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Closers: Padres, Angels, Brewers

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Huston Street's 2012 is a two-sided story of brilliance and what could have been. The Padres' stopper has been dominant when he's been healthy, but after straining his calf over the weekend, he's on the disabled list for the second time this season and what amounts to the fourth* time in the past two seasons. So while his owners have relished the 0.75 ERA and 0.53(!) WHIP, those contributions have been offset by somewhat by his modest 21 saves.

*Street was shut down toward the end of 2011 though he was not technically placed on the DL.

With Padres holding Street's rights for at least a couple more years, I'd expect them to play his rehab and return conservatively. And while this is completely baseless speculation, I wonder if they wouldn't shut him down if he progresses slowly or suffers a setback in rehab.

Following Street's injury, the Padres were mum about who would close in his stead. The primary candidates were thought to be Dale Thayer, who overachieved as Street's stand-in in May, and Luke Gregerson, who is enjoying another successful year but has traditionally been handled delicately. The guess here was that stuff would win the day, so Gregerson is where I was looking first. But in something of a surprise move, the Friars went back to Thayer, who profiles more like a middle reliever than late-inning guy on account of his modest strikeout and groundball rates, for the first post-Street save chance on Monday night.

Thayer should be the first guy you add if he's still out there, and though the Padres and Bud Black showed no inclination to experiment with a committee last time Street was injured, those of you who miss out on Thayer may want to snap up Gregerson and hope that Thayer slumps and relinquishes the job.

The Halos' bullpen became far more predictable once Scott Downs and, to a lesser extent, former closer Jordan Walden were both shelved due to injury: Ernesto Frieri had the job all to his lonesome. But now Downs and Walden are both nearing returns, and Downs in particular could vulture the occasional save from Frieri down the stretch, just as he did prior to being added to the DL.

After a terrific start to the season, Downs looked very mortal in a few of his outings leading up to this DL stint, although you wonder if those struggles could be attributed to the injury. In any event, Frieri has come down to earth a bit, too, and with the Angels fighting for every win they can get as they pursue the postseason, my guess is that no one's job is set in stone. Frieri should be gone in any league worth its salt, but Downs may have been cut loose when he was injured, so if you're desperate for saves, he's a guy who will probably chip in a few (with a slight chance of more) during the season's final weeks.

As for Walden, his odds of closing upon his return are remote (pretty surprising considering his run as the team's stopper last season), but he has overpowering stuff, so it will be interesting to see how the Angels use him if he goes on a hot streak now that he's supposedly healthy. He's not worth an add, but keep an eye on him.

After seeing magic dust wear off John Axford, the Brewers decided to find the next Aford, turning over the reins of their beleaguered bullpen to the equally nondescriptly named Jim Henderson. The soon-to-be 30-year-old tenuously seized Milwaukee's closing gig shortly after his Major League debut, which is really pretty shocking if you think about it. Anyway, in the extremely small sample size of his Major League career to date (nine innings through Monday night), Henderson's peripherals look sharp -- and eerily similar to Axford's circa 2K11: very strong strikeout and groundball rates, and a decent walk rate.

Inconveniently enough, though, he's allowed earned runs in three of his past five outings, which can't help him in his bid to run with the job. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after Henderson's clunker on Sunday that Jim-Hen will get a bit more leash before the Crew looks elsewhere (for the umpteenth time this season) for another closer. And although it's been my unscientific observation that the bullpen is the place where late bloomers are likeliest to carve out Major League niches for themselves, I'm not especially optimistic that Henderson will be able to keep his manager's faith for too long.

I keep waiting for Axford to get finally hit his stride this season and grab ahold of the gig once and for all, but that ship may have sailed. Whether's that due to injury or just plain old regression, I can't say, but the only way to play this one for now is to chase each guy the Brewers trot out there. Axford may be worth a stash on a bench, but he's shown little make me believe that's anything more than a hail mary at this point.

closer Ryan Cook was demoted to the eighth inning for a couple of appearances to get himself straightened out, leaving things to old friend Grant Balfour in the meanwhile. I'm taking the A's at face value on this, but the situation looks very fluid to me. ... Red Sox righty Andrew Bailey was scheduled to be activated from the disabled list Tuesday, but there have been no indications that he'll close. I like Alfredo Aceves to hold the job based on merit, so I'd drop Bailey if I were in a roster squeeze, but there's no harm in holding onto him for a week or two if you have the space. ... Twins righty Matt Capps underwent an MRI which revealed only shoulder inflammation, but he's not close to starting a throwing program. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton remain entrenched as co-closers. ... The Marlins' plan to ease Heath Bell back into closing may have blown up in their faces with his four-run debacle Sunday. I wouldn't go out of my way to add him if he were on my wire; Steve Cishek owners should sit tight. ... The Royals have once again announced that Aaron Crow is a candidate to move to the rotation next year. This is why I leaned toward Greg Holland taking over for Jonathan Broxton when the latter was traded at the deadline, so keep it in mind moving forward.

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