MLB MLB Playoffs

MLB Playoffs 2013: Ranking the Top 15 Relief Pitchers

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MLB Playoffs 2013: Ranking the Top 15 Relief Pitchers

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

2013 will be one of the few postseasons over the last two decades that doesn't include Mariano Rivera. The greatest regular season and postseason reliever of all time will miss the playoffs for only the third time in his 18-year career.

Over the past 20 years, teams have relied more on middle relievers and setup guys during the postseason. Managers have had shorter leashes on their starting pitchers and have taken them out of the game in favor of matchup guys. Unless you have one of the few true aces on your team, your bullpen is likely to be key in any run to the World Series.

In 2011, the Texas Rangers were within one out of winning the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Leading 7-5 in the ninth inning, the Rangers brought in closer Neftali Feliz to finish the game. Feliz gave up two runs to the Cardinals and the game went into extra innings. After scoring two runs in the top of the 10th, the Rangers turned to Darren Oliver to finish it. Oliver gave up back to back hits and a sacrifice bunt before giving way to Scott Feldman. Feldman allowed both runners to come around and score and the game moved into the 11th inning. The Rangers brought Mark Lowe in the 11th and he gave up a walk-off home run to David Freese, the first batter he faced.

The Rangers ended up losing in Game 7 of the World Series in a game that nobody really remembers. What they do remember is the meltdown of the Rangers' bullpen in Game 6 and that being the reason they why didn't win the World Series.

These 15 relievers will have to be lights out if their team is going to win the World Series.

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15. Drew Smyly

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Drew Smyly came up as a starter and was turned into a reliever. The left-hander has gone 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA this season.

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14. J.P. Howell

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

J.P. Howell has been the perfect lefty specialist for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lefties have only hit .168 in 118 plate appearances. With left-handed hitters like Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Pedro Alvarez in the NL, he will be called on daily when the playoffs begin.

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13. Trevor Rosenthal

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Rosenthal was dominant in last seasons playoffs. He pitched 8.2 innings and struck out 15 while only giving up two hits and two walks. This year, he appeared in 74 games and threw 75.1 innings while striking out 108. He struck out over a third of the batters he faced and will be the setup guy getting the ball to Edward Mujica.

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12. Ryan Cook

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Ryan Cook finished the season with a record of 6-4 and an ERA of 2.58 in 70 games. His best attribute is his ability to keep the ball in the park. He faced 290 batters this year and allowed only two home runs.

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11. Luis Avilan

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The Atlanta Braves were in desperate need of left-handed relief help after losing Johnny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty to season-ending injuries. Luis Avilan stepped in and went 5-0 with 74 games and had a WHIP under 1.00.

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10. Mark Melancon

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Mark Melancon was a successful setup guy for the Pittsburgh Pirates through the first half of the season. He was a rare All-Star middle reliever and ended up taking over the closer role for the Pirates when Jason Grilli got hurt. Melancon finished the season 3-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 16 saves and is back in the setup role with Grilli back healthy.

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9. Edward Mujica

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals went into the season with the deepest bullpen in baseball. Edward Mujica went from middle reliever to setup guy to closer due to an injury to Jason Motte. Mujica finished the year 2-1 with 37 saves in 42 chances. He ended with an ERA of 2.78 but struggled in September, giving up nine runs in 7.1 innings.

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8. Joaquin Benoit

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There was no question about Joaquin Benoit's success as a setup man over the years. However, the question remained if he could ever be an everyday closer. With the departure of Jose Valverde and the inability of Bruce Rondon to lock down the closer role, Benoit finally got his chance. He finished the year 4-1 with 24 saves in 26 chances. Benoit had an ERA of 2.01 and struck out 73 batters in 67 innings this season.

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7. Grant Balfour

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Any time you can break a record by Dennis Eckersley, you have done something special. Grant Balfour broke the Oakland Athletics record for consecutive saves by recording 41 in a row. He ended the year with 38 saves and an ERA of 2.63.

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6. Jason Grilli

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

After a successful 2012 as a setup guy, the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the closer role over to Jason Grilli in 2013. He responded by getting to his first All-Star game and ended the season with 33 saves and an ERA of 2.70. He struggled coming back from an injury, but has managed to regain his form and is back in the closer role for the Pirates.

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5. Kenley Jansen

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A former catcher, Kenley Jansen has quickly become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. He finished the year 4-3 with 28 saves and dominated batters by striking out 109 guys in 75.2 innings.

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4. Koji Uehara

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The Boston Red Sox went into 2013 confident in their closer being Joel Hanrahan. He struggled early and was eventually lost for the season with an injury. They turned to Koji Uehara, a lifetime middle reliever who had 14 saves in his previous four seasons. He ended the year going 4-1 with 21 saves and an ERA of 1.10. He struck out 100 batters in 73.1 innings.

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3. Joe Nathan

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If the Texas Rangers had Joe Nathan in 2011, they would be hoisting a World Series trophy. He finished this year with an ERA of 1.41 and 43 saves.

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2. Aroldis Chapman

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds did the right thing by staying with Aroldis Chapman as a closer instead of making him a starter. He finished the season with 38 saves and 112 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.

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1. Craig Kimbrel

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Craig Kimbrel is clearly the best closer in all of baseball. He has recorded 138 saves in his first three full seasons. In 2013, Kimbrel notched his first 50-save season and had an ERA of 1.23. He also struck out 98 batters in 66 innings and had a WHIP of 0.88.