Baltimore's long had the bullpen blues

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Camden Yards bullpen

The Orioles' and Royals' bullpens both pitched 4.1 innings on Tuesday night after each team's starter failed to make it through six full frames. The O's pen allowed two runs while Kansas City's pen, including impressive rookie Aaron Crow, allowed none. 

Despite totaling both a blown save (Jeremy Accardo) and a loss (Jason Berken), the Birds' bullpen actually moved ahead of the Dodgers last night in ERA. Baltimore's bullpen ERA of 5.42 now ranks 29th  in the majors. It's familiar territory for a team that, even when it has spend exorbitantly on relievers, can't seem to assemble the right relief corps.

Since 2000, roughly 10 to 12 bullpens per year have finished the season with an ERA under 4.00. More recently, those numbers have spiked with 17 bullpens posting a sub-4.00 ERA in 2009 and 16 teams doing so in 2010. Yet only once during that time frame has the Orioles' bullpen produced a sub-4.00 ERA. The pen had a 3.49 collective effort in 2002.

By comparison, the O's have finished with a bullpen ERA above 5.00 on three separate occasions since 2000. The pen's ERA has ranked 20th or worse in the majors eight times since 2000. In other words, the Orioles bullpen has consistently been very bad.

Putting together bullpens is a tricky business. Crow is a good example. The Royals' first pitcher of the month for 2011, threw 12.1 scoreless innings in April with 11 strikeouts. He kept 10 inherited runners from scoring. But just last season Crow was demoted from Double-A to Single-A ball where he fared no better. Now he has managed, at the very least, to catch lightning in a bottle.

Prior to the 2007 season, the Birds focused specifically on revamping a bullpen that posted the second-worst ERA in baseball in 2006 by investing more than $40 million in relievers. After encouraging initial returns, the bullpen compiled an even worse ERA than the year before and again placed next-to-last in the category among major league teams. The bullpen's follies in 2007 included the 30-3 debacle in late August.

The Rays, meanwhile, have demonstrated the difference a solid bullpen can make for a team. Long a companion to the Orioles in bullpen futility, the Rays vaulted from having the worst relief ERA in 2007 and losing 96 games to having the fifth-best bullpen ERA (3.55) during their 2008 turnaround season and winning the A.L. pennant. They have since finished 17th (3.98 in 2009) and  fourth (3.33 in 2010) in the category and currently rank sixth for bullpen ERA at 2.88.

The Birds will only find relief from all this losing if they can find some relief help for their starters.

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Orioles bullpen rank since 2000

2010 - 24th of 30 teams with a 4.44 ERA

2009 - 28th of 30 teams with a 4.83 ERA

2008 - 26th of 30 teams with a 4.57 ERA

2007 - 29th of 30 teams with a 5.75 ERA

2006 -29th of 30 teams with a 5.27 ERA

2005 - 17th of 30 teams with a 4.10 ERA

2004 - 18th of 30 teams with a 4.13 ERA

2003- 21st of 30 teams with a 4.57 ERA

2002 - 6th of 30 teams with a 3.49 ERA

2001 - 21st of 30 teams with a 4.44 ERA

2000 - 28th of 30 teams with a 5.58 ERA

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