MLB Playoff Contenders That Will Be Undone by Their Weak Closers
Even though the Major League Baseball season is only a month old, it is not too early to start looking at which teams have positioned themselves well and which teams have some work to do in order to reach the postseason.
Closers are one of the more valuable positions on any team and can have a huge impact, either positive or negative. The teams that can close out games are usually the ones that are the most successful.
There are four teams right now that had serious playoff aspirations at the start of the season, but are currently in question due to question marks around their closers.
St. Louis Cardinals
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With Jason Motte starting the year on the DL, Mitchell Boggs won the closer role to start the season.
This seems like the only thing Boggs has been able to win this season as he has really struggled over the past few weeks.
Boggs has blown two of his four save opportunities and has an ERA of 12.46. He has given up 12 runs so far, but half of those came on April 8 when he gave up six in one-third of an inning against the Cincinnati Reds.
The instability at the closer position could quickly be resolved if Motte is able to come back, but he still has not been cleared to throw and reconstructive elbow surgery sounds like it is a real possibility.
If the Cardinals continue to go with Boggs, they could give up crucial wins in what is expected to be a tight race in the NL Central.
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It is surprising that with the offense the Angels have, they have been outscored by 17 runs this season.
The blame doesn't completely fall on the offense, but rather on Los Angeles pitching.
The Angels are second-to-last in team ERA at 4.88 and if they are not able to produce better results, they could be in store for a lot of close games. That could make the closer role that much more important to the team's success or lack thereof.
This past offseason, the team brought in Ryan Madson, who was coming off Tommy John surgery at the start of the 2012 season, to provide stability to an Angels' bullpen that struggled last year. The problem is that Madson has taken longer than expected to recover and recently suffered a setback in his rehab.
In the meantime, the Angels have turned to Ernesto Frieri to start the season as the team's closer and he has filled the role admirably. In limited action, he has converted both of his save opportunities and has an ERA of only 2.16.
There has to be some concern though about the two solo home runs he has allowed and six walks in only 8.1 innings. The Angels' playoff chances could come down to how effective Frieri is over the course of the season.
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The Bruce Rondon experiment was stopped before it even had a chance to start in Detroit.
That left the Tigers scrambling to find a closer and they eventually decided to bring back Jose Valverde. He made his first appearance against Kansas City this past week and looked much better than he did during the 2012 postseason.
The Tigers' postseason chances could be determined by which Jose Valverde they get this season. If they get the one who converted 87 out of 92 save opportunities since 2011 before last years' postseason, Detroit should cruise to another postseason appearance.
The concern is that the Tigers could have to deal with the erratic Valverde who they had to deal with last fall. He converted only one of two save opportunities and gave up nine earned runs in 2.2 innings of work. He eventually lost the closer role as the team got deeper into the postseason.
At 35 years old, he could already be on the downside of his career and there should be some concern about how many quality innings he has left in the tank.
If Valverde hits a rough stretch, it will be interesting to see how long they stay with him before going back to a closer by committee.
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The Arizona Diamondbacks are a team that had postseason aspirations even after the loss of Justin Upton because of their quality starting rotation. These plans could all be derailed if J.J. Putz continues to struggle this year.
Putz has a 5.00 ERA and leads MLB with three blown saves at this point in the season, which is only two less than he had all of last season. The Diamondbacks need all the wins they can get in the tough NL West with the Dodgers, Giants and the surprising Colorado Rockies.
The Diamondbacks were probably going to need a number of breaks to go their way if they wanted to sneak into the postseason this year. However, they have been set back even further with the way that Putz has pitched this season and could miss the playoffs because of it.