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Closers: Red Sox, Padres

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Red Sox
Andrew Bailey's tough debut season in Boston might actually be ending on a high note. Alfredo Aceves? Not so much. Bailey, only a couple weeks back from a season-long stint on the disabled list, appears poised to overtake Aceves as Red Sox closer.

In a very small sample of just 5 1/3 innings through Monday's action, Bailey's peripherals have been underwhelming. But he's mostly managed to keep runs off the board, posting a 1.69 ERA. That's not enough of a sample for us to definitively declare that the old Bailey has returned, but often times, perception is reality in the bullpen's version of 'Game of Thrones,' and the fact is that Bailey's surface stats indicate that he is back on top of his game.

Aceves, meanwhile, has seen an otherwise decent season go completely off the rails over the past month. In fact, as recently as the tail end of Bailey's minor league rehab stint, I touted Aceves as likely to hold onto his job, what with there being little incentive for an out-of-contention team to demote an adequate closer. But since then, Aceves' ERA has jumped from 3.57 to 4.60. Since Aug. 1, the right-hander has posted a 10.24 ERA in 9 2/3 innings of work, with 10 strikeouts, 13 hits and four walks. Oof. The timing, of course, couldn't have been worse, what with Bailey -- whom the team anointed its closer of the future when it acquired him in an offseason trade with the Athletics -- looming as his rehab stint wound down. Then, Aceves' on-field frustrations culminated in off-field mishap -- some kind of door-slamming altercation with manager Bobby Valentine -- which resulted in a team-imposed three-game suspension. When it rains it pours, Alfredo.

Valentine, as he is wont to do, has been coy about Bailey's and Aceves' respective roles once the latter's disciplinary sabbatical has run its course (he should be back in uniform Tuesday night). But the tea leaves all point toward Bailey seeing the lion's share, if not all, of the team's save chances for the season's balance. He wields knockout stuff when he's on top of his game, and as mentioned earlier, Boston acquired him last offseason with designs on having him pitch the ninth, a role he manned capably for the A's in his three seasons with them. Aceves, on the other hand, was thrust into closing mostly by chance when Bailey went down with his injury and Mark Melancon was demoted to the minors after a horrible start to the season. In fact, Aceves is a former starter whom the Red Sox probably had pegged as a long reliever/emergency starter.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Red Sox are in reboot mode now since the trade that relieved them of Adrian Gonzalez's, Carl Crawford's and Josh Beckett's respective burdensome contracts, so the thinking here is that they'll probably be looking to put every player in his right place with an eye toward 2013. Bailey's place is almost certainly closing; Aceves' may be on another team, as he's clearly fallen out of favor.

Aceves owners should hold on till he's been activated and officially given the boot, but in the meantime, Bailey should be scooped up in all leagues. This situation shouldn't take more than a couple days to resolve itself.

Speaking of being done dirty, poor Dale Thayer learned that interim closerships apparently wait for no man, woman or child, as Friars manager Bud Black has suddenly taken a liking to Luke Gregerson in the ninth inning. LG first earned a save on Sunday while Thayer was still on the paternity list. Easy enough. But Dale-lightful was back in uniform on Monday, and with a save situation taking shape for the Padres in the latter innings of their tilt against the Braves, Black called upon Thayer to set up in the eighth before handing the ninth-inning save chance off to Gregerson, who converted. Interesting.

Gregerson's saga has been a weird one. He boasts "closer stuff" but has been passed over in favor of the journeyman Thayer for closing duties during both of Huston Street's DL stints this season. Well, "passed over" may not be an accurate way to phrase it. Recall that Gregerson was given first crack at closing for the Padres during Street's first DL stay, but he blew the save. Enter Thayer. When Street went down for a second time, there was no such opportunity to be had for Gregerson; the Padres simply handed over closing duties to Thayer.

So, why the aversion to Gregerson in the first place, and why have the Padres seemingly had a change of heart now? One fairly common response to the first question is that Gregerson's reliance on the arm-taxing slider renders him a less-than-ideal candidate to be pegged to the constraints of a narrowly defined role like closing, which could call for him to pitch three or sometimes four days in a row. However, he's pitched on three consecutive days four times this season, which isn't excessive but is plenty enough to prove the Padres aren't shy about doing it. Maybe the Padres felt like he didn't have the mental makeup to handle the gig after he blew the aforementioned save? And the second question of this mystery is equally perplexing. Perhaps the Friars simply realized that Gregerson is a better pitcher than Thayer? (he is)

In any event, all the debate may not amount to much. Street is expected to soon begin a minor league rehab stint, after which he should return to closing. In the meanwhile, Gregerson is a worth an add if you're duking it out for every last save you can get your hands on. Thayer owners should sit tight for one more save chance to see how it plays out, but if he's skipped over again, cut away.

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