Pecking Order: Rivera, Nathan still top dogs

OK, Jonathan Papelbon, we get it. You're a really good pitcher (30 saves in four consecutive seasons to start his career) in a really good bullpen. But why would you challenge -- and that's what it was, a challenge -- the addition of former closer Billy Wagner, a lefty, to the Red Sox bullpen? To be fair, Papelbon has since claimed he wasn't slighting Wagner -- just trying to show confidence in the current bullpen. However, he must have an enormous ego if he thinks the entire bullpen situation in Boston is set in stone. Doesn't he realize that all bullpens are constantly in a state of flux, and that reliever's roles are never as clearly defined as fantasy owners or fans would love them to be? The hard truth is that injuries, big and small, happen in every bullpen almost weekly. Papelbon should realize that adding a quality, experienced southpaw to any bullpen down the homestretch is a major bonus, and a practice as old as the playoffs themselves.

Fantasy owners also should take heed, because even Wagner could be closing in Boston -- and racking up saves -- by the final week of the regular season. It's only a matter of a tired arm or a random injury. Sure, it's a kind of a long shot that Papelbon himself goes down, but so was the idea that David Aardsma and Fernando Rodney (who on Tuesday hit 100 on the gun for the second game in a row) would be fifth and sixth in the AL in saves by late August.

There are certainly complicated arbitration issues involved with the prospect of Wagner getting a closer's job in 2010. If he's offered arbitration and declines to become a free agent, he could easily end up pitching for the Nationals or Orioles next year, two teams that desperately need a closer and would love to sign him on the cheap. The guy obviously wants to keep pitching, and after his concerns about 2010 and the dustup with Papelbon, I'm convinced he loves the game, not the money. Keep tabs on how Wagner, who busted his butt to get ready to pitch this season, performs the rest of 2009. He might be a great late-round value in 2010, especially for those of you who draft early.

Stats through August 26.

Brad Lidge, PHI 25-for-34 (74%), 46.2 IP, 48 Ks, 7.33 ERA, 1.80 WHIP Next in line: Ryan Madson/Chad Durbin Third in line: Chan Ho Park/Brett Myers

Matt Capps, PIT 23-for-27 (85%), 42.1 IP, 36 Ks, 6.38 ERA, 1.75 WHIP Next in line: Jesse Chavez Third in line: Joel Hanrahan/Evan Meek

Jim Johnson, BAL 6-for-9 (67%), 14 HLDs, 57.2 IP, 41 Ks, 2.97 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Chris Ray Third in line: Cla Meredith/Danys Báez

Frank Francisco, TEX 18-for-21 (86%), 36 IP, 41 Ks, 3.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP Next in line: C.J. Wilson/Darren O'Day Third in line: Neftali Feliz

Mike MacDougal, WAS 13-for-14 (93%), 34.2 IP, 18 Ks, 2.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP (NL Stats only) Next in line: Jorge Sosa Third in line: Tyler Clippard

Brad Lidge surrendered another game-winning hit on Tuesday, his ninth blown save this season. Charlie Manuel refuses to concede that it bothers him. Brett Myers (torn labrum in hip/eye injury) is hitting 94 on gun and is scheduled to make a rehab appearance this week in Double-A. It'll be his third rehab outing and he could be back with the Phillies in early September. Frank Francisco had another debacle versus the Yanks, yielding 3 hits, a walk and two earned runs before Melky Cabrera lined into a game-ending double play. Retiring AL East hitters is not his thing.

Carlos Mármol, CHC 5-for-9 (560%), 27 HLDs, 58.1 IP, 69 Ks, 3.39 ERA, 1.44 WHIP Next in line: Angel Guzman Third in line: John Grabow/Kevin Gregg

Rafael Soriano, ATL 20-for-23 (87%), 6 HLDs, 58 IP, 79 Ks, 2.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP Mike González, ATL 9-for-14 (64%), 13 HLDs, 58.2 IP, 75 Ks, 2.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP Next in line: Peter Moylan

Leo Nunez, FLA 15-for-19 (79%), 13 HLDs, 54.1 IP, 50 Ks, 3.98 ERA, 1.21 WHIP Matt Lindstrom, FLA 14-for-16 (88%), 4 HLDs, 37 IP, 30 Ks, 5.59 ERA, 1.65 WHIP Next in line: Dan Meyer/Kiki Calero

Scott Downs, TOR 9-for-12 (75%), 4 HLDs, 35.1 IP, 36 Ks, 3.31 ERA, 1.25 WHIP Jason Frasor, TOR 6-for-8 (75%), 4 HLDs, 43.1 IP, 38 Ks, 1.87 ERA, 0.99 WHIP Next in line: Jesse Carlson

Scott Downs returned to action and is, for now, sharing closing duties with Jason Frasor in Toronto. He'll be eased back into the role, but might not take it over unless Frasor's shoulder tendonitis gets worse. In Florida, it appears Leo Nunez (8.28 K/9, 2.50 K/BB) still has the edge over Matt Lindstrom, who hasn't been too effective (7.30 K/9, 4.86 BB/9) and has struggled with injuries this season.

Mariano Rivera, NYY 36-for-37 (97%), 53 IP, 59 Ks, 1.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP Next in line: Phil Hughes Third in line: Alfredo Aceves/Phil Coke

Joe Nathan, MIN 32-for-36 (89%), 49.2 IP, 65 Ks, 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP Next in line: Jose Mijares Third in line: Matt Guerrier/Jesse Crain

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 27-for-32 (84%), 58 IP, 87 Ks, 2.95 ERA, 0.97 WHIP Next in line: George Sherrill Third in line: Ramon Troncoso/Hong-Chih Kuo

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS 30-for-33 (91%), 54 IP, 60 Ks, 2.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP Next in line: Takashi Saito/Billy Wagner Third in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Heath Bell, SD 30-for-33 (91%), 51.2 IP, 57 Ks, 2.26 ERA, 1.08 WHIP Next in line: Edward Mujica/Luke Gregerson Third in line: Greg Burke/Mike Adams (DL)

Joakim Soria, KC 20-for-23 (87%), 39.1 IP, 48 Ks, 2.97 ERA, 1.09 WHIP Next in line: Jamey Wright Third in line: Kyle Farnsworth/Juan Cruz (DL)

Trevor Hoffman, MIL 27-for-29 (93%), 38 IP, 31 Ks, 1.89 ERA, 1.03 WHIP Next in line: Todd Coffey Third in line: David Weathers/Mark DiFelice

Huston Street, COL 33-for-34 (97%), 53.2 IP, 62 Ks, 3.02 ERA, 0.93 WHIP Next in line: Rafael Betancourt/Matt Daley Third in line: Joe Beimel

Francisco Cordero, CIN 26-for-28 (93%), 49.2 IP, 40 Ks, 2.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP Next in line: Nick Masset Third in line: Arthur Rhodes/Jared Burton

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 27-for-32 (84%), 58 IP, 60 Ks, 3.10 ERA, 1.29 WHIP Next in line: Brian Stokes/Sean Green Third in line: Pedro Feliciano

Bobby Jenks, CWS 27-for-31 (87%), 44.1 IP, 43 Ks, 3.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP Next in line: Scott Linebrink/Matt Thornton Third in line: Octavio Dotel/Tony Peña

David Aardsma, SEA 29-for-33 (88%), 57.2 IP, 67 Ks, 2.34 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Mark Lowe Third in line: Sean White

Ryan Franklin, STL 33-for-35 (94%), 49.2 IP, 33 Ks, 1.09 ERA, 0.91 WHIP Next in line: Kyle McClellan Third in line: Dennis Reyes/Jason Motte

Brian Wilson, SF 30-for-36 (83%), 60 IP, 67 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Affeldt Third in line: Merkin Valdez/Sergio Romo

Brian Fuentes, LAA 35-for-40 (88%), 41.2 IP, 39 Ks, 4.10 ERA, 1.27 WHIP Next in line: Jason Bulger/Jose Arredondo Third in line: Kevin Jepsen

J.P. Howell, TB 15-for-21 (71%), 59.2 IP, 71 Ks, 2.26 ERA, 1.06 WHIP Next in line: Dan Wheeler Third in line: Grant Balfour/Randy Choate

Andrew Bailey, OAK 18-for-22 (82%), 68 IP, 75 Ks, 1.99 ERA, 0.93 WHIP Next in line: Michael Wuertz Third in line: Brad Ziegler

José Valverde, HOU 19-for-23 (83%), 39 IP, 44 Ks, 2.31 ERA, 1.18 WHIP Next in line: Chris Sampson/Alberto Arias Third in line: LaTroy Hawkins/Doug Brocail (DL)

Chad Qualls, ARI 23-for-27 (85%), 50.1 IP, 44 Ks, 3.58 ERA, 1.17 WHIP Next in line: Jon Rauch Third in line: Juan Gutierrez

Fernando Rodney, DET 28-for-29 (97%), 56.1 IP, 53 Ks, 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Lyon Third in line: Bobby Seay/Ryan Perry

Kerry Wood, CLE 15-for-20 (75%), 45 IP, 52 Ks, 4.60 ERA, 1.42 WHIP Next in line: Joe Smith Third in line: Chris Pérez/Tony Sipp

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