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2011 Fantasy Baseball Closer’s Corner, Week 1: John Axford, Brandon Lyon, Sean Burnett & More

Mon, Apr 4, 2011

Closer's Corner

Opening weekend of the 2011 baseball season certainly was an eventful one, especially in the late innings. At least three closers put their job in jeopardy with rocky outings, sending fantasy managers scurrying to the waiver wire in search of the most suitable backup. Here’s the latest:

John Axford blew a three-run lead in the ninth on Opening Day, allowing a three-run, walk-off HR to Ramon Hernandez, of all people. The Brewers haven’t been presented with a save opportunity since, but Axford shouldn’t be on a short leash just yet. His 2010 performance (24 saves, 2.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11.79 K/9), and the fact that he unseated the all-time saves leader, should hold much more weight than one bad outing against a potent Cincinnati lineup on Opening Day. Takashi Saito would likely fill the ninth inning duties if Axford continues to struggle, but he’s not worth owning in standard leagues quite yet.

Brandon Lyon blew a two-run lead in the ninth on Friday at the hands of the Phillies. After allowing Rollins and Howard to reach, Lyon retired Ibanez before allowing four consecutive hits to the most unlikely of heroes: Ben Francisco, Carlos Ruiz, Wilson Valdez and John Mayberry. Although Lyon had a decent 2010 campaign (20 saves, 3.12 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), his below-average peripherals (6.23 K/9, 3.58 BB/9) reveal a dirty secret: he’s not closer material. His job is probably safe for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 27-year-old Wilton Lopez (14 holds, 2.96 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 6.72 K/9, 0.67 BB/9 in 67 innings last season) closing in Houston at some point this season.

Filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey, Brian Fuentes entered a tie game in the ninth inning on Saturday, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits to the light-hitting Mariners. Fuentes was a hot pickup when Bailey hit the DL, but the Athletics have plenty of suitable options (Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler) should Fuentes continue to struggle. Bailey will travel with the team this week, and is expected to return to his ninth-inning role within two weeks.

Fernando Rodney blew a one-run lead in a wild extra-innings affair against the Royals on Sunday. Entering the bottom of the ninth with an 8-7 lead, Rodney allowed two earned runs on one hit and three walks. He recorded just one out before being yanked in favor of Kevin Jepsen. The job remains Rodney’s to lose, but Jordan Walden stands to gain some save opportunities if Rodney continues to falter.

Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman hinted at a bullpen surprise earlier in the spring, but it still came as somewhat of a shocker when Drew Storen took the mound in the eighth inning Saturday against the Braves. With a two-run lead, Storen yielded a solo home run to Alex Gonzalez. Sean Burnett was summoned to record the final out of the eighth inning, and went on to pick up the four-out save. Storen is clearly the future closer in Washington, but his spring struggles have cost him the job for now. Burnett’s stellar 2010 campaign (20 holds, 2.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.86 K/9, 2.86 WHIP) was a far cry from the well-below average totals he posted with Pittsburgh in the two seasons prior. For now, he’s the guy to own for saves in Washington.

Here are the latest injury updates:

UPDATES

  • 4/3/11: Brian Wilson threw all of his pitches in a side session Sunday and declared himself good to go. He should be activated from the DL on Wednesday. Sergio Romo would get any save opportunities that come up between now and then.
  • 3/29/11: Brad Lidge will start the season on the DL with a partially torn rotator cuff. He won’t throw a baseball for at least three to six weeks, and hopes to be back on the mound by the All-Star Break. Manager Charlie Manuel said Tuesday that Jose Contreras – not Ryan Madson – would be the closer if he had to choose.
  • 3/29/11: David Aardsma threw a 20-pitch session on Tuesday, and reported no problems with his surgically-repair hip. He hopes to be closing games for the Mariners by mid-April. Brandon League will serve as the Mariners’ closer until then.
  • 3/29/11: Koji Uehara (elbow) has retired all six batters he’s faced since returning from injury, and is hopeful to join the Orioles on Opening Day. It appears as though Kevin Gregg is the safer bet to close games right now, but manager Buck Showalter expressed confidence in Uehara earlier this spring. This will likely be a fluid situation throughout the season.
  • 3/27/11: Frank Francisco (pectoral) threw from 90 feet on Sunday. He’s expected to start the season on the DL, but shouldn’t be out long. Jon Rauch will close games for the Blue Jays in his absence.

Here’s a full closer/setup man list. The most fluid situations worthy of a close eye are highlighted in bold.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – J.J. Putz (David Hernandez/Juan Gutierrez)
  • Atlanta Braves – Craig Kimbrel (Jonny Venters)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Kevin Gregg (Koji Uehara)
  • Boston Red Sox – Jonathan Papelbon (Daniel Bard)
  • Chicago Cubs – Carlos Marmol (Sean Marshall)
  • Chicago White Sox – Matt Thornton (Jesse Crain/Chris Sale)
  • Cincinnati Reds – Francisco Cordero (Aroldis Chapman)
  • Cleveland Indians – Chris Perez (Rafael Perez/Jensen Lewis)
  • Colorado Rockies – Huston Street (Matt Lindstrom)
  • Detroit Tigers – Jose Valverde (Joaquin Benoit/Ryan Perry)
  • Florida Marlins – Leo Nunez (Clay Hensley)
  • Houston Astros – Brandon Lyon (Wilton Lopez)
  • Kansas City Royals – Joakim Soria (Robinson Tejada)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Fernando Rodney (Jordan Walden)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Jonathan Broxton (Hong-Chih Kuo)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – John Axford (Takashi Saito)
  • Minnesota Twins – Joe Nathan (Matt Capps)
  • New York Mets – Francisco Rodriguez (Bobby Parnell)
  • New York Yankees – Mariano Rivera (Rafael Soriano)
  • Oakland Athletics – Andrew Bailey-DL (Brian Fuentes/Grant Balfour)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Brad Lidge-DL (Jose Contreras)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Joel Hanrahan (Evan Meek)
  • San Diego Padres – Heath Bell (Luke Gregerson)
  • San Francisco Giants – Brian Wilson-DL likely (Sergio Romo)
  • Seattle Mariners – David Aardsma-DL (Brandon League)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Ryan Franklin (Jason Motte)
  • Tampa Bay Rays -  Jake McGee/Joel Peralta/Kyle Farnsworth
  • Texas Rangers – Neftali Feliz (Darren O’Day)
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Frank Francisco-DL (Jon Rauch)
  • Washington NationalsSean Burnett (Drew Storen)

Image courtesy of: Adam Fagen

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