Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – National League

Mound Musings: The Endgame Odyssey Continues – National League

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week I promised to look at some shaky bullpens. These are National League, but they don't have a monopoly by any means. We'll look at the American League next week. There are plenty of bullpens in the National League with evolving roles including decisions on who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is in identifying an upcoming change in roles.

Let's review some NL bullpens with question marks still remaining:

Diamondbacks – Baseball just wouldn't be baseball without ongoing discussions predicting the absolute end of closing duties for Mark Melancon. He has struggled recently, and a lot of people again expect him to ultimately fail. I understand. He doesn't have dominant, prototypical closer stuff. It should be noted he never has had that eye-popping velocity, yet he has 251 career saves. All he does is go out and get the job done. Of note, despite his ugly peripherals, he has just one blown save. He's one of those guys who tends to melt down in non-save appearances. Maybe people forget that while some pitchers crumble under closer pressure, others thrive on it. He has fought some mechanical issues, so hopefully those can be resolved soon. I own shares of

Last week I promised to look at some shaky bullpens. These are National League, but they don't have a monopoly by any means. We'll look at the American League next week. There are plenty of bullpens in the National League with evolving roles including decisions on who will get the call in the ninth inning.

Delving into unsettled bullpens has become one the most popular topics in the Musings because, quite frankly, it is one the most challenging scoring categories in fantasy baseball, and a timely addition to your roster can propel you to new heights in your league standings. The trick is in identifying an upcoming change in roles.

Let's review some NL bullpens with question marks still remaining:

Diamondbacks – Baseball just wouldn't be baseball without ongoing discussions predicting the absolute end of closing duties for Mark Melancon. He has struggled recently, and a lot of people again expect him to ultimately fail. I understand. He doesn't have dominant, prototypical closer stuff. It should be noted he never has had that eye-popping velocity, yet he has 251 career saves. All he does is go out and get the job done. Of note, despite his ugly peripherals, he has just one blown save. He's one of those guys who tends to melt down in non-save appearances. Maybe people forget that while some pitchers crumble under closer pressure, others thrive on it. He has fought some mechanical issues, so hopefully those can be resolved soon. I own shares of Melancon, but I admit, I also own Ian Kennedy in most of those leagues as an insurance policy. Manager Torey Lovullo says he's still the guy, so until Melancon shows us the magic is gone, he should continue to get the save ops.

Cardinals – At a glance, this bullpen seems rather settled, but I think there may be lingering questions. Giovanny Gallegos has collected most of the saves so far, so he would be considered the primary closer, but the Cardinals have both voiced and shown a desire to add flexibility. I really thought Jordan Hicks would ultimately find his way into a ninth-inning role, but the team opted to have a look at him as a starter, which has gone reasonably, so, at least for now, that idea is on hold. Then, Ryan Helsley was touted as a possible end-gamer, but that as not come to fruition either. Genesis Cabrera has also occasionally come up in conversations, but like everyone else, he is better suited to a set-up role. It's understandable that the Cardinals would prefer to free up Gallegos to make him available whenever needed, but I don't think they feel a really strong alternative is on hand. Currently I expect Gallegos to see most of the save chances unless Helsley can stake a claim or until they and seek a proven closer.

Reds – This is probably the least healthy bullpen – literally and figuratively. Lucas Sims, despite some inconsistency, is significantly better-suited to fill the role than anyone else in the Reds stripped down bullpen, but he's already been on the injured list twice this year and may not be durable enough to handle the job. Early last season he opened some eyes with his electric stuff, but an elbow strain cost him a couple months, and he wasn't the same after. With Sims out, what you'll get is a guess. They have been mixing and matching with Art Warren probably at the head of the pack while Alexis Diaz has shown some promise. Other options include Hunter Strickland (he has some minor closing experience) or Tony Santillan, but this team is horrible and chasing saves here may not be worth the trouble unless you are really desperate.

Marlins – I really expected Dylan Floro to grab the gig and run with it this year after he did a respectable job as the team's closer over the last half of last season. Unfortunately, he suffered shoulder problems in spring training and spent the first month on the injured list. He returned earlier this month, and they opted to bring him back slowly, but the rust was evident and he was roughed up over his first two outings. While he was out, the Marlins used a couple guys, primarily Anthony Bender, but Bender provided mixed results and really didn't do much to stake a claim on the job. He really fits much better as a set-up guy. He is typically joined in the later innings by Anthony Bass, Cole Sulser and lefty Tanner Scott, but none of them is really a closer, so it all comes down to Floro and how well his shoulder cooperates. He is not an ideal guy for the ninth inning, but he generally offers enough to get the job done. It's only a matter of time.

Phillies – The Phillies pretty much annually attempt to rebuild their bullpen, and last offseason was no exception. The big addition was Corey Knebel who was brought on to serve as their closer. However, that wasn't all. Brad Hand, Jose Alvarado and Jeurys Familia, all with extensive late inning resumes, joined holdover Seranthony Dominguez in a new look bullpen. On paper, it looked strong. And, I really think the pieces are in place. Knebel has had mixed results, but things should settle down if they stick to a more traditional ninth-inning only usage plan. Unfortunately, that set-up crew has not always performed, and Knebel has been asked more than once to stop the bleeding. Or whatever reason, the Phillies bullpen, regardless of the roster, seems to be snake bitten (being horrible defensively doesn't help). Going forward, assuming Knebel's in good health, I expect to see him settle in with Familia as his primary caddy when he needs a day off.

Cubs – To begin the season, no one stood out as the obvious closer for the Cubbies. There were several arms being considered, led by veteran David Robertson. He was once a fairly successful end-gamer, but that was five or six years ago, and injuries and advancing age were plenty to make one skeptical. Now, a few weeks into the season, Robertson once again looks the part. He was just activated. That said, the guy to watch is still Rowan Wick. He has closer stuff, and he does struggle to throw strikes at times, but chances are Robertson has built some trade value, and a deal could open the door for him. Also in the mix is Mychal Givens who has some closing experience, but looks much better-suited to a role as a situational righty.

Rockies – A feel good story probably doesn't move you up in your league standings but it does give you something to cheer for if your season isn't working out like you planned. Let's drop in at Coors Field where Daniel Bard generally handles the ninth inning for the Rockies. Bard was out of pro baseball from 2013 to 2020. He returned to the game and won a spot in the Colorado bullpen. That alone was pretty amazing, but he and his electric 98 mph fastball worked their way into the closer's gig, saving 20 games in 2021. He's a power closer, but that fastball can get a bit straight, and he doesn't always hit his spots. That means trouble in that ballpark, but he has that wonderful short memory and very good mound presence, so he could keep finishing games assuming some other team doesn't trade for some of his magic. If that happens, look for Carlos Estevez or maybe veteran Alex Colome to step in, but Bard is probably the better choice. If you can tolerate the dents in your ERA, he's worth rostering.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Let's jump ahead to May, 2028. Justin Verlander moved to 5-1 tossing seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits with no walks while striking out eight. The Astros' 39-year-old ace says he wants to pitch until he is 45. Do you want to bet against him achieving that goal? I sure don't. The man is beyond definition.
  • He's been good, but the Dodgers' Walker Buehler has not produced the stats I expected so far this year. Of note though, he just recently made start No. 100 in his MLB career, and over those starts he has posted a 0.97 WHIP. That's better than any other pitcher in history. I'd call that pretty impressive.
  • Johnny Cueto has always been someone I enjoy watching, so I was happy to hear he was getting the call to make his 2022 debut for the White Sox. He waltzed (almost literally) through six shutout innings against the Royals, and he looked sharp doing it. I think he can help a fantasy team in need of pitching.
  • The Padres' Mike Clevinger made his second start as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery, and he was exceptionally sharp, hurling five shutout innings against the Phillies. It's always hard to predict how it will take a guy to get it all back together after missing time, but he looked really good.
  • Where did that come from? Kansas City's Brady Singer was recalled from Triple-A Omaha to make a spot start earlier this week and he tossed seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts. He has featured a sinker and slider in the past, but it looked like a new change-up in this one. I need to see him again.
  • Encouraging performances have been rare for the Reds this year, so it's natural to take a look at Connor Overton (1-0, 0.89 WHIP, 1.89 ERA over 24 innings). I hate to burst the bubble, but while he throws strikes, he has just average stuff and doesn't miss many bats, so regression is likely in his future.

Next week we will visit the American League bullpens.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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