Closer Encounters: The Home Stretch

Closer Encounters: The Home Stretch

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

There are three weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball regular season and there is still work to be done in the saves category. Whether you've dominated the category all season with stud closers like Emmanuel Clase or Edwin Diaz, banked plenty of saves early on with Josh Hader or Taylor Rogers before their roles changed or have needed to grind the waiver wire with pickups like Rafael Montero, Ian Kennedy and Nick Martinez, my hope is that this column has served you well this season.

If you find yourself in a position where you can still gain ground in your league or overall standings with some extra saves, let's dive in further to see what can be done over these last few weeks to help you achieve those gains.

Scenarios to Avoid

First, some closing situations to avoid over these final weeks. Some are pretty obvious, but quantifying just how bad these teams have been recently may force you to revisit your thought process on some of the save specs you may be currently rostering, or are considering rostering for the home stretch.

Pirates - Pittsburgh has won only nine of its last 35 games and has tallied just three saves during that stretch. With Pirates closer David Bednar (back) out of action for the last month and a half, all three saves went to different relievers: Eric Stout, Chase De Jong and, most recently, Wil Crowe. Bednar began a rehab assignment Tuesday and

There are three weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball regular season and there is still work to be done in the saves category. Whether you've dominated the category all season with stud closers like Emmanuel Clase or Edwin Diaz, banked plenty of saves early on with Josh Hader or Taylor Rogers before their roles changed or have needed to grind the waiver wire with pickups like Rafael Montero, Ian Kennedy and Nick Martinez, my hope is that this column has served you well this season.

If you find yourself in a position where you can still gain ground in your league or overall standings with some extra saves, let's dive in further to see what can be done over these last few weeks to help you achieve those gains.

Scenarios to Avoid

First, some closing situations to avoid over these final weeks. Some are pretty obvious, but quantifying just how bad these teams have been recently may force you to revisit your thought process on some of the save specs you may be currently rostering, or are considering rostering for the home stretch.

Pirates - Pittsburgh has won only nine of its last 35 games and has tallied just three saves during that stretch. With Pirates closer David Bednar (back) out of action for the last month and a half, all three saves went to different relievers: Eric Stout, Chase De Jong and, most recently, Wil Crowe. Bednar began a rehab assignment Tuesday and it's currently unclear how long he'll stay in the minors before returning. Even if Bednar returns next week, save chances are likely to be few and far between, as 12 of Pittsburgh's last 22 games are against the Mets, Yankees and Cardinals. 

Athletics - Oakland hasn't recorded a save since A.J. Puk last tallied one back on August 28. They're just 2-8 in September and 13 of their 21 remaining games come against the Astros, Mariners and Mets. After trading Lou Trivino to the Yankees, Oakland recently lost two of their most trusted late-inning relievers to injury. Dany Jimenez (shoulder) has a team-high 11 saves but is out for the remainder of the season, while Zach Jackson leads the American League and ranks second overall in the holds category with 26 but is currently on the shelf with a strained shoulder. That leaves Puk and Domingo Acevedo to handle late-inning duties, and neither has been particularly sharp recently. Since August 1, Puk has a 6.92 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over 13 innings, while Acevedo sports a 4.40 ERA over his last 14.1 frames. If you must speculate from Oakland's bullpen due to lack of available options, consider Joel Payamps, who was recently designated for assignment by Kansas City but has a 1.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over the last month, spanning 15.1 innings.

Rangers - Jose Leclerc has been a popular pickup of late after recording Texas' last four saves. Unfortunately, the Rangers have only won four games since August 26. They're just 3-9 in September and recently endured a nine-game losing streak. Not to mention, 13 of their final 21 games are against current playoff teams including the Rays, Guardians, Mariners and Yankees. While Leclerc has been solid and you could do a lot worse, he also sports a 10 percent walk rate, while his 26.8 percent strikeout rate is his lowest since 2016. Joe Barlow (blister) recently resumed mound work and could also muddy the waters in Texas if he returns before the end of the season.

Marlins - Tanner Scott has been one of the best waiver-wire additions for saves in 2022, but now may be the time to cut bait and look elsewhere if you haven't done so already. Scott has 19 saves on the season but hasn't recorded one since August 23, and his last five appearances have come in the eighth inning or earlier. Dylan Floro appears to be Don Mattingly's preferred option for saves at the moment, but Miami hasn't been playing competitive ball. They're 15-35 in the second half and just 3-8 in September after recently suffering their own nine-game skid. Plus, the Marlins close out their season with nine straight games against the Mets, Brewers and Braves.

Royals - Scott Barlow has been excellent in 2022, with solid ratios and a career-high 21 saves in 24 chances for Kansas City. Unfortunately, he only has two saves and one win to show for his efforts over the past three weeks. If you expand that out further, he only has five saves since the All-Star Game. On the plus side, he hasn't been hurting you, as his ratios have been good, but his strikeout rate is down nearly 4.5 percent from last year and he's been bitten by the long ball, with nine home runs allowed this season (1.2 HR/9). Of Kansas City's 21 remaining games this year, 15 are against teams fighting for a playoff spot, including the Twins, Mariners and Guardians. The Royals have yet to record a winning month this season and it's unlikely they break that streak considering their remaining schedule. On the season, they're just 4-9 against Minnesota, 5-8 against Cleveland and 0-3 against Seattle.

Worth Strong Consideration

Raisel Iglesias, Braves - Kenley Jansen ranks second in the league with 33 saves through mid-September, but he's blown three of his last seven chances and has seen his ERA rise from 3.04 to 3.91 thanks to his seven earned runs — including three home runs — over his last 5.2 innings. The newly acquired Iglesias hasn't allowed a run in any of his last 14 appearances, spanning 12.2 innings. Signed through 2025, he's likely to assume Atlanta's closer role in 2023, but perhaps he gets the job sooner if Jansen continues to struggle over his next few outings, especially with important series against the Phillies and Mets coming up.

Jhoan Duran, Twins - Minnesota has fallen flat in September, going just 2-8 this month against the White Sox, Yankees and Guardians. Losing three straight against Cleveland might have been the nail in the coffin for this season, but if they wish to keep their already slim playoff hopes alive, they might want to make a change in the ninth inning before it's too late. Jorge Lopez has struggled since the Twins acquired him from Baltimore, sporting a 4.40 ERA and 1.81 WHIP with nine free passes allowed in 14.1 innings. Meanwhile, Duran has been dominant since the trade, firing 16.2 innings with only one earned run allowed and 24 strikeouts. On the season, the rookie right-hander has six saves to go along with a 1.72 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 33.9 percent strikeout rate. His 28.1 percent K-BB rate ranks ninth among qualified relievers, while his 4.63 WPA (Win Probability Added) ranks first. If Andres Munoz, James Karinchak and Evan Phillips are already rostered in your league, consider Duran (again) for ratio support, strikeouts and possibly saves if Rocco Baldelli does what he probably should have done weeks ago.

Andres Munoz, Mariners - I'll highlight Munoz for what feels like the tenth time this season, partly because I'm shocked Seattle hasn't fully turned over their closer role to him yet. Perhaps speaking it into existence over and over again will finally make it come to fruition? In all seriousness, Munoz signed a four-year, $7.5 million contract with the Mariners last November, which bought out his remaining arbitration years. Seattle has no financial incentive to limit his ninth-inning exposure, so what are they waiting for? For one, Paul Sewald has been excellent this season, sporting a 0.73 WHIP over 57.1 innings while recording 19 of Seattle's 37 saves. His 30.6 percent strikeout rate is impressive, but Munoz's nearly 39.5 percent strikeout rate and 32.7 percent K-BB rate rank second among qualified relievers, trailing only Edwin Diaz in both categories. There were workload concerns with Munoz entering this year after he missed all of 2020 and the majority of the 2021 season, but he's managed a career-high 57.2 innings through mid-September, all while maintaining a walk rate under seven percent. Walks were a major concern prior to this season, so the fact he's been able to limit his number of free passes makes his breakout year even more impressive. Munoz has three saves on the season, with two coming since the All-Star break. Even if he's not supporting you in the category, he's averaged 5.2 strikeouts per week over the last five weeks, which is better than many starting pitchers. Roll the 23-year-old out there with confidence.

Joe Jimenez, Tigers - Jimenez has gone under the radar this season, as evidenced by his nine-percent ownership percentage (zero percent started) in the deep 15-team NFBC Main Event format. To date, the 27-year-old has posted career-best numbers in several categories, including ERA (3.00), WHIP (1.04) and his strikeout (34.6 percent), walk (six percent) and home run (0.5 HR/9) rates.  Jimenez has only allowed one earned run over his last 10 appearances, with a 14:2 K:BB ratio over those 9.1 innings. By comparison, Tigers closer Gregory Soto has a 4.82 ERA and 2.14 WHIP with a 13:9 K:BB over his last 10 outings, spanning 9.1 innings. Detroit doesn't have much to play for over the remainder of 2022 besides crawling out of the AL Central basement, as they currently trail the fourth-place Royals by three games. They've lost six of their last nine games, but perhaps turning their closer role over to Jimenez could lead to a few more wins than expected rest of season.

Reliever Appreciation Corner

Jordan Romano, Blue Jays - Romano, my fifth-ranked closer prior to the season, has lived up to that billing with 33 saves thus far, tied for second in the league in the category. The right-hander kicked off an important eight-game week for Toronto on Monday with a scoreless ninth inning against Tampa Bay, in what was his 12th consecutive scoreless outing. While Romano's strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) is down overall this season, he's struck out 18 against only three walks over his last 13.2 innings (11.9 K/9). As my most-rostered closer this year, I'm thrilled that he's challenging for the league lead in saves in mid-September.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
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