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Gregg slammed the door Wednesday, despite walking two opponents, for his 29th save. Many still can't fathom that total. Bet the Chicago Cubs can't, either.
That's why they're starting to plan for the future. On the same day Gregg checked in, Cubbies skipper Dale Sveum said he might use Strop in a save chance here and there as they scratch off September days. The club isn't sure who'll close for them next year. Odds say they won't make another commitment to Gregg, who's 35 and an impending free agent. Plus -- gasp -- he now has a smidge of leverage for a decent payday.
Fields settling in?
If we count Gregg out for 2014, Strop boasts the most tantalizing profile to close in this 'pen. Why the former Baltimore Oriole sits in the lead: 2.10 ERA with a 9.82 K/9 and 3.16 BB/9 in 27 games as a Cub. Let's not say for certain yet, but they might've fixed his control issues.
That doesn't eliminate recent call-up Lim for 2014, though. He joined the organization last winter out of the Japanese League, where the Korean right-hander saved 128 games in five seasons and fanned 231 batters in 233 stanzas. He had his second Tommy John surgery last year, as well, and his mid-90s velocity ceiling could be restored by next year. He's looked quite good with 24 K's and a 1.61 ERA in 22 1/3 innings over four farm levels this year.
Of course, dominance doesn't always translate when crossing the Pacific. The side-armer is 37 years old, too, which probably stifles his shelf life, even as a reliever who just had his elbow refurbished.
Parker and Russell look more comfortably entrenched as setup men. But don't forget Kyuji Fujikawa, who's also recovering from TJS, and Daniel Bard, whom Theo Epstein couldn't resist revisiting following the righty's designation for assignment by Epstein's former employers, the Boston Red Sox. (Epstein drafted Bard back in '06.)
Realistically, Fujikawa probably won't enter the picture until 2015 after using late 2014 to work his arm back in shape following his June procedure. Bard could be a non-tender candidate this winter because he'll likely receive an arbitration raise, but they might take him back at a lower cost. He has just as much work to do on his entire approach, but at least he's jumping in with a familiar face running the show.
Epstein wants to see if one of these projects hits instead of shelling out, relatively, for someone who doesn't fit the long-term plan. Gregg won't be shut out of opportunities the rest of the way, but he'll probably yield one or two as Epstein, Jed Hoyer and company continue their evaluations. Either way, grab Strop for immediate help.
Rodney: good job, after all
Looks like Joshua Fields has etched the small lead in the Houston Astros' bullpen that CHS predicted Wednesday. He locked down his first save since Aug. 14 with a four-out scoreless effort Thursday. The right-hander has rattled off a 1.86 ERA, with nine punch-outs and just two walks, in his last 9 2/3 innings.
Chia-Jen Lo, who hasn't pitched since his disastrous Monday outing, looks to have been demoted. Given how few SVOs this bullpen gets, Fields will remain one of the lowest-ranked stoppers, but at least he appears to be one at this point, which counts if you're chasing every closure possible.
Rafael Soriano increased his Washington Nationals cred Wednesday with his seventh straight successful wrap-up. After blowing the opportunity Aug. 17 and starting his current streak, he's had some stumbles but holds a 2.16 ERA and an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 8 1/3 innings.
He mixed in sliders (and one cutter) with his four- and two-seamers during the perfect 14-pitch appearance, so he might be back to normal when it comes to his stuff. It's worth watching as the season winds down, but he looks like his old self and is staving off Tyler Clippard.
Edward Mujica gave up a run in his second straight outing on Wednesday while blowing a SVO. It was only his third gaffe of the year for the St. Louis Cardinals and his first since July 14. He's in no palpable danger of losing his job because of his performance; this looks like a regression of some superlative good fortune (88.9 left-on-base percentage, mostly).
The Redbirds are in contention for the NL Central crown and the Senior Circuit's top seed. In the event they fall out of the race for both, which might not come until the last week or so of the regular season, they may rest Mujica more frequently, given his recent workload-induced struggles.
In that event, Trevor Rosenthal (maybe with a hack or two with John Axford, NL-only players) could receive at least one more SVO.
Fernando Rodney caught a nice respite of his own. On six days' rest, he pitched his second straight 1-2-3 appearance during his 32nd save of the season on Wednesday. His stretch of four outings in five days to end August didn't hurt him, it seems.
His ERA stood at 5.40 after June 14 action. Since, it's been 1.91, with a 19-for-22 SVO line and 38 K's in 28 1/3 innings. He's still the Tampa Bay Rays' best option.
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