The back end of the Cardinals bullpen has been one of the trickiest to figure out this season. Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos have split saves almost 50/50, and yet all along, manager Oliver Marmol has seemed to have more trust in Helsley, to the point of not always holding him back for save chances, which has often made him unavailable when they do arise.
For now at least, it's no longer a concern. Helsley is on the IL with forearm tightness, and while tests have revealed no strain, it's nonetheless likely that he's out for a few weeks. No one else in the Cardinals bullpen would seem to cut out for closing. Surely, then, the majority of the save chances will go to Gallegos in the near future, and he's currently available in more than half of CBS Sports leagues.
The Marlins present another clear-cut scenario in which the front-runner remains widely available. Left-hander A.J. Puk returned from the IL on June 7, and all three of his appearances since then have come in the ninth inning, including once for a save. We have every reason to believe, then, that he's the closer again, with Dylan Floro sliding back into setup duties.
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Now, for 10 closer scenarios that aren't so clear-cut.
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
No sooner did Liam Hendriks get his first save following his inspiring return from lymphoma than he wound up right back on the IL, this time with elbow inflammation. It may be a more familiar health scare to the baseball world, but it's a scare nonetheless and renews doubts about the 34-year-old's chances of making a substantive Fantasy impact this year. He remains the top choice to roster from the White Sox bullpen, with more testing still to come, but you'll want to hold tight to Kendall Graveman, who had really settled into the role in the weeks leading up to Hendriks' return.
Left-hander Jose Alvarado has bonkers numbers this year and seemed to be trending toward the closer gig when his elbow began bothering him in early May. Unfortunately for him, Craig Kimbrel, an erstwhile closer with Hall of Fame credentials, really stepped up in his absence, compiling a 2.08 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and 15.2 K/9 in 13 appearances. Kimbrel notched six saves during that time and is responsible for each of the Phillies' last five. Alvarado has been back for two appearances, and fittingly, both came in the eighth inning, with Kimbrel following in the ninth. The Phillies' official stance is that no one is the closer and anyone could be called in at any time, but we can all see where this is going.
So much for Michael King being anointed to the closer role. Instead, manager Aaron Boone futzed around with left-hander Wandy Peralta for about a week before ultimately going back to where he started with Clay Holmes, who has handled four of the team's past five saves. It helps that Holmes has pitched better, allowing just one earned run in his past 18 appearances, but Boone's quick about-face would suggest that he never lost faith in him in the first place and simply wanted to take the pressure off him for a bit. In any case, you should be treating Holmes as if he's genuinely the Yankees closer again.
Can't Torey Lovullo entrust someone with the ninth inning for more than just a couple weeks? Scott McGough bombed right from the outset, which led to Andrew Chafin collecting a few saves before running into trouble of his own. Then it was Miguel Castro's turn to let his manager down, collecting five saves in about a three-week span before getting bludgeoned in his last opportunity June 4. The Diamondbacks' lone save chance since then went to -- would you believe it? -- McGough, who recorded the final two outs Sunday after Chafin put two men on base ahead of him.
And actually, McGough has been near untouchable since his early-season disaster, compiling a 0.50 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 11.5 K/9 over his last 14 appearances. I'm skeptical he's all of a sudden the closer now, but in leagues where saves are scarce, you shouldn't discount the possibility.
What we can say for sure is that Pierce Johnson is out of the closer role for the Rockies. Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post confirmed as much on Twitter recently. What we can't say is who's in line for save chances instead. I think the way manager Bud Black deployed his bullpen the very day of that report was rather telling, with Daniel Bard working the seventh, Johnson the eighth and Justin Lawrence the ninth, but since the Rockies were trailing by one in that game, it wasn't a conventional save scenario.
Lawrence also worked the ninth inning in a tie game the very next day, Sunday, which presumably made him unavailable for Monday's game. This led to Bard working the ninth in a game that ultimately went to extra innings. Bard was the team's closer last year and likely still would be if not for his bout with anxiety earlier this year, but Lawrence has been Black's most trusted reliever so far. We'll see.
Yes, Peter Fairbanks is due back soon from yet another IL stint, this time for a hip injury that turned out to be not as serious as initially feared. At this point, though, I'd just as soon the Rays stick with Jason Adam, who's certainly no slouch in the role and has proven capable of staying upright. It doesn't mean they will, but they've been unusually predictable late in games this year, leaning primarily on Fairbanks when he's been healthy and primarily on Adam when he hasn't. So maybe I'm totally vibing with manager Kevin Cash now and can sense that he wouldn't want to disrupt things by reintroducing Fairbanks to the closer mix. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking.
It's hard to get a read on what the Nationals are doing with the back end of the bullpen, partly because they're a last-place team. My guess is that they view Kyle Finnegan as more of a fireman type than a true closer, which means occasionally bringing him into games before the ninth inning. But it seems to be happening more and more lately, and almost without exception, Hunter Harvey is the one coming in after him. Perhaps the most curious aspect of this whole arrangement is that Finnegan's numbers are fairly terrible, certainly not what you'd expect from a fireman type, and so no one would blame manager Dave Martinez if he replaced Finnegan with Harvey outright. But it's a situation that's been slow to develop so far.
I'm going to stick with Evan Phillips as the preferred choice for Fantasy even though he hasn't gotten a save since May 12. It's not as bad as it sounds. The Dodgers as a team have had only three save chances since then, and two of those went to left-hander Caleb Ferguson, whose numbers would suggest he's clearly not the answer.
Comparing Phillips to Brusdar Graterol, who is a more legitimate threat, six of Graterol's last eight appearances have come in the seventh inning while 15 of Phillips' last 16 have come in the eighth or later. Phillips, therefore, would appear to be the higher-leverage of the two, which would theoretically put him in line for more saves. But clearly, he's not the true closer we'd like him to be. Maybe Daniel Hudson, who recently began a rehab assignment, can come back from a torn ACL to claim that role, though it's something of a long shot.
Alex Lange was lights-out for the first two months, emerging as a standout Fantasy closer. But his control was still suspect and seems to have come back to bite him in his last three appearances, elevating his ERA from 1.11 to 3.42. In fact, in his latest appearance, manager A.J. Hinch actually had Lange work parts of the seventh and eighth innings, marking the first time that he exited prior to the ninth inning since April 19. So does that mean Hinch is losing faith in Lange? Well, the only viable alternative, Jason Foley, followed Lange in that seventh- and eighth-inning appearance Sunday and allowed four earned runs in the ninth, blowing the save. Hinch may be making it more difficult than it needs to be, but in the end, Lange still seems like the one to have here.
All right, I'm off the Mark Leiter bandwagon. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm on the Adbert Alzolay bandwagon, but he is responsible for two of the Cubs' last three saves, each time coming in after Leiter. Both relievers have terrific numbers this year and would probably make for fine closers if manager David Ross would just stick with one. Alzolay seems to be the leaning right now, but the usage has been so inconsistent and the chances so far between that I wouldn't invest heavily in either.