Early in the season, Bruce Bochy was able to relax a little bit in the ninth inning. Even though his star closer, Brian Wilson, went down with an elbow injury.
Now, when the Giants have a small lead in the ninth, Bochy can’t relax.
Santiago Casilla, the Giants' former closer, went through a tough stretch in July, and Bochy decided he had seen enough. Casilla was stripped of the closers' role, and Bochy announced that Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo would combine to pitch the eighth and ninth in tight games.
Romo has always been dominant, especially against right-handed hitters. Despite pitching terribly in two games in late July, he has a 2.06 ERA and an 0.94 WHIP. Lopez has a 3.33 ERA, and Affeldt boasts a 2.56 ERA.
Even though Casilla's ERA nearly reached 8 during a span of 17 appearances, his ERA for the season is still a respectable 3.35. Casilla saved 24 games for the Giants, but he allowed a lot of homers and two-out hits in July (which resulted in five blown saves).
And Bochy decided he'd seen enough. Casilla, who has a 3.75 career ERA, lost his job as the closer. Now, he'll most likely pitch in the 7th inning, extra innings (if needed), or in blowout games.
Some might say that Bochy could have let him close for a little while longer and seen if Casilla was able to break out of his funk. However, in reality, that wasn't going to happen. He left a lot of pitches over the plate, and when the ball didn't go over the plate, it went way outside of the strike zone. The pressure of the playoff race finally caught up to Casilla, and he wasn’t able to handle pitching in the ninth.
Closers can't be inconsistent, and Casilla was. After blowing five of eight saves in a span of almost a month, Bochy considered changing the bullpen roles. However, Casilla saved a game in Philadelphia and got a win against the Padres (he pitched a shutout inning), which prompted Bochy to let Casilla get some more save opportunities.
Casilla has only pitched once in the Giants' last 13 games, but he struggled in that game. He allowed two earned runs and recorded only one out, getting the loss in a game against the Mets. Affeldt continued to do well, Lopez and Romo recorded key outs, and Bochy decided to shake up the bullpen roles.
And he is making a great decision for the team.
Romo has balky knees and a sore elbow, so he can't close on a day-to-day basis. However, he can close occasionally, which is why Bochy is using the closer-by-committee formula. Lopez can pitch an inning, but he is more fit shutting down lefties. Affeldt can pitch well for two innings, and all three can handle the pressure of closing games.
Affeldt has good stuff and is pretty consistent. His stats have been stellar in the last two years, and he's established himself as one of the Giants' better relievers. Lopez is a lefty specialist, and he can strike out lefties like no one else in baseball. Romo has a nasty slider and is a nightmare for righties.
All three of these guys bring something unique to the bullpen. If a couple righties are going to hit, Romo can pitch. If a lefty steps to the plate, Bochy can bring in Affeldt or Lopez. He knows how to manage his bullpen, and as long as he gives his three relievers favorable match-ups, they will do the job.
San Francisco's bullpen has been struggling, and Casilla is part of the reason why. His inability to pitch in high-pressure situations has killed the team, and luckily, Bochy realized it in time. Pitching in the 7th inning, where there's less pressure on him, should help Casilla pitch better.
And pitching in the 8th and 9th inning should help Lopez, Romo and Affeldt bring the Giants' bullpen back to the status of elite and the team back to the postseason.