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Stray Saves

Manuel Banuelos and Jackson Stephens picked up three-inning saves this past week. Neither is a factor at the backend of their respective bullpens.

Kolby Allard and Joel Kuhnel closed out extra-inning affairs for the Rangers and Reds respectively this past week. Both are far off from being closing options in their respective bullpens.

Struggling Closers

While Gregory Soto had settled down a little in recent weeks, he blew his second save of the season on Thursday against the Rangers. Despite his ERA, Soto’s peripherals have not supported his results. Coming into play Thursday the lefty owned a 4.74 xERA and 5.04 xFIP. His 11.5% K-BB% isn’t typical of a closer, and if he regresses towards his peripherals the Tigers will likely consider other options. Michael Fulmer’s velocity has not quite held up to his 2021 levels, but he’s maintained the strikeout improvement and has overall been quite solid. Young relievers Will Vest and Alex Lange have also been very good, but their lack of experience may lead Detroit to trust other arms with the closer role.

Joe Barlow’s struggles over the weekend have not yet shaken the trust of manager Chris Woodward, but his recent outings should bring some level of concern to his long-term viability as the Texas Rangers’ closer. Coming into play on Thursday, Barlow carries a 5.54 xERA and 4.60 xFIP despite his passable 3.22 ERA. Barlow’s strikeout rate has also steadily declined as the season has progressed, a major concern for a pitcher who doesn’t get very many ground balls. Matt Moore earned his first career save on Monday with Barlow unavailable due to his weekend workload, but Matt Bush and Dennis Santana would likely also figure to be involved if Barlow were removed from the closer role. It is worth noting Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez are set to return from Tommy John surgery before the end of June, but the Rangers have already made clear they won’t thrust either into a closing role at the outset of their return.

Committee Clarity

While there was a stretch where Camilo Doval entered games at odd times and appeared to be falling into some sort of committee, his usage this past week was more akin to a closer. He pitched in the ninth inning in three of his last four appearances with the fourth being a high leverage spot in the eighth inning. Jake McGee’s velocity and performance have ticked up since the end of May, but he still hasn’t found the strikeouts he was missing at the beginning of the season. Doval is still the reliever to roster for the Giants.

Tanner Houck made a strong case to slide into the Red Sox closer role over the weekend, notching saves last Friday and Sunday in Seattle. The Red Sox have not had any other relievers step up and pitch consistently enough to justify handing the closer role over. Houck’s emergence gives them a potential option, especially now that Boston is committing to him as a single-inning high leverage reliever rather than a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen.

The Cardinals’ ninth-inning role had seemingly gone to Ryan Helsley in recent weeks. Helsley picked up the Cardinals’ last four saves while routinely entering games after Giovanny Gallegos, but there was a role reversal in the first game of their doubleheader on Tuesday. Helsley came on with one out in the eighth inning, presumably to pick up the final five outs and save Gallegos for the nightcap. He struggled with command, however, and threw 20 pitches to the three batters he faced. This forced St. Louis to turn to Gallegos for the ninth inning and allowed him to earn his first save since May 20th. It’s difficult to know if there’s anything to glean from this usage, but I would still lean Helsley over Gallegos if I had to pick one.

Tanner Scott appeared to be locking down the Marlins’ closing job after collecting three consecutive saves. In his sixth save opportunity, he gave up a walk-off three-run home run to the Phillies. Miami might choose to stick with Scott given their injuries and lack of other high-end performers, but Scott is far from a lock to remain in the role.

The Reds’ closer role has been in turmoil for most of the last three seasons, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing in the near future. Alexis Diaz picked up his second save on Sunday, albeit after giving up a two-run home run. Hunter Strickland was called on to close out their win the next day, with Diaz presumably unavailable. Diaz has performed the best among relievers in the Cincinnati bullpen, but it isn’t clear yet whether David Bell is comfortable handing the closer role over to Diaz.

Returning from injury

Aroldis Chapman’s impending return from the injured list is going to open up questions about the Yankees’ closer role. Clay Holmes has gone 30 innings without giving up a run and has been dominant as the closer while Chapman has been out. Meanwhile, Chapman was struggling with the consistency of his stuff and command before hitting the injured list. Still, his track record and salary could be reason enough for the Yankees to return him to the closing role, and Aaron Boone has already voiced a potential preference for Clay Holmes in a more flexible role. Holmes and Chapman are both worth rostering either way for now.

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