So have five days of game action cleared up the closer picture at all? If the answer was yes, you wouldn't be here. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's only gotten murkier.
Because it's an ever-changing landscape, I'll be checking in almost weekly with this Bullpen Report, sizing up the 10 closer scenarios most in flux.
Well ... normally, it'll be 10. For this first edition, things being as messy as they are, I could only whittle it down to 13. And there are still other teams facing uncertainty in the ninth. My only reason for excluding them is that we have no more information now than when the season began.
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).
Will Smith got the Rangers' first save Sunday, preserving a one-run lead against the Phillies, and we have every reason to believe that Jose Leclerc, who hadn't worked since Thursday, was also available. So why do I put Leclerc ahead in the pecking order? It's for the flimsiest of reasons, and if I could put them neck-and-neck, I would. Leclerc entered the year as the presumed favorite and worked the ninth with a four-run lead on Opening Day. I suspect Smith's save Sunday was more of a matchups situation. The Phillies had one left-handed hitter (Bryson Stott) due up and another (Darick Hall) almost certain to pinch hit for Cristian Pache. The Rangers' next save chance should tell us more.
Rafael Montero and Hector Neris have each already gotten a save before Ryan Pressly has. That's largely because Pressly was feeling "under the weather" after his Opening Day appearance, in which he took the loss, and it's fair to wonder what exactly he's dealing with. He was seen shaking his arm in that first appearance, and then when he returned to the mound Monday (working a scoreless inning), he threw just one fastball, which measured 2 mph lower than normal. Maybe this blows over and Pressly goes on to have the type of season we all expected from him, but it's worth knowing who's next in line in case an IL stint becomes necessary.
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Scott McGough's impressive spring seemed to put him in the driver's seat for the role he held in Japan the past two years, but it was actually left-hander Andrew Chafin who handled the team's first save chance Friday after McGough struggled to secure just one out in the eighth, costing him a chance at a four-out save. He did come back with a two-out save two days later, but then when faced with a more conventional save chance Monday, he allowed back-to-back homers to blow the save and take the loss. So it's all up in the air now. Presumably, the Diamondbacks wouldn't want to confine their one high-leverage lefty, Chafin, to the closer role, which makes Miguel Castro a dark horse play if they indeed turn the page on McGough.
Jhoan Duran getting the save on Opening Day, with Jorge Lopez working the seventh, was a great first sign. But then Lopez got the save the next day, with Duran being nowhere to be found. At the time, manager Rocco Baldelli said Duran was unavailable because he had slept "funny" the night before, and it's notable that Lopez was back to working the eighth inning Sunday (with Emilio Pagan working the ninth in a non-save situation). Taking everything into account, it still seems like Duran is the clear front-runner here, but Baldelli has never been one to embrace traditional bullpen roles.
"Aha!" said every Fantasy Baseball analyst in joyful chorus when Andres Munoz came in to close out a three-run lead in the opener, with Paul Sewald working the eighth. Many had presumed, given the 24-year-old's talent, that there would be a changing of the guard eventually, but already? So soon? Well, not so fast. A mere three days later, it was Munoz working the eighth and Sewald the ninth. No one got a save in that one because the game went to extra innings, but the inverted usage suggests that manager Scott Servais will continue to keep things flexible in the late innings, putting Munoz and Sewald on near equal footing in Fantasy.
Just going by usage, Reynaldo Lopez is the clear favorite for saves in this bullpen right now. He's worked the ninth inning twice (once for a save, once not), with Kendall Graveman setting up for him both times. The only problem is he didn't make it through either appearance unscathed, allowing three earned runs between them. One of Graveman's appearances wasn't so hot either, which likely gives Lopez some leash, but he's far from a sure thing back there.
He may not be long for the role regardless with Liam Hendriks announcing Monday that he's begun his last round of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There's growing optimism that he could rejoin the White Sox bullpen at some point in the first half.
Manager Buck Showalter made it sound like the Mets would go with a committee in Edwin Diaz's absence, and look, that's still how things could ultimately play out. But so far, all signs point to David Robertson being the guy. Not only does he have the team's only save so far, recording it on Opening Day, but he also handled the ninth inning, with Adam Ottavino working the eighth, in a four-run game Saturday. It wouldn't take much of a slip-up for Robertson to lose whatever good will he's gathered for himself so far, but it would be hard to claim he and Ottavino are on equal footing right now.
The Rockies had no obvious replacement for Daniel Bard, who's sidelined by a case of the yips, but Pierce Johnson handled the first save chance in his absence Friday and, well, why not him? The way the Rockies have handled their bullpen so far would suggest no one else is even in the running. Left-hander Brad Hand, who has the most closing experience but is a shell of his former self, set up for Johnson on Friday, which would presumably put him next in line. Johnson has always had good strikeout numbers, but it remains to be seen how his stuff will play in the thin air of Coors Field. It's also possible Bard's absence is a short one, but there's no clear timetable for this sort of thing.
Rookie manager Skip Schumaker has certainly paid lip service to a closer committee, but perhaps more telling is that the only time he's used A.J. Puk, statistically the team's best reliever, was to close out a one-run lead Friday. Dylan Floro, the team's most accomplished and likely second-best reliever, worked the eighth in what to this point remains his only appearance. It's almost like Schumaker had them queued up for that occasion and is saving them for the next such occasion, which is, you know, how bullpen roles work. More information is needed, but the usage seems pretty conventional so far.
In between shoulder injuries, Dany Jimenez led the Athletics with 11 saves last year, so perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to see him called in for the first save chance Thursday. Newcomer Trevor May worked the eighth inning of that contest while Domingo Acevedo handled the seventh, which seemed to establish a pecking order. Acevedo and May both also saw action in a close game Monday, but Jimenez didn't, presumably because no save chance presented itself. The hang-up for me is that Jimenez's average fastball velocity in Thursday's appearance was down nearly 3 mph from a year ago. Granted, his slider is his most-used pitch, but even it was down 1.3 mph.
The Phillies' 0-4 start has denied us any sort of insight into their closer situation, so the best I can offer is that, between Craig Kimbrel and Seranthony Dominguez, it was Dominguez who came in first during a lopsided loss Friday. He failed to record an out in the seventh inning. Kimbrel, meanwhile, registered only one out in the eighth. They were both terrible in an uncompetitive scenario, but to the extent the Phillies were tipping their hand, again, they brought in Dominguez first. Perhaps more telling is that in another lopsided loss Monday, Dominguez pitched and Kimbrel didn't. They don't know if they'll be faced with a save chance Tuesday, but Kimbrel will be the one rested for it if they are.
The Angels still haven't needed to make use of a closer this year, but it looked like they would for most of Monday's game. They entered the sixth leading by one and didn't extend the lead to four until the ninth inning. Who had they lined up to close out the game? Carlos Estevez, who entered spring training as the favorite for the role but struggled so mightily that it seemed like the Angels might go another direction. Apparently not. Even more convincing is that Estevez's appearance Monday followed a procession of Ryan Tepera, Matt Moore, Jimmy Herget and Jose Quijada -- basically all the other candidates for the role. Everyone was rested, and the Angels deliberately reserved Estevez for the ninth.
Seeing as Brad Boxberger worked the eighth inning and Michael Fulmer the ninth in a four-run victory on Opening Day, I guess it's still reasonable to presume Fulmer is the lead dog here. But what I'm actually expecting is pandemonium, with the Cubs bullpen taking up permanent residence in this article all year. In their very next game Saturday, the Cubs called on Fulmer with one out in the seventh inning, which is not something a team does with its closer. More likely, the Cubs view him as the top reliever in a bullpen without roles, so it shouldn't surprise anyone if Boxberger's save chances are just as frequent.