Closer change on the horizon in Atlanta?
Posted: Friday August 24, 2007 11:08AM; Updated: Friday August 24, 2007 11:08AM
Despite having the ninth-best ERA in the majors (3.76), the Braves' bullpen hasn't exactly been the strongest part of their team. The trouble really began back in May when they lost Mike Gonzalez to Tommy John surgery. Then Rafael Soriano went from being a dominant future closer to just another mediocre middle reliever back in June. And just when you thought the bullpen was properly reinforced with the deadline acquisition of Octavio Dotel, five appearances and one blown save later, that reinforcement is on the DL with a bum shoulder.
Of course, the one guy many pegged as the biggest concern in the Braves' pen, Bob Wickman, has surprisingly been pretty reliable even though he is 38 and, well, Bob Wickman. But that might not be true much longer. While he has gone 1-1 and converted two of three save chances over his last six outings -- figures that wouldn't seem terribly alarming at first glance -- he has also compiled a 2.44 WHIP over that span, bringing him to a 1.56 WHIP this season and setting off alarms for his fantasy owners.
Granted, this increase in runners allowed on base hasn't led to a total meltdown just yet, but it is a cause for concern and reason enough to start exploring other options should such a meltdown occur soon. Keeping in mind Dotel will be out for at least another couple weeks, the first option to look at is Oscar Villarreal, who recorded a save earlier this month when Wickman was resting a sore forearm. While Villarreal was able to come through on this vote of confidence from Bobby Cox, he since has had a couple very ugly outings that could keep him from getting another chance at closing soon.
Another option is Peter Moylan, who has the second most innings pitched among Braves relievers behind Villarreal and the lowest ERA (2.05). Unfortunately, Moylan was credited with his first blown save of the season in Thursday's game against Cincinnati, which could keep the inexperienced 28-year-old from seeing anything more than middle relief work down the stretch. Finally, there's Soriano, who appears to be getting his act together at just the right time. He has allowed only two earned runs in just under 10 innings pitched since his last implosion at the beginning of the month, bringing his season ERA down to 3.59 and his WHIP to 0.95. Given his recent resurgence, I would say he looks to be next in line. So, if you're the cautious type, you may want to go ahead and grab him now before it's too late.
While you wonder if Rafael and Alfonso Soriano are at all related, let's take a look at a few other bullpen situations around the league:
Athletics: As I warned last week, Alan Embree isn't finished as a closer just yet, even though Huston Street is once again the team's primary stopper. After Street notched saves on Monday and Tuesday this week, Embree was called in the ninth inning Wednesday to keep Street healthy. Although Street has returned to being the dominant closer he once was, the A's probably won't take any chances with his health, meaning Embree should continue to see the occasional save chance.
Devil Rays: He has been able to convert his last two save opportunities, but Al Reyes still isn't the model of consistency he was at the start of the season. Since the break, he has a 5.93 ERA and .304 opponent's batting average, but until those ugly numbers translate to more blown saves, his job is probably safe. If, however, you're not desperate for the few save chances the Devil Rays produce for him, you may want to cut bait on Reyes and his inflating ratios.
Orioles: Chris Ray is out of action until 2009 after Tommy John surgery last week, so Baltimore's closer job up for grabs. Right now the gig belongs to Danys Baez, who has recorded the team's last two saves. Baez continues to reinforce his 5.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, though, which means yet another closer change could be on the horizon. Seeing as Jamie Walker has blown his last two save chances, Chad Bradford will probably be next to get a crack at the job. Thankfully, around the time he proves unworthy, the team will be planning its annual October vacation, so it won't really matter anymore.