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2021 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Joakim Soria
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
(7/22) Soria was limited earlier this season after suffering a calf strain. He finally got into a groove in mid-May, logging seven consecutive scoreless outings before struggling in June. Since July 1, Soria has been excellent with a 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 13:1 K:BB over nine innings with a win and six saves. His stay as Arizona's closer may be short-lived, however, as his 229 career saves makes him likely to be moved by the July 30 trade deadline. Whomever closes for the D'Backs, save chances will be hard to come by as the team has the worst record in the majors.

Ramirez, Clarke, Clippard and de Geus round out the remaining options for saves, although Clarke is currently on the 10-day IL with a shoulder injury. Prior to hitting the shelf, Clarke posted nine scoreless outings over his last 10 appearances with an 11:2 K:BB over 10 innings. Used mostly as a mop-up reliever during his career, Ramirez has worked high-leverage spots for manager Torey Lovullo, who has a history with the right-hander dating back to their time together with the Red Sox in 2015. Clippard was recently activated after missing four months due to a shoulder strain suffered in spring training, but has experience in the role with 68 career-saves. de Gues hadn’t pitched above High-A prior to debuting with the Rangers earlier this season. In 2019, he had a 72:13 K:BB over 61.2 minor-league innings with eight saves, but has struggled to a 7.08 ERA thus far.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Will Smith
Team: Atlanta Braves
(7/23) Given his strong spring and proven track record in the role - previously recording 34 saves for the Giants in 2019 - Smith has been the Braves' primary ninth-inning option through the first four months of 2021 with 19 saves in 21 chances. Relying heavily on his slider and four-seam fastball, the southpaw's 31.4% strikeout percentage through 41 appearances aligns with his 2019 success. Smith is doing a much better job keeping the ball in the park this season (0.9 HR/9) after recording a 3.9 HR/9 in 2020, though his 3.49 ERA could be improved.

Martin was phenomenal in 2020, with a 1.00 ERA and 0.61 WHIP, and a 30.3% strikeout rate to illustrate his clear potential for a late-inning role. The right-hander dealt with shoulder inflammation earlier this season, but returned to the team on May 12 and immediately stepped into a setup role for the Braves. Manager Brian Snitker previously hinted at the possibility of splitting save opportunities between Martin and Smith based on matchups, but that has yet to come to fruition. Martin has a 3.75 ERA and 1.21 WHIP through 24 innings thus far.

Minter has prior experience in the role after recording 15 saves for Atlanta in 2018. He's logged a 4.86 ERA and league-leading 20 holds through 42 appearances, but was recently optioned to the minors to sort things out after some recent struggles.

Matzek got off to a fantastic start this season with a 14:4 K:BB over his first eight appearances without permitting an earned run. Then the southpaw hit a rough patch before correcting course again during the month of May. In fact, he did not allow an earned run in nine May appearances. Matzek has maintained a strong 29.1% strikeout rate this season, which could eventually move him up the pecking order for saves, but walks (15.9%) remain an issue.

After logging 18 saves for Atlanta in 2019, Jackson has 12 holds across 41 appearances this season while boasting an impressive 2.06 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 36:16 K:BB over 35 frames.

After inking a one-year deal with Atlanta on May 9, Greene has struggled to a 10.38 ERA. He has 66 career saves should the relievers ahead of him in the pecking order be unavailable.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Dillon Tate
Team: Baltimore Orioles
(7/22) Manager Brandon Hyde set expectations prior to the 2021 season that the Orioles would be on a closer-by-committee basis, but Valdez logged eight of Baltimore's first 11 saves. The 36-year-old had been the team's most trusted high-leverage arm, but didn't fit the typical closer profile and several implosions bloated his ratios (5.88 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) before Hyde indicated he wanted to use Fry to close out games. Fry has logged two saves for the Orioles, but had a poor June (5.91 ERA, 5.9 BB/9), thus ceding save opportunities to Sulser. Sulser converted three saves in June with a 2.45 ERA before hitting a rough patch to start July. The right-hander owns a solid 3.06 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 47:16 K:BB over 35.1 innings, but given his recent struggles in high-leverage spots, Hyde turned to Scott for the Orioles' most recent save opportunity. Since June 1, Scott owns a 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 26:9 K:BB over 16.2 innings. His 6.6 BB/9 is not befit of a typical closer, but he's been the Orioles' best reliever over the last month and a half. Unfortunately, he failed to hold a one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Rays on July 21, so the closer carousel in Baltimore continues.

Is Wells next in line? Wells is a rookie reliever with promising ratios (3.92 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9) that is capable of pitching multiple innings, but he has not pitched much in high-leverage until recently. He's pitched the ninth inning in his two appearances since the All-Star break, both of which were close games that Baltimore was leading, albeit not save situations. Hyde appears to trust the Rule 5 draft pick though and there's a good chance he receives the next save opportunity for Baltimore.

Harvey made his season debut in June after dealing with an oblique strain he suffered this spring. He logged a 4.15 ERA through nine appearances before experiencing right shoulder discomfort, as injuries continue to limit Harvey's potential for saves.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Matt Barnes
Team: Boston Red Sox
(7/23) Manager Alex Cora took back the reigns in 2021 and kicked off his second stint in Boston with Barnes as his closer after a false-positive COVID-19 test late in spring training put the reliever's availability in question to start the year. Barnes struggled with consistency and command issues in 2020, but has been incredible through 40 appearances this season. The right-hander owns an impressive 2.48 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 65:11 K:BB in 40 innings while converting 20 of his 24 save opportunities. Ottavino has vultered seven saves of his own, but Barnes has built some job security given his fantastic start to the season.

Ottavino had a bumpy 2020 campaign and didn't have a great start to April. In his age-35 season, Ottavino's velocity is up at 94.8 mph, but his walk percentage (13.5%) is also up. The veteran was great in June with three saves, three holds and a 2.31 ERA. After an inconsistent start with his new club, those are much better results with more saves on the horizon for the first-place Red Sox.

Taylor struggled last season and is unlikely to break out as a reliable option for saves in 2021. However, he's earned a higher-leverage role with the Red Sox after a 26-game scoreless appearance streak recently came to an end.

Hernandez made strides in 2020 with a 2.16 ERA and 32.5% strikeout rate, numbers that illustrate his potential for a late-inning role. The left-hander is a promising weapon for Alex Cora's bullpen as his sole weakness tends to be his command (17.2% walk percentage), a common issue among young relievers.

Whitlock, a Rule 5 draft pick, had a great spring and won a spot in Boston's bullpen in a multi-inning role. He's been one of the team's most impressive relievers with a 1.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 52:11 K:BB over 47 innings (28 appearances). Whitlock will likely remain in a multi-inning relief role rather than see opportunities in the ninth-inning.

Sawamura spent the entirety of his professional career playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, but made his way to the majors in 2021. The 33-year-old right-hander recorded 73 saves between the 2015 and 2016 campaigns in Japan, but he's been utilized in middle relief for the Red Sox with promising results. Sawamura has allowed just 12 runs over 37.2 innings (2.87 ERA), but he's allowed nine home runs (2.2 HR/9) and is trying to elevate his fastball more as a way to limit the long ball. If he can make that adjustment, he could earn his way into a higher-leverage role.

Brasier has yet to make his 2021 debut since suffering a left calf strain during the final week of spring training, then suffering a comebacker to the head during his minor league rehab assignment. Brasier earned seven saves for the Red Sox in 2019 and could re-enter the late-inning mix assuming he proves healthy and effective whenever he does return.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Team: Chicago Cubs
Next In Line:  Rowan Wick IL-60, Rex Brothers , Dan Winkler
(7/22) After a rough first half of 2020 and rocky spring (12.15 ERA), Kimbrel has returned to form with a 0.51 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 61 strikeouts through 35.1 innings. He's 22-for-24 in save chances and the lack of closing experience behind him afford Kimbrel stability in the role for the time being. Now that the Cubs are unlikely to contend for the NL Central division crown or Wild Card spot this season, Kimbrel will be one of the hottest names on the trade market over the next week.

Wick, Brothers and Winkler round out the remaining options for saves. Wick saw plenty of high-leverage chances last year, recording a 3.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 27% strikeout rate while recording four saves and five holds. An oblique strain has sidelined him since spring training, but he recently embarked on a minor-league rehab assignment and has struck out five over two scoreless innings thus far. Brothers is a southpaw with a 14.5 K/9 that is tough on lefties (.154 BAA). It's possible the Cubs form a committee with Wick and Brothers in the event Kimbrel is traded. Winkler has a 2.76 ERA through 37 appearances this season.

Wick saw plenty of high-leverage chances last year, recording a 3.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 27% strikeout rate while recording four saves and five holds. It is likely that Wick will step back into a high-leverage role once he returns from an oblique strain has sidelined him since spring.
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Closers in Waiting Ranks
  1. Emmanuel Clase (CLE)
  2. Tyler Rogers (SF)
  3. David Bednar (PIT)
  4. Lucas Sims (CIN)
  5. Adam Ottavino (BOS)
  6. Pete Fairbanks (TB)
  7. Drew Steckenrider (SEA)
  8. Devin Williams (MIL)
  9. Amir Garrett (CIN)
  10. Kendall Graveman (HOU)
  11. Seth Lugo (NYM)
  12. Ryan Tepera (CWS)
  13. Blake Treinen (LAD)
  14. Hector Neris (PHI)
  15. Corey Knebel (LAD)
  16. Alex Colome (MIN)
  17. Kyle Finnegan (WAS)
  18. Dylan Floro (MIA)
  19. Josh Sborz (TEX)
  20. Nick Anderson (TB)