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Five days left. Five days. You have played your butt off for 178 days and now five are left.
Next week is for the recap. Next week is when we look inwards and decide if we ranked our players correctly, if our assumptions were correct, and what mistakes we made along the way. We can do that as we watch the playoffs, while our wins and losses are still fresh in our minds.
But this week, there are still too many fighting for the ring to look backwards. So, with the tiers named after my picks for the postseason -- just for fun -- let's take a look at the pitching situations. Because people who are desperate for saves are willing to do anything at this point, even pick up setup men and middle men if it means a save, we'll talk about the depth in each bullpen a little bit more than what the actual closers have done. Because, heck, in the last couple of weeks, Javier Lopez, Luke Gregerson and Bryan Shaw have each recorded a save. Of course, predicting those is nigh impossible, but we'll try anyway.
Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Cardinals and Tigers" Tier.)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
At its essence, this game is about scoring runs and saving runs. The Cardinals, in the second half, have scored more runs than any other National League team, and they have allowed the fifth-least runs to score. There isn't really another National League team that combines excellence on both sides of the ball like that. The Tigers have allowed the third-least and scored the third-most. Of course, the Athletics have scored more and allowed fewer, but the playoffs are a different game. They rely on depth during the season but in the playoffs, you're limited to 25 men. And fringe tools can be exposed by tougher competition. Let's just say the Tigers look like they were built for the postseason: traditional excellence atop the rotation and in the heart of the lineup.
With the Reds fighting for wild card positioning, it's doubtful they mess around with much or sit their closer for a game. The Braves just aren't winning games right now, and Craig Kimbrel has pitched only one back-to-back in September (and only eight appearances, total) -- he's not going to need much rest. The Royals are fighting for their lives. Kenley Jansen, however, is on a team that's set, and he's at a career-high in innings. Usage suggests that Brian Wilson is probably the guy that would get the ball if the team wants to give Jansen a blow. In Boston, Franklin Morales might get a save against a lefty-heavy lineup, actually. Koji Uehara is at a career-high in innings and it's possible, looking at his velocity charts, that he's getting a little tired. It's Junichi Tazawa if so.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Dodgers and Rays" Tier.)
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
If I'm going to be a fan of top-heavy teams, then I'm going to have to go with the Dodgers when it comes to the rest of the National League. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are the best one-two punch atop a National League rotation, at least when it comes to stuff, and a heart of the order built on Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez (maybe even Matt Kemp) looks like it can hang. The Dodgers don't have depth, but they do have star power. On the other side of the coin, the Rays appear to be a depth-style team, but if you compare them to the Athletics and Red Sox, they come out on top in one key area: top-end starting pitching. David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb? They are the fearsome threesome that could end a serious drought in Tampa.
Joe Nathan's team is fighting to get in. Grant Balfour's team is fighting for the best record in baseball (although a lefty-heavy lineup might have Bob Melvin turn to Sean Doolittle for the save). Glen Perkins is nowhere near his career-high in innings (that's cheating, but even among his years as a reliever, he's still safe), and his velocity is actually trending up. Mariano Rivera is going to get the ball all the damn times he wants in his final run. The Giants have actually turned to Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez before -- but that was earlier in the month, once after Romo had pitch in three straight games. Think the Giants can give him three straight save chances right now?
Jim Johnson looks safe, but with his history this year -- two iffy periods that had him almost out of the role -- and his generosity with allowing balls in play, it looks like the Orioles could see a save from Darren O'Day or Brian Matusz. All it would take would be a bad game. If he puts a couple guys on in a game the Orioles have to win, they won't allow him to blow it.
Tier 3: Okay Options (9) (AKA: The "Reds and Red Sox" Tier.)
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Ernesto Frieri, Anaheim Angels
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
It takes Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to make Mat Latos and Homer Bailey take a seat. But Mat Latos hasn't been vintage Mat Latos since the end of June and Homer Bailey does not a staff make. Mike Leake has been good, and Johnny Cueto is healthy just in time, so this could work out for them. Certainly the lineup goes four-plus deep, and with the recent emergence of Billy Hamilton and Devin Mesoraco, the Reds could take off. Provided, of course, they make it out of the one-game playoff. The Red Sox don't have that problem, but let's just say I'm unsure about anointing a team with Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz a favorite in the postseason, great lineup and all.
With the Tigers clinched, and Joaquin Benoit prone to tired stints, there's absolutely a chance that someone else closes a game down the stretch. Most likely, it's Drew Smyly, maybe with a five-out save, or a three-outer against lefties. But there's an outside chance Bruce Rondon gets a shot, as the game won't mean too much and they'd probably like to see what he does with the game on the line. Jim Henderson is back next year with the Brewers, so they don't have too much reason to try other guys. Same with Rafael Soriano, though the peripherals have suggested at times that he could be hurt. Tyler Clippard may yet sneak one.
Addison Reed deserves some attention on his own. He's blown three saves since the calendar switched to September, and allowed runs five of eight appearances in the month. Tuesday night, it was a big Jason Giambi home run. Other nights, it's been poor control. One time out, he walked four and didn't strike a single batter out. His velocity is actually down and it's fair to wonder if his MLB career-high in innings is wearing on him. Of course, he threw more innings in 2011 combined, but we don't know the pitch counts. Pitches are more important than innings, and the fact is he looks a little tired. There's no obvious person to take over he takes a breather. Nate Jones is the guy with the stuff. Donnie Veal is the left-hander who's been going better over the last couple weeks. My guess is that it's Jones unless a lefty ends the inning.
Steve Cishek ironed everything out this year, and he's a rare combo of strikeouts and ground balls. That, plus his home park, makes him a relatively safe reliever, even when it comes to keeping him. A.J. Ramos still looks like the guy behind him if they want to give Cishek a rest as he moves past his previous MLB innings high. Rex Brothers looks good, and he's the guy next year, so all systems go in Colorado. Ernesto Frieri is under team control for three more years and has improved his walk rate this final month. If they didn't make the change last month, they probably won't in the last month. Unless they just want to see Dane De La Rosa take the ball in the ninth once.
Contracts might be relevant to the Blue Jays. They own a $4 million option on Casey Janssen. That's not a lot of money, and they'll probably pick it up, but Sergio Santos' contract makes things interesting. He's cheaper than Janssen in 2014, and then the team has a $6 million option on him in 2015. So there's no urgency right now, but by the end of 2014, they'll want to know if Santos is their closer going forward. Which means there's some give in the closer's role, maybe as soon as this year. Casey Janssen has been fine this year, but -- as predicted -- his strikeout rate took a step back. And with him at 90 mph and Santos at 95, it's Santos that has the traditional closer's velocity. Santos has been lights out since he finally returned, and he may yet get a save chance this year. And this situation will factor heavily into keeper discussions.
Read about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.
Tier 4: Question Marks (7) (AKA: The "Pirates and Athletics" Tier.)
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
These are two teams at opposite ends of the postseason spectrum. The Athletics are division winners, so they absolutely have a better chance of making it further by the numbers, but their team just doesn't seem built for the postseason. As remarkable as his story has been, does Bartolo Colon taking the ball in game one inspire confidence? And in fact, their rotation can't be counted as a strength when it fails to meet the level set by a National League Wild Card team. Yes, I'd take A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole over the top three in Oakland. And while the Oakland offense has been on fire, their mix-and-match lineup can be taken advantage of in games where the entire bullpen is available every night. The Pirates? They just have the odds to overcome, given how difficult it is now for a wild card team to make it happen.
I was asked to set the odds on Jason Grilli taking over in a chat last week, and because Grilli hadn't found his old velocity or stuff just yet, I put it under 25%. Oh well, at least I gave him a chance. Now the manager is talking about keeping Grilli in the ninth even in non-closing situations, just to make sure his two best relievers are comfortable in their innings. As if there was something magically different about the two innings. You know, the heart of the lineup often hits in the eighth. No matter. Grilli would be higher if his peripherals had looked better since he returned. Obviously, he's the grilled cheese of the bullpen cafeteria.
Jonathan Papelbon just saved a game last night, so whatever malady he's hiding, he may just hide it all year. Heck, he might hide it the rest of his career if the name of the malady is 'age.' But he's clearly not the reliever that the Phillies doled out the cash to import. Jake Diekman has the best peripherals and the most holds over the last two weeks, and he even has a changeup that could bust platoon splits. Maybe he gets the next shot if Paps needs a blow. Among the righties, I always thought it would be Justin DeFratus, who's been pitching better of late. Luke Gregerson has a save recently, but not that recently, and here's a fun fact -- Huston Street is under contract longer than Gregerson. The team has an option on him in 2015. Then again, Street hasn't aged that well, and neither seems like a great long-term bet. Nick Vincent is the only other pitcher with a hold or save over the last month (other than Tim Stauffer), but he throws 90, barely. I still have some hope for Brad Boxberger, but his control is no good and he hasn't been getting high-leverage chances.
Tier 5: Rollercoaster Rides (6) (AKA: The "Braves and Indians" Tier.)
Trevor Rosenthal (first chair), Edward Mujica (second chair), St. Louis Cardinals
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks
Vic Black (first chair), Gonzalez Germen (second chair), New York Mets
Pedro Strop (first chair), Kevin Gregg (second chair), Blake Parker (third chair), Chicago Cubs
Josh Fields (first chair), Josh Zeid (second chair), Houston Astros
I don't hate these teams. I even picked the Braves to win their division before the season began. I'm just not sure about them. The Indians lack pitching at the top of the rotation, and Justin Masterson isn't even a lock to return to the team in the first round. The Braves lost a steady veteran in the rotation, and have struck out a ton all year on offense. If the Upton Brothers are better, and Jason Heyward is recovered from his jaw surgery, and Dan Uggla is recovered from his eye surgery, and the bullpen behind Craig Kimbrel is fine, and Julio Teheran is a beast and Kris Medlen or Mike Minor plays Robin to his Batman… that's a lot of ifs.
We spent all year wondering when the guy with more gas, more strikeouts, and a more traditional closer's arsenal would take the job in St. Louis. Well, whoever had "Last Week of the Season" in the pool, come collect your earnings. Edward Mujica has the same approach as Koji Uehara, but not the same pin-point command (yes, his control is good, but Uehara can command both of his pitches in the zone, which is remarkable for a split-finger pitcher, while Uehara has good fastball command and 'hopes' a little more with the splitter). With a 97 mph fastball, curve, and change, and good control of his own, the bet here is that the change has been made, and Jason Motte is in trouble next year.
As it stands now, the Diamondbacks are in line to spend over $12 million on J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler combined next season. And maybe they can't figure anything out over the last few days of the season anyway. But that seems like a decent hunk of change for a team that hovers around $80 million in total salary outlays. J.J. Putz seems worth owning for the desperate.
Vic Black is more interesting, though, since he's one of those guys that has been hung with the Closer of the Future title in the past. And he got his first save this week, flashing 95 mph gas a good curveball. The problem with Black -- that he can't command those pitches well -- hasn't quite surfaced yet. It's doubtful he takes the 2014 job away from Bobby Parnell in the final week, but he should earn a save, maybe even two. No reason to give free agent to be Latroy Hawkins the ball anyway.
The Cubs management said that Pedro Strop would get a chance. Kevin Gregg spouted off in the media. Theo freaking Epstein had to come forward and say he was disappointed that the reliever -- whom they gave a chance to even after he looked finished, and even after his first stint in Chicago wasn't great -- would question the team publicly. He said he would consider releasing Gregg over the next few days. Predictably, Gregg recanted and apologized. Predictably, Strop got the next chance. And, predictably, Strop will get the next one.
Josh Fields? Uh. Sure.
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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Rafael Betancourt (elbow), Colorado Rockies
Bobby Parnell (neck), New York Mets
Still done for the year!
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Jose Veras, Detroit Tigers
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
"Kevin Gregg is going to survive the season. Congratulations to Kevin Gregg." That's what I wrote last week. Prescient.
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The Steals Department
Your final streaming update!
Hank Conger has been playing a lot recently, and maybe that's why the Angels haven't been as terrible vs the run recently. Still, Chris Iannetta is the single worst catcher out there against the running game right now. The Angels get Texas over the final weekend, making Leonys Martin one of the best mixed-league pickups. He's available in more than half of the leagues on at least one platform. Craig Gentry against lefties makes a decent deeper league pickup, he even has twice as many steals as Martin over the past two weeks. The deepest leagues might have to take a shot on Jim Adduci, a left-hander that's getting at-bats here or there and has real speed.
The Rays have the worst tandem against the run, so that makes them easier to stream against. The fact that they are up against the Blue Jays is also fun. Well, fun if Rajai Davis is available in your league. If not… well… Moises Sierra has stolen as many as 16 bases in a season! Munenori Kawasaki is getting playing time!
If anybody but Derek Norris is behind the plate for the Athletics, you can run on them. That makes Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez and Abraham Almonte interesting (in descending order of interest). Brad Miller would be a good pickup if the injury that caused him to miss time hadn't been to his legs. Boston is also decently bad at stopping the run, so turn your eyes to Baltimore, as decimated as they are by injury right now. Nate McLouth and Brian Roberts haven't stolen bases recently, but they still have it in them.
Good luck over the final weekend! I don't do football, so hit me up on Twitter in the final days if you have a pressing question!
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