We generally try not to overreact when a name-brand closer hits a rough patch, but there comes a point where some concern is warranted. And we're at that juncture with Jonathan Broxton(notes), who has been a mess for most of the second half.
The latest Broxton blowup came Thursday night in Philadelphia; he failed to retire any of the five batters he faced and he couldn't find the strike zone at all. To be fair, there was also an ugly infield error in the middle of the rally – Casey Blake(notes) botched what should have been an easy double play – but that doesn't fully excuse Broxton. He only threw 10 of 22 pitches for strikes, he hit a batter, and the walk-off hit from Carlos Ruiz(notes) was absolutely crushed to left-center field. (Maybe the supernatural hexing from the Philly crowd got the best of Broxton here; you can judge that for yourself.)
Broxton is now 2-for-5 on save chances in the second half, and the other stats look even worse. He's allowed 10 runs (nine earned) over eight innings, with 11 walks against five strikeouts. It's certainly time for us to queue up the usual questions in this type of situation:
Is Broxton hurt? The radar gun doesn't suggest anything of the sort – he was hitting 98 in Philly.
Is Broxton still the firm choice as LA's closer? Joe Torre apparently wants to sleep on it. "Let the smoke clear before you get me to say something I haven't thought about," Torre said right after the soul-crushing defeat, which he later termed the hardest one of the season. "[Broxton is] a big boy, he'll be all right. Long-term, I'm not worried about him."
If you read between the lines, it sounds like Broxton might get a brief respite from the closing gig. This brings some other save-chasing names into play; perhaps Octavio Dotel(notes) would get a look in the ninth this weekend, or Hong-Chih Kuo(notes), or maybe even fearless rookie Kenley Jansen(notes). Torre isn't lacking for options. And with the Dodgers quickly falling out of the playoff chase in the NL, it's not easy to be patient. We'll see how Torre spins this situation before Friday's series opener at Atlanta.
Kuo and Jansen have fantasy value in most leagues at the moment even if they're not closing; they've been that dominant. I took a flier on Dotel in the Yahoo Friends & Family League on the odd chance that Broxton may turn out to be hurt (or temporarily demoted from his role); in that league, you have to be out in front of news, not trailing behind it. In groups where the save is less important, you can take your time and let the situation play out a bit. There's no one set of rules that apply to the save chase.
• The Red Sox had their own soul-crushing defeat to worry about Thursday, giving away a game at Toronto that looked like a sure win for eight innings. Jonathan Papelbon(notes) got his hands bloody in the ninth (four hits, three runs, just one man retired), adding to what's easily been his worst season in the majors. His ERA has never been higher, walks are up, strikeouts are down, homers are up. Papelbon is arbitration eligible again this winter but he can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season. It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox approach his situation, given that Daniel Bard(notes) looks ready to become the league's next dominant closer.
• Pat Burrell(notes) is sorry to see the Cubs leave town; he went 7-for-16 in the four-game set, including three homers over the last two days. There are some interesting splits on the Burrell resume so far in 2010 – his OPS is 111 points higher against right-handed pitching and most of his production has come in San Francisco (.368/.436/.750). I suppose you'll want to keep rolling with him this weekend against the Padres, even with two lefty opponents on the way. It will be interesting to see how the Philadelphia fans react to him when he's there next week.
• The White Sox are another team with some issues in the ninth inning; Bobby Jenks(notes) came on for a routine inning of work Thursday and had to depart because of back spasms. Ozzie Guillen has a bunch of quality arms to rely on if and when Jenks isn't available; you know all about the merits of Matt Thornton(notes), J.J. Putz(notes) and Sergio Santos(notes). If Jenks needs a rest, this has committee written all over it. Guillen has already conceded that Jenks probably won't be available Friday against Detroit.
• No Francisco Rodriguez, no problem for the Mets – Johan Santana(notes) spun a masterpiece against the Rockies, a four-hit shutout (2 BB, 10 K, 115 pitches). That said, the Rockies clearly aren't the same offense on the road; they've scored just 223 runs in 59 games away from home. Even fantasy god Carlos Gonzalez(notes) suffers from the anti-Coors flu; he's just a .276/.292/.427 stick when he's living out of a suitcase. It's been often speculated that Colorado batters struggle more on the road for a logical reason; breaking pitches don't move as much in the thin air, and it can be difficult to regain your timing when you're competing at normal altitudes. Make of that what you will.
• Ryan Braun was back in the Milwaukee lineup but didn't do anything, going 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts. He hasn't looked fully healthy in months, which is why we shouldn't hold his final stat haul against him. He might be a small bargain in some leagues next year.
It was just another day in the world of John Axford(notes) – three walks, two strikeouts, a double play grounder, handshake. Casey McGehee(notes) sparked the Milwaukee offense, homering for the third time in five games.
Speed Round: Chipper Jones(notes) has a torn ACL and is done for the season, and perhaps his career. If Jones doesn't waltz into the Hall of Fame on no worse than his second year of eligibility, something is ridiculously wrong. Omar Infante's(notes) spot in the Atlanta lineup should be secure the remainder of the way; he's owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo! leagues. … The Phillies welcomed Shane Victorino(notes) back and Ryan Howard(notes) is expected to return on Tuesday. … Nyjer Morgan(notes) (hip) was able to take batting practice and shouldn't be far away from returning. … A sore groin knocked Andy Pettitte(notes) from his rehab turn. … Michael Brantley(notes) had four singles and a stolen base for the Indians. Just let him play, Cleveland. … Gavin Floyd(notes) proved human after all, allowing 10 hits, six runs and a pair of homers to the Twins. … Ricky Nolasco(notes) worked six smooth innings at Washington (6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) then handed things over to the bullpen. … Ryan Ludwick(notes) hit three homers in the Pittsburgh series and looks like a smart pickup for the Padres. His two RBis on Thursday were more than enough to support Jon Garland(notes) and three relievers. … Jeanmar Gomez(notes) continues to work his magic; he shut down the Streaking Showalters Thursday (6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 K) for his third victory in four starts. He's lined up for the Royals next week.