As we near the one-third point in what has been an especially defiant season, the closer scene may finally be reaching a state of order. It's just a disorderly sort of order. Here's what we do know right now:
We know by now that: The Rays' ninth-inning situation is messy by design. It'll be Jose Alvarado some days and Diego Castillo other days, with Emilio Pagan also making the occasional appearance. They've been the most committed to the committee, and there's no reason to think it'll change.
We know by now that: Mychal Givens is the only real hope in an Orioles' bullpen that won't have enough save chances to divide between multiple arms, so when he falters, as happened in epic fashion over the past week, there isn't much point in pursuing anyone else.
We know by now that: Hector Neris is the preferred option for saves in Philadelphia, which hasn't been as beholden to a committee as expected, that Steve Cishek has the strongest claim for the Cubs, at least until Pedro Strop returns, and that anyone the Royals try in the role is sure to blow it, as Ian Kennedy did Sunday. It's anybody's guess where they turn next, to the extent anyone cares to make that guess.
So where do the questions remain? How many bullpens still have something to sort out? I count six, highlighted by a return to form for one of the game's most dominant closers a year ago.
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.
Chris Martin only got one save chance while Shawn Kelley was sidelined by an infection, so the Rangers went right back to Kelley once he came off the IL, giving him three save chances in four days. Then came the blown save Saturday. It wasn't particularly ugly — he allowed two runs on three hits — but it was a reminder that he's not the lockdown closer Jose Leclerc could be and was presumed to be coming into the season.
With the help of Edinson Volquez, Leclerc may have found a fix for his early-season struggles, according to MLB.com. By keeping his left shoulder closed, he's driving straight toward the plate instead of pulling off to the left, and the result has been 6 1/3 consecutive hitless innings with 14 strikeouts to just one walk. It's only a matter of time before he's back to closing games, and that time draws near.
When Ryan Brasier appeared to lose his grip on the role with a few shaky outings at the start of May, the hope was that manager Alex Cora would begin to favor his best reliever, Matt Barnes, in the ninth inning. Instead, Cora has sold out even harder for the committee, expanding it from two men to at least four. Marcus Walden got the save Sunday with Barnes working the eighth inning — a role he has filled in three of his past four appearances — and the Red Sox's previous save went to Brandon Workman a week earlier. Heath Hembree blew a save in between, so he may also deserve a mention here.
The truth is none of them have prohibitive numbers — Walden's especially are closer-caliber — so attempting to corner the preferred option for saves here may be as futile as it is for the Rays. If nothing else, though, Barnes looks like a good bet for dominant ratios.
Hansel Robles did finally blow a save Saturday, inflating his ERA to near 4.00, which will hopefully compel manager Brad Ausmus to give Ty Buttrey the next chance. Buttrey is , boasting a 1.37 ERA that's supported by a 1.96 FIP, but because Ausmus has often asked the right-hander to record more than three outs at a time, he may not be comfortable confining Buttrey to the ninth inning, especially since Robles has so far failed him only once. Talent usually wins out in these situations, but with the entire league's sensibilities changing regarding the ninth inning, what does "usually" even mean anymore? For what it's worth, Justin Anderson got the save Sunday with both Robles and Buttrey in need of a day off.
Remember Sean Newcomb, who looked like the leader of the Braves' rebuilt starting rotation at this time a year ago? He recorded a save on May 20, getting the nod with two left-handed hitters due up in the ninth inning. Luke Jackson, who had emerged as the favorite for saves prior to that point, got a chance the next day and blew it in particularly embarrassing fashion, allowing three earned runs on four hits. Of course, Newcomb hasn't had a clean inning since while Jackson was back to preserve a one-run lead in the 10th inning of Sunday's game. Clearly, though, manager Brian Snitker is less than sold on a one-man role, at least as his personnel currently stands.
Maybe Craig Kimbrel would change things ...
Scott Oberg blew his first chance to a secure a save in Wade Davis' absence Sunday, though to be fair, he was brought in to clean up another pitcher's mess in the eighth inning. He's still the most likely fill-in while Davis recovers from a strained oblique — one thought to be mild, as strained obliques go. Despite his low ERA, Oberg may not be enough of a bat-misser or strike-thrower for the role, which could force the Rockies to try someone like veteran Bryan Shaw if Davis' absence lasts more than a couple weeks. Other than Davis, the odds of anyone in this bullpen making a significant Fantasy contribution this season are long.
Anthony Swarzak is gone now, traded to the Braves in a deal without any winners, which should theoretically bring clarity to a murky situation. Roenis Elias is probably the guy, though it's hard to say for sure since the Mariners haven't had anyone record a save in two weeks. It also doesn't help that the veteran left-hander has allowed at least one run in seven of his past 12 appearances. The Mariners have taken so long to settle on any one reliever that Hunter Strickland, the intended closer at the start of the year, may just claim the role for himself again when he returns from a strained lat in a couple weeks, which seemed unfathomable when he first suffered the injury in March.