Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – National League

Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – National League

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week I promised to look at some bullpens. These are National League, but they don't have a monopoly of questions by any means. We'll look at the American League next week. There are plenty of bullpens in the NL with evolving roles including clubs making decisions on who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is in identifying an upcoming change in roles.

Let's review some NL bullpens, many with question marks still remaining:

Braves – This one looks pretty easy to predict. Regular closer Raisel Iglesias is healthy and hasn't been overworked; he'll get the call. Lefty set-up guy A.J. Minter would likely end up stepping in if a need arose, while Joe Jimenez has some closing experience, too. They have chipped in with effective innings.

Brewers – To move on with our evaluations, we'll look at a team that appears relatively set. The Brewers traded Josh Hader, which opened the door for Devin Williams. He's hurt right now (expected back in mid-July), but when healthy he's as good as they get. While they wait, Trevor Megill has been very reliable, backed up by Hoby Milner and Joel Payamps. This is a deep and talented bullpen.

Cardinals

Last week I promised to look at some bullpens. These are National League, but they don't have a monopoly of questions by any means. We'll look at the American League next week. There are plenty of bullpens in the NL with evolving roles including clubs making decisions on who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is in identifying an upcoming change in roles.

Let's review some NL bullpens, many with question marks still remaining:

Braves – This one looks pretty easy to predict. Regular closer Raisel Iglesias is healthy and hasn't been overworked; he'll get the call. Lefty set-up guy A.J. Minter would likely end up stepping in if a need arose, while Joe Jimenez has some closing experience, too. They have chipped in with effective innings.

Brewers – To move on with our evaluations, we'll look at a team that appears relatively set. The Brewers traded Josh Hader, which opened the door for Devin Williams. He's hurt right now (expected back in mid-July), but when healthy he's as good as they get. While they wait, Trevor Megill has been very reliable, backed up by Hoby Milner and Joel Payamps. This is a deep and talented bullpen.

Cardinals – This bullpen seems to be fairly settled. Ryan Helsley was touted as the ultimate end-gamer, and with his arm it's easy to see why (he averages nearly triple digits with his fastball). Set-up duties are also in capable hands with JoJo Romero and Andrew Kittredge serving as effective bridges. They should be considered the primary caddies, and would get the call if Helsley needs a day off.

Cubs – To begin the season, no one stood out as the obvious closer for the Cubbies. Today, no one stands out as the obvious closer for the Cubbies. There have been several arms considered, led by veteran Hector Neris and newcomer Mark Leiter. Neris is the current choice. He has closer stuff, but he also has a history of ninth-inning meltdowns. They need to cross their fingers, but neither is a long-term answer .Maybe Adbert Alzolay or Keegan Thompson or Colten Brewer will get another shot, but they all have holes in their games.

Diamondbacks – The Diamondbacks planned to begin the season with Paul Sewald closing, but he went down with an oblique injury, and they had to make do for a while. They gave Kevin Ginkel the majority of the interim chances, with Joe Mantiply also in the mix. The results were not always the best with those guys, but Sewald is back now and he will be their primary closer going forward.

Dodgers – Kenley Jansen anchored the Dodgers' pen for 12 years, so there weren't many opportunities to look for a closer. They tried various options including veterans Daniel Hudson and Blake Treinen before Evan Phillips clearly emerged as their guy. They have others worthy of some consideration like Alex Vesia and Brusdar Graterol, but Graterol is on the IL with a shoulder injury, and isn't expected back until August.

Giants – Here's another one that appears to be a done deal. Camilo Doval has closer stuff, and has successfully finished a lot of games the past couple years. He does have an Achilles heel injury, though. Doval suffers bouts of wildness at times, so the endgame can offer a lot of excitement. Southpaw Taylor Rogers and twin brother Tyler Rogers have closing experience and are the most likely candidates to fill in for Doval as needed.

Marlins – Not surprisingly Tanner Scott again grabbed the gig and ran with it this year after he did a more or less respectable job as the team's closer for much of last season. That said, when the alternatives include guys like A.J. Puk, Andrew Nardi, and JT Chargois, even Scott's faults, doesn't look so bad. A sleeper for saves, righty Anthony Bender, could pop up if Scott stumbles too badly.

Mets – What do you do when your elite closer routinely gets roughed up? Well, after missing 2023 with a knee injury, Edwin Diaz can't seem to protect leads, and the Mets are getting nervous. Not surprisingly, veteran set-up man Adam Ottavino, who has filled in as a closer in the past, has tried to fill in with mixed results. I actually prefer lefty Jake Diekman, and Reed Garrett is also in the picture, but the Mets really need to hope Diaz' struggles are just leftover injury side effects that will go away soon. 

Nationals – This one comes down to what's behind door No. 1, door No. 2 or door No. 3. Right now, recent year's closer Kyle Finnegan is easily getting the most ninth-inning work, even though he doesn't really have closer stuff. If Finnegan stumbles, one option is Hunter Harvey. He has the best stuff in the pen but he is extremely fragile, and the Nats carefully control his workload. That leaves the door just slightly ajar for a couple bullpen sleepers: Dylan Floro and Robert Garcia.

Padres – Assuming good health and adequate rest, you can pretty much write this one down. Robert Suarez, other than an occasional hiccup (we all have them) is one of the premier closers in the game. Waiting patiently in the wings is Yuki Matsui, but he needs Suarez to provide him an opportunity. He is joined by righties Jeremiah Estrada and Enyel De Los Santos. Going forward, I expect to see Suarez every day with Matsui his primary caddy when he needs a day off.

Phillies – The Phillies pretty much annually attempt to rebuild their bullpen. With Craig Kimbrel now gone, the mantle probably falls to Jose Alvarado who brings a fairly extensive late-inning resume, but I am lukewarm on his longevity. He is joined by adequate set-up guys Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez, Matt Strahm and Orion Kerkering in a deep bullpen. Going forward, assuming good health, I expect to see Alvarado as often as they dare with perhaps Kerkering his primary semi-sleeper backup when he needs a reset.

Pirates – The trade rumors will be prominent again as we approach the deadline, but closer David Bednar has generally been his reliable self while the Pirates hang close enough to not be written off completely. Aroldis Chapman and/or Colin Holderman have done a pretty good job getting the game to Bednar despite Chapman's frequent bouts with wildness. Look for one of them – Chapman is my guess, at least initially – if Bednar gets dealt to inherit the ninth-inning duties.

Reds – The Reds bullpen has been a story of inconsistency and injury, but things may hopefully be sorting out. Alexis Diaz showed he can handle the ninth, albeit he has been inconsistent this year. And, guys like Lucas Sims, despite some inconsistency, can set him up as long as he stays out of the trainer's room. Together with Sims, what you'll get is a collection of so-so relievers including Ian Gibaut and Emilio Pagan (both currently on the IL), along with Fernando Cruz. Other options include Buck Farmer or Brent Suter, but they have limited fantasy value at best.

Rockies – We always need at least one pen completely up for grabs, and the Rockies are the NL version of that right now. Their closer choices include Justin Lawrence (my lukewarm pick when he gets healthy) and Tyler Kinley. Hell, amazingly, they have even used Jalen Beeks in the ninth. And, even though he is out for this season, the ageless (he's 39) Daniel Bard reportedly plans a return in 2025.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • He struggled some earlier this year, but the Cardinals' Miles Mikolas is the prototypical "in sync" pitcher. Think Greg Maddux. Certainly not a power pitcher, but when all the pieces came together, he could carve up a hitter like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Mikolas is that kind of guy and he's been in a groove of late.
  • I often get asked to rank several starting pitchers, including Justin Verlander, for the rest of the season. Let me just say, he will eventually get too old (he's 41), but I'm not sure he's there yet. I have been watching him for about 20 years, and there is no one I would rather have on the mound when the game counts.
  • It is rough to be a Dodger. On the same day they announced Mookie Betts would miss time with a broken left wrist, they received MRI results showing Yoshinobu Yamamoto had suffered a rotator cuff strain. The good news, if there really is any, is both stars are "only" expected to miss five to six weeks.
  • Rumor has it the Yankees will welcome back Gerrit Cole the day before this issue of Musings hits the newsstand. He has been pitching masterfully in his rehab assignment, and he'll be in my lineup, and I'll be watching as I expect him to hit the ground running. UPDATE: He was sharp and got better as the game progressed.
  • Here's a little homework. When asked what I see that predicts extreme success, I look at quality of stuff coupled with pitch location and sequencing. Nobody does it better than Arizona's Zac Gallen. Very good stuff, up and down, in and out, and everything moves. The D-backs hope he's back later this week.
  • You roll the dice enough, you will win some, and you will lose some. When the Orioles Kyle Bradish was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear this spring they decided to forgo surgery. It went well initially, but their luck has run out and he has now undergone Tommy John surgery. See you in 2025.

Next week we will visit the American League bullpens.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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