Monday, May 18, 2009

Closer Coverage, May

If we can find adequate time, and enough changes have taken place since the start of the season, we'll cover closers in bulk as well as the notes included in our usual pick-up list.  Let's start with the National League, and get as far as we can.

NL West

Dodgers - The man in LA is still Jonathan Broxton.  4-0 with 9 saves is downright absurd for a closer.  What the big fella is doing with 4 wins at this point in the season is beyond me.  And after watching him toss and turn as the fill-in closer the last couple seasons, Broxton's success through the first month and a half this year is even more surprising.  He did have one single melt-down against the Phils late last week, but his team picked him up with an extra-inning victory.

Padres - Another clear-cut closer situation, as most of the NL West is fairly squared away at the back end of the bullpen.  Heath Bell has, to this point, been a stout, bearded beast.  If the Padres could get a lead or two, he could be one of the best.

Diamondbacks - Much like the Friars, if Arizona could ever enter the 9th inning winning, Chad Qualls could be pretty good.  Unfortunately, the young snakes seem to score either 1 run or 9, leading to a great many losses, and a scant few blowouts.

Giants - The Giants may be the surprise of the West thus far, if only because they're not losing as many games as the Rockies, Padres and D'backs.  Their pitching staff is excellent, but the lineup leaves a heck of a lot to be desired.  Thankfully, due to the prowess of their starting 5, the Giants are in most games, which means plenty of chances for Brian Wilson to pitch in late innings.

Rockies - The Rox bounced back and forth between last year's setup man, Manny Corpas, and the former A's closer, Huston Street, with both relievers pitching their way out of the closer job.  First, Street launched his ERA into the 9's, then Corpas walked his way to an ERA over 6.  Then, suddenly, Street settled in, and he's been good for the last couple weeks.  The whole mountain could come crashing to the ground at any moment, but for now, Huston is the mile high man.

NL Central

Milwaukee Brewers - Having Trevor Hoffman back has really changed the confidence level in Milwaukee.  The Brewers offense is outstanding, and an overachieving starting rotation is doing just enough to win on a regular basis.  All this has led to an NL Central Division lead.  But things weren't always so great.  Carlos Villanueva laid an egg in his efforts as fill-in closer, and Todd Coffey was inconsistent at best.  Villanueva will still see a save opportunity or two, as Hoffman won't be pitching in 3 straight games, but he's not worth having for any reason.

Chicago Cubs - The closer situation in Chi-town isn't interesting yet, but it might soon be.  The Cubs picked up Kevin Gregg to bolster the pen, and he's the closer now, but he doesn't have the trademark "closer repertoire" that most teams seek in their game-ender.  His fastball is low 90's, and if the goggles didn't give it away, he's mostly a control pitcher without a put-away pitch.  Gregg surrendered 4 runs without recording an out in his last appearance, and even though Lou Piniella says he's still the closer, Carlos Marmol (who seems to have located home plate at long last) is perched very close by.

St. Louis Cardinals - There was no clear closer to start the season for the Redbirds, but Ryan Franklin has been everything they could have hoped for, and more.  There was talk that Dennys Reyes might close some games against a lefty-heavy opposing lineup, or that Chris Perez or Jason Motte would be the go-to guy, but their performances thus far (ranking from awful to bearable) have left Franklin comfortably in the driver's seat.  A key pickup in the early parts of this 2009 season.

Cincinnati Reds - The Reds are winning!  It's a Memorial Day miracle, I think.  Francisco Cordero, paid huge bucks to close games, is actually getting a few chances to do so.

Houston Astros - Jose Valverde is the tenured ship captain, but he's out with some nagging injuries, and Latroy Hawkins has picked up a few saves in his absence.  Hawkins always seems to surprise me.  Just when I think his career is right on the cusp of tumbling headfirst off a precipice, he picks himself up, and succeeds with some other team.  Kudos to Hawkins while he remains the closer in Houston.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Still not completely clear why the Pirates are in the Central Division, though I guess Pittsburgh is on the Western side of an Eastern state.  In any case, Matt Capps is the only reliever with any real skill in this bullpen, so, barring a serious injury, he's the guy.  Capps missed a few games earlier this season, and the scrubs that tried to pick up the pieces looks miserable.

NL East

Mets - K-Rod is making a lot of money to keep the Mets from decomposing down the stretch.  Let's see how all the spending turns out.  J.J. Putz has been a rather mundane setup man so far, so it doesn't look like the closer job is in any sort of jeopardy.  Plus, Rodriguez has been as good as the Mets could have hoped, so it's not like he's fumbling the gig away.

Phillies - The defending World Champs are playing like a collective deer in the headlights.  A number of analysts have referred to becoming the "hunted," and if indeed they are correct in their terminology, the Phillies seem to be a bit shaky in their 2009 role as the team that everyone plays tough.  Or perhaps they're just starting slowly.  However you slice it, Brad Lidge is still the top choice for closer in Philadelphia.  His perfect streak was broken a few weeks back, and he's battled a few injuries, but when he's healthy enough to pitch, the 9th inning is his to cover.  If he does miss any more time, Ryan Madson (a terrific setup man) will close.

Marlins - The shine had to come off the hood of this car at some point.  After smashing through the starting gates at 11-1, the Marlins now stand at 18-20.  This team is probably closer to its final record now than it was at 11-1, and my expectation is that they'll play close to .500 ball the rest of the way.  Matt Lindstrom is the closer for Florida, but he's been downright bad.  A few decent appearances in a row over the last week has probably bought him another month as closer (barring a complete collapse), but the rest of Florida's bullpen is even worse.

Braves - The Braves have, in my opinion, a better bullpen than most believe.  The issue is that they really don't have any good options in the pen when the starter fails to pitch deep in the game.  If Atlanta can get to the 7th inning, guys like Rafael Soriano, and current closer Mike Gonzalez can be a dynamic shut-down pair of arms, but the middle relief in Atlanta is nauseating, a weakness that many teams are trying to exploit.  As closers go, Gonzalez is an injury risk, so keep a watchful eye on Soriano if any word of a sore arm creeps up on Gonzo.

Nationals - Saved the most bizarre for last, in the NL at least.  Let's see if we can't put the timeline back together.  Joel Hanrahan closed games at the end of the 2008 season, and was marginally successful, so the job was his to start '09.  Hanrahan was terrible, blowing lead after lead, and he was demoted.  Julian Tavarez saved his first try, then imploded.  Joe Beimel threw meatballs in his efforts, and suddenly Hanrahan didn't look so bad.  As it stands right now, Hanrahan is once again the main closer in Washington, but not the only closer.  Kip Wells tried a few, and has been about as good as Hanrahan, so it's likely that Acta (the Manager) will go with whoever looks less shaky on any given night.  I'd advise avoiding all closers in Washington, since there are so many more trustworthy injury replacements available that won't give up a run every time out, but if you must subject yourself to the balding stress of the Nats, go with Hanrahan.

American League (and updates on any changes in the NL) coming next week!

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