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Mariners’ bullpen has gone from bad to historically good

Fernando and the rest of Seattle's relievers have combined to post the best bullpen ERA in baseball. (AP)

The only appropriate way to express greatness is to use words usually reserved for the exact opposite. Filthy, nasty, icky, sick and dirty all properly illustrate just how bad the 2014 Mariners bullpen has been. Bad as in good. Actually, great would be more appropriate. Seattle’s bullpen features the lowest ERA in all of baseball at 2.36. Opponents are hitting a measly .214 against it, and Mariners relievers have struck out 320 batters.

Their 2.36 ERA is the fifth-best mark for a bullpen since 1970.

1. 1972 Pirates, 2.25
2. 1981 Yankees, 2.26
3. 1988 Dodgers, 2.35
3. 1990 Athletics, 2.35
5. 2014 Mariners, 2.36
6. 1972 Orioles, 2.39

The four teams ahead of the Mariners on that list reached the postseason, including the 1988 World Series-champion Dodgers.

The Mariners’ bullpen has reached heights never seen in the history of the franchise. These are the top ERAs by month in franchise history:

1. August 2014, 1.46
2. June 2014, 1.64
3. July 2014, 1.84
4. June 2012, 1.88
5. July 2001, 1.97
6. June 1990, 2.11

The most remarkable aspect of the story is the enormous turnaround from just a season ago. Last year, Seattle’s bullpen finished 29th in MLB with a 4.58 ERA as Mariners relievers yielded 257 earned runs. So far this year, Seattle’s bullpen has only allowed a stingy 86 earned runs.

Closer Fernando Rodney was signed in the offseason to solidify what has routinely become a turbulent role in the modern game. Only one third of MLB teams this year have enjoyed calling on the same closer from the start of the season until now. Rodney has a roller-coaster-ride reputation, but the fact of the matter is that he has notched the second-most saves in baseball the last three seasons with 116. Only Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel with 124 tops Rodney. During that span, Rodney has boasted a 2.02 ERA while fanning 209 in 187 innings. Opponents have only hit a paltry .199 off of him.

Danny Farquhar bounced from the Jays to the A’s to the Jays again and then to the A’s one last time between 2008 and 2012. Acquired in the Ichiro trade, Farquhar found his stride with the Mariners last season, finishing strong over the last two months and then carrying that momentum into 2014. His strikeout rate is nearly double-digits (9.9 per nine innings) and he has managed to lower his walk rate from a season ago (3.6/9 to 2.9). Amazingly, he has only allowed one run on the road this season for 0.37 road ERA.

Thanks to his last outing, Tom Wilhelmsen has now pitched an inning more than he did a year ago. He has slashed his ERA from 4.12 to 2.25. His walks have decreased while his strikeouts have increased. Hitters are only .170 off of him this year.

Dominic Leone was drafted by the Mariners in the 16th round in 2012. He has made a quick rise to the big leagues and his impact this season has been significant. He owns a 2.14 ERA and righties are only hitting .204 off of him in 2014.

Hitters have only managed a .188 batting average against Yoervis Medina this season. He has slashed his walk rate by nearly one per every nine innings, and thus his ERA has dropped to 2.31.

Joe Beimel was in the Braves’ minor-league system a season ago, toiling in Triple-A Gwinnett. He owns a 0.38 ERA since May 1 and has yielded only one earned run in his last 30 games.

Brandon Maurer has transformed from a struggling starter (7.52 ERA) to a scary reliever (0.50 ERA). He has fanned 22 hitters in 18 innings while only allowing 10 hits out of the bullpen.

Charlie Furbush stumbled early in the season, but has managed a 2.38 ERA since May 5.

Seattle’s bullpen has performed at historic levels. Time will tell if it can help pry the Mariners into the postseason.