Since the day they traded Kendall Graveman to the Astros last year, the Mariners' bullpen usage has been impossible to read. They've come as close as any team has to a true closer committee, making any play for saves with them a fool's errand
But one reason they could afford to mix and match is because they had so many closer-capable relievers. Now that attrition has eaten away at their surplus, will they concede to more traditional roles? Something tells me we're about to find out.
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).
Paul Sewald had recorded each of the Mariners' past three saves before Diego Castillo got a turn Monday, with Sewald being unavailable. It's been a rare show of consistency from manager Scott Servais, whose alternatives are no longer as promising. Drew Steckenrider was recently optioned to the minors. Castillo himself is still nursing an ERA close to 6.00 (though he has been better lately). Ken Giles, once favored to claim the job outright (if anyone could), has been getting knocked around on his minor-league rehab assignment and still hasn't pitched in a big-league game in two years.
It doesn't mean Sewald as a closer is a done deal, especially given that his K/9 is down from 14.5 last year to 8.4 this year, but he's looking like as clear a favorite for saves as the Mariners have had all year.
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Clearly, Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos are the relievers the Cardinals trust the most, and their trust in them is about equal, as evidenced by the way they've traded off the eighth and ninth innings the past couple weeks. The way the Cardinals used them when we last saw them was the most curious of all. Both threw two-plus innings in Game 2 of a doubleheader Saturday, this time with Helsley preceding Gallegos. Prior to then, it looked like Helsley might be pulling ahead. Between the two, he has the two most recent saves and the better numbers overall. For now, though, their usage is too unpredictable to consider this one anything other than a timeshare.
Yes, Gabe Kapler is back to doing Gabe Kapler things, using his presumptive (but never confirmed) closer in the sixth inning in back-to-back appearances last week. Here's what he had to say about the first of those appearances:
"We feel like, a one-run game, we're right in it," Kapler said. "We want to use our best relievers in those moments and give ourselves a chance to win the baseball game."
It's also worth noting that the heart of the Marlins lineup was due up in that inning, so it sounds like a typical leverage play from a manager who has generally subscribed to that sort of thing. Still, Doval's usage had been as conventional as it gets prior to then, and he was right back to working the ninth inning with a four-run lead Sunday. It's possible Kapler is opting for more flexibility with Doval because he's lost faith in so many of his other relievers, namely Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers.
Where does manager Alex Cora turn next? He didn't seem so keen on giving Matt Barnes another shot to close even after the former All-Star saw his velocity return to normal. Now, he's on the IL with shoulder inflammation. Ryan Brasier was used much like a closer over the weekend, brought in to preserve a lead of more than three runs on both Friday and Sunday. He allowed a run in one of those appearances, though, and has an ERA approaching 6.00.
My thinking is that Hansel Robles will be back in the driver's seat once he returns from his bout with back spasms. He hasn't done anything to disqualify himself from closing as have so many others in this bullpen. Keep an eye, though, on John Schreiber, who seems to be earning higher-leverage looks even though Cora hasn't entrusted him with a save chance yet.
Andrew Kittredge is back, and not a moment too soon. He was immediately tasked with the ninth inning Sunday, albeit with a one-run deficit. He's more like the Rays' top leverage guy than a true closer, which still means he'll be in line for saves most often. Nobody established himself as a clear threat while Kittredge was nursing a sore back. Colin Poche came the closest, securing three saves, but others contributed as well. Interestingly, Brooks Raley, who notched three saves when Kittredge was healthy, went without one while Kittredge was hurt.
I can't help but wonder if Joe Girardi would still have a job had Corey Knebel simply done his in May. Instead, he blew three saves and continues to sputter even now, having allowed at least one run in three of his past four appearances. The Phillies entrusted him with the closer role after he seemed to get his career back on track with the Dodgers last year, but he's had trouble locating his curveball and is averaging a mile per hour less on his fastball. Meanwhile, Seranthony Dominguez, who recorded 16 saves as a rookie in 2018, has dominated in his return from Tommy John surgery, compiling a 1.74 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 11.3 K/9.
Unfortunately, Jhoan Duran wasn't called in for a save while Emilio Pagan was sidelined during the team's recent trip to Toronto, but Pagan may do well enough losing the job on his own. Before his weekend away, he had blown two of his last three save chances, both on a home run. He's always had trouble keeping the ball in the yard, serving up 16 long balls last year, which isn't a desirable trait for a closer. With the Twins in command of the AL Central, they can't afford to mess around too much. Duran's continued dominance may soon earn him more regular looks.
Craig Kimbrel has been a bit out of sorts lately, his ERA rising from 1.04 to 4.00 over his past nine appearances. But the Dodgers have a beat on it, believing his delivery has gotten too rotational, and if there's any organization you can trust to get him right, it's this one. The real story here is that Daniel Hudson has firmly established himself as the alternate closer during this whole ordeal. And even if Kimbrel dominates rest of season, he's not exactly a workhorse out of the bullpen. As much winning as the Dodgers figure to do, Hudson will need to step in from time to time, potentially enough to record double-digit saves himself.
Aroldis Chapman has been throwing a ball for about a week now, which would suggest his return from Achilles tendinitis will be sooner than later. Meanwhile, Clay Holmes continues to dominate, his ERA shrinking to 0.34. His only earned run came in his first appearance of the season. In 50 total appearances with the Yankees, he has a 0.99 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 10.2 K/9. I still have a hard time believing one of the most celebrated closers of the past decade would get Wally Pipped, but whenever Chapman's return is announced you'll want to think twice about dropping Holmes.
The Marlins have one save so far in June, which is as many as they had in all of May, and left-hander Tanner Scott is responsible for it. He also worked a scoreless ninth in a tie game two days later, securing a victory when the Marlins claimed the lead in the bottom half of the inning. So is he manager Don Mattingly's leading candidate now? He has all the strikeout potential you'd want in a closer, but he also issues too many free passes. Still, with Cole Sulser and Anthony Bass looking shakier of late, Scott is as good a candidate as anyone.