The current four-game set between the Tigers and Red Sox could be a playoff preview, two loaded rosters with lofty expectations. And by the time October rolls around, both teams might have different closers. There's angst in The Hub, and Panic in Detroit.
Let's see if we can make sense of the ninth inning for these two clubs.
Andrew Bailey had another gopher-ball misstep in Thursday's loss at Comerica Park, serving up a game-ending homer to Jhonny Peralta. It's the fourth souvenir the struggling closer has allowed over 11 days - Matt Wieters, Kelly Johnson and Jose Lobotan also connected off Bailey - and it seems to have forced a Red Sox change. Here's Ian Browne of MLB.com:
"Yeah, I think so," said manager John Farrell, when asked if Bailey might have to switch roles at least temporarily. "Whether that's backing him out of that to get him some work to get on track a little bit more, or what the internal options are and out of fairness to Andrew and others down there late in the game, we'll talk more about that internally to make a potential change."
Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara are all candidates to replace Bailey in the ninth inning if Farrell makes a change.
Bailey's slump has been dramatic. In his last five appearances, the righty has converted just two of five save opportunities, posting a 15.75 ERA while allowing a .444 opponents' batting average.
Miller is probably the first name we can eliminate from the full-time closing picture, given that he's left-handed and a touch on the wild side (though his strikeout rate is excellent). He's probably a matchup option for the ninth, nothing past that. Uehara has previous closing experience and the bullpen's best stats (2.10/0.87, 42 K, 7 BB), though he also needs careful handling at age 38. He's only worked in back-to-back games six times this year, and he's yet to see work on three consecutive days.
Tazawa was the baton holder earlier in the year while Bailey sat on the disabled list. He didn't record any saves, as it turns out, but he's been effective and trusted all season (2.51/1.11, 38 K, 3 BB). It's possible Tazawa could be the chair of a committee, or at least in the mix here. Farrell isn't tipping his hand yet, but maybe he'll throw us a bone before Friday's game.
Place your bets, save chasers. Tazawa is owned in 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues, followed by Uehara (16 percent) and Miller (one percent). That's the same order I prefer them, though it's really a coin flip between the righties in the Tokyo Police Club. It's also possible we might see Bailey back on the DL; he's been batting practice since returning from a biceps injury a month ago.
The ninth inning has been more antagonistic in Detroit, in part because of salty old Jim Leyland. And for the moment, it sounds like Joaquin Benoit is the Motor City preference, not Jose Valverde. "I'm not naming anybody closer," Leyland told beat writer Jason Beck before Thursday's game. "I'm just saying if Benoit was available right now, I would try to close with him." Neither pitcher worked in the come-from-behind win over the Red Sox.
Benoit's situation is a lot like Uehara's with Boston - the Tigers don't like to over-expose him to heavy workloads. You get the idea Detroit will take a long look at closing options when the trading season begins in earnest later this summer. But when Benoit is able to take the mound, he's been absolutely terrific (1.80/1.00, 8 BB, 35 K). He's worked five back-to-backs in 2013.
We should also offer a kind word about Detroit lefty Drew Smyly, who picked up Thursday's win in relief. He worked two scoreless innings, striking out four, and check out these dazzling numbers: 1.85 ERA, 0.98 WHIP. Smyly's getting a lot of milage against left-handed batters (.117 average), but it's not like righties are knocking him around (.245/.315/.398). He's projected as a starter down the road, but for now he's a valuable set-up man. Take those smooth innings anywhere you can get them.
• Brian Dozier is never going to challenge for a batting title, and his .234/.297/.373 slash line as a pro is a sore sight for Minnesota baseball fans. Nonetheless, papaya category juice might push Dozier into our fantasy lives. He's homered three times in his past four games (along with three walks), and he's running recklessly on the bases, too (6-for-11). When you add two positions of eligibility to the mix, perhaps Dozier can be trusted in deeper mixed pools. He's ready to add in 94 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• You're welcome to spin Roy Oswalt's debut any way you like, but I'm still not interested. Sure, those 11 strikeouts look terrific, especially against zero walks (thanks, Nationals) - but he still allowed nine hits and four runs. The next two assignments are considerably tougher - a date at Fenway, then a Coors Field start against the Dodgers. Caveat emptor.
Speed Round: It's going to be a while for Angel Pagan - he reinjured his hamstring Thursday during a minor-league game and had to be carted off the field. Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres and Juan Perez are seeing regular time in the interim . . . Dexter Fowler is still battling a finger injury, though he received a clean X-ray on Thursday. It's possible he might need an extended period of rest . . . Jedd Gyorko (groin) is making quick progress and might be ready as soon as Tuesday. He's already taking grounders and doing some work in the batting cage . . . The Rangers are expected to activate Mitch Moreland (hamstring) Friday, which means Lance Berkman will probably be a pinch-hitter for the weekend series in St. Louis. And let's take a look at pitching prospect Martin Perez, who's expected to work Saturday after an impressive run at Double-A . . . Make it six straight save conversions for Steve Cishek, who cruised in San Francisco (1 H, 2 K). It will be interesting to see if he's on the market come mid-summer; obviously the Marlins aren't going anywhere . . . Peter Bourjos would like your attention: he's on a 15-for-36 tear since returning 11 days ago, with three stolen bases in ten games. Looks like his hamstring is doing just fine . . . Whatever you think of Ohio, let's save a piece of birthday cake for June 21ers Steven and Elyse Keaton. Sha-la-la-la. And if today is your birthday, I hope you have a terrific day and year, too . . . Matt Kemp (hamstring) could be ready for a rehab assignment next week, but there's no timetable yet for Carl Crawford (hamstring). Keep doing what you're doing, Yasiel Puig . . . Bryce Harper (knee) is back to baseball activities, though the Nationals haven't set a timetable for his return yet. He'll need a rehab assignment before rejoining the big club . . . Clay Buchholz (neck) remains in limbo for next week; he might pitch for the Red Sox, he might pitch in the minors . . . Mike Carp (hamstring) should be available this weekend . . . Jon Niese (shoulder) had an abbreviated outing Thursday, not that you want to carry his bloated ratios around. A new nose doesn't fix everything.
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