The playoff bound Cubs were pummeled with bad news over the last week. Not only is backup closer Pedro Strop probably out for the season, Brandon Morrow’s attempt to return utterly failed. Jesse Chavez and Steve Cishek are expected to take over with Justin Wilson filling in against tough lefty hitters. Cishek in particular has stark platoon splits which makes Chavez the better bet to nab the role outright. Strop hopes to pitch in the final two games of the regular season. However, hamstring injuries are notoriously finicky.
The Yankees activated Aroldis Chapman on Wednesday. How he’ll be used has yet to be addressed. Since the club isn’t exactly under any pressure, there’s no reason for them to avoid shoving him right back into the closer role – especially with Dellin Betances slumping. We could be looking at a highly talented committee while Chapman eases back into regular duty.
Five pitchers – Ken Giles, Will Smith, Craig Kimbrel, Sergio Romo, and Felipe Vazquez – tied for the weekly lead with three saves apiece. Edwin Diaz (56) maintains a dominating lead over Kimbrel (41) and Davis (40). They’re the only relievers to cross the 40 save threshold. It’s possible nobody else will join them.
Now, shall we go to the tiers?
Tier 1: The Elite (4)
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red SoxAroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Edwin Diaz’s pursuit of a couple records – total strikeouts by a closer and saves – are seemingly out of reach. There’s still an outside chance the Mariners hand him the seven save opportunities he needs to surpass Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 save 2008 campaign. They have only 11 games remaining in their schedule. Diaz currently ranks third for single-season saves with 56. He’s just one behind second place Bobby Thigpen.
As somebody pointed out to me yesterday, Treinen has a 0.85 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP over a 74.1 inning season. The symmetry won’t hold up through his final few starts. Nor does it matter. It’s just a cool little factoid about a fantastic fantasy season.
Remember when everybody was panicking about Kimbrel a few weeks ago? He appears to be back to normal. His velocity has even increased in recent outings. The rest of the Red Sox bullpen is suspect. An ill-timed blip from Kimbrel could lead to a brief postseason experience for baseball’s winningest team.
I’ve included Chapman here as the sole Yankees closer. Realistically, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, and David Robertson all have a chance to grab a couple saves before the end of the season. The Yankees may avoid using Chapman on consecutive days.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (5)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Not the sharpest week for our “near elites.” Everybody except Leclerc had their share of hiccups. Vazquez allowed runs in four of his last six appearances. He was fortunate enough to still save three of those games. He blew a save on Tuesday. His velocity is down one mph. I’m unconcerned about Doolittle even though he took the loss last Thursday. He failed to defend a tied game. Since then, he’s cruised through a couple clean saves.
Tier 3: Core Performers (6)
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Home runs continue to dog Yates. He allowed another last Wednesday. They’ve been a long standing problem for the righty. I suspect the Padres will seek to push Yates back into a setup role over the offseason by signing a couple retread closer candidates like Greg Holland. As we saw with Brad Boxberger, a team can survive with a homer prone closer for a while. Eventually, they’ll prove too costly.
Arodys Vizcaino returned from the disabled list on Saturday. He’s pitched twice in the ninth inning – both times with a deficit. For now, I believe Minter remains the primary closer. Vizcaino struggled through an appearance on Monday.
Tier 4: Second Choice Closers (4)
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays
As a starter, Martinez occasionally showed up with bad command. That’s a more glaring issue as a reliever when you’re not given multiple innings to rediscover the strike zone. CMart’s most recent appearance included three walks, one hit, and a run. As I worried last week, there are some small sample signs that he’s not comfortable pitching multiple days in a row.
In order to maximally confuse fantasy owners, the Indians called upon Miller for a save on Tuesday. The club has already clinched the AL Central – they’re simply preparing Miller for high leverage work in the postseason. All three relievers should be owned in 10-team and deeper for formats. It’s a shame they’ll share the workload over the final week and a half.
As several readers pointed out last week, Romo recorded only one save between August 22 and September 15. He also had a 20-day span over which he appeared just once. Normality reasserted itself this week. He appeared on four straight days and locked down three saves. He also coughed up a couple solo home runs.
Tier 5: Red Flag Club (3)
Ty Buttrey, Los Angeles Angels
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Buttrey isn’t completely locked in as the Angels closer. Mike Scioscia never makes it easy for us. He was used in the seventh inning on Saturday. Since then, he’s picked up two saves including a five out appearance on Tuesday. Look for Blake Parker or Jim Johnson on Wednesday.
Welcome back Neris. There’s no telling who will receive the Phillies next save opportunity. Manager Gabe Kapler has too much fun mixing and matching – a strategy that has not borne fruit. Strangely, Neris received his save opportunity after coughing up three runs on the previous day. Two of those scored after he left the game. Since returning from Triple-A, he has a 2.57 ERA with 29 strikeouts, 10 hits, four walks, and four runs in 14 innings. He deserves a shot at finishing the season as a closer. We’ll see if it happens.
Tier 6: Mess Hall (8)
Yoshihisa Hirano, Arizona DiamondbacksNate Jones, Chicago White Sox
Trevor Hildenberger, Minnesota TwinsJesse Chavez, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Chicago Cubs Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers Adam Conley, Drew Steckenrider, Miami Marlins
Robert Gsellman, New York Mets
Wily Peralta, Kansas City Royals
Quite a few teams are limping through the remainder of the season. The Royals began limping in May. The Tigers are in a similar situation – they have no cause to improve upon their crumbling closer. Minnesota is riding a slumpy Hildenberger. Nobody is excited about Gsellman these days.
The Marlins most recent save was handed to Conley. Steckenrider is still very much in the mix. They’re both perfectly adequate middle relievers. It’s interesting to see Jones back atop the White Sox depth chart. They’ve been wandering aimlessly ever since Joakim Soria was traded.
Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (elbow – out for season)
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (bicep – out for season)
Kelvin Herrera, Washington Nationals (Lisfranc tear – out for season)
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs (hamstring)
Chapman and Vizcaino returned. Strop may be out for the season but could bounce back in time for the postseason. Morrow is officially done.
Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Greg Holland, Washington Nationals (signed)
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Alex Colome, Seattle Mariners (traded)
Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks (traded)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Sam Dyson, San Francisco Giants
Jeurys Familia, Oakland Athletics (traded)
Zach Britton, New York Yankees (traded)
Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays
Joakim Soria, Milwaukee Brewers (traded, injured)
Brad Brach, Atlanta Braves (traded)
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates (traded)
Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins (injured)
Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays
Fernando Rodney, Oakland Athletics (traded)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
Hector Rondon, Houston Astros
Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals
Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks
Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
I’m leaving Neris on the list for now. One save doesn’t mean a whole lot in Philadelphia these days.
The Steals Department
Adalberto Mondesi continues to raise his profile. He was the only thief to nab four bags in the last week. Six others stole three bags. Juan Soto did it all in one game. The other five were regulars of this section – Christian Yelich, Whit Merrifield, Jackie Bradley, Trea Turner, and Jonathan Villar.
Tier 1: The World Beaters (6)
After a slow start to the season on the base paths, Merrifield has swiped 20 bags since mid-August. It’s a 60 steal pace over a full campaign. Smith has proven comparable prolific despite missing time to an illness. Gordon is on the other end of the spectrum. He has only five steals in eight attempts since the start of August.
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (4)
Mondesi gets a boost for his early-career Javier Baez profile. Of course, he’s an entire gear faster than Baez too, hence the 25 steals in 241 plate appearances.
Tier 3: Still Speedy (4)
Yelich seemed like he was content to move station-to-station earlier in the season. With the Brewers season on the line, he’s snatched six based over his last 72 plate appearances. He’s doing it all these days. He’s even hit for the cycle – twice!
Tier 4: Some Flaws (6)
Javier Baez Andrew Benintendi Ender Inciarte
I bumped a trio of runners down because they’ve been less active lately. Benintendi is even sitting against some left-handed pitchers. Inciarte always sits against southpaws.
Tier 5: Not Slow (7)
Roman Quinn Trevor Story
Quinn is better than “not slow.” He has 80 grade speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. Since he has a broken toe, I expect him to be circumspect about unnecessary steal attempts.
Story avoiding UCL damage to his elbow – it’s just inflamed. Curiously, it’s actually hard to see damage on an MRI when the joint is inflamed. So what we’ve actually been given is a guess based off a flawed scan. It’s possible we’ll later discover he’s out for the season. For now, they hope he’ll only miss a few days.
Jackie Bradley Jr.