What are you doing to us Houston? Hector Rondon ascended to the closer role for a brief span from June 6 through June 10. He pitched thrice – all in save situations. The three save streak triggered a race to the waiver wire. Just when it looked like change was in the air, Ken Giles stepped out of the bullpen to protect a three-run lead on Tuesday. Notably, Rondon’s saves came with one or two run leads. Perhaps both pitchers will share the role? Rondon is seemingly more trusted at the moment with close margins. Even if Giles clings to the job for now, the Astros have shown an extreme willingness to push him aside at the smallest hint of trouble. One more detail to note - the Houston Chronicle said Rondon was unavailable yesterday. The why of it – either a minor injury or simple slow recovery – is unknown.
In other news, Zach Britton is back in action. His velocity is down two mph, yet he’s still inducing insane ground ball rates. Command was an issue in his first outing – he walked three batters. The Orioles hope he can shove Brad Brach aside in time for a trade deadline haul. With Britton, Brach, and Darren O’Day all on the trade block, it’s anyone’s guess who will close for the Orioles after July 31. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier are early favorites, but there’s nothing preventing the club from trading them too.
The last week belonged to Edwin Diaz, Joakim Soria, and Aroldis Chapman. They each saved four games apiece. Soria in particular was a surprise since I thought Nate Jones still had a tenuous grasp on the job as of last Wednesday. For the season, Diaz (25) has opened up a sizable lead over Craig Kimbrel (21), Brad Hand (20), and Wade Davis (20).
Now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Elite (2)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Guess what? These two guys are still fantastic. Kimbrel did allow a couple runs in a non-save situation.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (9)
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Brad Hand, San Diego Padres
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs
Last Thursday, Jansen allowed a solo home run to Francisco Cervelli. Jansen quickly raced to an 0-2 count via a couple nasty front door cutters. Cervelli appeared completely baffled by the pitch, diving out of the way of inside strikes. He baited Jansen into throwing it a third time, and hammered it deep to left. The Dodgers had a two-run lead. No harm, no foul for Jansen.
Diaz continues to roll unimpeded. He’s well on his way to 100 strikeouts. Doolittle also has an outside shot at a 100-strikeout season, and he’ll likely feature better ratios than Diaz.
Over the next couple months, we’re going to hear a lot of trade rumors revolving around Hand. After signing a long-term extension, the Padres won’t be highly motivated to deal him. However, they would be foolish to completely ignore overtures. They can credibly demand more than a top prospect as he compares favorably to pitchers like Chapman, Kimbrel, and Giles who were traded with less excess value on their contracts. Hand has also been rather abused over the last few seasons. Since 2016, no reliever has thrown more innings (it’s not even close). He’s also made the third most appearances over that span. The heavy workload will eventually catch up to him.
Davis last pitched a full week ago. He blew a save via a hit batter, single, and two wild pitches. It certainly wasn’t his cleanest appearance. Iglesias tossed a perfect three strikeout inning in the same game. The next day, working for the third game in a row, Iglesias took the loss via a walk, two hits, and one run allowed.
The Cubs skipped Morrow on Saturday, but it was just to get him an extra day of rest. Watch for similar skips in future weeks. It’s a possible sign he’s not entirely healthy. Minor injuries can sometimes manifest as slow recovery between outings. Steve Cishek could nab a save or two.
Tier 3: Maybe Good? (5)
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals
Allen’s struggles continued last Saturday. A two-run home run led to another blown save and a loss. Now is a good time to buy low in the hopes he’ll soon go on one of his patented hot streaks. He does this every year.
Herrera blew a save on Tuesday via solo home run. He’s still having a solid season. Trade talks should pick up in the next few weeks. Vazquez has worked sparingly since his latest blow up on May 31. He’s held opponents scoreless in 3.1 innings.
Norris is in a mini-slump. Over his last eight appearances, he’s allowed a 7.71 ERA due entirely to an unfortunate blend of hits and home runs. His 2.29 xFIP (an ERA estimator) over the span suggests he’s doing just fine. Beware, “fine” won’t cut it with Jordan Hicks mid-breakout. The fireballing righty has adjusted his slider. Since doing so, he’s recorded 13.15 K/9 and a 2.08 ERA. Hicks is clearly the closer of the future for St. Louis.
Tier 4: Not Bad (5)
Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins
Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels
Either Giles or Rondon would rank comfortably in the third tier. Since it’s not entirely clear who is the closer du jour – I would bet on Rondon even though Giles picked up the most recent save – they’re demoted to this tier. Giles owners should hang tight. He’ll eventually regain the job.
Kela took the loss on Sunday while trying to protect a tied game. It was his only appearance of the week. Rodney allowed a couple runs with a four run lead. Addison Reed is slumping so Rodney’s job looks quite safe. Parker is looking comfortable in the ninth inning. When will Mike Scioscia next meddle?
Tier 5: Unsettled (9)
Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins
Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles
Hunter Strickland, Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants
Anthony Swarzak, New York Mets
Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays
Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays
Dominguez is clearly far more talented than the typical fifth tier closer. He finally ran into some trouble over the last week. In four innings, he allowed three runs on five hits and a walk. He blew a save in the process. He also fired a no mess save on Tuesday night. We’re waiting to be sure the Phillies don’t turn to a different option.
I correctly warned readers to be on high alert with regard to the White Sox bullpen. I thought Jones still had a bit of leash left, but Soria is definitely back on top. He has five saves and no runs allowed in the last eight days. Expect this to remain an unstable bullpen. Jones and Bruce Rondon remain speculative alternatives.
Greene had a noisy blown save loss sandwiched around a couple clean innings. Joe Jimenez has outperformed him this season. Although he legitimately looks like a better ninth inning option than Greene, I only expect around a 3.25 ERA from Jimenez going forward (currently 2.30 ERA).
Brach was crushed by the Blue Jays last Thursday. Now Britton is breathing down his neck. Speaking of neck breathing, Strickland may soon give way to Melancon. The former closer is working with reduced velocity since returning from the disabled list. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Swarzak recently returned from the disabled list and jumped straight into the closer role while Jeurys Familia recovers from a minor injury. Swarzak’s velocity is down one mph, and he allowed a home run in a loss on Saturday.
Here’s the ever-mutating formula in Tampa Bay. Romo is the closer unless he starts or is needed earlier in the game or if there are multiple lefties due up in the ninth inning. In the latter scenario, Alvarado works the ninth. If Romo was used earlier and it’s not an Alvarado situation, then Chaz Roe jumps to the top chair. See, that’s not so confusing…
Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (elbow – out for season)
***Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (administrative leave)
Jeurys Familia, New York Mets (shoulder)
Familia joins the disabled list with a minor shoulder injury. He’s already out on a rehab assignment. Britton and O’Day rejoined the Orioles.
Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Greg Holland, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
Alex Colome, Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays
Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Soria and Jones are flipping back and forth. Neris may still share the ninth inning. Giles is on the cusp of re-joining this list too.
The Steals Department
In a big “win” for the Steals Department, Craig Gentry came out of nowhere to swipe three bases. He was recommended for his matchup against Russell Martin. Gentry tied for the weekly lead with Leonys Martin, Rajai Davis, Starling Marte, and Javier Baez. For the season, Ender Inciarte (20 SB) squeezed past Dee Gordon (19 SB). It’s probably a temporary flip in the standings. Trea Turner lurks with 18 steals and a strong upcoming matchup.
The easiest catchers to pick upon include Robinson Chirinos, Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Flowers, Devin Mesoraco, and Russell Martin.
The Rockies and Royals are the next teams to exploit Chirinos. Trevor Story, Ian Desmond, and Gerardo Parra are the most likely to run. While Story isn’t readily accessible, most fantasy owners can probably grab Desmond or Parra. The Royals are shockingly slow-footed outside of Whit Merrifield. Still, you can try your luck with Jorge Soler, Alcides Escobar, or Abraham Almonte. You have to really want a steal to start Escobar or Almonte – kind of like Gentry last week.
Next up for the Braves are the Padres and Blue Jays. This is great news for Travis Jankowski, Manuel Margot, and Freddy Galvis. Cory Spangenberg and Matt Szczur will also run when they’re in the lineup. Jose Pirela isn’t a zero on the base paths or at the plate. Toronto’s options are restricted to Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernandez.
The Mets have a couple four game series against the Diamondback and Rockies on the agenda. Arizona has a number of freely available thieves like Jarrod Dyson, Chris Owings, and Ketel Marte. Later in the week, stick with those shares of Desmond and Parra. Perhaps play them based on handedness.
The Nationals and Braves are on the docket for Toronto. While you don’t have access to Trea Turner, Michael Turner may be available due to a roster crunch. In very shallow leagues, Adam Eaton may be lying around forgotten. Brian Goodwin, unfortunately, is currently buried on the depth chart. The Nationals have to juggle Taylor, Eaton, Bryce Harper, and Obi Juan Soto in their outfield. For the Braves, a slump has made Ender Inciarte available in trades. This is a good week to inquire.