The closer scene has renewed discord heading into the final month, with mainstays like Matt Barnes, Alex Reyes, Lou Trivino and Daniel Bard (he has held the role from the start, after all) suddenly facing some competition.
I'll break down those scenarios in a minute, but first, let me point to a surprising few that have achieved a measure of stability. Alex Colome, Tyler Clippard, Kyle Finnegan and Dylan Floro appear to be holding down the closer role for the Twins, Diamondbacks, Nationals and Marlins, respectively. None of them is a shutdown reliever, but none is exactly threatened in the role either (with the exception of Floro, who is only a fraction of the pitcher Anthony Bender is).
Meanwhile, I'm convinced that stability just isn't in the cards for the Orioles, Cubs or Pirates the rest of the way. The Pirates actually have a worthy reliever in David Bednar, but they keep switching up the way they use him and Chris Stratton. None of these three teams figures to win enough for it to matter anyway.
Now then, for what's going on with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Athletics and Rockies bullpens ...
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
Matt Barnes' ousting from the closer role was described as a "break," and given how dominant he was prior to the month of August, he had earned the benefit of the doubt. He himself was insistent he'd get back on track, and typically when All-Star-caliber closers encounter this kind of blip, they're quick to put it behind him. "Make no mistake," he said, "this is going to get fixed and I'm going to go back to being exactly what I was three weeks ago. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind about that."
The problem is Barnes came down with COVID Monday and figures to miss just shy of two weeks. I'm worried there won't be enough season left for him to win back manager Alex Cora's trust and reclaim the role, particularly if Adam Ottavino becomes more entrenched in the meantime.
Giovanny Gallegos recorded a save Monday and remains the only Cardinals reliever other than Alex Reyes to do so since May. In this case, it wasn't because Reyes needed a night off. No, the Cardinals are reevaluating their ninth-inning plans in light of Reyes' 7.84 ERA and three blown saves in August. Manager Mike Shildt hasn't committed to removing Reyes as the closer, so I do think it's possible the Cardinals let him take it easy for now, going by committee for the next week or so before turning the role back over to him. But it's worth noting that Gallegos is the one alternative Shildt and GM John Mozeliak have both mentioned by name.
Lou Trivino is yet another season-long closer (or close to it, anyway) who has fallen on hard times lately, blowing two saves in a three-day span the weekend before last. The Athletics have barely used him since then, giving right-hander Sergio Romo and left-hander Andrew Chafin each a save chance during that time. But as with Matt Barnes and Alex Reyes, it doesn't sound like Trivino's removal is intended to be a permanent thing.
"A lot of times, most seasons to an extent, you're flipping things around from time to time. So it's not uncommon," manager Bob Melvin said. "We just want to get [Trivino] a couple lesser ones. Our best team is with him closing the game so we hope to get him back there."
Between Romo, Chafin and Jake Diekman, I don't think there's a clear favorite to claim the closer role outright, which is part of the reason I wouldn't be so quick to drop Trivino.
Daniel Bard is out, finally. He survived a multi-week meltdown in April and May, even pulled out of it for a span of a couple months, but an 11.57 ERA over basically the past month or so was more than even the Rockies could tolerate. Part of the reason they held out for so long is because they didn't have an adequate replacement, certainly not after moving Mychal Givens. Now, they'll try their luck with Carlos Estevez, who also got some ninth-inning looks for them in 2016. He's no shutdown reliever, but there's something to be said for anyone who has the closer role outright.
We know how it goes with the Mariners by now. Drew Steckenrider is responsible for their last two saves, including Sunday. Paul Sewald got three of four before then (with the other going to Steckenrider). I doubt now is when manager Scott Servais suddenly decides he's going to stick with one guy. They're like 1 and 1A, basically. Sewald has the superior underlying stats, but Steckenrider has done a better job keeping runs off the board, particularly lately, which is why I think Servais has slightly more faith in him right now.
Diego Castillo has the potential to complicate things when he comes off the IL, but he was looking like a distant third even before his bout with shoulder inflammation.
To be clear, you'll be lucky if any Rays reliever gives you more than two saves the rest of the way, but it is noteworthy that Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh have recently entered the mix, combining for three of the team's past five saves. Those three saves were all of the multi-inning variety, which is further evidence that neither is homing in on the closer role, but they've been ace relievers all season long, offering value in Fantasy for their ratios alone. If they're at all a part of the saves mix, they're deserving of a lineup spot in 5x5 leagues.
Let me first stress that Emmanuel Clase is the Indians' one and only closer. If it wasn't clear from him recording each of the team's past eight saves, it became so with James Karinchak's demotion to Triple-A Saturday. Part of a split ninth-inning role with Clase earlier this season, Karinchak has completely lost the feel for his pitches, registering 5.4 K/9 since the All-Star break compared to 15.6 before it. And now that he's safely removed from the picture, let's all take a moment to admire just what a closer Clase is.
At this time a couple weeks ago, I was convinced that Mychal Givens had secured the closer role for the Reds, putting out what had been a season-long dumpster fire. But manager David Bell couldn't be content with a good thing and started introducing Givens earlier in games, to disastrous effects. Michael Lorenzen has been the beneficiary, recording each of the team's past two saves, but it's not like Bell has been saving him for the ninth inning either. I still think Givens gets more ninth-inning looks going forward, but I don't say it with much confidence.
Could it be that manager MIke Matheny, here in the final stretch of the season, has settled on a singular closer? We should know better, but it's nonetheless a fact that Scott Barlow, statistically their best reliever, has gotten each of their past four saves. Of course, left-hander Jacob Brentz is nearing a return from a shoulder impingement and could throw a wrench into things, and the Royals don't get regular save chances anyway. But I'm cautiously hopeful for Barlow.
From one Barlow to another, rookie Joe Barlow returned from a near two-week absence for a blister Monday and immediately secured his third save, so it looks like he hasn't lost any ground in the Rangers bullpen. They didn't log a single save during his absence, which puts a pretty firm cap on his ceiling but also means no one else could stake a claim to the closer role. He's clearly their best reliever, and it's nice to see that they recognize him as such.