Brian Wilson personified the Giants’ bullpen in their 2010 World Series championship run. The ability for a manager to turn the ball over to a shut-down arm in late-inning situations is something that should never be taken for granted—Bruce Bochy can undoubtedly attest to that. Unfortunately for the Giants, Wilson went down early in the season with an elbow injury that resulted in a second season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Currently the Giants are sporting a closer-by-committee bullpen situation and thus far, it has worked. Santiago Casilla is listed as the closer but Sergio Romo (12 saves), Jeremy Affeldt (3), Clay Hensley (3), and Javier Lopez (7) combine to have more saves than him (24).
Perhaps one reason the Giants have been so reluctant to name a closer is because their best pitcher does not have the stereotypical persona of one. Sergio Romo is sporting a miniscule 1.98 ERA and only 10 walks in 50 innings of work; however, he does not possess the blazing fastball that Brian Wilson and former Giant great Robb Nen threw. In fact, Romo’s fastball does not even average 88 MPH.
Santiago Casilla, on the other hand, throws a respectable 94 MPH fastball. In the beginning of the season, it looked like he would be the closer for the Giants in Wilson’s absence. But midseason woes—namely an ERA north of 6.00 in June and July—forced Bochy to search elsewhere for ninth inning pitching.
Naturally, Sergio Romo was the guy to turn to. After all, he did not give up a single earned run in his first 13 appearances. A couple of bad outings led Bochy to stick with a closer-by-committee bullpen for the long term.
So the real question is: can the Giants win in the playoffs with such a system? Recent World Series champions were anchored by the likes of Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Lidge, Bobby Jenks, and Brian Wilson. There was no question for those teams who would be taking the ball at the end of the game, something that made such situations slightly less nerve-wracking.
Even though the Giants have managed their bullpen skillfully, San Francisco Chronicle writer Henry Schulman points out a glaring problem: only four teams since 1969 have won the World Series while three different pitchers have at least eight saves each. All of those coaches are (or will be) in the Hall of Fame.
As great as Bochy has managed the great Giants pitching staff, he is not Cooperstown-bound just yet. (But winning a World Series with a closer-by-committee bullpen might give him a strong case.)
Realistically the Giants have no option but to ride it out, and if that means a closer-by-committee team, so be it. Casilla, Romo, and Lopez are all capable of closing the deal and even Affeldt can take care of late-inning relief, if necessary. Going with whoever is hot is the best idea until one pitcher stands out...and only two of those four relievers have a realistic shot at earning the role come the playoffs: Romo or Casilla. Romo has the playoff experience and Casilla has the mentality you want from a closer.
Bochy will not have an easy job deciding who gets to start the ninth inning once October baseball rolls around. But if anybody in today’s game is capable of pulling it off, Bochy is the guy. Will it work? That remains to be seen, but as the Giants organization has become accustomed to while dealing with injuries, the game is as simple as working with what you have.