Every year injuries shake up the preseason closer rankings. This year has been no exception.
In Houston, Brandon Lyon was the favorite for saves before a partially torn rotator cuff landed the relief pitcher on the DL. In his absence, Mark Melancon (1.67 ERA, six saves, 8.07 K/9) swooped in and pitched brilliantly. Manager Brad Mills was unimpressed, however, and declared Lyon would eventually regain the closer's role.
Don't expect that to happen. Lyon was activated from the DL on June 9. Since then, he has given up eight earned runs and recorded only six outs. Mills might be stubborn, but he's not stupid. Expect Melancon to keep the ninth-inning duties until he falters.
North of the border, Frank Francisco was expected to be the stopper in Toronto, but a pectoral injury delayed his season debut until April 19. Now healthy, Francisco (5.50 ERA, 2.00 HR/9, 5.50 BB/9) isn't stopping anyone, even though manager John Farrell said he expects Francisco to close eventually.
Compared to Lyon, Francisco is a better bet to bounce back. A dreadful May (9.1 innings, 8.68 ERA, six walks) is largely to blame for Francisco's numbers and his skills haven't declined (10.50 K/9). Jon Rauch looks like a good short-term bet, but those in AL-only leagues should try and buy low on Francisco.
Injuries have decimated the Dodgers' bullpen, and forced manager Don Mattingly to mix and match in the ninth inning. To date, seven relievers have recorded a save for L.A., but no one has emerged as the favorite for saves. Vicente Padilla, a one-time candidate, is scheduled to undergo neck surgery on Thursday. Hong-Chih Kuo, who recorded 12 saves in 2010, is on the DL recovering from an anxiety disorder.
It pains me to say this, but it's looking like Jonathan Broxton will be the favorite for saves when he returns from the DL. General manager Ned Coletti said the 2010 All-Star should return in July, and though he's been very mediocre this season (5.68 ERA, 6.39 BB/9), it's possible he's benefited from some time off. If he was dropped in your NL-only league, he's worth a speculative add.
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
On June 8, Papelbon reached 200 career saves faster than anyone in major league history. Despite the feat, Papelbon hasn't looked dominant lately. He's given up seven runs in his last 4.1 innings, and an upcoming suspension should give heir-apparent Daniel Bard an opportunity to show his stuff.
Wilson gave up eight earned runs in 10.1 innings in March/April. In 19.2 innings since, he has given up only one. Those of you who were worried about him can rest easy. ... Nunez (back stiffness) was unavailable over the weekend, but should be back in the ninth inning today. Get the NL saves leader back in your lineup immediately. ... After an ugly stretch in late May/early June, Storen has settled down. He's given up two hits and zero runs in his last five innings, and his hold on the ninth inning is strong.
Soria hasn't given up a run in June and looks to have a firm grasp on the closer role again in Kansas City. Nervous Soria owners might want to stash Aaron Crow just in case. ... Kimbrel has given up three earned runs in his last two innings, and set-up man Jonny Venters picked up the save on Sunday. Manager Fredi Gonzalez insists Kimbrel is still the man in Atlanta, but Venters (0.44 ERA, 9.52 K/9, 79.3-percent ground-ball rate) looms large. Even if he can't steal the ninth inning from Kimbrel, Venters is worth owning in all leagues.
Gregg blew his fourth save of the season on Saturday, but it was his first run allowed since May 20. His job is safe for now, but it's only a matter of time before Koji Uehara (2.20 ERA, 10.99 K/9, 1.88 B/9) takes over in Baltimore. ... After a brilliant start, Santos has hit a rough patch. He's given up eight earned runs in his last 2.2 innings, and owners should prepare for the worst. Matt Thornton should get the first shot if Santos is removed from the role.
The Mariners moved Aardsma from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, but the former M's closer took a step toward returning with a game of catch on Monday. He's still a ways away however, and shouldn't be owned in anything but the deepest of keeper leagues.
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: