Closing out the Season

We're a month past the All-Star break and the picture is becoming increasingly clear who's in and who's out of the races, not only in the divisional races, but in fantasy leagues as well.  Saves is one of the easiest categories to move up in, so here are a few dark horses who could pay off big down the stretch.

It may come as a surprise, but Jorge Julio is leading the majors in saves since the All-Star break.  The O's schedule gets much tougher over the last month and a half of the season, so his rate will probably decline.  However, they are getting fairly consistent starting pitching lately and their offense is clicking so don't expect the save opportunities to dry up completely.  He's still a good bet down the stretch.

Another decent bet is Jesus Colome.  Since the break, Lance Carter has posted an ERA of 9.35.  Colome has been sterling over that same period: 13 innings pitched, 2.77 ERA, 14 Ks.  More impressively, he's allowed just 8 hits and 2 walks.  Unless Carter suddenly turns his performance around, Colome should start getting more opportunities to close very soon.

In Detroit, Chris Mears' hold on the closer job is tenuous.  Sure, he's 5-for-5 in save opportunities, but he's also been smacked around his last several outings, pushing his post All-Star break ERA to 8.44.  The Tigers don't get too many opportunities to win close games so it's doubtful that manager Alan Trammel will stick with such a high risk option, especially if he has an alternative: Danny Patterson.  Patterson is finally fully recovered from arm surgery and has been pitching lights out since the break: 9.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 8 Ks.  Look for him to start getting the closing nod immediately.

Any hopes that Jeff Zimmerman will regain the closing job in Texas should be squelched right now.  Francisco Cordero is doing an excellent job and should be in no danger of losing even a small portion of the role.  Since the break, he's pitched 10.2 innings, struck out 14 and posted an ERA of 0.84.

OK, who would you choose: Pitcher A, who's thrown 12.2 innings, allowed 13 baserunners, struck out 12 and posted an ERA of 1.42, or Pitcher B, who's thrown 10 innings, allowed 19 baserunners, struck out 11 and posted an ERA of 6.30?  Well, Jerry Manuel believes that both of these guys should get an equal opportunity to close, which may be why so many are picking the White Sox to tumble down the stretch.  If it were me, there's no question that Pitcher A (Damaso Marte) would be my closer and Pitcher B (Tom Gordon) would fight over a set-up job.

(08/15/03 update: one last bullpen situation that I held off on was Toronto, in part because I did not want to drive up the price of one of the candidate's in one of my leagues before I acquired him.  Manager Carlos Tosca has removed Cliff Politte from the job, leaving Aquilino Lopez and Trever Miller as the last remaining candidates.  Although Lopez has pitched very well, I expect that Miller will eventually get the nod.  Both pitchers have identical ERAs since the break, but Miller has allowed half as many hits.  However, Tosca may elect to go with Lopez because he's the right-hander and Miller may be relegated to getting the tough lefties out.  Both pitchers should get at least a half a dozen save opportunities the rest of the way.)

In the NL, Danny Kolb has solidified his hold on the closer's job in Milwaukee.  In 10 innings since the break, he's struck out 9 and posted an ERA of 0.90.   Mike DeJean has pitched better since being moved down in the bullpen, but with Kolb pitching so well, his days as the closer in Milwaukee are over.

Braden Looper still has the job in Florida, and he may yet hold onto it.  He has struck out 11 in 11.2 innings since the break, but his 5.40 ERA leaves some room for doubt.  The man they traded for to set him up has had no such struggles.  Ugueth Urbina has pitched the same number of innings, struck out 12 and posted an ERA of 0.77.  Looper hasn't blown any saves since Urbina arrived, but with the Marlins in the hunt for the wild card, a quick switch could be in the offing if he continues to struggle.

There's been a lot of speculation that Trevor Hoffman will start closing again in San Diego when he returns in September.  However, the Padres may bring him along slowly just to be sure he's completely healed from his surgery.  And with Rod Beck pitching as well as he has - 9 IP, 8 Ks, 1.00 ERA, no blown saves - there seems little reason to push Hoffman.  He will get a few save opportunities, but it might not be until the last couple of weeks.

How dominating is Eric Gagne?  Since the break: 11.2 innings, 2 hits and 2 walks allowed with 20 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA.

I don't know who will end up closing in Pittsburgh, but I'm pretty sure that Mike Lincoln - 11 innings, 19 baserunners, just 6 Ks and an ERA of 5.73 - isn't the long term answer.  Fortunately for him, there aren't any serious challengers so far, so he's still the best bet to close for them the rest of the season