Less than three weeks ago, Greg Holland owned the ninth inning. On Aug. 4, he notched his 34th save of the season after tossing a perfect frame against the Phillies. He had strung together 13 appearances that produced a 1.42 ERA with plenty of whiffs, particularly on pitches out of the strike zone.
Little has gone right since then, and on Wednesday, Holland blew his third save since that outing against the Phillies. He has allowed 12 runs and gone 0-4 in his last six appearances, covering five innings. The walk-off homer he allowed to Eric Hosmer in Wednesday’s blown save against the Royals was the third he had given up over this brief stretch, and the leadoff walk he issued to Alex Gordon was his sixth over this span. Holland has also mustered just a 9.2 percent swinging strike rate over these appearances.
In his postgame comments, Bud Black left the door open for Holland to be supplanted as the team’s closer, but said his “initial instinct is to keep Greg where he is.” If Black decides to go against those instincts, the situation looks ripe for a committee solution. Pat Neshek, Jake McGee and Mike Dunn have all played a role in setting up Holland, and Neshek could handle the bulk of the righties with McGee and Dunn facing lefties. If there was one reliever worth speculation, it would be Neshek.
In coming from behind to beat the Rockies, the Royals did not need a closer, but the Kansas City Star reported that Kelvin Herrera might have been available, despite having been lifted on Tuesday with forearm tightness. The report named Brandon Maurer, Mike Minor and Scott Alexander as options to fill in for Herrera, should one be needed.
With the announcement that Trevor Rosenthal will have Tommy John surgery, we now know that his 2017 season is over. Yet that does not necessarily mean that Seung Hwan Oh will comfortably slide back into his old role as the Cardinals’ closer. Mike Matheny did not commit to Oh as his choice for the role, only saying that he “was in that conversation.” In Wednesday’s game against the Padres, Matheny brought Oh in to begin the eighth inning with a 5-0 lead, and he gave up a Matt Szczur single and a Manuel Margot triple before giving way to Tyler Lyons. All Lyons did was retire three straight batters, tacking an inning on to a scoreless streak that has reached 14 2/3 innings. Even if he is entrusted with the closer’s role outright, Oh could be on an exceedingly short leash, making Lyons a worthy pickup.
On any other night, the biggest closer story would have been Zach Britton. His blown save against A’s snapped an AL-record consecutive save streak of 60. The prior lack of blown saves overshadowed Britton’s struggles since his return from a DL stint for a forearm strain on July 5. Over that stretch, he has a 4.96 ERA with 12 strikeouts and nine walks over 16 1/3 innings. According to the Baltimore Sun, Britton aggravated a long-standing knee issue during his warmups on Wednesday, and he is going to go for an MRI.
If Britton gets pulled from the closer’s role, whether because of injury or ineffectiveness, Brad Brach seems to be a likely choice to reprise his role as understudy. With a 3.77 ERA in the second half and large increases in his flyball and hard contact rates, Brach has had his own struggles, but based on usage patterns, he would appear to have a leg up on getting save opportunities over Mychal Givens, despite the latter’s 2.79 second-half ERA (which rose by 75 points after allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings on Wednesday).
You know who hasn’t been struggling? Edwin Diaz, who seemed to be on the verge of a downward spiral just over a week ago. Since then, he is 3 for 3 in saves with 11 swinging strikes and a total of 26 strikes out of 28 pitches thrown. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We could see Jeurys Familia back with the Mets as soon as this weekend, according to the New York Daily News. He pitched on back-to-back days with Short Season Class A Brooklyn, hurling scoreless innings in both outings. On Wednesday, he was throwing in the mid-90s. Last week, Terry Collins told the Bergen Record he wanted Familia to be able to throw 30 pitches in an appearance when he returned, so perhaps he will be eased back into the closer’s role. Still, now is the time for A.J. Ramos owners to find a new source of saves.
Trevor Hildenberger failed to preserve a 3-3 tie in the ninth inning against the White Sox on Wednesday night, taking the loss. In issuing an intentional walk to Yolmer Sanchez, he gave out his first free pass since July 2. Hildenberger had been especially proficient at throwing strikes over his previous nine appearances, racking up a 72 percent strikes-thrown rate. In getting called strikes at a 28 percent rate and swinging strikes at a 15 percent rate, Hildenberger was able to record 14 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings.
Despite his strong recent performance, owners shouldn’t count on Hildenberger to get more than the occasional save, but his penchant for strikeouts, stinginess with walks (2.8 percent rate prior to Wednesday) and ability to induce grounders (62.5 percent rate prior to Wednesday) makes him a good potential source of low ERA and WHIP. If you need to replace the recently re-injured Andrew Miller, Hildenberger might be your best option. Chad Green and Blake Parker are also worth considering as high-strikeout, low-ERA and WHIP replacements for Miller.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]
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.