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Grand Return For Papa Grande?

By bullpenbrian at 10.21.2012 Leave a comment.

Who does Jim Leyland turn to as his closer in the World Series? He wouldn’t go back to Jose Valverde, would he?

Papa Grande’s been nothing short of awful this October: 7-earned runs, 7-hits in just 2.1 innings. Is that really worth gambling on in the Fall Classic?

We’re about to find out. The Tigers’ starting staff is just too good not to find themselves in a closing situation in a game or two against its NL opponent.

Detroit’s already spun 8 quality starts in its 9 postseason games, which is no fluke considering they tossed 90 during the regular season–2nd most in the American League.

It’s the big reason why the Tigers have found so much postseason success lately—the LCS last season and the World Series this year. But as good as the starters have been, Valverde has matched them every step of the way converting 93.2-percent of his save opportunities during the past 3 seasons–the best mark of any closer in the majors over that time.

But when Valverde’s ritualistic compulsions turned ugly in October, first in Oakland and then gut-wrenchingly bad in New York, Leyland was forced to turn elsewhere at closer.

Phil Coke’s primary job as a reliever is to retire left-handed hitters–not close games. But he served as Leyland’s temporary stop-gap at closer, and did so not once but twice in the ALCS. Coke cleaned up Valverde’s mess in Game 1 and returned the following night to close out the Yankees in Game 2.

It was such a rare postseason feat Coke actually made baseball history by becoming the first pitcher to ever earn two post-season saves following a season in which he had one-or fewer saves.

Interesting, indeed. But it doesn’t change the fact Coke isn’t closer material…and neither the Cards or Giants are the ‘no-hit’ Yankees of this postseason.

The closing job for Coke–if, in fact, Leyland decides to stick with him–will be considerably tougher in the coming days. And it’s probably more a case of Leyland playing the matchups before hoping lightning strikes twice with his suddenly sensational lefty.

That could mean running Joaquin Benoit out for the ninth, who’s been average this postseason but does have closer’s experience. It’s minimal…13 saves in 11 big league season, six coming in 2007.

The seemingly ageless Octavio Dotel is another candidate. He has plenty of experience having notched 109 career saves. But he’s also been consistently unpredictable in his later years and far from the closer he once was. Another crapshoot at best.

I can’t imagine the closer issue hasn’t been at the forefront of Leyland’s mind since capturing the AL pennant…more so than lineups, rotations or too much time off for his team before the World Series.

A ninth inning lead will be anything but a certainty for the Tigers. Will Valverde bounce back? Will Leyland risk finding that out by thrusting his cuckoo reliever back into the thick drama of a save situation in the World Series?

It’s enough stress to drive a man like me to start blazing Marlboros right alongside the Tigers’ skipper, and especially if it’s Valverde easing the way for another Cardinals world championship.

Come to think of it, anyone here have a light?

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