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Closing Time: Does Neftali Feliz make the cut?

Rangers use record 31st pitcher, beat A's 4-1
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Heat of the moment (AP Photo)

Generally speaking, we don't look for much in our search for fantasy-relevant closers. We want someone with the closing baton, the unblocked path to the ninth. We look for someone who can record three outs without being spooked, someone with ratios that won't torch our bottom line. There's a low barrier to entry here.

Those modest parameters established, can we trust Neftali Feliz in Texas? I'm not sure.

Feliz picked up the closing gig last week, when the Rangers shipped Joakim Soria to Detroit (where, interestingly enough, Soria is not closing). Feliz converted a pair of saves over the last four days; he dodged two baserunners in a weekend win over Oakland, and he had a clean landing Monday against New York (three infield outs: Ellsbury, Gardner, Jeter).

The issue isn't so much what Feliz is doing, it's how he's doing it. He used to throw in the mid-90s during his best Texas days; his 2014 fastball clocks in at an ordinary 92.3 mph. He's logged a modest 17 MLB innings since his Tommy John surgery two years back. Although his small-sample ratios are fine this year (2.19 ERA, 0.81 WHIP), he's not collecting many strikeouts (just four). At least his swinging-strike rate is still in a repectable (though not dominant) area, an even 10 percent. 

Feliz's Yahoo ownership sits at 43 percent, a tame number given the Rangers clearly endorsed him as the ninth-inning man. Some of the reluctance makes sense - Texas has a crummy ballclub this year and the team will be careful with his workload (this might come into play if the Rangers have a run of save chances on consecutive days). And that low K/9 rate gets your suspicions raised, I understand. 

I added Feliz in a couple of leagues last week, simply because closers have value in most pools. I wouldn't mind a quick flip if something becomes available, not that I foresee a market for him. Can you find a market for the new closer? Or are you tentively holding like I am? Say your piece in the comments.

• Let's give a hand to Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey. Those guys can fix anything. The Rays pitching staff is in terrific form these days, and it's pushing the club back into the pennant race.

Three fantasy-underowned commodities did the work in Monday's 2-1 victory over Milwaukee. Strikeout ace Jake Odorizzi worked the first seven innings (3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K), and then the lockdown duo of Brad Boxberger (three whiffs) and Jake McGee (two strikeouts) secured the victory. If you can get any of these guys onto your rosters, it's well worth the point and click.

It took a while for Odorizzi to find his best form, but he's been outstanding over his last 15 starts (2.83 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 28 BB, 103 K). He's won five of his last seven turns. Somehow, he's still free to grab in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.

Tampa's closing picture was messy for a while, but McGee has stepped up and run away with the job. He's 9-for-9 this month in saves, over 11.2 strong innings (1 BB, 20 K). He's carrying a 1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP for the year, but somehow unowned in about 44 percent of Yahoo leagues. The Two Jakes are here to help.  

The case for Boxberger is a little broader: although he's settled in as the team's eighth-inning bridge, he's not getting a lot of wins (two) or saves (one). That established, he's working in a high-leverage role and I suspect we'll see a few wins and the occasional rogue save down the road. And even if Boxberger's fantasy juice is limited to quality supplemental innings, what's wrong with that? A 2.11 ERA and 0.82 WHIP plays anywhere, and he's piled up a silly 66 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. Fun to watch, fun to own - and still free to grab in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues. 

• The Colorado bats often go into hibernation on the road, especially at the front of a trip. It's an adjustment period from Coors (where breaking pitches don't break much) to the games at sea level (baby's got the bends). Chicago lefty Tsuyoshi Wada took advantage of this on Monday, working seven smooth innings (5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K). for his first MLB victory. The Rockies were also without surging Josh Rutledge (illness, day-to-day).

Monday kicked off the trickiest part of Colorado's schedule - a stretch of 13 road games out of 16. The payback comes in mid-August, when the Rockies play nine straight at Coors Field. Colorado is the highest-scoring team at home this year, by a mile (319 runs), and it collapses to 29th on the road (179 runs). Gravity always wins. 

Full disclosure, some of the Rockies are holding up value on the road. Corey Dickerson has a terrific .392/.361/.500 slash line out of a suitcase, though he still sits against most lefties. Nolan Arenado is hitting .318 in road games, albeit with zero pop (no homers). The currently-injured Justin Morneau has been fine everywhere, as has Rutledge.

Charlie Blackmon's one of the biggest home/road dippers, not that a .250 average and six steals are completely useless. He's crushing at home, as you know. And Colorado's two signature stars have notable splits this season: Troy Tulowitzki has a 1.246 OPS at home, .811 on the road (still good, of course). Carlos Gonzalez rocks a .912 OPS on Blake Street, and crumbles everywhere else (.169/.234/.346). You get the idea the Rockies will explore trading Tulowitzki and Gonzalez this winter; the club is in desperate need of a reboot.

• Is fatigue starting to catch up to Oakland's Jesse Chavez? The Astros knocked him around for six runs and three homers Monday, pushing his ERA up to 3.44.

Chavez hasn't been fooling anyone over his last six turns (5.51 ERA, 1.62 WHIP). And remember the 30-year-old journeyman was primarily a reliever before this season; Chavez had just two career starts entering 2014. Might be time to make a new plan, Stan. Oakland has strong alternatives if and when it decides Chavez needs a break - Tommy Milone, for one, waves hello. 

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