Matthew Taylor: Bullish on the bullpen

The Orioles currently have one of the game's best relief corps. The bullpen's 1.96 ERA and 10 saves are tops in baseball. Take a moment to let that sink in. The team that for the past decade or more has been synonymous with late-inning meltdowns (think Mother's Day Massacre) and historic failings (think 30-3) has one of the game's finest late-inning outfits.

Earlier in the week, fellow guest blogger Heath Bintliff of Dempsey's Army proclaimed, "For the first time in years, I am loving the Orioles bullpen," and broke down the unit's constituent parts. We're advised to avoid covering the same topics with these guest posts, but the Orioles bullpen is the story right now. The primary reason this is news less than a month into the season for a sport where sample size is king is that the Orioles have been so bad in the 'pen for so long.

Since 2000, the Orioles bullpen has finished with a top-20 bullpen ERA exactly three times, and only once has that ERA been in the top half of teams. The 2002 bullpen was sixth in the major leagues with a 3.49 ERA and 31 saves. Nevertheless, the O's still lost 95 games, due in no small part to its inability to convert saves. The Birds finished 27th in saves and 17th in save percentage. They currently have a 75 percent save percentage that puts them in the top 10 for the category.

It's entirely too early to draw conclusions about the O's bullpen. Nevertheless, the early returns are promising. One only needs to think back two seasons to recognize the importance of early returns. By this point in 2010, the O's bullpen had five blown saves and tallied six losses. Mike Gonzalez, whom the Orioles signed to a two-year, $12 million contract prior to the season, had two blown saves after four games. Little changed over the course of a full season. The 2010 bullpen finished 24th with a 4.44 ERA, had 27 blown saves and recorded the worst save percentage in baseball at 56 percent.

It's therefore not too early to appreciate Jim Johnson going 7-for-7 in save opportunities, Pedro Strop earning his first two career saves this week and Luis Ayala picking up his first save since 2008 on Thursday. In football parlance, this would be a classic case of "Next man up." So far, the 2012 Orioles bullpen is doing just that: manning up.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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