Yes, this column is often centered around bullpens, especially in the Great Closer Drought of 2012. Get used to it, gamers. There's sand at the beach, a salad is supposed to be cold, and talking is frowned upon at the library; some stuff you're supposed to know up front. If save chasing isn't your thing, we have several other interesting pieces of content for your enjoyment.
Sorry folks, they don't close in Florida. The moose out front should have told you, or perhaps Roy Walley himself. Get everyone into the station wagon and let's sort through this.
All of the key players in Miami's bullpen worked Wednesday in Houston. It turned into a 5-3 victory for the Marlins, so Ozzie Guillen can't be too upset. But the smooth landing some of us wanted for Steve Cishek in the ninth didn't happen.
Cishek's blown save looks a lot worse in the box score than it did on the video. The Astros scratched across a run on two cheap hits — a dunk to right and a bloop to left. Giancarlo Stanton made the first hit worse than it should have been; rather than conceding a single to Carlos Lee, Stanton left his feet and tried to make a heroic catch. He failed miserably, and as a result Lee chugged all the way to third base, a gift triple for Colt 45.
The other big names in the bullpen did their jobs. Edward Mujica had an uneventful eighth inning (1-2-3, 18 pitches), and Heath Bell was surprisingly tidy in the tenth inning (one hit, just 10 pitches). It might take more than one good outing for Bell to get his closing gig back, but he certainly took a step in the right direction here. Most of his problems in 2012 have come from spotty control (10 walks over 9.2 innings). Randy Choate and Ryan Webb combined to record the final six outs.
Add it all up and it might be a good time to attempt a buy-low on Bell; as we've said a few times in this column, the team has 27 million reasons to try to get him straightened out. And I also envision Cishek being a valuable reliever in most fantasy formats, even if he's not closing for long; he's capable of working multiple innings in any appearance, and he doesn't have any platoon deficiencies despite being a sidewinder. A lot of pitchers with low arm slots struggle in this regard, but Cishek is an exception to that rule; he's dominant against righties, and still very good against lefties.
Josh Johnson also got off the skids here, working seven smooth innings (4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K) and trimming his ERA down to 5.87. His win got lost in the ninth-inning mail, but it's simply encouraging to see him back in form. And don't blow off the meaning of a strong turn in Houston; the Astros are fourth in the National League in runs. The bad-luck indicators stand behind Johnson (his FIP currently stands at 2.79 and he's lived through a ridiculous .403 BABIP), so there's no reason to radically change your opinion on him.
I can't guarantee you Johnson will stay healthy all year, but he should be a Top 30 pitcher (at minimum) when he's in uniform. He's at home against Pittsburgh (the lowest scoring team in the majors, by far) next week. On paper, that's a cushy assignment.
• Momentum is a big part of the save chase. If you convert today, the skipper is likely to give you a chance tomorrow. Managers like simplicity and defined roles in most instances. And with that in mind, Casey Janssen might be a reliever going places in Toronto.
The Blue Jays finally changed up their ninth-inning plan after Tuesday's ugly loss in Oakland. Francisco Cordero has been a mess in the ninth inning (he'd be the first guy to tell you), forcing an adjustment. Janssen was named the new closer before Wednesday's matinee, and he passed the eye test in an easy first assignment (ground out, strikeout, fly out). Ten of Janssen's 15 pitches were strikes and he was painting the corners.
The key to appreciating Janssen's current value is looking past that bloated 4.76 ERA; you get a better gauge of his value from the 0.97 WHIP or the 12 strikeouts against one walk. And he was one of the most reliable relievers in John Farrell's bullpen last year (2.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, six wins, two saves). Sergio Santos (shoulder) just started throwing this week; he might want to step on that rehab pace before Janssen rolls off a handful of saves and presents a difficult decision in Toronto.
Janssen is only 10-for-18 on save conversions during his career, but throw that stat in the trash immediately — it's just about meaningless for any reliever who works outside the ninth inning. When you're a setup man who pitches in the sixth, seventh or eighth, you will routinely be asked to protect leads (sometimes with no room for error) in games that you have no shot at finishing. Said a different way, you get a chance to blow a save but you rarely get a chance to covert the save. The only blown saves that should matter to us for evaluation purposes are ninth-inning collapses.
Janssen's ownership level jumped to 19 percent on Wednesday, but there's still time to get in on this one. Toronto's off to a 17-14 start (even with the Cordero mess) and this should be a playoff-contending club all year. Someone's going to get a lot of handshakes in the YYZ this summer; Santos still looks like the favorite, but until we know he's fully healthy, this is a fluid situation.
• A lot of fantasy owners forgot about Andres Torres when he injured his calf early in the season, but he's healthy again and raking for the Mets. Torres collected two more hits in Wednesday's romp over the Phillies, making him 12-for-34 (one homer, eight RBIs, five walks) in his nine games off the DL. There's only one steal over that span for Torres, but at least he's been trying (three attempts). You'll find the leadoff man available for pickup in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
The Phillies are reeling after getting swept by the Mets, at home no less. Cliff Lee was solid in his first start off the disabled list (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K) but everything fell apart during Kyle Kendrick's terrible seventh inning (five runs). Charlie Manuel's club is one of the few in 2012 without a closer problem (Jon Papelbon has been terrific most of the year, other than Monday's meltdown), but the rest of the bullpen has been terrible; Philadelphia's relief ERA (5.59) is the worst in the majors. You generally don't want to write any team off a mere 20 percent into the season, but I'd be surprised if the Phillies made the playoffs this year. This is an old club with cracks in the foundation.
• It's time to adopt a new theme with the Cubs closing situation: Rafael Dolis, why not? His early control problems this spring made him reliever non grata in the eyes of many, but it hasn't been an issue lately: Dolis doesn't have a walk in his last eight appearances. And there are other things to like here: his fastball sits in the 94-95 range and he's inducing ground balls 50 percent of the time. That latter stat is critical for any reliever who pitches to contact; despite the decent velocity, Dolis only has five strikeouts in 19.1 innings.
Bottom line, here's another vote to momentum: Dolis has a win and two saves in his last three appearances (the latest handshake came Wednesday), and don't be fooled by his blown save back on May 3 — he inherited a bases-loaded jam in the ninth that day (thanks, Carlos Marmol) and was unjustly hit with the BS tag despite an immediate double-play grounder. Dolis is only owned in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues, a curious number — I'd rather have him than Javy Guerra (67 percent), Francisco Cordero (41 percent), Scott Downs (42 percent; I doubt he closes all year) or Matt Thornton (34 percent). Keep an open mind on this one.
• Everyone is in love with David Robertson's bat-missing stuff, and no one wants to crush him for his messy landings in the Tampa Bay series. But we have to at least point out that his two worst outings of the year have come in the past two days — as he tries to step into the ninth-inning role that Mariano Rivera left behind. Robertson danced around three baserunners in a sloppy Tuesday save, but he couldn't get the job done 24 hours later (3 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 1 K). Robertson didn't have his best command in this series, and when he finally located a fastball at the end of the Wednesday stint, Matt Joyce slammed it into the right-field seats, a soul-crushing three-run homer. Game over. (Joyce's heroic hobble around the bases is worth a watch; I half-expected him to start cranking his arms as he rounded second.)
Rafael Soriano hasn't been sharp of late, either; he dodged two baserunners in a scoreless inning Wednesday, and he allowed a run the previous day. I'm expecting Joe Girardi to keep the status quo for a while — Robertson will close most of the time, with Soriano seeing a matchup save here or there — but if the problem isn't corrected soon, the Yankees could always throw their wallet around and bring in an outside reliever (Brett Myers, perhaps?). The next week or so could be very important for both of these guys. The Yanks have already said Soriano will close if needed Thursday, but that's more about Robertson needing a day of rest than anything else.
Speed Round: The Twins moved a few deck chairs around, pushing Francisco Liriano to the bullpen and Danny Valencia to the minors. The Liriano move could actually work out well: heck, most of the best relievers in MLB history were failed (or burnt-out) starters. I'll watch the story from the sidelines, but maybe something comes of this. … The White Sox sent Chris Sale (elbow) for an MRI, and it's not clear what his role will be when he returns. Go ahead and spin this in any direction you want. I know Addison Reed is long gone in your league, but oddly he's still unowned in 74 percent of Yahoo! nation. … So much for the Jason Hammel party: he has a sore knee and won't pitch Thursday. At least the injury isn't anything arm related. … Chris Young (shoulder) is working on baseball activities and might be ready for a rehab assignment soon. The Gerardo Parra fun could be over when Young returns, unless Jason Kubel shifts to first or someone else gets hurt between now and then. … Josh Beckett's favorite sport? Anything but baseball. You have to give the Red Sox credit; they realize that if you can't be good, you might as well be mockably bad. … Stop us if you've heard this one before: Tim Lincecum piled up the pitches and didn't last long at Los Angeles (5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 8 K). That's not to say there weren't encouraging signs: his velocity was up, all the damage came in one inning, and he filled the strikeout column nicely. He's scheduled for two helpings of home cooking next week, working against Colorado and Oakland. … If the pythagorean standings mean anything to you, let's note that the Mets have been the luckiest team in the majors this year. Despite a run differential of minus-18, they're five games over .500. As for the unluckiest pythagorean club, the answer might surprise you: it's St. Louis. The Cardinals are humming along at 20-11 (no one misses you, Albert), but with a run differential of plus-75 (that's insane this early in the year), St. Louis should have three more wins. The Astros and White Sox also deserve mention, with losing records despite a modest advantage in runs scored. … Next item of business on my desk: the middle infield shuffle. Rickie Weeks, we'd like an explanation.