Kirby Yates doesn’t get the attention he deserves in this column, because he has literally been automatic. Entering Sunday’s series finale with the Pirates, he had converted all 26 of his save opportunities this season. Only twice had he allowed more than one hit in an appearance, and he had yet to allow more than two hits in an outing.
Yates entered uncharted territory on Sunday, as he did not protect the Padres’ 7-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. His inning began with Elias Diaz reaching as a result of a Manny Machado error, and he subsequently allowed an Adam Frazier double and RBI singles to Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds. Yates would not allow any more hits, but thanks to Starling Marte‘s sacrifice bunt that advanced Newman and Reynolds, Melky Cabrera’s lightly-hit grounder down the first base line was enough to bring Newman home to tie the game. Cabrera was out at first, and then Yates retired Colin Moran to send the game into extra innings.
The Padres had a chance to win the game, as they scored three runs off Francisco Liriano in the top of the 11th, but the Pirates rallied in the bottom of the inning against Phil Maton and Matt Wisler for an 11-10 win. Perhaps if Machado hadn’t made an error to start off the ninth inning, things would have turned out differently, and I could have gone on with ignoring Yates in this column. I suspect detailed coverage of his future save opportunities will not appear in this space too often going forward.
Jordan Hicks‘ inflamed triceps, on the other hand, is likely to garner our attention for awhile. The Cardinals’ closer is scheduled for an MRI on Monday, and at a minimum, he is likely to be unavailable for Tuesday’s series opener against the Athletics. Based on usage patterns, John Gant would seem to be the most likely reliever to fill in for Hicks, and he did start off the ninth inning against the Angels on Sunday night…but the Cardinals were down, 2-0. Gant had a rare meltdown, loading the bases with no outs and surrendering one-out singles to David Fletcher and Dustin Garneau. He departed with the Cardinals trailing 5-0, and Genesis Cabrera walked in another run.
The Angels had been setting Hansel Robles up for a save opportunity, with Cam Bedrosian and Ty Buttrey pitching their customary seventh and eighth innings. However, with a six-run advantage, Brad Ausmus opted to pitch Jake Jewell in the bottom of the ninth. After getting a couple of ground ball outs, Jewell had Jose Martinez in a 1-2 count, but Martinez worked a full count and then hammered a fastball into the stands in left center field. After allowing a Yadier Molina single and a Harrison Bader walk, Ausmus brought Robles into the game. On Robles’ second pitch, Kolten Wong scorched a double that brought in both baserunners, and then Wong scored on Dexter Fowler single. Robles did not allow any further scoring, but he wound up with his first run allowed in the month of June. The baserunners were the first allowed by Robles since June 14.
It is yet to be seen if Gant’s performance, which almost made Robles’ appearance unnecessary, will influence Mike Shildt’s choice of a closer while Hicks is out. Even if it doesn’t, it’s conceivable that Carlos Martinez and Andrew Miller could receive some save chances, particularly if Hicks requires time on the IL.
In his two prior outings in this past week, Luke Jackson appeared to have rebounded from a rough first half of April, but neither situation could be called high-leverage. On Sunday, Jackson got his first save chance in eight days, but it turned out to be far from a given that he would successfully protect the Braves’ 4-2 lead over the Nationals in the bottom of the 10th inning. With no one out, he found himself with runners on the corners, and while Trea Turner‘s grounder forced Michael A. Taylor out at second, Yan Gomes scored from third base to cut the lead to a single run. Adam Eaton’s single put Turner in scoring position, still with only one out. Jackson had a tough task ahead in facing Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, but he needed only three pitches to retire both and collect his 11th save. Despite the stressful outing, I have upgraded Jackson from “Hot Seat” to “Not Very Stable” in the closer grid.
I have downgraded Pedro Strop to “Hot Seat”, though through no fault of his own. Strop pitched a perfect ninth inning to seal the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Mets, but Craig Kimbrel may be mere days away from joining the Cubs and displacing him as the team’s closer. After pitching on Friday and Saturday, Kimbrel is scheduled to make his next appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. The best-case scenario is that he will join the Cubs this Thursday.
In ranking among the top relievers in strikeout rate, Nick Anderson has been drawing the attention of fantasy owners all season long. On Sunday, he recorded his long-awaited first career save, finishing off the Phillies in the Marlins’ 6-4 win. Anderson did allow a run on a double, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, but he also recorded his 52nd strikeout in 31.1 innings. Sergio Romo was apparently unavailable after having pitched on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, so we should expect Anderson to revert to his usual setup role. However, he could be next in line for saves, rather than Tayron Guerrero, who pitched the eighth inning on Sunday.
Quick hits: Shawn Kelley recorded his 10th save of the season on Sunday, and in getting four outs against the White Sox, it was his first save of the season that required more than three outs…The Rays placed Diego Castillo on the IL with right shoulder inflammation…When Seth Lugo allowed Javier Baez‘s go-ahead homer in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 5-3 loss to the Cubs, it marked the first time he had allowed a run since May 19. That was one day before he went on an 11-day stint on the IL for right shoulder tendinitis. Over his 11.2 innings since getting activated, Lugo has induced ground balls at a 25.9 percent rate, but he has limited hitters to an average exit velocity on flyballs and line drives of 91.3 mph (per Baseball Savant). Lugo’s 42-pitch appearance may be better remembered as the possible impetus for Mickey Callaway’s and Jason Vargas‘ postgame confrontations with Newsday reporter Tim Healey…Scott Oberg also had an uncharacteristically bad outing in a setup situation. Pitching the bottom of the ninth inning in a 3-3 tie with the Dodgers, Oberg coughed up a leadoff single to Matt Beaty, who advanced to second base on a wild pitch. After issuing a two-out intentional walk to Russell Martin, Will Smith ended the game with a walk-off home run, handing Oberg his first loss of the season…In finishing up the Royals’ 6-1 win over the Twins with 2.1 scoreless innings, Kevin McCarthy recorded his first career save…The Nationals released Trevor Rosenthal on Sunday.
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.