By now, it's clear that Carlos Estevez is the closer for the Angels and Alex Lange for the Tigers -- and both are pretty good ones at that. I point it out because it's only become clear in the past couple weeks, and Lange at least is still available in two-thirds of CBS Sports leagues.
Scott Barlow appears to have pulled away from Aroldis Chapman in Kansas City, handling each of the Royals' last three save chances while delivering six consecutive scoreless outings. Meanwhile, Raisel Iglesias is back for Atlanta and has reclaimed the role from A.J. Minter in his very first appearance.
While those four closer scenarios are increasingly stable, here are the 10 most volatile (or at least the 10 that are raising the most questions).
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).
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Until we know for sure the Yankees' plans for the ninth inning, Holmes remains the Yankees reliever most deserving of a roster spot. But it sure seems like they're gearing up to turn the page. Holmes' past two appearances have come prior to the ninth inning, and once was actually to set up a save for someone else (Hamilton, on Saturday). The more likely replacement, though, is King, who was simply unavailable that day. He has two multi-inning saves already, but a report came out this weekend saying the Yankees were preparing to use him more frequently and in shorter sports. He has been their most effective reliever this season and was arguably last season as well before fracturing his elbow. At this point, he's nearly must-roster himself.
The Cubs' bullpen is ever-evolving, and if you put too many eggs in one basket, you may quickly run out of eggs. Right now, the leading basket in the clubhouse is Leiter, who recorded the team's second-to-last save in most conventional fashion Friday and has closer-caliber numbers with a 1.13 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 14.1 K/9, his splitter in particular looking like a wipeout pitch. Why not Alzolay, who got a save the very next day? It's likely Leiter was unavailable for that game, and it may also be that Alzolay happened to be the one warming up when the Cubs took the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning.
First, they tried Dany Jimenez, who wound up on the 60-day IL. Then, they tried Jeurys Familia, who wound up being designated for assignment. Of all the relievers the Athletics have tried in the closer role so far, Jackson is the most promising. He's still highly flawed and likely wouldn't be closing for any other team, but at least he has the stuff of a closer, piling up strikeouts at a rate befitting the role. He also limits damage on contact with an extreme fly-ball rate. He just walks too many guys. Maybe it comes back to bite him. Shoot, maybe his save Saturday was just an isolated event with no bearing on the future. But in my mind, this is the first Athletics closer candidate halfway deserving of a roster spot.
Since returning from an IL stint for anxiety (most plainly exhibited through his inability to throw strikes), Bard has seemed mostly in control with three walks and a hit-by-pitch in seven innings. But he has yet to work in a save or even a hold situation. His replacement, Johnson, has notched two saves during that time. Maybe the Rockies just want to take it slow given the delicacy of the situation, but it's also worth pointing out that Bard's average fastball velocity is down nearly 3 mph from a year ago. Until there are actually rumblings of him returning to the role, I feel little incentive to stash him.
Just when it seemed like Graterol might be on the verge of claiming the closer role with two saves in late April, including one set up by Phillips, it was Phillips who got the call on back-to-back days over the weekend, with Graterol setting up for him in one. In fact, each of Phillips' last three appearances have been to close out a game for a save. Both he and Graterol needed a paternity leave at one point, which has only muddled things further, but clearly, the trend is back toward Phillips now. And to be fair, he's the one who manager Dave Roberts was willing to call his closer earlier in the season.
Now sooner had manager Bruce Bochy named Smith his closer than the big lefty blew a save in particularly brutal fashion Friday, allowing four runs, three earned. Afterward, Bochy confirmed that Smith would remain in a high-leverage role but didn't mention closer specifically. Well, sure enough, Smith was back out there Monday, striking out the side to preserve a one-run lead. Really, where else would Bochy turn at this point? Leclerc has had such trouble finding the strike zone that it's hard to imagine him re-entering the mix anytime soon.
In what feels like a miracle of sorts, Hendriks is already on a rehab assignment less than a week after being declared cancer-free. He was only diagnosed in January. He's made two appearances out of what's expected to be 4-5 total, so suffice it to say that whoever is handling the White Sox's save chances now won't be for long. Just in case Hendriks ends up needing more time, though, Lopez still appears to be in the driver's seat despite his 8.16 ERA. Middleton did get a save Wednesday and has an impressive strikeout rate, but his only appearance since then was in the eighth inning of a lopsided win.
The Phillies' bullpen usage may be the most maddening of any team's right now. For a week or two, it seemed like they had made the sensible decision to move Alvarado into the closer role. He had long been floated as a candidate and has killer numbers this year. But he has made only two appearances in May, neither in the ninth inning. His latest came in the seventh inning Sunday. He was credited with a hold while Strahm, who was recently removed from the starting rotation, notched a two-inning save. It's inexcusable that Alvarado wouldn't be the favorite still, especially given the surplus of lefties with Strahm joining the mix, but clearly, it's not an open-and-shut case.
The Rays have been surprisingly predictable at the end of games this year, turning to Fairbanks for most every save chance before he went down with forearm inflammation and turning to Adam for most every save chance since (four and counting). Adam, with his 1.49 ERA the past two seasons, would make for an excellent closer in his own right, but with reports of Fairbanks beginning to play catch over the weekend, he may not be long for the role. Or maybe his good work will earn him more of a foothold, and we'll have a more typical Rays mess on our hands once Fairbanks returns.
Manager Torey Lovullo has treated Chafin every bit like a conventional closer despite refusing to anoint him to the role. It gives him an easy out should he ever choose to take it, and Chafin's meltdown Saturday (in which he allowed three runs without recording an out) might be excuse enough. Then again, it's not like there's some great alternative in waiting. Right-hander Castro doesn't miss enough bats for the role. Mantiply, a lefty like Chafin, was the team's lone All-Star representative last year and has looked good since coming back from shoulder fatigue, so he's a dark horse candidate. If Lovullo were to sour on Chafin, he would most likely turn to a committee, so let's hope he's more forgiving than that.