I was watching an MLB Network “Seasons” entry the other day about the 1986 Season. Of course, that makes sense given that was the year the New York Mets won the World Series after the Red Sox were down to their last strike twice in Game 6 and down by 2. Then of course, they hit three singles before Mookie Wilson hit a bouncer to first base that Bill Buckner misplayed for the winning run to score and the Mets won Game 7 for the championship. As the footage played out, Vin Scully quoted one of my favorite aspects about baseball: “You can’t run the clock out in baseball.”.
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What was surprising about the 2015 season was how much the bullpen struggled. For as long as I can remember the Padres have had a solid if not dominant bullpen. An easy reminder of that was before Game 2 of the World Series former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman presented the National League Reliever Award – named after him – to Mark Melancon. After Hoffman Heath Bell dominated for a few years before Huston Street and now Craig Kimbrel. Closing games when the Padres have the lead has never been much effort – even when ole Rod Beck give it a go in a season where Hoffman was injured.
Yet as that famous play in the ’86 series showed, and even Game 1 of this years Fall Classic as the Royals Alex Gordon hit a game tying off of the Mets Jeurys Familia in the 9th inning. That game turned into a classic 14 inning affair that the Royals won. Consider too that Familia blew only 5 saves in picking up 43 as a first year closer and had already come in the 8th to end a Royals scoring threat.
The Royals bullpen showed its strength, outlasting the Mets was former Padre and starter Chris Young pitched three scoreless and hitless innings for the win. How much longer he could’ve gone is questionable but at least one inning likely, possibly more. The San Francisco Giants have done their best in the past couple of seasons to get their game as close as possible to make other teams feel like they are running out the clock. Certainly the Royals have that down as well with their bullpen through trades and their own drafting.
I do believe that the “closer” as a singular role can be over-rated, yet I for one do not like the idea of trading Craig Kimbrel. Particularly with the Padres potentially losing set-up man Joaquin Benoit and no one really grabbing a hold of that slot internally, I don’t want to take too many chances on those critical 7-8-9 innings.
The great thing about baseball is that you can never be sure of anything. With every great closer comes their own history of failures in big situations. Trevor Hoffman in Game 163 of the 2007 season against the Rockies. The Great Mariano Rivera failing to close out the Diamondbacks in 2001. Dennis Eckersley of course in 1988 – the last time the Dodgers made it to the World Series.
For the Padres, I like what Shawn Kelley did out of the bullpen and Brandon Maurer if he doesn’t get a shot at cracking a rotation spot for 2016. Kevin Quackenbush regressed some in 2015 after his 2014 season and the Padres currently have Dale Thayer in AAA waiting for another shot. Frank Garces is throwing in winter league, and Jon Edwards is another possibility for one of those coveted set-up spots for 2016. Getting that core solidified early will be key in helping the Padres build a successful 2016 campaign.
So while you can never run the clock out in baseball, you can certainly do your part to get as close as possible. How the Padres get there will be a key metric in grading the 2015-2016 off-season of AJ Preller.