They are two of the best teams in the American League but their bullpens are a mess. The Tigers and Red Sox have turned the 9th inning into a disaster drill; these first place teams have closer issues. There’s nothing more gut wrenching to a team and their fans then blowing leads in the 9th inning. We expect closers to be robotic. Leave the pen with loud music blaring; throw strikes (preferably in the mid 90’s range) get um 1-2-3 in the 9th, shake hands and call it a day.
Simple enough but Boston closer Andrew Bailey has blown 3 of his last 5 save chances. In that stretch he’s walked 5, given up 4 homers and pitched to a 15.75 ERA. Thursday night in Detroit he came in with his gas can walked a batter and then gave up a walk-off HR to the Tigers Johnny Peralta. Boston manager John Farrell had seen enough, he says the Sox will look for a new closer internally, or was that internationally? Koji and Junichi Tazawa are among the candidates.
The man in the other dugout has his own closer issues. Jim Leyland’s Marlboro’s aren’t the only thing going up in smoke. Jose Valverde (aka Papa Grande) has recently been told his services are no longer needed in the 9th inning. Valverde gets the closer axe after giving up 5 home runs in a 2 week period, that’s more homers than he’s given up in any entire season since he’s been with Detroit. Leyland will go with Joaquin Benoit in the 9th while the Tigers wonder if Benoit can hold up physically in the closer’s role and figure out who’ll replace him as the set-up man.
Back in Baltimore Jim Johnson leads MLB with 26 saves. In 2012 the Orioles closer lead both leagues with 51 saves. He’s on pace for about 80 saves in a year and half. Wow! You might remember last month Johnson blew a few saves and some fans were screaming the O’s had to find a new closer. Buck Showalter tuned out the noise and stuck with his all-star. There’s a lot of hard ball to be played between now and the World Series but if you’re in the Baltimore dugout it’s good to know your closer might be the best in the game. In Boston and Detroit it’s a 9th inning high-wire act and open season on closers.