Special to the Daily Herald
It's been easy to focus blame at the White Sox bullpen this season based on the heartbreaking, late-inning losses they've incurred since the start of the year. After all, it's nearly impossible to forget those games they seemingly had in-hand, only to watch them slip away in a matter of seconds.
You've heard it said, and probably even said it yourself: "This is the worst bullpen I've ever seen!"
While it may seem that way, the truth is that it's not really accurate and it's actually not the team's biggest problem. Granted, this is not a strong bullpen and it's been one of their weaker pens in the last few years, but there are worse in the AL this year.
I know that's not comforting and I'm not really trying to make you feel better about a bullpen that's seen a whole lot of trouble. Rather, I'd like us to acknowledge what's been the main issue in the 2014 season: the back end of the starting rotation.
Through games leading up to the break, the Sox have employed just three consistently reliable starting pitchers. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks have combined for a 3.18 ERA. However, in all the starts made by everyone else (a group that includes Hector Noesi, Scott Carroll, Andre Rienzo, Felipe Paulino, Erik Johnson, and Charlie Leesman), the Sox have a collective 6.18 ERA. In doing the math, I even extracted all the games that Carroll and Rienzo pitched out of the bullpen (Oddly, the two of them combined for a 1.95 relief ERA).
When 40 percent of the starting rotation has allowed 3 more runs per game than everyone else, that's a lot of starts that haven't even given the team a chance to win. That's a lot of games that were over before the sixth inning.
The Sox' bullpen has pitched in 34 more innings than the back end, but they account for 33 fewer earned runs allowed.
I fully understand it's easy to look at those 12 blown saves and determine those as the reason the Sox are as far below .500 as they are. Certainly, they could easily be 5 wins better without some of those, but the reality is that there approximately nine other teams in the AL that could say the same thing. Six clubs have as many, or more, blown saves than the Sox, and three others have at least 10.
No, the Sox' bullpen is not a good one in 2014 and there are a number of reasons for that. First, they've never been fully healthy since the beginning of the season and have certainly missed Nate Jones, who was one of the top relievers in the league last year. It also doesn't help that there's a great deal of inexperience out there.
Sure, blown games are memorable, but what really sets this season apart is the effect the fourth and fifth starters have had on the entire team, including the bullpen. When a starter doesn't go deep, someone else has to cover those innings, and that added workload is bad for any bullpen.
• Chris Rongey is the host of the White Sox pregame and postgame shows on WSCR 670-AM The Score. Follow him on Twitter@ChrisRongey and at chrisrongey.com.