The soul of Closing Time is the bullpen chase, so our logical first step takes us to Colorado. Settle in, Rafael Betancourt owners, and have your copay ready.
The Rockies closer has been working through a groin problem for almost a month now, and it forced him out of Tuesday's appearance in the tenth inning. He's scheduled to have an MRI on Wednesday.
Players are wired to downplay injuries, and Betancourt is no different. Here's what he told MLB.com.
"It's not painful," Betancourt said. "It was feeling weird warming up. I always push a lot from that leg. I came into the game, bounced the first two pitches. Feel like weak. It was getting tight. That's all.
"I'm the kind of guy that it's hard for me to come out of the game. But I think it was the right move to do in that situation. [Wednesday] I get an MRI, but I think everything's going to be fine, and we'll go from there."
It's novel for Betancourt to hope for the best, but we have to prepare for the worst, just in case. If Betancourt misses any significant time, someone's going to get save chances in his stead. Rex Brothers looks like the first name to consider grabbing, with Wilton Lopez and Matt Belisle two other options.
If the numbers were all that mattered, the left-handed Brothers would be a slam-dunk. He's posted a 0.44 ERA and 1.13 WHIP through 22 appearances, with 21 strikeouts against eight walks. The platoon splits haven't bothered him at all; he's actually better against righties (.180 BAA) this year. He looks ready for the ninth if manager Walter Weiss wants to play it that way.
Lopez has the "previous closing experience" tag that teams sometimes care about; he picked up 10 handshakes (sorry, they do shake hands) with the Astros last year. His work in 2013 hasn't been at the Brothers level - 3.80 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, three walks, 12 strikeouts - but he's more established and he's right-handed, and sometimes that stuff matters to the men in charge. He also has the strongest ground-ball profile in this mix, though all three players fare well in that area.
The Rockies know Belisle well; he's been with the team since 2009 and he's turned into a fine reliever, especially considering the home park at play. He's holding a 3.86 ERA and 1.20 WHIP at the moment, with three strikeouts for every walk (21:7). He also has a team-high eight holds.
Brothers is the guy I'd prefer to be anointed, but it's not my bullpen to manage. All players are widely available in Yahoo! as we go to post: Brothers is at eight percent ownership, Belisle rates at four percent and Lopez trades at a mere one percent. Head to the wire and place your bets.
• Mike Leake hasn't really been celebrated in these pages, in part because of our (understandable) Tony Cingrani affections. Nonetheless, Leake continues to work in the Cincinnati rotation and he's proven to be reliable against favorable matchups. Leake had the bagel parade working last week at Miami, and it continued in Tuesday's creamy-smooth victory at Citi Field (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K). Give that man a #backpat.
Is this a story worth chasing in a deeper mixer, despite a so-so WHIP and a modest strikeout rate? Leake was the eighth overall pick in 2009, and there are some stats in his corner this year. The 3.25 ERA is playable, the 53.1 percent ground-ball clip is lovely, the K/BB ratio is acceptable (2.53). The upcoming schedule brings a home date with Cleveland (tricky) and a road game with Pittsburgh (more digestible). Leake is owned in just 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Your roto team slogs through a mediocre night, then Mike Trout fixes everything like Winston Freaking Wolf. It's fun to hold the free spin.
Trout's Tuesday night special deserves mention and celebration: he hit for the cycle against Seattle (the youngest player ever to do that), posting a 5-2-4-5 line, and added a stolen base just for fun. If you were drafting today, the Trout-Miggy debate would be live again at the No. 1 pick.
Some of the Regression Police had a victory lap when Trout started slowly in 2013, but the 21-year-old stud has been dynamite lately and check out his seasonal pace: .293-112-32-122-32. Maybe it's not the 2012 level, but that's ridiculous. If you landed Trout in the middle of your first round back in March, be sure to thank the RP for it.
• Say this for Don Mattingly, he's not trying to duck the question. When he was asked about his closer before Tuesday's game at Milwaukee, he admitted he didn't have an answer. Here's how he responded to Ken Gurnick's closer inquiry:
"I don't know," the Dodgers manager said. "We'll see."
So, there you have it. The bullpen-wide slump that cost the Dodgers a sweep in Atlanta has the manager as uncertain about the late innings as the fans.
"I know who I want to use. But I don't know if I want to anoint anybody," said Mattingly, who seems to be leaning toward Kenley Jansen over Brandon League in high-stress situations based on recent use. "I'd really like to see the bullpen get its confidence back and some semblance of order and get the guys in the roles we designed.
"I know where I want it to go, it just hasn't gone there. They set the roles the way they are pitching. Now it's hard to say, 'That guy deserves that inning.'"
We've been through this closer chase a zillion times. Jansen has the better skill set and the much better stats, albeit he's been rocky of late. League has the closer contract and a solid save-conversion rate in LA, for whatever that means, but his 2013 numbers are otherwise a mess. My gut feel hasn't changed here - I think Mattingly really wants League to settle down in the ninth so Jansen can be used in a more-flexible role - but ultimately the performance of the players is going to drive the story.
If I needed to pick a Dodgers reliever for my team starting now and saves weren't the driving factor, I'd have to take Jansen. But if saves were the only stat I cared about, I'd give League the slight edge. There's no great level of confidence in that latter prediction, but we're asked to give our opinions and that's mine. If you disagree, well, that's why we have this wonderful numbers racket. That's why we have a game.
Speed Round: If you came for some Kevin Gausman propaganda, let me direct you to some excellent Behrens bloggery. It looks like Gausman will start Thursday against Toronto . . . A concussion has Trevor Plouffe on the seven-day DL. Eduardo Escobar picks up the start in Wednesday's matinee, playing third and batting leadoff . . . Daniel Straily let us down in a few spots earlier in the year, but he was nails in Tuesday's Arlington lockdown (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K). This bookends neatly with the work Patrick Corbin did in Colorado on Monday and allows us to focus on a broader point. Straily obviously jumps back into the conversation for our mixers, but let's see the forest for the trees: just because outlier results happen sometimes in extreme ballparks does not mean we should disregard common sense and large banks of data. Said a different way, anyone who ducked Straily's start at Texas was making the only reasonable decision at the time. Straily's next two starts figure to come at home, up against the Giants and White Sox . . . Matt Garza was sharp in his first MLB turn of the year, working five scoreless at Pittsburgh (1 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 82 pitches). The leash should be longer for Sunday's start, which unfortunately comes in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks (home) and Dodgers (road) come calling after that . . . Chris Sale (shoulder) won't pitch this week but he insists he'll be good to go against the Cubs next Tuesday. Seems like a nice guy, that inverted W. I don't have any Sale shares this year (most regretfully), but he's a blast to watch and here's hoping for a speedy recovery . . . Kyle Lohse has a sore elbow and is done for the week. Mike Fiers works Saturday against Pittsburgh . . . Kelly Johnson clocked his eighth homer of the year but still remains unowned in about half of Yahoo! leagues. I know, not your league, rotohead. The Rays shop the thrift store as well as anyone . . . Jim Johnson worked a clean tenth inning and picked up a win, backing up Buck Showalter's belief in him. Arcade mascot Nate McLouth ended the game with a walkoff shot in the bottom of the tenth. These events are most Pianow approved . . . Chase Utley (rib cage) is headed for an MRI and isn't expected to play Wednesday. Here's Jim Salisbury with the details. It's a shame to see Utley dinged, but you know the risks with him . . . We've got seven Wednesday matinees to navigate, so start editing those rosters. The esteemed Doc Behrens is your Closing Time host later tonight.