Dave’s Free Play, Friday 6/20/14

  • June 20, 2014

This has not been a great baseball season for closers. There are certainly a small handful of elite ninth inning guys who are going to be close to automatic. There are several more who might not be at that level, but are nonetheless fairly reliable or are simply the best options available. Then come the arson squad pitchers, who are basically a coin flip to get those last three outs almost every time they take the mound with the game on the line.

The Angels are one of the teams that fall into the latter category. At least that’s the way that it’s been this season, and while the ninth inning actually was the tenth on Thursday, the result was once again less than satisfactory. Rookie Cam Bedrosian was assigned the task of protecting what was a 3-1 Angels lead. He got himself in a mess and Mike Scioscia opted to turn to regular closer Ernesto Frieri to try and get that last out. The move blew up catastrophically as Nick Swisher turned on a center cut fastball and grand slammed it into the right field bleachers.

I’ve maintained a consistent opinion that Frieri just isn’t the pitcher I want as my closer. I’m not really sure Scioscia does either, but he’s apparently less willing to just remove Frieri than I would be given the choice. Frieri has “only” three blown saves while finishing off 11. But there have been too many shaky outings, and the numbers pretty much tell the story. Frieri has now given up runs in three consecutive appearances, and that ERA is getting really ugly as it’s now all the way up to 5.83. Frieri can look great at times, but there’s basically no in between with him. When he’s off with his command, the mistakes get hit hard. I just don’t see him as a high leverage pitcher at this point.

As for Bedrosian, he doesn’t appear to be ready. The rookie has been scored upon in four of his first six major league appearances and is giving indications he needs more minor league seasoning. His control has been terrible and at this point, he’s not indicating he can get outs, much less critical ones.

Here’s where I have to be critical of Scioscia. Obviously, there is no Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel or Koji Uehara on this roster. But there are two pitchers I’d rather have at the end of the game as opposed to Frieri or Bedrosian. One is veteran Joe Smith. No, he doesn’t fit the closer prototype and he doesn’t have lights out stuff. But Smith is a savvy veteran who gets outs most of the time, and has done so again this season. The other option is more intriguing to me, and that’s rookie Mike Morin.

Morin is not a big arm who will blow hitters away. He’s generally going to be low 90’s and his slider only arrives at roughly 80 MPH. So there might not be the desired ninth inning fear factor as far as the hitters go with Morin on the scene. But the kid can get outs and he’s shown he can close at three minor league levels. Off what I’ve seen from Morin with the big club, I just don’t see a good reason not to try him as a big league closer. There’s a good chance it could work out, and at any rate, I’d say Morin at the very least rates an opportunity based on the results from the incumbent. Hopefully, Scioscia gives Morin a try before too many more late leads get erased.

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A split with my two Thursday sides on the Marlins and Twins, but I won the Unders on both of those games, so it was a productive day. There are still 11 days to take advantage of my ongoing monthly special, which includes a very impressive guarantee that I believe is as good as it gets. One quick email to cokin@cox.net gets you all the info, or you can simply sign up now by choosing “June Baseball Special” from the “buy now” drop down menu on this page. This has been a solid month so far and the expectations are for substantial additional profits  to to continue to be amassed.

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The daily free plays have dropped below the +100 mark for the first time in ages, so time to get those back on track. I’ll turn to a pitcher who has enjoyed an All-Star caliber first half for Friday’s comp.

06/20 04:05 PM   MLB   (967) DETROIT TIGERS   (968) CLEVELAND INDIANS

Take: (968) CLEVELAND INDIANS -125

These are tough times for the Tigers. Their long time ace, Justin Verlander, is getting lit up on a regular basis. Reining Cy Young fireballer Max Scherzer has been erratic lately and one can’t help but wonder if the buzz over his rejection of a huge long term contract offer and impending free agency is having an undesirable effect. The bullpen has been a problem all season and of late, the Tigers aren’t exactly crushing the ball on offense.

As a result, the Tigers find themselves in an unexpected position. They’re currently looking up at the Royals in the AL Central race by a half game, and Detroit has the rest of the division all within striking distance. I would still make the Tigers the favorite to eventually emerge as the top team in this sector, but it’s not as clear cut as it certainly seemed to be prior to the start of the season.

The Indians are one of the chasers and I don’t see any reason they won’t be hanging around all season. The Tribe gained valuable experience in last year’s successful drive to the post-season, and if the pitching can hold up, the offense sure looks like it can carry the load. Cleveland is vulnerable to good lefties, but they’ve been tough on righties and that figures to continue.

The Indians appear to have also discovered an ace to anchor the staff. Corey Kluber is legit. There’s no way this was envisioned as a possibility. Kluber was a late arriver to the big league scene after being drafted by the Padres in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. There really wasn’t anything in his lengthy minor league resume that suggested he would be more than a middle to back end big league starter, and even that ceiling seemed a little optimistic.

That’s all water under the bridge at this point. Kluber’s peripherals suggest he’s anything but a fluke and is in fact getting better. He throws hard and his mechanics are impeccable. I have no idea how this evolution took place, only that it did. And the Indians are loving being the beneficiary of Kluber’s rise to unexpected stardom.

Rick Porcello is no pushover and he’s enjoyed a good deal of success in his dealing with the Indians. Porcello is probably never going to be an All-Star but he has developed into a decent middle of the rotation hurler who will give his team a chance to win more often than not, although he can occasionally get blown up.

The Indians will apparently be without Michael Brantley for at least one more night, and make no mistake, that’s a hit to their offense. But this is still a potent attack against righties and I like their chances of getting enough on the board this evening to be in position to win. I’ll rely on Kluber to take care of the rest. In spite of his success, the market hasn’t truly caught up with Kluber yet. It’s certainly trending in that direction, but considering his form and that of the Tigers presently, I still see the line for this game being a little short. So the view from here is that there’s still some value to be had with the home team, even though they’re the favorite here. I’ll side with Kluber and the Indians to win this important series opener.