Another week has brought more clarity but also some uncertainty to the closer scene. We have a much stronger idea now who's closing for the Rays, Mets and Rockies, enough that I won't bother to break down any of those bullpens here.
Things seem to be coming together for the White Sox, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Rangers as well, and you can read more about them below. The most significant change, though, is that the Dodgers have all but formally declared a closer, and he has the potential to be one of the most impactful in all of Fantasy Baseball.
Here's more on that situation as well as nine others currently in a state of flux.
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).
The Dodgers seemed eager to abandon traditional bullpen roles this year, but already, their resolve is weakening. Not only has Evan Phillips handled each of the team's first two save chances (excluding those of the ninth-inning variety), but manager Dave Roberts had this to say about the right-hander over the weekend:
"Evan is clearly the most consistent performer, versus left, versus right. What that means day to day, when he's available, he's probably going to be in the highest leverage. So I would say he's probably going to finish more games, close more games than any of our guys now."
That's about as firm of a commitment as we're going to get, and it's the only logical choice at this point. Brusdar Graterol may have closer stuff, but he's been mostly erratic in his major-league career. Daniel Hudson would have had a compelling case to close, but he's still a few weeks from returning from knee surgery. Phillips -- who had a 1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 last year -- will have likely settled into the role by the time Hudson is back.
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Though he has yet to blow a save, Reynaldo Lopez was pretty shaky in his first week on the job, allowing a combined four runs in his first four appearances. But he may have put all doubts to rest with a lockdown performance Monday, striking out three over 1 1/3 perfect innings for his second save. Four of his five appearances have been to finish out a game, and the White Sox haven't really experimented with anyone else in the role. The biggest threat to Lopez now would be the return of Liam Hendriks from his bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which may happen as early as May.
It didn't take long for Scott McGough to lose the faith of manager Torey Lovullo. Already, it looks like he and left-hander Andrew Chafin have flipped roles. McGough hasn't worked the ninth inning since blowing a save on April 3. Most recently, he handled the eighth with the Diamondbacks sporting a three-run lead Monday. Chafin came in for the ninth and struck out the side for his second save. It's possible Chafin just takes the job and run with it, but since the Diamondbacks don't have another high-leverage lefty in their bullpen, I'm also going to float Miguel Castro as a dark horse.
There may not be a manager who enjoys a closer committee more than Scott Servais, so even though it seems like Paul Sewald has a golden opportunity with Andres Munoz sidelined by a shoulder strain, we shouldn't presume too much. Munoz doesn't figure to miss much time, and Diego Castillo is no stranger to the ninth inning himself. Still, Sewald was the Mariners' leading save-getter last year, and Munoz's absence does put him in a stronger position to repeat the feat.
It's true Aroldis Chapman was the last Royals reliever to record a save, striking out two in a perfect ninth inning to preserve a one-run lead, but it doesn't mean he's in a timeshare with Scott Barlow -- not yet, anyway. Barlow had worked each of the previous two days, and this early in the season, you're not going to see a reliever pitch in three straight. But it's hard to overlook that Chapman has been nails so far, and a rebuilding club doesn't give a player of that stature a one-year deal unless it's to restore his value. No, it's not a timeshare yet, but it may begin trending that way soon.
The Phillies have registered only one save so far, and it went to the pitcher who should have been the favorite all along, Craig Kimbrel. But it wasn't a clean inning for Kimbrel, who has already issued five walks in four appearances, and it's telling that, two days later, he was working the eighth and Seranthony Dominguez the ninth. Dominguez blew that save in particularly brutal fashion, which likely keeps Kimbrel in the driver's seat, but left-hander Jose Alvarado could also enter the mix. He has a small amount of closing experience himself and already has 11 strikeouts in four scoreless innings.
Though he doesn't actually have a save yet, Carlos Estevez's usage suggests he's the Angels' preferred choice to close. All four of his appearances have been to finish out a game, three times with the Angels leading. But he continues to issue walks at a high rate and hasn't kept the hits to a minimum either.
Fair to say he doesn't inspire much confidence, and meanwhile, an alternative has emerged in left-hander Jose Quijada, who got a save on a day when Estevez was unavailable and has been the preferred eighth-inning option otherwise. He has swing-and-miss stuff, and the Angels' acquisition of Matt Moore this offseason gives them another left-hander to deploy situationally should Quijada be needed in a more dedicated role.
Rookie manager Skip Schumaker came in talking a big game about using his best relievers in the highest-leverage spots, and yet so far, he's handled his bullpen about as conventionally as possible. The lone save went to A.J. Puk, and the left-hander has so far only appeared in the ninth inning, closing out a win each time. Meanwhile, right-hander Dylan Floro handled the eighth inning each of those times Puk worked the ninth. If only every manager would telegraph it so clearly.
Manager Bruce Bochy caused a stir by having Will Smith handle the Rangers' first save chance April 2, but the left-hander hasn't appeared in the ninth inning since then. Meanwhile, Jose Leclerc, the presumed favorite coming in, has only worked in the ninth, including once for a save. There may be times when Bochy plays the matchups and turns to the left-hander for the final three outs instead, but it does seem like Leclerc is still the reliever to have here.
Four days after an epic meltdown for Kyle Finnegan in which he allowed five earned runs on three home runs, the right-hander was called in to work the eighth inning of a game that was eventually saved by Carl Edwards. But then on Monday, the Nationals went back to using Edwards in the eighth and Finnegan in the ninth, so it doesn't seem like a changing of the guard has taken place. More likely, the Nationals weren't anticipating having a save chance when they had Finnegan work the eighth inning that one time. It was the reliever who followed, Anthony Banda, who made it a save opportunity, and by that point, Finnegan had already been used.
Nonetheless, Edwards would appear to be the next man up if Finnegan implodes again, which is distinctly possible.