Like a good NFL quarterback battle, there’s always someone looking over the opening day closer’s shoulder in Major League Baseball. The young 2013 season has already seen a few teams make a switch at the position due to a lack of talent, while other clubs have been hindered by injuries to their late-inning men. Organizations look at their closing situations through a microscope and for a lot of teams, the leash isn’t long to keep the job. No other group of squads knows those facts as well as the five members of the National League Central.
The closer carousel is at full spin for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Before the season, it didn’t seem like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh had solidified the role with one clear option, either. There’s no question, just one month into the season, there’s been way too many late-inning blow ups from teams in the N.L. Central. In fact, the division leads the majors in blown saves by four with a total of 13. Furthermore, four closers in the National League have two blown saves (the American League has none) and of the four, three of them pitch for N.L. Central teams.
The solution for such a problem could be swapping the bad for the unproven or pitch the hot hands in the ninth. But the Central’s potential replacements for its troubled closers haven’t exactly proven themselves. Of the five teams, three squads have put at least two different hurlers in save situations and the result was a blown save. At the end of the day, my guess is that baseball fans will be seeing a lot of different players in the ninth inning for N.L. Central teams. Only the Cincinnati Reds seem like they have a permanent solution for the ninth inning in Aroldis Chapman. Perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates do too with Jason Grilli, but as for the rest of the bunch, there is still a huge question mark looming over the heads of late relievers in their bullpens. Here’s a closer look and ranking (from worst to best) of each team’s current closer situation:
5. Chicago Cubs, tied for last place in MLB blown saves
• The Problem: The Cubs have the company of the St. Louis Cardinals in the blown saves department. The only difference is Chicago has used four players in save opportunities who ultimately blew the opportunity. Those pitchers are the likes of opening-day closer Carlos Marmol, MLB rookie Kyuji Fujikawa and veterans Shawn Camp and Michael Bowden. So what’s the problems with each of those players? Marmol has always been shaky and I was actually shocked he got the nod as Chicago’s opening day starter. Fujikawa has never seen MLB hitters before this year. And when it comes to Camp and Bowden, they’re simply just not closers. • The Solution: What I don’t understand is why the Cubs won’t give the big lefty James Russell a shot. He is clearly the best option out of Chicago’s bullpen right now, leading the teams relievers with a 0.00 ERA in just under five innings of work. Russell is clearly underused, which is a head scratcher because he was effective as the team’s temporary closer last year when he picked up a couple of saves and even recorded a 7-1 record as a late-inning reliever. (more…)
Chapman dazzled baseball fans when he hit 103 MPH on the gun during his first outing on American soil. It seemed as if the 24-year-old Cuban Missile was destined for greatness. But injury and uncertainty plagued the young lefty early in his career. Although he tossed at speeds that are pretty much unheard of (including a 105 mile per hour pitch, which would be a Major League record), Chapman’s control was a question mark. Many predicted he would be a dominant starter, yet he couldn’t prove it to his own manager, Dusty Baker. And maybe Baker was right after he witnessed his 6-foot-4 hurler walk a disappointing 41 hitters in 50 innings last year.
But Baker better be second guessing what Chapman can do for his club in 2012. After losing out on a back-end of the rotation job to the formerly highly-touted prospect Homer Bailey in Spring Training because of control issues, Baker elected to throw Chapman back into the bullpen. The manager’s decision only proved to be a wake up call for the velocity-driven youngster.