3 Up: For Padres to Win, Joaquin Benoit Must Be The Closer

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The San Diego Padres bullpen, the consistent strength of the team in recent years, has undergone some changes since the beginning of last season. Closer Huston Street was traded mid-season last year and some strong new arms, including Shawn Kelly and Brandon Maurer, were acquired during the off-season. As manager Bud Black decides which pitchers will make the starting rotation or fill in the relief roles, one thing is clear, Joaquin Benoit should be the closer.

Benoit took over the closer role after Street was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on July 18 last year. After that date Benoit allowed only one run, an unearned run, over the rest of the 2014 season.

The numbers during that stretch were extremely impressive. 14 games, one win and ten saves. 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings and three walks. Opposing batters only managed a triple slash line of .102/.170/.143. A WHIP of 0.55. An ERA of 0.00.

As good as Street was for the Padres, and he had the best save percentage in baseball when he was traded, the Padres’ closing situation improved when they handed the ball to Benoit.

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The Padres, under the direction of mastermind A.J. Preller, have undergone a dramatic change in attitude over the past three months. As recently as mid-December, Padres fans, the writers here at Friars On Base, perhaps even the players themselves, had little hopes of the Padres putting a contender on the field in 2015. The team was coming off a historically bad offensive season and had little reason to believe that things would improve.

Then Hurricane A.J. hit. A zillion trades and a major free agent signing later and the Padres are one of the most talked-about teams in baseball. The odds on the Padres winning the World series have gone from 50:1 to 14:1. Only six teams in the majors currently have better odds. Now we expect the Padres to win, to make the postseason, and hopefully, win the World Series.

With this kind of expectation, the Padres need a dominant closer in the bullpen. Benoit is that man.

The 6’3” right hander allowed fewer base-runners per innings pitched than all but two pitchers in baseball last year. Benoit’s 0.77 WHIP trailed only Sean Doolittle and Aaron Sanchez, and was even better than that of the much ballyhooed Yankees reliever, Dellin Betances. Street and Kansas City’s Greg Holland were the only closers last year to record ERAs better than Benoit’s 1.49.

It is clear that Benoit is currently one of the most effective relievers in baseball. If the Padres want to win the World Series this year, and it’s apparent that they do, then they must use their best relief pitcher as their closer.

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