Here’s how I see it…
John Axford blew his first save opportunity last season on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Turns out, the hard-throwing righty would only blow one more game all season.
Better still, the Brewers traded for Francisco Rodriguez in mid July. K-Rod never posted a save with Milwaukee (he had 23 for the Mets prior to the trade), but shined setting up Axford with a 1.86 ERA in 31 appearances helping the Beer Makers to the NL Central crown.
Despite Frankie’s public outcry to return to a full-time closer’s role, which assumingly won’t happen in Milwaukee, he and the Brewers surprisingly came to terms on a 1-yr, $8M deal–thus helping solidify Axford’s top ranking as the division’s best closer.
If anyone gives John Axford a run for his money it’s Joel Hanrahan.
His 40 saves ranked 6th in the NL and ranked him third on the Pirates all-time single season saves list behind Mike Williams (46, 2002) & Jose Mesa (43, 2004).
There’s arguably no better closer on the road with the ‘Hammer’ posting 20 saves and having allowed just three hits and no runs following the All Star break.
Even the slightest improvements to the Buccos roster could position Hanrahan for another 40-plus save season and a shot at catching Axford for the top ranking.
The Reds are moving on in a big way from Coco Cordero’s (Toronto) 37 saves last season.
Cincy inked Ryan Madson to a 1-yr, 8.5M deal this offseason, banking on the closer to repeat his career year from 2011.
Madson, (32/34) in save opportunities, finished the season strong with 17 consecutive scoreless appearances. He also gains the benefit of former Cub, Sean Marshall, setting the stage in front of him.
However, his career track record closing previous to 2011 is shaky (20/44). So is the Mad Dog one-&-done as a premier closer? Either way, the Reds are about to find out.
Cubs fans are well aware how good Carlos Marmol can be as a closer–but his consistency remains in question.
Loss of pitch command, hit batsmen, and seemingly a loss of confidence all contributed to his league-high 10 blown saves in 2011.
Despite racking up 34 saves last season, the jury is out whether Marmol remains the Cubs closer much longer. Chicago does have a few potential candidates in the minors, and Kerry Wood is still a viable option, as well.
I’ve continued to hold fast to my belief Marmol’s better suited as a setup-man, but it appears he’ll enter 2012 with the closer’s job his to lose.
Will this season mark the return of Marmol from 2010 (38 saves, 2.55 ERA), or last year’s unreliable version (10 blown saves, 4.01 ERA)?
5.) St. Louis
Fernando Salas wasn’t awful by the numbers last season. He managed 24 saves and a 2.64 ERA before Tony LaRussa changed hands and went with bearded sensation Jason Motte.
Salas’s 6 blown saves, however, challenged his reliability and prompted the late season move by LaRussa to bring Motte into the fold as the full-time closer.
The move paid off as the 29 year old found his stride at just the right time for the Cardinals’ impressive and historic run to the World Series.
That doesn’t mean Motte is without flaws, which surfaced as he suffered the loss in Game 2 of the World Series, including his two, 10th-inning runs allowed on Josh Hamilton’s HR in Game 6.
Motte will undoubtedly be the Cards’ man heading into 2012, but who knows if he’ll remain there all season?
Go figure the Astros are without a legitimate closer for 2012. What else would you expect from a team that lost 106 games and posted the worst save percentage in the Majors?
Perhaps more troubling is the fact Houston appeared to have its closer of the future in Mark Melancon (who they acquired for Lance Berkman the season prior) before dealing him to Boston this December for shortstop Jed Lowrie.
Melancon finished the season with 20 saves, including 11 consecutive scoreless appearances. So now what, Houston?
The Astros have reeved-up its PR wheels this offseason on a number of pressing issues (name change, and a move to the AL West in 2013) in addition to claiming they have a solid replacement at closer for Melancon.
That better be the case, or otherwise, it’s potentially Brandon Lyon’s job. That’s not good considering Lyon went 4/8 in save opportunities and is coming off surgery in June to repair a detachment of his right biceps tendon as well as a repair of his shoulder labrum.
‘Roger that, Houston. We have a serious problem.’