You might already be on your way somewhere for the long weekend. Maybe you're sneaking this in on your phone in the bathroom as you hide from family, or checking your teams in the final moments before the flight attendant threatens to take your phone away. Maybe your phone has already been confiscated and this is traveling down the aisle as you curse.
Either way, you've given this weekend some thought. As you should, it might be your last long weekend for a while, and it might signal an imminent return to school or work. At the very least, the long weekend should be a wake-up call -- it's time to pick a few categories for the stretch run in your roto league, or it's time to check out the two-starters for your first week in the head-to-head playoffs, or it's your last chance to make a move before your late trade deadline.
But most likely you have a life, and your thoughts about the weekend are mostly centered on your plans. That's fine, I'll be furiously working on my teams and my posts, but we know I'm a hardcore dork. Go enjoy yourself. No, really, it's fine.
And since I'm most likely hanging out in front of my computer or television, I'll use these tiers to rank what you'll be doing this weekend. (No, I swear, it's fine, just go. Go.)
Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Going to a Game" Tier.)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Since everywhere is going to be crowded, why not go to the place that's crowded all the time anyway? Plus, live sports. You really can't complain about the parking, or the prices, or your problems, because, live sports. Plus, with all the wild cards in baseball now, odds are, you can find a competitive game with implications nearby.
Joe Nathan had a Kimbrel Tuesday night! He struck out three in a clean-slate save. He also did that against Baltimore this month. He has three on the year, even. Kimbrel himself has six of the stat I named after him. Nathan's rebound this season has been remarkable. He now has his fourth-best strikeout rate, his best walk rate, and his second-best ground-ball rate of his career. He's got the swinging strikes to back it up, and his velocity is back to pre-2008 levels. Amazing what a new ligament can do.
Oh and Aroldis Chapman has only struck out one batter in his last three appearances. The shame.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Staying Home" Tier.)
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
On the other hand, if you're not going to a game, why face the crowds? If you've got a back yard and a grill, you're set. If you've got a rooftop and a hibachi, you're set. If you've got a bathtub, a fridge full of beer, and an iPad with mlb.tv on it, you're set. So, you're probably set, and if you avoid the throngs, you'll get the last laugh. And the last wing. And the last beer. Because it's your house.
Rafael Soriano had a clean slate with two strikeouts Tuesday night, and it caps a stretch of fine work. In his last ten outings, he has 11 strikeouts against one walk. Even with the blown save in there, that kind of strikeout rate, coupled with the bushels of save opportunities that a team with a good offense and a strong supporting bullpen cast can offer, makes Soriano a strong closer. For this year. Mariano Rivera is already making strides in his rehab, and he won't let it end with a shagging injury.
Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Going Out of Town" Tier.)
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
I may be a grump, but I won't talk crap on traveling. Seeing the world is great. Even seeing a place you've seen before again, but have seen less than the inside of your apartment, that's great. But maybe now's not the time. Seriously. If you go next weekend, you'll deal with approximately 46.4% less crap. Fewer lines, cheaper travel costs, emptier beaches -- so why this weekend? If it's the one free vacation day, I'd say that's the cost of avoiding the masses. And you'll get it back, considering everything will be cheaper. Any other weekend.
Ryan Cook once had a closer role, electric stuff and a walks problem. Greg Holland has that same package, and did walk two Tuesday night. There are a few differences, though. For one, Cook's walks issue was worse in the minor leagues. For two, Cook was on a contending team that couldn't afford to break him in. For three, Holland has only walked a batter twice in his last twelve outings. He's made progress, and the team is motivated to see what they've got before they make a decision about Joakim Soria's option.
It looks like Grant Balfour has settled into that Oakland role, now that we're talking about Cookie. He doesn't have the same strikeout rate as Cook, or even an average one for a closer, but he also isn't an outlier like Jim Johnson. He's got an above-average swinging strike rate right now, and double-digit strikeout rates in his career, too. With the Athletics going well, and the team competitive, there's probably not going to be another change at the role this season.
Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Festival" Tier.)
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Festivals are made by the thing being feted, so it's hard to lump these into one group. And you can't really decide to do a festival next week, since you're stuck doing it when they've set the thing up. But festivals still mean crowds and costs, so we'll rank them here. If it's a wing fest, or a beer fest, well then this ranking is too low. Music fest? Particulars please. And the rest? I'd probably pick the bathtub/iPad combo.
John Axford is back. Two strikeouts and no walks or hits Tuesday night, and now he's successfully converted… two of his last three save attempts. That's progress these days. He's still got the strikeouts -- 12 in his last ten outings (eight innings) -- and the walks have become less common (four in his last eight innings). The Brewers own Axford's rights for a while, and they're happy to see him back on his feet. As are mustache fans, if they're back from the Mustache Festival yet.
Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.