Jays release Ryan, eat $15 million

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Even though there was no financial incentive for doing so, the Jays
opted to release former closer B.J. Ryan on Wednesday. The move comes
after Ryan gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning against the
Yankees on Sunday. It was the only appearance he had made this month.

While his stuff still hadn’t come back, Ryan had a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3
innings during June. Left-handers were hitting .250 with one homer in
36 at-bats against him. Walks were a big problem, but he’s not totally
useless now and there’s still a real chance that he’ll regain some
velocity.

It’d be a less surprising move if Ryan wasn’t so good when healthy
during his time with the Jays. After securing a big five-year, $47
million deal to take over as Toronto’s closer, he had the best season
of his career in 2006, posting a 1.37 ERA and 38 saves in 42
opportunities. After a 2007 season ruined by Tommy John surgery, he
came back last year and finished with a 2.95 ERA and 32 saves in 36
opportunities. Even with this year’s struggles factored in, he
converted 86 percent of his save chances for the Blue Jays.

More than his command problems, it was Ryan’s diminished stuff that seemed to sour the Jays on him. According to Baseball Info Solutions data,
Ryan’s average fastball bad dropped from 90.7 mph in 2007 to 88.9 last
year and 87.3 this year. His slider had fallen just as far (84.7 to
82.5 to 81.2), and since he was no longer able to get his fastball past
hitters, he was relying on the slider more and more.

I can’t help but believe there’s some behind-the-scenes stuff going
on here. The Jays had two other quality left-handed relievers in Scott
Downs and Jesse Carlson, so Ryan wasn’t going to be very useful if
reduced to a specialist role. But that still wasn’t a very good reason
to release him with a year and a half left on his deal. It’s entirely
possible that he’ll sort out his delivery and reemerge as an above
average reliever and maybe a closer next year. That the Jays chose to
let him go now suggests that he rubbed somebody the wrong way. He
couldn’t have been happy about his reduced role. He had pitched just
once in the last week, and he wasn’t given a chance to win back the
closer’s role even with Downs sidelined.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.