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MLB Playoff Watch: Which contenders look the most stable at closer?
Major League Baseball

MLB Playoff Watch: Which contenders look the most stable at closer?

Updated Aug. 28, 2023 8:41 a.m. ET

It's been an eventful weekend in closer news, some of which could have serious implications on October. 

Unfortunately, it's mostly not great. 

The Orioles lost strikeout behemoth Félix Bautista to a UCL injury, Marlins deadline acquisition David Robertson is out of the closer role after struggling in his new digs, Giants All-Star Camilo Doval is looking to find his way and the Rangers can't seem to hold onto any late-inning lead. 

All of these teams, however, remain firmly in the playoff mix. With just five weeks remaining in the regular season, here's a ranking of all 17 contenders in terms of stability with their closer.


(Note: Only teams within six games of a playoff spot were considered for this ranking.) 

17) Texas Rangers (73-57, AL wild card No. 2)


Closer (?) Will Smith has a 10.38 ERA in August and has blown his past two save chances. Co-closer Aroldis Chapman has helped in the late innings, but he has blown his only two save chances this month. On Sunday, the Rangers blew two different save opportunities before walking in the winning run. On the year, they now have more blown saves (25) than converted saves (24). It's danger time in Arlington, and it feels like there's no obvious answer. Maybe Jose Leclerc gets a look soon. 

16) Miami Marlins (66-65, 3.0 games back of NL wild card)

The Marlins tried to patch up their ninth innings by trading for Robertson. He is 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA in Miami, and he is already out of the closer role. Now it looks like Tanner Scott will be assuming the primary role. Scott has been great this season, and his first attempt since the Marlins' decision was a success on Sunday, but it's a situation in flux. 

15) Baltimore Orioles (81-49, first in AL East)

Had Bautista not gone down, this group would rank first. But "some degree of injury" to the UCL sounds awfully ominous. The Orioles have the luxury of turning to another All-Star reliever to plug into the ninth inning in Yennier Canó, but Canó and Bautista were the lifeblood of this pitching staff, and there's a sense of fear removed in the later innings when the closer with the highest strikeout rate in the game is unavailable. 

14) Seattle Mariners (74-56, first in AL West)

It's not often a team can trade away one of the more reliable closers in the game and then go on a run. But that's life in Seattle. Sure, Paul Sewald might be nice to have as the Mariners make their ascent, but Seattle dealt from a position of strength. This is still one of the best bullpens in baseball, and Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash are a more-than-capable backend duo. 

13) Arizona Diamondbacks (69-62, NL wild card No. 3) 

After a season-long journey to find their ninth-inning man, the D-backs went and got another one. It hasn't gone exactly as Sewald probably would've drawn it up since his trade to Arizona — he is 7-for-9 in save chances with season highs in ERA (4.66) and WHIP (1.86) this month — but his track record would suggest better times ahead. 

12) San Francisco Giants (67-63, 1.5 games back of NL wild card)

Things have suddenly started trending the wrong way for Doval, who just concluded a stretch of four blown saves in four straight outings during which the 25-year-old All-Star walked more batters than he struck out. He got back on track Sunday with two strikeouts in a save against the Braves, so maybe that's the start of him putting that blip behind him. The Giants need to be able to rely on Doval to stay in the mix. 

11) Minnesota Twins (68-63, first in AL Central)

Jhoan Duran is 6-for-6 in save opportunities in August, though that stat belies the adventure it's been for Minnesota's high-leverage relievers. This month, the Twins' bullpen ERA ranks in the bottom third of baseball, and even Duran hasn't been immune. On Sunday, he snapped a streak of 15 straight appearances in which he allowed a hit. 

10) Philadelphia Phillies (72-58, NL wild card No. 1) 

Craig Kimbrel went from being left off the Dodgers' playoff roster after a shaky season in Los Angeles last year to becoming an All-Star closer in Philadelphia this year. It hasn't been perfect, but he has been an asset for a Phillies team that needed the late-inning help. 

9) Tampa Bay Rays (80-52, AL wild card No. 1)

As uncharacteristic as it is to see a Rays bullpen with an ERA near 4.00, closer Pete Fairbanks and relievers Jason Adam and Colin Poche still give this group reliable late-inning leverage. 

8) Houston Astros (74-58, AL wild card No. 3) 

It hasn't been quite as smooth as usual for Ryan Pressly, whose strikeout rate has dipped a bit, but you still won't find many better options around the league. Pressly has the lowest walk rate of his career and hadn't allowed a run in August until Friday's blow-up in Detroit, plus Bryan Abreu (85 strikeouts in 60 innings) gives Houston a lot of late-inning insurance. 

7) Chicago Cubs (69-61, NL wild card No. 2) 

This year has been a bit of an experiment in Chicago both in the lineup and with the pitching staff, but the bullpen has come into order. Adbert Alzolay had one career save going into this year, Now, he is the only closer in baseball who is perfect in at least 14 save opportunities since the break. Behind him, Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather are providing solid late-inning depth. Not quite the name recognition of other groups, but this bullpen deserves its props. 

6) Boston Red Sox (69-62, 4.5 games back of AL Wild Card)

Kenley Jansen is ready to return from hamstring tightness, and the Red Sox will need him for their playoff push. The 35-year-old All-Star is still getting it done, and the options behind him are limited. 

5) Los Angeles Dodgers (80-49, first in NL West)

After a bit of a shaky start to August, Evan Phillips has allowed just three baserunners over his past seven appearances. He's also converted nine consecutive save chances. Behind him, leverage righties Brusdar Graterol and Ryan Brasier have combined to allow one run in August. 

4) Atlanta Braves (84-45, first in NL East)

Raisel Iglesias picked a good time to have his best month of the year. The Braves closer hasn't allowed a run in August, striking out 14 batters in 10 innings while going 5-for-5 in save chances. He has a 1.17 ERA with 22 strikeouts and three walks in 16 appearances since the All-Star break. 

3) Toronto Blue Jays (71-60, 2.5 games back of AL wild card)

He's a back-to-back All-Star, and yet Jordan Romano still might not get enough recognition as one of the best closers in the game. He returned from a back injury this month to his usual form, converting saves in each of his first three appearances of August. Perhaps even more impressive, Jordan Hicks, Erik Swanson and Bowden Francis combined to go 6-for-6 in their save chances with Romano on the shelf. Maybe that experience will help down the stretch. 

2) Cincinnati Reds (68-64, 1.5 games back of NL wild card)

Who had this Diaz brother leading the majors in saves? Alexis Diaz has followed up a terrific debut season by developing into one of the game's shutdown closers. While he has struggled with his control in August, it's just something to keep an eye on for now.

1) Milwaukee Brewers (73-57, first in NL Central)

Devin Williams may not be a fan of the new pitch clock rules, but that hasn't stopped the back-to-back All-Star from displaying his typically dominant ways. Williams' 1.43 ERA is his best mark over the course of a full season, and he has allowed just one earned run in the season's second half. The airbender remains a thing of beauty.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and MLB as a whole for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers' editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 


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