the clutch. Eleven of the 23 appearances by the Rangers’ bullpen have come with a pLI higher than two — in those 11 appearances, the ‘pen has totaled a WPA of -1.086. Most of the ugly in that came last night, and it will be interesting to see if Washington has a short memory and goes to his trusted guys again — no one threw more than 23 pitches so they should all be ready to go — or if he is going to seek alternatives.
Should he look to others, Washington has guys that have performed decently throughout the Fall Classic in Mike Adams and Mike Gonzalez. The two Mike’s — along with Derek Holland — are the only pitchers who have put up positive WPA’s out of the bullpen for the series. For whatever reason, Washington has chosen to bury them on the depth chart — Adams behind Ogando and Feldman, and Gonzalez behind Oliver. Gonzalez hasn’t had his finest year, and Oliver has not only been money for the Rangers the last two years but also just as lethal (if not more so) against lefties the past three years as Gonzalez, so his place in the pecking order isn’t necessarily questionable. But Adams being buried is a bit of a mystery. For one thing, Adams is simply a better pitcher than Ogando or Feldman, especially out of the bullpen. Second, Ogando and Feldman have both displayed a much wider left-right split than has Adams. Washington is in danger of losing this series with one of his better relievers — if not his best reliever — being merely an observer.
As good as Adams and Gonzalez can be though, they are short relievers. Neither is going to give you more than six outs. And the Rangers may need a lot more than six outs from their ‘pen tonight if Harrison struggles like he did in Game Three. Should he struggle, the man the Rangers turn to could be C.J. Wilson. Wilson of course, hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory, but his performance in Game 5 was his best stint to date, and he did get loose in the bullpen last night.
Ron Washington could find himself in quite the dilly of a pickle this evening. His starting pitcher was tattooed in his last outing and hasn’t thrown more than five innings in any one game this postseason. On the other hand, the relievers he trusts the most are coming off a dreadful Game 6 performance and have been shaky for the entire Fall Classic. Washington can hardly be faulted if he chooses to ignore six games worth of data and stick to his guys, but he does have suitable alternatives in Adams and Gonzalez, and a good long man in Wilson should Harrison’s performance be as cringeworthy as it was in Game Three. How Washington chooses to parse out his pitching tea leaves tonight may determine whether or not the Rangers walk away with the crown.