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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Ryan Franklin implodes in the thin air

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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We chase baseball stats in this space for six months at a time and we see all kinds of blown saves. Sometimes it's a cheap hit or an infield error, sometimes it's a bad call or a walk-off walk.

And sometimes it's a case of a closer getting pounded, swing after swing after swing. And that's what happened to poor Ryan Franklin(notes) at Coors Field on Tuesday night; his pending handshake turned into a Mile-High earthquake.

Colorado's stunning 12-9 comeback victory was one for the books, as the Rockies erupted for nine runs in the home half of the ninth to improbably steal the victory. It marked the first time in the modern era a team had ever scored nine times in the bottom of the ninth in a win, and this wasn't a story about bloops and bleeders. Colorado's hitters were denting the ball.

Six of the seven men Franklin faced wound up reaching base, bookended by a pair of homers (Chris Iannetta(notes) in the middle of the inning, Seth Smith to end the night). Dexter Fowler(notes) rang a double off the wall against Franklin, and most of the other hits came on solid contact. Franklin was a little unlucky in one instance when Carlos Gonzalez's(notes) sharp single landed in front of an outfielder that was playing ridiculously deep, but when the contact is that good, you have no right to complain. Credit the Colorado hitters, they got the best of the St. Louis stopper.

Tony LaRussa refused to throw Franklin under the bus – the Cardinals skipper basically blamed this stomach-punch defeat on everyone in a St. Louis uniform, coaching staff included. But it's interesting to note that Franklin's understudy in the bullpen, Jason Motte(notes), worked a quick and uneventful frame in the seventh, retiring the Rockies on just six pitches. Franklin has pitched too well to lose his job overnight, but a quick audit of this team's bullpen is in order.

Franklin entered Tuesday night with a sterling save record: 15-of-16 this season, and 38-of-43 the year before. His style is well known by now – he's not going to throw the ball by many hitters (just 19 strikeouts in 33.2 innings) but he hardly walks anyone (five all season) and he keeps the ball on the ground and in the park. He had only allowed three homers over his last 92 appearances before he was rocked here.

Motte's style is almost 180 degrees the opposite of Franklin; while Franklin is the aging stylist, Motte is the young fireballer. A converted catcher, Motte has swing-and-miss stuff (better than a whiff per inning), struggles with control sometimes (though he's improved significantly in that area this season) and allows a fair amount of balls to be hit in the air. Motte's also dealt with gopheritis in the past, giving up 10 round-trippers in 56.2 innings last year and four over his first 34 appearances in 2010.

Motte had the closer job to lose at the beginning of 2009 and promptly lost it, never to be heard from in the ninth again. But he's positioning himself nicely with a quiet but electric run this year; he's only allowed one run over his last 20 appearances, along with 24 punchouts and just six walks. I don't expect Franklin's job to be on the line immediately, but you know how fickle teams can be with their closers. If Franklin has another misstep this week, or runs into any sort of physical issue, Motte's showing that he's probably ready to take a crack at the ninth.

The value of non-closing relievers is highly variable from league-to-league, so it's impossible for me to dispense "one size fits all" advice here. If you're in a holds league, Motte probably has been owned all season. If you're in a medium or deep mixer, Motte stands as mandatory insurance for a Franklin owner or an interesting speculation play if you're hoping for a possible second-half closer. In shallow mixers, put Motte on your watch list, but don't feel the need to grab him right away.

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Let's hear it for San Francisco rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner(notes), who has been useful in all three of his starts to this point. His latest turn came Tuesday at Milwaukee and was his best to date, eight scoreless innings at Miller Park (3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K, video here). The precocious southpaw now has a 2.86 ERA and 1.00 WHIP despite the fact that he's faced the Red Sox, Brewers and Rockies (at Coors) to open his career - talk about your trials by fire. He's a recommended play for his Sunday turn at Washington.

If you're looking for an offensive undertow in the American League, Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is a good place to start. Texas did another offensive tap dance on Tuesday, ripping out 12 runs and 17 hits in a rout over the Indians; man did I pick the wrong year to have absolutely zero shares in Josh Hamilton(notes), Vladimir Guerrero(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes). Every starter in a Rangers uniform had a piece of this win, so dig in and enjoy your spoils.

There was a sneaky story on the other side of the blowout, as Cleveland's Jayson Nix(notes) reached base three times and homered in the first inning. That makes three homers in two nights for Nix, and he's a nifty little value play in deeper leagues, covering three infield spots and offering some power and maybe some speed down the line (yes, his average stunk last year, but he did have 12 homers and 10 steals for the White Sox in just 255 at-bats). Nix is available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues entering Wednesday's play and seems locked into the No. 2 spot in the Cleveland lineup for a while, so give him a look if you're in an infield pinch. The batting average risk has to be managed, but there is some category juice here.

Are you ready to forgive Vicente Padilla(notes) for past transgressions and welcome him back into your streamable pitcher list? The veteran righty gave the Dodgers another strong start against Florida on Tuesday, and let's appreciate what he's done in total over his last three appearances (20.2 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 21 K). That's a line that plays anywhere, and you'll want to roll with him Sunday at home against the Cubs.

There wasn't much to see in the desert as the Diamondbacks lost another ballgame, but we should continue to track their bullpen closely as we speculate on who Kirk Gibson can and cannot trust. Aaron Heilman(notes) had a messy outing in the eighth (two runs, another homer allowed), pushing his ERA to 4.10 and his WHIP to 1.47. He hasn't thrown the ball well at all in recent outings, and context clues suggest Gibson isn't a fan of his to begin with. Sam Demel(notes) worked in the sixth and permitted two baserunners and a run against two outs; he didn't help his cause either. I know most of us ran from Chad Qualls(notes) in the first half of the year, screaming, but all the dominoes seem to be falling his way of late. I'll be surprised if he's not given another chance at the ninth inning for this team in the near future, perhaps as soon as this week.

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Injury Blog: Jake Peavy(notes) left his Tuesday start in the second inning and arm problems were feared, but it turned out to be a back issue. A DL trip appears likely, and it's a shame given how well he had been pitching of late. The Pale Hose also have to worry about Carlos Quentin(notes) now; he was a pregame scratch on Tuesday due to a sore knee. … The black cloud continues to hang over the Boston clubhouse; Kevin Youkilis(notes) was the latest star to get nicked, leaving Tuesday's game with an ankle injury. X-rays came back negative, however, and there's a fair shot that he'll be able to play Wednesday. … Yovani Gallardo(notes) (oblique) hit the 15-day DL, as expected. … Nate McLouth(notes) (concussion) will begin a rehab assignment on Friday, not that we should be expecting anything great from him when he returns to Atlanta. … Felix Pie(notes) (shoulder) got back to it with the Orioles on Tuesday, going 2-for-6 out of the No. 7 slot in the lineup. Pie's case to eventually hit leadoff got a push from Corey Patterson's(notes) off-night; Patterson went 0-for-6. … Troy Glaus(notes) (knee) returned to action and went 1-for-4 at Philadelphia. … Vernon Wells(notes) is still dealing with flu-like symptoms. He was limited to a pinch-hitting appearance on Tuesday, striking out in the ninth.

Speed Round: A lot was made of Stephen Strasburg(notes) not making the NL All-Star Team, but what about Ryan Zimmerman(notes)? The underrated third sacker clocked a couple of homers against the Padres on Tuesday, including the walk-off clincher in the ninth. … Long-ball dramatics were also at play in Detroit, where Miguel Cabrera's(notes) moon shot tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, and Johnny Damon's(notes) loping drive in the 11th sent the home folks home happy. The Tigers have the best home record in the majors American League at 29-12. … Has Tyler Clippard(notes) hit the Jim Riggleman wall? Clippard has been ineffective in four of his last six appearances, allowing 13 hits and striking out just four batters. The begoggled reliever has already collected 43 appearances and 51.1 innings on the year. … Six homers flew out of the yard up in Toronto, with the Twins getting the last laugh in a 7-6 thriller. Joe Mauer(notes) greeted us with his fourth clout of the year; he's slugging .486 on the road this year but just .388 (with no homers) in Minnesota.

Perhaps Johan Santana(notes) wasn't utterly dominant Tuesday night against Cincinnati (a modest five strikeouts), but who's going to argue with a three-hit shutout? He'll close the first half with a Sunday start at home against the Braves. … Trevor Cahill(notes) finally gave us another messy turn on Tuesday, allowing six runs over six innings versus the Yankees. The outing wasn't quite as bad as it looked; Cahill's two big mistakes turned into home runs for Alex Rodriguez(notes), one a grand slam. I still like this Oakland kid, and I'll start him with confidence on the weekend against the Angels. … I'm in the midst of re-reading Ball Four for about the 15th time this summer, a timeless tale about an aging pitcher trying to hang on in 1969 as a knuckleballer on an expansion team. The book gets a lot of pub for its humor and tell-all nature, but it's even more worthwhile when you consider it as a perceptive take on group dynamics. Do yourself a favor and give it a read (or a re-read); it's without question my favorite sports book of all time. Hang tough, Bulldog.

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