- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Saves can normally be found freely on the waiver wire, but the second half of this fine 2013 season hasn't been normal in that respect. We've got nearly three weeks of September action at which to look heading into Friday, and 26 pitchers have three or more saves. We've seen the occasional fill-in save (Luke Gregerson, Javier Lopez) and three-inning version (Brett Anderson, Roberto Hernandez), but basically, if you needed saves this month and couldn't trade for them, you've been out of luck.
One annoying situation is with the Chicago Cubs, where manager Dale Sveum continues to tell reporters he'll give right-hander Pedro Strop a chance to close out a game. On Thursday, he could have easily done so, but he did not. It was again Strop setting up for vagabond closer Kevin Gregg, sure to find his way into saves for another big league team in 2014. I don't get this. I'm not saying that Strop is the next Kenley Jansen, but now we've got only one week left of the season, and Strop has as many saves as I do. What exactly are the 89-loss Cubs waiting for? Will one late-September save even tell us anything at this point?
I added Strop originally back in late July, figuring the Cubs would surely move Gregg to a contender for some low-level prospect. They did not. I have watched since then as Sveum has repeatedly alluded to a potential ninth-inning change, so in a league in which I've needed every last save, and am up against a starts limit, I signed Strop. And still, there's nothing. At this point of the fantasy season, with a week to go, there's not much a fantasy owner can do. Many of you are bemoaning the fact Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan has one save in September, a third of what Houston Astros right-hander Josh Fields (of all people) has, and perhaps it has cost you points. Perhaps Strop gets a chance soon; he's an erratic pitcher at times, but occasionally overpowering as well. Walks always scare me, but Strop has issued only one free pass in his past 12 appearances, so again, why not give him a chance, a mini-audition for the future?
Fantasy owners ask for final-week advice for everything, but when it comes to closers, there's not much to say. We hope that our Kimbrels and Ueharas keep on closing, but when teams clinch, all bets are off. We hope we can find information on new arms getting a chance, but managers are far more likely to let a prospect start a game than close one. The San Francisco Giants have a future closer in Heath Hembree throwing basically an inning per week in the bullpen, but Thursday they let 36-year-old lefty Lopez close things out when Sergio Romo wasn't available. So good luck, fantasy owners. I just don't see Tommy Hunter, Bruce Rondon, Trevor Rosenthal, Paco Rodriguez, A.J. Ramos, Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Clippard or, unfortunately, Strop, getting chances. Rely on your guys and hope for the best.
Box score bits (NL): Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole beat the San Diego Padres for his ninth win Thursday, allowing one run and impressively striking out 12. Cole didn't pile on the strikeouts in his first month of starts, but he's doing so now. He also has lowered his ERA in his past seven outings. Invest. This is a future ace. ... Chicago Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz hit his 21st home run Thursday. That's right, 21 home runs. All but one has come off right-handed pitching. Schierholtz had never even hit 10 home runs in a season. First, if used properly he can do this again in 2014. Second, don't disregard platoon outfielders with power who hit left-handed. The names Lonnie Chisenhall and Lucas Duda jump to mind. ... St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha made his eighth start Thursday, but it was at Coors Field in Denver and went poorly. Wacha allowed 12 hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings. Wacha is a far better play at home next week against Washington. ... Watch out for New York Mets lefty Jon Niese next season. He lost to Madison Bumgarner Thursday, but he has pitched well since the All-Star break. Remember he was a top-40 starting pitcher in 2013 drafts. Why give up on him in 2014? ... Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the NL West, don't look for Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and pals to play all their games next week. Sorry, but that's how it works.
Box score bits (AL): Detroit Tigers catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez had two doubles and two RBIs Thursday, but also played only his third game behind the plate, a sad reminder he'll be a designated hitter (and nothing else) for 2014 fantasy drafts. Don't discount the bat. After hitting .221 in April and .258 for the season's first half, Martinez is hitting .364 since the All-Star break. ... Seattle Mariners lefty James Paxton was wild in his third career start, giving up five hits and four walks in five innings. Paxton, 24, has a bright future and should warrant mixed league consideration next year. ... Tampa Bay Rays lefty Matt Moore entered Thursday having permitted 11 home runs in 136 innings. Then the Rangers slugged three off him in a four-batter span. Thanks, Matt! Moore had been pitching well, so chalk this outing up to just a bad day and trust him next week. ... Mitch Moreland hit one of the home runs, his 23rd. And he was batting ninth. Not too bad for your worst hitter in fantasy, either. ... Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry stole three bases, but he had stolen only one base in the past month, so it's likely not a trend. ... Boston Red Sox right-hander John Lackey won his 10th game Thursday, allowing two hits and a run in a complete game outing. Lackey has struggled over the past month, but he's a must-use in home games, where his ERA is considerably better (4.39 road ERA, 2.47 at Fenway Park).
Have a great weekend and best of luck in the final week of the season!