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2. J.J. Putz—SEA — Putz was sitting on three saves after the first month of the season, but then went on an incredible tear to finish the season with 40, bettering his impressive first year as the Mariners closer. Putz was nearly unhittable as he finished with a 1.38 ERA and microscopic .70 WHIP. I’m not sure where all this is coming from, as he was relatively unknown two seasons ago. The Mariners should compete, and Putz has put two good season together, so why not a third. Now, if he could just change that last name.
3. Jonathan Papelbon—BOS — Outside of that embarrassing display of dancing at the World Series victory parade, Papelbon could do no wrong for the Sox. The season started with him supposed to be transitioning back to a starter again. Fortunately for everyone in New England, Papelbon asked to go back to the closer’s role just before the season started when it was obvious the Sawks had no one to fill the role (sorry Joel Pineiro). Boston should compete for the World Series again this year, but it seems that they blow teams out so often that Papelbon doesn’t get as many chances as other closers on elite teams. He has yet to reach 40 saves, but when he comes in it is basically lights out.
4. Joe Nathan—MIN — Starting to get a little long in the tooth, Nathan remains one of the most consistent closers in the majors. He kept his ERA under 2.00 for the second consecutive season, and still strikes out more than a batter an inning. His save attempts might slip some this year based on the fact that the Twins starting rotation all still shop at Toys ‘R’ Us, but you can bet that when Nathan gets the ball, you can all drive home safely. Expect 33-35 saves in ’08 with a 2.25 ERA and 80 K’s.
5. Takashi Saito—LAD — With impressive youngster Jonathan Broxton behind him, it was just a matter of time before Saito gave up the closer’s job in 2007. In response, this Japanese import went out and had a very impressive season. He fell just short of 40 saves, but the 1.40 ERA and 78 K’s in just 64 IP made it impossible for the Dodgers to take him out of the 9 th inning. The Dodgers should approach 90 wins in 2008, so expect ample opportunities for Saito and he might surpass 40 saves this year. His ERA will probably be between the 1.40 and 2.07 that it has been, and he will be good for 85 K’s.
Rising Star—Manny Corpas—COL — Brian Fuentes should have never gotten injured. Once Corpas got his chance he never relinquished the role again. Corpas blew just two of his 21 opportunities to slam the door, and although he doesn’t throw overly hard, his strikeout rate was respectable and his ERA and WHIP were both great. Now that the Rockies appear to be an up and coming team that can compete for a division crown, expect Corpas to surpass 35 saves, and definitely hold the job for the foreseeable future.
Falling Stock: Eric Gagne—MIL — After winning the NL Cy Young in 2003, Gagne has fallen off the map since then. He needed Tommy John and back surgeries that cost him most of the ’05 and ’06 seasons. He found a job in Texas, but was less than impressive before he was shipped up to Boston (get the Dropkick Murphy’s reference there please), and absolutely messed in the bed for the Red Sox. Somehow, after all of this, Gagne found someone to sign him to a $10 million/ 1-year deal. Now there are two questions attached to Gagne, will he stay healthy, and if he does, will he be effective at all? Do yourself a favor, unless you are desperate for saves, stay away from Gagne.
Make or Break Season: Brad Lidge—PHI — Lidge is hoping that a change of scenery will help him forget the worst moment of his career. Brad has been shaky for two consecutive seasons now, notching just 19 saves in ’07 after he was removed from the closer’s role for some of the season. He was shipped out of Houston in the offseason, and he now plays for a better team. However, his home park is now a big time hitters stadium. Lidge has definitely fallen from the status of the elite closers, but will his career be reborn in Philadelphia? I believe most people still have reservations about him.
Risky Pick: Joe Borowski, CLE — A 5.07 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP, close to a .300 opponents’ BA against. How did Joe Borowski save 45 games!? That is one of the great mysteries of our time. Why are we here on earth, and how did Borowski end up with a great number of saves. The Indians will be good again this year, so there should be ample opportunities, but how can he possibly keep up these stas, and have good save numbers. Expect Borowski’s numbers to regress, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him relieved of his closing duties at some point of the season (possibly temporary, possibly for good.
Top Prospect: Matt Capps, PIT — Capps is far off the list as far as save opportunities, as he plays for one of the worst teams in the MLB. However, when he was called upon, he was impressive. Capps only blew three saves this past year, and his ERA and WHIP were well within the good range. With no real competition for his job, Capps will be a decent closer for 2008, but as long as he’s stuck in Pittsburgh, his opportunities will be limited. Expect 25-30 saves, and a respectable ERA and WHIP.
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