Dennis Eckersley

Dennis Eckersley (Courtesy of TBS / April 7, 2013)

One of the key questions for the Orioles this season is whether their bullpen can repeat its success from 2012. Bullpens could actually be a deciding factor in a taut American League East.

Hall of Fame pitcher and TBS MLB analyst Dennis Eckersley joined us for a quick Q&A the other day where we discussed bullpens and his expectations for the division.

Eckersley – who also works as a studio analyst for NESN, the regional cable network that carries Red Sox games – also gave a brief scouting report of Boston's team as the Orioles begin a three-game series at Fenway Park this afternoon.

I know you’ve been keeping a close eye on the AL East. Can you break down what you see in the division?

What I see is everybody bunched more than any other year. Obviously this is one of the first years the Yankees and Red Soxs aren’t picked 1 and 2. Just with what Baltimore did last year, I mean, they’re for real. And with the turnover with Toronto, everybody’s expecting them to win the thing.

To me, it’s easier said than done to come together.

And then there’s Tampa, which probably has the best pitching. That’s a club that nobody ever picks, but they’re always there.

So, to me, it’s Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto. And if I had to, I’d pick Tampa.

You mentioned the Orioles being for real. There are obviously some people out there who think they’re going to fade back and others who do think they’re for real. What makes you say that you think they’re in that second category?

After winning last year, I think they expect to win now. I really do.

If you look at their lineup, it’s deep. You’ve got [Chris] Davis, [Manny] Machado all year. Adam Jones is probably one of the best players in the game. They’ve got a nice lineup. They hit a lot of home runs last year.

But the magic was in the bullpen with the close one-run games, the extra innings. … You can’t expect the bullpen to do what they did last year. But they’re going to be there.

People say that bullpens, from year to year, are one of the factors that fluctuate most, and it’s tough to replicate a good season from an entire bullpen. Why do you see that happening?

Sometimes guys just sort of find themselves. It’s such a small part of the game. Not to say that you can get lucky, but you can get hot. And guys can feed off one another, sort of a domino kind of thing, you know?

The next year somebody doesn’t do as well and it throws things out of whack. [Jim] Johnson at the end, he was incredible. You can’t expect your closer to have those sorts of years every year. You’re going to fall off a little bit. And guys physically, there’s lots of change year in and year out.

Did you ever have an experience where one of the bullpens you were in, you had a good year and then most of the same guys came back the next year and struggled?

There’s always one guy. There’s always somebody who doesn’t do what they did the year before – including myself. It’s the law of averages, man. Unless you’re [Mariano] Rivera.

And if you have your closer fall off, you’re in trouble.

Is there something about Jim Johnson that stands out that you like as a former closer?

He’s not a strikeout guy, [but] he’s got great stuff. He gets it done with the kind of stuff he has.