Where: U.S. Cellular Field – Chicago, IL
Who: New York Yankees vs Chicago White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field
What: Didi Gregorious hit a sacrifice fly to center field in the top of the 4th inning. Chase Headley scored.
That was the last time that the baseball world has witnessed Matt Albers in human form. Following Albers’ appearance in the White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday afternoon, the 33-year-old right-hander from Houston, TX has built up a streak of 29 consecutive innings pitched without allowing an earned run. He also has a streak of 24 consecutive appearances without allowing a run to cross home plate (earned or unearned).
It has been a remarkable streak for a guy who has never really had any prolonged success at the big league level in his 11-year career. The White Sox took a flyer on Albers at the end of spring training last season, and it was a low-risk move to add more depth to the bullpen. Albers entered the 2015 season buried on the bullpen depth chart behind colleagues such as David Robertson, Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, and Javy Guerra to name a few.
But hardly a year later, Albers has become Robin Ventura’s most reliable relief pitcher. The Sox love what they have in David Robertson as their closer and Nate Jones as their flame-throwing set-up man, but I’m not sure that you can count on those guys to get an out any more than you can count on Albers.
That being said, Robertson and Jones are two of the game’s better late inning arms, and leaving Albers in the role of 6th and 7th inning relief against right-handed hitters is probably the best option moving forward. As a member of the White Sox, Albers has held righties to a .194 average (18 for 93); and he has only walked 2 of the 98 that he has faced.
Having reliable arms that can preserve a lead in innings 7 through 9 makes life a whole lot easier in Major League Baseball. Remember the days in the early 2000s when the Houston Astros had Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner in the back end of their bullpen? The Astros basically turned a 9 inning game into a 6 inning game. They knew that if they got to the 7th inning with a lead, they were going to win almost every time. The same can be said for the Kansas City Royals the past two seasons. In 2014, they had Wade Davis for the 7th, Kelvin Herrera for the 8th, and Greg Holland for the 9th, and they came within one game of winning the World Series. In 2015, they were the World Champions.
If the White Sox can replicate the Astros or Royals style, they can be a very competitive team in 2016. Asking starting pitchers like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon to only have to log 6 innings per start isn’t asking much of them at all; and asking the offense to only have to score 3 or 4 runs to win a game isn’t a tall task either.
The White Sox might be in for a very special season as a result of Matt Albers and his bullpen mates.