It took a combination of four relievers for the Cubs to allow the Phillies to overcome a 5-0 deficit on Thursday night. The North Siders held that five-run advantage for seven-and-a-half innings, thanks in part to a superb start from Yu Darvish. Kyle Ryan took over in the bottom of the eighth inning and immediately found himself with runners on first and second base and no one out. He and Rowan Wick each got an out and were on the verge of stranding both runners — that is, until Corey Dickerson laced a single into right field that brought one run in. If not for Nicholas Castellanos‘ on-target throw to get Rhys Hoskins out at home, the Cubs’ lead would have been cut to 5-2.
Wick came back out for the bottom of the ninth with the Cubs still up by four runs. The Phillies got their second run as a result of a David Bote error and a pair of singles, all with one out. With the lead further reduced, Joe Maddon brought in Pedro Strop, who recorded the Cubs’ last save on Sunday versus the Reds. He would face only two batters, neither of whom he would retire. After allowing Roman Quinn’s RBI single and hitting Hoskins to load the bases, Strop gave way to lefty Derek Holland, who was charged with getting Bryce Harper out. He did not, in spite of having a .184/.268/.195 slash line against lefties entering the game. Harper hit a walk-off grand slam that gave Holland his first blown save of the season and left Strop with his fifth loss.
Since Aug. 3, when Craig Kimbrel (knee) made his last appearance before going on the IL, Cubs relievers have been credited with a blown save or a loss in just two games, and both occurred over the last three days. The current set of back-end relievers could get some help as soon as Friday. The Cubs may activate Brandon Kintzler (pectoral) in time for their series opener with the Pirates, and they could activate Kimbrel as well, though he may go on a rehab assignment instead. Either way, it looks as if Kimbrel is close to returning.
The Braves had a ninth-inning comeback of their own, but Edwin Díaz put a stop to it, recording his 25th save. Between the eighth and ninth innings, Drew Gagnon allowed the Braves to homer four times, whittling the Mets’ 10-3 lead down to 10-8. Díaz relieved Gagnon with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. In walking Brian McCann on four pitches, he faced the potential tying run when Ender Inciarte came up to bat. Díaz struck Inciarte out and converted his first save since July 31. With Seth Lugo having pitched in a setup role on Wednesday (and getting shelled for five runs in one-third of an inning), the recent usage patterns may point to Díaz getting a leg up on save opportunities for the Mets.
Add the White Sox to the list of teams that tried to pull off a ninth-inning rally. The Angels held an 8-3 lead going into the top of the ninth inning, but Trevor Cahill allowed them to cut it to 8-5 with one out. Brad Ausmus turned to Hansel Robles to halt the rally, but instead he gave up a two-run homer to Welington Castillo. Robles still had a one-run cushion to work with, though a Yolmer Sánchez single brought the White Sox closer to erasing it. Jon Jay nearly ended the game on a potential double-play ball, but Luis Rengifo threw the ball away to keep the White Sox’s hopes alive. Robles was able to notch his 17th save by striking Ryan Goins out.
Robles has not blown a save since May 29, but he has had only two clean appearances since July 5. He has been particularly shaky since July 23, allowing five runs on 11 hits and two walks over 8.2 innings. Still, there are not any signs of Robles being in danger of getting pulled from the closer’s role, and even if he continues to struggle, he could keep the job by default. Of the Angels’ relievers, only Cam Bedrosian has been more reliable, and he has relied on a .200 BABIP and a 94.3 percent strand rate to overcome a 20.0 percent strikeout rate in the second half.
Bob Melvin has been gradually working Blake Treinen back into higher leverage situations, and on Tuesday night, he served as the eighth-inning bridge between Yusmeiro Petit and Liam Hendriks, with the Athletics holding a one-run lead against the Astros. However, in allowing a one-out solo homer to Michael Brantley, there was almost no save situation to build a bridge to. Matt Chapman’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the eighth changed that, and Hendriks pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 14th save. While Hendriks is clearly safe as the team’s closer, it’s hard to know whether Treinen will be entrusted in hold situations going forward.
Quick hits: After a six-day layoff, Raisel Iglesias got a four-out save against the Cardinals on Thursday night. The Reds’ closer was reportedly dealing with a biceps issue over the weekend….Devin Smeltzer recorded his first career save on Tuesday night, as he pitched the final four innings of the Twins’ 13-6 win over the Rangers…The Phillies claimed Jared Hughes off waivers from the Reds on Thursday. The sinkerballer had a 4.10 ERA with three holds over 48.1 innings this season…The Mariners placed Brandon Brennan on the IL with right shoulder inflammation…The Diamondbacks recalled Jon Duplantier from Triple-A Reno on Thursday, and he pitched two innings of relief in their 7-0 loss to the Giants. He threw 53 pitches but got only three swinging strikes and three chases on out-of-zone pitches.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.