It's that time of year. Contenders are separating themselves from the pack, pretenders are eyeing next year and pretty much everyone is hurt. Last week alone, 12 pitchers hit the DL.
Giants closer Brian Wilson (3.19 ERA, 35 saves, 8.72 K/9) was among those 12 pitchers. Wilson felt discomfort in his pitching elbow last week, and while the injury appears minor, the Giants played it safe and placed him on the DL. He is expected to be activated when eligible on Aug. 31. This is The Beard's second trip to the DL this season.
With fellow relief stud Sergio Romo (1.67 ERA, one save, 12.66 K/9) also shelved, the job looks like Jeremy Affeldt's to lose. The lefty (2.54 ERA, three saves, 7.94 K/9) is more than just a specialist: lefties are batting a predictably low .157 against him but righties are only batting .233. Manager Bruce Bochy ran Affeldt out in the ninth on Sunday, but the game went to extras and Ramon Ramirez picked up the save in the 11th. Don't be fooled. Affeldt is one to own while Wilson is on the DL.
Injuries have also taken their toll on the Toronto bullpen. The Jays lost Jon Rauch to appendicitis on Tuesday, and many expected Frank Francisco to immediately inherit the job. Francisco (4.06 ERA, 10 saves, 9.56 K/9) got the call in the ninth on Sunday but didn't enter the game due to a right sore shoulder. The extent of the injury is not yet known. Francisco had given up only one earned run since the All-Star break.
If Francisco is forced to miss a big chunk of time, Casey Janssen (2.20 ERA, two saves, 9.22 K/9) looks like the favorite for saves. He's got a nice arsenal, relying primarily on his fastball and cutter, and he has arguably been the best Blue Jays reliever in 2011. If you're still willing to roll the dice on the Toronto pen, Janssen is owned in only 0.8 percent of leagues.
How did the rest of the major league bullpens fare this week? Let's take a look around the league:
The Padres placed Bell (2.60 ERA, 34 saves, 6.58 K/9) on waivers Monday afternoon. It's unlikely that the Padres' closer clears waivers, but it's possible San Diego could work out a deal with whichever team puts in a claim for Bell. Either way, it's unwelcome news for owners relying on Bell down the stretch.
Madson blew a save in ugly fashion on Friday, giving up a 4-2 lead by yielding four singles and a walk off grand slam to Ryan Zimmerman. It was only his second blown save. He's not losing his job anytime soon. ... Marmol also melted down last week. The Cubs' closer tallied a 108.00 ERA, 12.00 WHIP and a blown save against the Astros on Tuesday. Since then he's thrown two straight scoreless innings, but you never know which Marmol you are going to get.
Nunez has given up five earned runs in his last two innings, bringing his ERA from 3.35 to 4.04. The home run has been his undoing all year (1.29 HR/9), which is never good for a stopper. ... The league is catching up with Guerra, who has given up five hits and three earned runs in his last three innings. He's got plenty of leash at this point, but if his struggles persist, Kenley Jansen, who's set to return by end of week, could make things interesting.
When your manager has to vouch for you, things aren't going well. Gregg (4.60 ERA, 17 saves) blew his fifth save of the season Saturday, but O's manager Buck Showalter stood by his stopper. The reliever has pitched terribly lately, but he's signed through 2012. Unfortunately, he has job security.
Street (biceps) began a rehab assignment on Monday and should be back by the end of the week. It shouldn't take long for him to regain the closer job.
Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down: