So far in the month of May, Angels relievers have earned exactly two saves. That's it … two.
The first of these can best be described as a pyrrhic save, as Scott Downs limped away with a knee strain and LaTroy Hawkins fractured his pinkie. The next occurred six days later, on May 12, as Downs retired the only batter he faced, protecting a two-run lead against Texas.
And that's that. The Angels have played 20 games this month, winning 10, and they've provided the fantasy community with two saves.
Nevertheless, the team has given us a lot to write about.
Just when we were feeling confident that Downs had claimed the ninth, manager Mike Scioscia threw us a curve (slurve? Eephus? Shuuto? Not sure what the right pitch would be for this metaphor). Last Friday, with his team holding a two-run eighth inning lead over the Padres, Scioscia called upon Downs to face the top of San Diego's lineup — not Ernesto Frieri or Jordan Walden in the eighth, but Downs. The left-hander pitched a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Will Venable, Cameron Maybin and Chase Headley. Los Angeles then scored three runs in the top of the ninth, taking the save out of play for anyone but Downs. But Frieri relieved him in the ninth, just as he would have if a save opportunity still existed.
I suppose you could argue that Scioscia was simply playing match-ups — Venable is a left-handed batter, Headley a switch-hitter — but the Pads also had a lefty hitting clean-up, another hitting sixth, a switch-hitter seventh, and another lefty eighth.
In a game recap for the Orange County Register, beat writer Bill Plunkett suggested, "the pitching moves seemed to augur a new hierarchy in the back end of the Angels' bullpen."
Scioscia didn't quite go that far, but he plainly left the door open for Frieri: "We're going to mix and match a little bit. It's really just a match-up situation. It might change tomorrow. But right now we're going to match up a little bit."
OK then. I'd bet on Frieri for the next save chance — a small bet, nothing substantial — no matter what the match-ups look like. The recent usage suggests he's a ninth inning option, and his year-to-date numbers are absolutely ridiculous: 18.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 9 BB, 32 Ks. He has not yet allowed a hit as a member of the Angels, and he's whiffed 14 batters over 6.2 innings. Frieri is available in 78 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of this writing, so most of you can make the speculative add, then sit back and see where this situation goes. There's minimal risk here, obviously. We're talking about a guy who's pitching well enough to help your fantasy team even in a non-closing role.
Of course there are at least a dozen managers across baseball who wish they had Scioscia's bullpen problems. Frieri has been utterly dominant, Downs still hasn't allowed a run (earned or unearned), and Walden has given up just one hit over his last seven appearances. There are no bad choices in the LAA bullpen right now, so it's a tough situation to screw up.
Job Security Index
30. Washington — Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen
29. LA Angels — Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Jordan Walden
28. Miami — Heath Bell, Edward Mujica, Steve Cishek
27. NY Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell
26. Toronto — Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor
25. Chicago Cubs — Rafael Dolis, James Russell, Shawn Camp
24. Chicago White Sox — Addison Reed, Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton
23. Oakland — Brian Fuentes, Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour
22. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins
21. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales
20. NY Yankees — Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, Cory Wade
19. San Diego — Dale Thayer, Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson
18. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland
17. Seattle — Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Lucas Luetge
16. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez
15. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit
14. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta
13. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo
12. Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano
11. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon
10. LA Dodgers — Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom
9. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop
8. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz, Brad Lincoln
7. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando
6. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs
5. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle
4. Cincinnati — Aroldis Chapman, Jose Arredondo, Sean Marshall
3. Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez
2. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters
1. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo
• Since returning from the DL, KC's Greg Holland has allowed just one hit and one run in five appearances, striking out four. If a Broxton trade eventually goes down, Holland has the potential to sneak back into the saves discussion, even though the Royals' bullpen is full of closing options (Crow, Herrera, Mijares, et al).
• If you're looking for scoop on the Nats' ninth inning circus, I'll direct your attention to the most recent edition of Closing Time. Scott Pianowski has it covered. My priority add would be Sean Burnett, but everyone there is a placeholder for Drew Storen. He's due back in July (we hope).
• No right-hander in the Seattle bullpen has covered himself in glory this season, but, with Brandon League scuffling, we should note that Tom Wilhelmsen has pitched well in his last three appearances (2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 Ks). Of course Wilhelmsen has also had some painful moments this year. Lefty Lucas Luetge hasn't given up a run in his 10.1 innings of work, but he's issued seven walks and allowed seven hits. If you see a rock-solid closing candidate in the Mariners' bullpen, please let me know. Steve Delabar has allowed seven homers in 26.1 career innings, so he doesn't seem like the best possible option. Shawn Kelley? Charlie Furbush? What's Eddie Guardado up to these days? (And don't say "280 pounds," because that's just mean).
Seattle actually has a future closing candidate at Triple-A Tacoma at the moment: RHP Stephen Pryor. He's fanned 36 batters in 24.0 innings across two levels this season, posting a 0.75 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. File away that name for later use.
• Pay no attention to Sean Marshall's swan song save on Monday. Aroldis Chapman had pitched four of the previous five days, plus he was busy getting arrested. Chapman now owns the ninth for Cincinnati, and he happens to be pitching better than any reliever in baseball. He still has the triple-digit fastball, he hasn't yet allowed an earned run, his walk rate has dropped (2.8 BB/9), and he's striking out everyone in sight (39 Ks in 22.1 innings). Honestly, how many closers would you trade him for right now, today? Anyone? He could very well be No. 1 on the index above when we reconvene next Tuesday. I was tempted this week.