When Cristhian Adames’ game ending double hit the right field wall Wednesday night cementing the Rockies’ three run comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning, we all knew what the take du jour was going to be on Thursday’s day off: Santiago Casilla should be out as the San Francisco Giants’ closer.
Now Casilla didn’t technically blow the save Wednesday night, but that’s hardly of any consequence. His lack of precision helped breathe life into the Rockies offense, when the 36-year-old closer opened the inning by leaving a hanging cutter for Nolan Arenado to wallop over the left-center field wall. Casilla continued to make location mistakes, giving up a one-out single, the eventual tying run, before manager Bruce Bochy had seen enough. Josh Osich and Joe Nathan failed to clean up Casilla’s mess, but the Giants fate had already been sealed.
When a team is stuck in a historic free fall like the Giants have been since the all-star break, it’s always due to a multitude of factors. The Giants are 17-32 since the break with a winning percentage of .346. If you expand that 49 game sample to a full season’s worth of games, San Francisco would be the worst team in baseball. They are coming off a four game series against the Cubs in which they hit .106 as a team. Buster Posey hasn’t hit a home run in 42 games. Hunter Pence’s OBP since the all-star break is .299.
Important to remember: Casilla has been bad, but so has everybody else.
Does that mean Bochy should keep giving him the ball in the ninth inning? Not necessarily.
Among active closers, Casilla’s seven blown saves are tied for the Major League lead, and that’s not counting Wednesday night’s debacle, in which Casilla was comically credited with a hold. That’s not good.
Casilla has a save percentage of 81.6%, the second worst mark in the league for closers with at least 30 appearances in save situations. Also, not good.
Perhaps worst of all, Casilla seems to be bottoming out at time when San Francisco’s season is hanging in the balance, also blowing a crucial save on Sunday in Chicago. The Giants are having a hard enough time staying in games, and are in far too fragile a state to afford any continued shakiness in the ninth inning.
The obvious counter argument to the “Casilla out” movement is that fact that the Giants don’t really have a logical replacement. While Casilla has blown seven saves on his own, the Giants lead the league with a whopping 25 blown saves as a team. Even when the Giants haven’t trotted out Casilla, the results haven’t been much better.
At this point, however, it doesn’t matter. Bochy and his staff have to figure something else out. Casilla is simply too unreliable and there is too much at stake to stand pat and hope for the best.
The best potential option to replace Casilla would seem to be 25-year-old Derek Law. Law is the Giants’ closer of the future and has been the best reliever in the San Francisco bullpen all season, posting a 1.94 ERA in 53 appearances. The problem? Law is still recovering from a forearm strain and isn’t eligible to come off the disabled list until Monday. He also has no experience as a major league closer. Will he be healthy enough to slot into a high stress role after multiple weeks on the shelf?
Hard throwing Hunter Strickland was dominant in the seventh inning on Wednesday, and has put up impressive numbers this season despite his reputation for giving up the long ball. That reputation isn’t unearned, however, and similar to Casilla, Strickland has a tendency to make critical location mistakes in key situations. Remember the 2014 postseason? Also, Strickland has managed to blow an astounding four saves himself this season in just six opportunities. That’s not exactly encouraging.
Will Smith? He’s pitched in five save situations this season and blown all of them.
What about Joe Nathan? To say he’s experienced would be an understatement as the 41-year-old is currently eighth on the all-time saves list and looked like his vintage self in a 12th inning appearance against Chicago on Saturday, fanning MVP hopeful Kris Bryant to end the inning. Let’s not get carried away, though. Remember that Nathan was pitching in Double A just weeks ago, is coming off a Tommy John surgery at age 39, and posted a 4.81 ERA while blowing seven saves of his own in his last full MLB season. It would be a great story, but Nathan is an emergency option at best.
Alas, we are left with Sergio Romo, who was the Giants’ closer in 2014 before a rough spell saw him replaced with, guess who, Santiago Casilla. Aside from Law and middle-reliever George Kontos, Romo has been the most consistent Giants reliever in 2016, albeit in a smaller sample size of 31 games. Romo’s knee buckling slider isn’t nearly as consistent as it was in his prime, but when it’s on, it’s still one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball. With Law’s health in question, Romo is probably the safest bet to take over for Casilla, at least in the short term.
The Giants have 23 games remaining before the regular season ends. They are currently five games back of the Dodgers for the NL West lead and hold a half game advantage over the Mets and a one game advantage over St. Louis in the wild card. The margin of error is the slimmest it’s been all season for the Giants, and they can ill afford to have continued issues at the end of close games.
The options are far from perfect, but the Giants have them. Romo and Law have proven to be reliable enough to at least try out. If they don’t work, so be it, but with the way Casilla’s pitching, it’s hard to imagine things being much worse than they are right now.