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Hooray, Bullpen!

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Another day, another late-inning come-from-behind victory, another win closer to clinching. One of the most enjoyable things about this season is that, just as the Mets haven't relented despite a seemingly-insurmountable division lead, I have not yet ceased to be amazed by this club almost every time I watch them. Point in case, I was vehemently pumping my fist during last night's game as the Mets chased, caught, and eclipsed the Marlins on the scoreboard.

Plenty of folks contributed to the win, but the game ball has to go to the bullpen, whose pitchers combined to throw five shutout innings, striking out six, walking just one and allowing a couple of singles. The Mets have the best bullpen ERA in the National League, and it's not even close:

Team     Bullpen ERA
--------------------
Mets        3.12
Padres      3.39
Phillies    3.88
Pirates     3.97
Cubs        3.97
Not surprisingly, the Mets also lead the league in bullpen OPS against:
Team     Bullpen OPS
--------------------
Mets        .659
Padres      .686
Cardinals   .728
Dodgers     .728
Astros      .729
They're not doing it with smoke and mirrors, either. That is to say, they are leading the league in most bullpen categories and they have the peripheral stats to back it up:
Team     Bullpen K/BB
---------------------
Padres       2.69
Mets         2.69
Astros       2.58
Dodgers      2.58
D'Backs      2.28
You have to give a lot of the credit to Omar Minaya, who identified a weakness in last year's team and had a game plan for turning it into a strength (too, Rick Peterson gets plenty of credit for keeping these guys on the field and pitching well). Many suggested that Minaya perhaps gave up too much in certain instances in his quest to fortify the relief corps, specifically the separate deals that brought Duaner Sanchez and Roberto Hernandez to the Mets for Jae Seo and Xavier Nady, respectively. Sanchez is out for the season with a freak shoulder injury he sustained in a taxi accident, but prior to the injury he was one of the best relievers in the league. Despite underwhelming peripherals, Hernandez has pitched to a respectable 3.14 ERA.

Minaya was also lampooned a bit for dealing Kris Benson to the Orioles ostensibly for the erratic bullpen arm of Jorge Julio, but only Minaya may have realized at the time that he had a coup on his hands in the form of throw-in John Maine, who has been one of the Mets' best starters in the second half. True, the deal for Julio didn't help the bullpen all that much, but he pitched well enough to be shipped off to the desert in exchange for sometimes-great, sometimes-lousy Orlando Hernandez.

The resiliency of the Mets' bullpen has also been encouraging. Prior to Sanchez's injury, Aaron Heilman, who pitched so well in relief in 2005, had a tough time finding his groove at the 7th inning man. Sanchez last pitched on July 28th against the Braves. After the injury, Heilman stepped into the primary setup role and he hasn't looked back:

Dates            ERA    K/9   BB/9   K/BB
-----------------------------------------
 4/3 - 7/28     4.32    6.8    3.1   2.20
7/29 - 9/12     2.14    8.6    3.0   2.86
Let's not forget about guys like Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford, whom the Mets brought in on low-risk contracts when there was little (Bradford) to no (Feliciano) interest in them from other clubs. Also, Darren Oliver was often the hero earlier in the season when he would bail out the starter and keep the Mets in the game long enough for their offense to come back. Oliver has fallen off a bit of late, likely due in no small part to a lack of work.

Oh, and don't look now, but Billy Wagner is still leading the Cy Young Predictor.