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2011 Closer’s Corner: Panic Over John Axford’s Opening Day Blown Save?

Fri, Apr 1, 2011

Closer's Corner

You’ve worked hard all offseason taking note of player movement, you’ve scouted spring games. You’ve participated in countless mock drafts, and put hours—if not days—of research and preparation into your league’s draft. You go to bed on Opening Day eve feeling good about your team. This will be the year you dominate your fantasy league.

And then, in the third game of the new season, your hopes are dreams are seemingly shattered—by a closer. (In this case, it’s John Axford.)

I’m here to tell you it’s OK; take a deep breath. Let’s try to evaluate this objectively.

John Axford did, in fact, blow a three-run lead to the Reds on Opening Day, including a walk-off three-run bomb to—of all people—Ramon Hernandez. The shot heard ’round Cincinnati sent fantasy managers scurrying to the waiver wire in search of Brewers’ setup man Takashi Saito.

While this makes for good small talk after a relatively uneventful Opening Day (whose idea was it to only schedule six games, anyway?), there’s little reason to think Axford will lose his grip on the ninth-innings duties anytime soon.

The 28-year-old (Happy Birthday!) stole Trevor Hoffman’s job last season, saving 24 games for the Brewers while posting an elite strikeout rate (11.79) and ERA (2.48). His BABIP (.308) and FIP (2.13) actually suggest he may have been a tad unlucky in 2010, so there’s no reason to think last year was a fluke. He’s always been generous with free passes (6.0 walk rate in the minors, 4.19 in ’10), but his mid-90′s fastball and curveball slider combo proved to be ninth-inning worthy last season.

While Takashi Saito has had great success since his major league debut in 2006 (84 saves, 2.19 ERA, 11.03 K/9, 2.82 BB/9), Axford will have to implode a few more times before the 41-year-old Japanese pitcher sniffs Milwaukee’s closer’s role.

The Brewers play the Reds again tomorrow, perhaps allowing Axford a chance to redeem himself. Keep him in your lineup.

Image courtesy of: Steve Schar

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