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Closer Rankings and Bullpen Depth Charts: Week 1

The 2020 short season is already off to a hectic start. One week in and closing situations are already crazy to navigate. Team by team, I’ll take you through this week’s usage and bullpen updates. I’ll also update my closer rankings every week and let you know who’s next in line for saves on each team. Despite the madness that is 2020, it’s so good to be back. Let’s get to it.

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MLB Closer Rankings and Bullpen Updates

AL East

The Orioles bullpen was already a questionable one at best coming into the year. Then Hunter Harvey hit the injured list before the start of the season. This left Mychal Given as the assumed closer, but he pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s game with the Orioles up by five runs. With a three-run lead on the Red Sox on Sunday, it was Cole Sulser who converted a two-inning save. Harvey is progressing through his injury and should return soon. Though the situation is likely to continue as a committee.

The Red Sox have yet to find themselves in a save situation through one week, so pretty much status quo. Matt Barnes worked the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, walking two and striking out one. Brandon Workman got some work in on Tuesday, needing only six pitches to get through an inning.

With Aroldis Chapman out with Covid-19, Zack Britton is the closer early on, and he converted his only opportunity Sunday. Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle also pitched that game to help the Yankees hold a one-run lead over the Nationals. Green was credited with the win while Kahnle earned a hold. Kahnle struck out the side in his inning of work and is one of my top middle relievers to own, especially in holds leagues. You’re still stashing Chapman. As long as he returns healthy, he’ll be one of the best closers in the game and back into the top-five of the closer rankings.

Before the start of the season, I was scooping up all the Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, and Jose Alvarado, thinking I would be locking down all the saves. Wrong! Because of course, it’s the Rays. Diego Castillo started the season on the paternity list, so it wasn’t much of a big deal when Oliver Drake was called upon for the first save chance. Well, Castillo returned and pitched the fifth inning of Monday’s contest, earning the win.

As for Anderson, it’s clear now that he’ll be used in tight, high-leverage spots when the Rays need him. Drake’s usage probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it is. He pitched excellent in 2019, posting a 3.21 ERA while striking out 70 batters in 56 innings.

I loved Ken Giles coming into the year, everything about what he did last season indicated he was back as one of the better closers in the game. Unfortunately, his injury issues from last season came back to bite him. Giles suffered a forearm strain Sunday was unable to complete the save. Now, the Blue Jays are turning to Anthony Bass for the foreseeable future. Bass picked up the save Monday against the Nationals, pitching a clean inning with one strikeout. Bass needs to be added anywhere you need saves.

AL Central

AL Central Bullpen Update

The White Sox have yet to see a save chance, but there’s no question here that Alex Colome is the guy, with Aaron Bummer the setup man and next in line. Five strikeouts in 2.1 innings so far for Bummer is a good sign after he posted a 7.98 K/9 in 2019.

There was some concern surround Brad Hand coming into the year after he struggled in the second half of 2019, and the results have been a mixed bag early on. Hand earned his first save on Opening Day, then another on Tuesday, but it didn’t come easy, giving up two hits and a run. Then pitching on back-to-back days, Hand struggled Wednesday, giving up three runs and recording one out.

Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak have worked behind Hand, neither allowing an earned run yet. Should Hand lose the closing job, get traded, or otherwise unavailable, both will be candidates to close. Karinchak, of course, has the strikeout stuff we all want to see in the ninth inning. He’s got the upside worth rostering right now as a middle reliever for ratios and strikeouts.

Remember last season when Shane Greene got all those saves in the first half for the Tigers? Yeah, well, here we are again, except it’s Joe Jimenez. Jimenez recorded his fourth save in five days, making his draft day cost a huge bargain early on.

Ian Kennedy paid off big time for those who picked him up last season, and he appeared to be a draft-day bargain for saves. But it seems he’s no longer the man for the ninth inning. Kennedy has pitched the seventh inning for both his appearances. Meanwhile, Trevor Rosenthal, Scott Barlow, and Greg Holland find themselves in high-leverage situations. Holland has the only save for the team after he struck out the side on Saturday in the tenth inning. Rosenthal and Barlow have been impressive in their own right. Consider it a committee, for now.

Curiously, it was Sergio Romo and not Taylor Rogers who was called upon in the first save situation for the Twins on Tuesday. Romo had already been warming up in the eighth with the Twins up by four when the Cardinals made it a three-run game. So, I wouldn’t look too much into it yet. Rogers did convert his first save of the season on Wednesday. Don’t forget about Tyler Duffey in your roto and holds leagues. Duffey has struck out five batters in two innings and should be in line for plenty of holds with excellent ratios.

AL West

There was some concern that Roberto Osuna wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season. Fortunately, he was good to go and converted his first save Monday. The rest of the bullpen is a bit up in the air, with Ryan Pressly dealing with an elbow issue. This after Will Harris left in free agency, and Joe Smith opted out of the season. With Aroldis Chapman out, Osuna takes the number two spot in the closer rankings.

After a rough first outing on Friday, Hansel Robles got back on track Saturday, pitching a perfect inning, striking out one, and picking up his first save. Ty Buttrey remains the primary setup man and next in line.

Liam Hendriks broke out in a big way in 2019. The question coming into the year was if he can sustain his breakout. Hendriks blew his first save chance Friday, giving up a game-tying home run to Jason Castro. He came back to record a four-out save two days later. And when the Athletics found themselves in another save situation on Tuesday, Joakim Soria was called upon for the save with Hendriks given the night off. The reliable veteran Yusmeiro Petit has pitched well with a hold and a win under his belt.

Despite Matt Magill’s good second half in 2019, the Seattle closing situation remains a committee. Magill pitched the fifth inning of Sunday’s game while Taylor Williams recorded the save. Wednesday against the Angels, it was Dan Altavilla who locked down the ninth inning.

Jose Leclerc recorded his first save on Friday and gave up one run with the Rangers down by two to Colorado on Sunday. Wednesday brought another save chance for the Rangers, but Leclerc was unable to go after experiencing shoulder tightness. That’s not what you want to hear. Nick Goody recorded the save, pitching a perfect ninth with one strikeout. Keep an eye on the situation.

NL East

Mark Melancon made his first appearance of the season Wednesday, recording his first save of the season. Meanwhile, Will Smith has yet to be activated after testing positive for Covid-19. It’s been Shane Greene and Luke Jackson working in high-leverage situations while Smith is out.

The Marlins are a mess. With half the team getting Covid-19, it’s hard to know who to hold and who to drop. Brandon Kintzler did record a save on Friday, so if you own him and need saves, he’s worth holding on to for now. Yimi Garcia had pitched well all Spring and Summer, and now find himself in a high-leverage setup role.

Edwin Diaz was a headache for fantasy owners in 2019, and this season seems to be no different. Diaz converted his first save chance, then blew the opportunity the following day. This opened the door for Seth Lugo, who recorded a save Monday. While Diaz should still get the bulk of the save chances, Lugo and Dellin Betances could be called upon for the ninth on any given night. Lugo is without question their best reliever and will be leaned on heavily. He did allow a game-tying home run in the seventh against Boston on Wednesday.

The Phillies haven’t played since Sunday due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has struck the Marlins. There’s not much to take away from three games. Neris made one appearance, recording two outs and striking out one.

It appears as though Daniel Hudson has taken over as the closer for the Nationals. Hudson pitched the eighth and ninth innings on Wednesday, earning the win against Toronto. Hudson also pitched the ninth inning on Sunday with the Nationals down by a run to the Yankees. Meanwhile, Sean Doolittle pitched the eighth and couldn’t get out of the inning. Two days later, Doolittle was in for the seventh inning down by two runs to the Blue Jays. All signs point to Hudson being the guy.

Your roster need a refresh? Check out Eric Cross’ Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire.

NL Central Bullpen Updates

Craig Kimbrel’s struggles last season have carried over into 2020. Kimbrel has made one appearance in a save opportunity Monday, but couldn’t get the job done after walking four batters and hitting another. Jeremy Jeffress had to clean up and earn the save himself. I’m not sure how long of a leash Kimbrel will have, but he won’t last long as the closer if his struggles continue. Keep Jeffress on your radar.

For a bullpen that had so much promise, it’s off to a collectively sketchy start. Raisel Iglesias pitched the ninth inning of a tie ball game Saturday and gave up a game-winning two-run home run. Michael Lorenzen has given up three home runs in three games, and Robert Stephenson hit the injured list with a back strain. Pedro Strop might be the next best option if the Reds were to open the door to other possibilities in the ninth inning.

If there was any doubt that Josh Hader would be the closer with Corey Knebel returning, it has pretty much been put to rest, for now. Knebel has mostly pitched with the Brewers behind, and Hader recorded his first save Wednesday, the first opportunity for Milwaukee. Hader remains number one in the closer rankings as the most valuable reliever in the game.

Nick Burdi might just be the most valuable pickup early on. Keone Kela was expected to come into the season with the closer job, but Covid-19 has him sidelined. Burdi has made the most of his chance, striking out the side in a non-save outing on Sunday, then picking up his first career save Tuesday. Burdi might just have the stuff to keep the job even when Kela returns.

After Jordan Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his 2019, it was Carlos Martinez who stepped in as the closer. With Martinez back in the rotation and Giovanny Gallegos delayed with Covid-19, Kwang Hyun Kim gets the first shot at the job. Kim recorded his first save Friday with Ryan Helsley pitching the eighth.

NL West Bullpen Updates

bullpen update

Archie Bradley was lights out in the second half of 2019 and came into this season with the closer job locked up. Bradley struck out the side Tuesday for his first save. Kevin Ginkel pitched a clean seventh inning on Sunday and again on Wednesday after a shaky debut Friday in which he gave up two runs.

If you had just waited on closer until the very end and took Wade Davis and Joe Jimenez, you’d be sitting pretty with six saves. Davis converted both save chances over the weekend. Though he’s yet to pitch at home. Scott Oberg, probably the best reliever in the Rockies’ bullpen, is on the injured list dealing with a strained back.

Kenley Jansen is out to prove he’s not done yet. He recorded his first save Tuesday, then pitched the ninth inning of Wednesday’s contest with the Dodgers and Astros tied. Jansen is back into the top-five of the closer rankings given the team context and his sustained skills, mostly his ability to limit hard contact.

The Padres made it a point to get some help in the bullpen over the offseason, adding Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz. Kirby Yates pitched the ninth inning of a tie game Sunday and had trouble with his control, allowing two walks and the winning run to score. Yates was given an extra day off, and it was Pomeranz who recorded the first save for the Padres Tuesday.

The Giants’ situation was up in the air coming into the year, but it was Trevor Gott who was awarded the first two save chances. He converted both over the weekend. Tyler Rogers pitched the ninth inning of a tie game Wednesday and earned the win. I’d be picking up Gott for saves here if he’s available in your league.

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