The San Francisco Giants are riding an easy September schedule into playoff baseball with a comfortable eight-game lead in the NL-West standings. They have a stellar cast of veteran pitchers tuning up at just the right time, an NL MVP candidate and a mixed bag of new, assorted offensive weapons. But the one glaring hole remaining for the Giants is at the closer position, where manager Bruce Bochy has signaled in three different relief pitchers –Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez — to take up the bulk of the work in Brian Wilson’s year-long absence. But who has the edge as a Wilson-caliber closer going into post-season play?
While Bochy has indicated that a rotation of closers might be the best option going forward, it still is a cause for concern. First, it takes time to build up the confidence as a closer. Earlier in the year, Casilla was tabbed just that, taking over for Wilson as he prepped for Tommy John surgery, but was soon ousted after a few tumultuous outings. Then, in a laboring effort against the Chicago Cubs on May 31, the Dominican Republic-born Casilla injured his left knee and was shelved for three weeks, further displacing his roster spot as an everyday closer. For the season, his statistical totals show a more complete picture of his questionability. He has registered a 2.62 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 66 appearances with 24 saves in 30 opportunities.
However, they don’t show the entire picture. Since September, he has been a shutdown closer, only allowing one run in the last nine innings pitched in a setup role to Romo. If he continues his streak, he could reprise his role as the team’s No. 1 closer.
Bochy also likes what he sees in veteran slinger Sergio Romo. In fact, he’s turned to his 29-year-old right-hander a lot more in the last few closing opportunities than any other Giants’ pitcher. In Monday night’s 3-2 win against the visiting Colorado Rockies, Romo shut down three batters in a row in the ninth to bring his closing total to a perfect four-of-four in September. As a result, Romo dropped his ERA to a team-best 1.93 ERA and .88 WHIP in 63 appearances. The role is arguably Romo’s to lose in the last few weeks of the season.
The Giants could also opt in a completely different direction. Javier Lopez has been a consistent closer, reaping the benefits in the Romo-Casilla off-games. He posted a 0.00 ERA in the month of June and August, with 25 game appearances. In the last seven closing opportunities, he has posted a perfect 7-0 record. However, Lopez did get off to a slow start and his overall numbers show him as a better lefty vs. lefty pitcher than anything else. On the year, he has posted a 2.57 ERA, which is merely pedestrian for a relief pitcher.
Still, the Giants have a system that works. Using a rotation of closers could opt for the best matchup problems and could lead to some better-equipped situational opportunities against post-season lineups. The downside: it could be tough for any single pitcher to strike up some consistency when every playoff game becomes highly scrutinized. As such, it becomes increasingly more obvious that Romo has valued himself higher than any other closer on the Giants’ roster.