Whoever it turns out to be.
The Twitter world of save chasing blew up a couple of hours ago as the news turned dark on Brian Wilson. The hairy and scary closer has structural damage in his pitching elbow, which means he's out for a while, perhaps the entire season. Surgery appears likely at this time. I don't mean to be ghoulish about it, but you can kick him to the curb now.
The save hierarchy behind Wilson is tricky, because the Giants have one of the deepest relief groups in the majors. San Francisco has recorded the second-lowest ERA in the majors for each of the last three seasons. Sure, some of that is the roomy park they play in, but you don't get elite results without a lot of talent. When Bruce Bochy dials up the bullpen, he might be temporarily paralyzed by his options.
Bochy doesn't return my calls, but he did talk to Steve Kroner of the San Francisco Chroncle on Saturday night, before the Pirates and Giants went out to the sandlot. Here's the key (albeit indirect) quote to ponder:
Romo and Casilla were the two names we expected to hear. Lopez, a lefty with so-so control, is unlikely to get a chance to command this position.
Romo was utterly ridiculous as the team's main setup option last season, giving the team 48 shutdown innings. He posted a 1.50 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 70 strikeouts against just five walks, whiffle ball numbers. Casilla couldn't match that dominance last year but he was pretty good too: 1.74 ERA, 1.12 WHIP. He was somewhat wild (25 walks in 51.2 innings), and his strikeout rate didn't match Romo's (he punched out 45 batters).
The Giants had a glimpse of life without Wilson at the end of 2011: because of the closer's tender elbow, he only pitched twice after Aug. 15. Romo had an elbow problem of his own, in mid-August. By the time Romo returned to action on Aug. 28, Casilla already had a couple of saves as the Wilson stand-in. Bochy decided to leave everything alone for the stretch drive; Casilla finished with six late-season handshakes, with Romo mowing down opponents in the eighth inning.
Here's the bottom line: both of these guys could probably succeed if given the ninth inning. Both have proven track records of success on this team, in this bullpen, for this manager. Maybe Bochy will decide to go to Romo because his stats have more juice to them, or perhaps he'll remember Casilla's late closing success in 2011 and defer to that.
At the end of the day, save chasing is about momentum. This is the one place in fantasy baseball where you definitely want to chase roles over skills. Possession of the gig is almost all you need to know in this pursuit, and he who converts tonight usually gets the ball again tomorrow. We're all speculating and projecting at the moment, but I know this: as soon as anyone gets a ninth-inning save chance and smoothly converts, he clearly becomes the man to own in San Francisco.
The Giants and Pirates are tied at 3-3 as this blog goes to press. Starting pitcher Barry Zito is still in the game. I'll watch every pitch down the stretch and update this blog, if appropriate, after the game.
Update; 12:13 AM ET: The Giants have just put the wraps on a 4-3 victory, scratching a run across in the bottom of the ninth. Casilla entered in the eighth inning and wound up retiring five of six men in an extended appearance. Lopez was summoned for the final out of the ninth, striking out lefty Alex Presley. Romo didn't pitch.
Speculating from 2,400 miles away, let's read some tea leaves. The moment Casilla comes on for the eighth, you have to feel good about Romo; this choice seems to suggest that Romo is first in line for a save chance. But it's interesting that Romo was not used in the top of the ninth, game tied; that's a standard spot where a modern manager will use his de-facto closer (the home club no longer has the potential for a save at that point). With Casilla working a 1-2-3 eighth, perhaps Bochy felt good about sticking with him for the second frame.
Bottom line, the game flow of this game suggests (and I suppose this is obvious to everyone here) that Romo has the inside track in this committee. Will he wind up winning this job and running with it? He certainly has the skills to.
My guess a few hours ago, on imperfect information, was Casilla (I refuse to be one of those hedgy pundits who writes everything as vague as possible, with a constant eye to the post-facto spin). But the clues on the field in Saturday's endgame point directly to Romo. Good luck with your handshake hunt, whatever you decide to do.
And as long as we're all together on a Saturday night, let's quickly mention a few other closing situations:Heath Bell had absolutely nothing against the Astros, allowing four hits and four runs (two earned) in an ugly ninth. The Marlins also made three errors in the frame (one of them a catcher's interference call that put Jordan Schafer on base), but Bell couldn't miss anyone's bat and the contact was emphatic. He's now has two loud blowups and one other spotty outing (three walks) out of four Miami appearances.
Joey Cora gave Bell a vote of confidence after the game, but big deal; he's just the interim manager. My guess is that the Marlins are probably quietly concerned here, but they've paid Bell a boatload of cash and he'll get time to fix things.Cora wouldn't commit to using Bell in Sunday's game, but that's tied to Bell throwing 46 pitches over the last two nights.
• The relief results were backwards with the Indians and Royals, at least from what I expected. Jonathan Broxton was very sharp in a scoreless ninth (1-2-3, eight of ten pitches were strikes) and Chris Perez's eventual handshake in the tenth was just as smooth (nothing left the infield).
Meanwhile, the setup men of interest (Vinnie Pestano and Greg Holland) were both scored upon; Pestano served up a game-tying homer to Yuniesky Betancourt in the bottom of the eighth, while Holland was hit hard in the top of the tenth (3 H, 1 BB, 2 R). Time to reset and reshuffle; the incumbent closers gained some needed leverage here.
• No closer intel was gained in Washington, because Edwin Jackson didn't need no stinkin' closer. His complete-game gem (2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K, just 92 pitches) shut down the Reds, 4-1. Jackson retired 22 of the final 23 men he faced; the only slipup was a four-pitch walk to open the eighth.
Jackson is up against Houston next week; on paper, that's a good draw. All you can do is make good decisions with the information you have, and hope the variance flows your way.
And with that, the bullpen is closed. Good luck with your Sunday numbers.
Post-script, 12:57 AM ET: The Rockies and Diamondbacks closed the night with a wet and wacky game at Coors Field, dodging raindrops and trading the lead back and forth. Thin air, big offense and the occasional outfielder hydroplaning; who doesn't love that?
Colorado got the early jump against an ineffective Josh Collmenter (the Trevor Bauer public nods quietly), then the rains won for a while. Arizona scored consistently against the Colorado middle relief, taking a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but the Rockies got the last laugh when Todd Helton roped a towering walk-off homer down the right-field line off against J.J. Putz (The Arizona closer was 4-for-4 entering Saturday, so there's no leash concern here. It was just a fun finale to another crazy evening of baseball.)
What can you say? The Year of the Blown Save continues. Keep scoring early and often, because no lead ever appears safe in 2012.
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