Gray, Capellan Prove That Winners Need Dependable Closer
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition of American Association Daily Recap, Robert Pannier looks at how the two teams that are at the top of the standings are there because of dependable closers.
How to Win Games and Influence Standings
When the 2020 American Association season ends, four managers are going to be spending eight long months trying to figure out what went wrong. Why it is that their team was not one of the two that made it to the post-season?
For two teams, the answer as to why they are in their current position seems pretty clear – their closer. The Milwaukee Milkmen and the Winnipeg Goldeyes have the two most dependable closers in the American Association, and it is not surprising that the two find themselves in the top two spots in the league heading into Wednesday night’s contests.
At the Top of the Leader Board
The St. Paul Saints James McGrane and the Sioux Falls Canaries Keaton Steele lead the American Association in saves, but it has not always been pretty. Both hurlers have stumbled at times, especially Steele, who went through a nine game stretch where he allowed 10 runs in 8.2 innings. Not what you would expect out a closer.
McGrane has been better. He has been scored upon in only four of his 20 outings, but 15 walks in 19.1 innings pitched has turned the hair of Saints Manager George Tsamis a little grayer with each outing.
Despite the struggles, the two have come through far more often than they have failed, and so it is not surprising that the Canaries find themselves one game out of second place while the Saints are 2.5 out.
Good God, These Guys Are Good!
For Milwaukee, the answer has been Peyton Gray, who has been nothing short of awesome this season. When the year began, the Milkmen were expected to go with last year’s closer, Myles Smith, to finish off games. Smith has 17 saves last year, and saved the team’s first win this year, but he began to struggle and Manager Anthony Barone decided to experiment with a few guys before finally settling on Gray.
The results speak for themselves. In 23 appearances this season, Gray has yet to be scored upon. He has given up just seven hits in 24.0 innings pitched, walked 10, and has struck out 41. He currently has 10 saves, fourth most in the league, but that number is irrelevant. His team knows when he heads to the mound, the game is over. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
The same can be said for Winnipeg Goldeyes closer Victor Capellan. This is the third straight season where the right-hander has been the last guy out of the bullpen for Winnipeg and, in the previous two seasons, there were periods where he struggled. However, 2020 has been an entirely different story.
Capellan has been devastating. He is third in the American Association in saves with 11 and has allowed 20 total base runners in 20.0 innings pitched, striking out 21. Capellan has allowed just two earned runs this season for a microscopic 0.90 ERA. Most importantly, he has been perfect in his 11 save situations.
Because of how well Gray and Capellan have performed, it is not surprising that their teams are at the top of the American Association standings.
And at the Other End of the Spectrum
While Gray and Capellan have been key factors in their teams rise to the top, two teams have battled through inconsistent performances from their closer and that has led to the cellar in the league.
The Chicago Dogs thought they had their closer situation resolved when Adam Choplick took over the job, but he was scored upon in three consecutive games, blowing two saves in that span. The left-hander recently spent some time on the injured list, but his 18 hits and 5.14 ERA in 14 innings are not confidence boosting numbers for Manager Butch Hobson.
Five different hurlers have earned saves for the Dogs this season, and none has more than four.
For the RedHawks, they have settled on Mitchell Osnowitz, who has all of the team’s nine saves. However, it has not been pretty at all.
Osnowitz has appeared in 17 games, going 16.2 innings. He has allowed 19 hits, issued eight walks, and given up 16 earned runs for an 8.64. The right-hander has lost his last two appearances, giving up six earned runs in one inning. He has been scored upon in six of his 17 appearances, including allowing four runs in three of those outings.
Leaving a Lasting Impression
One aspect of the closer’s role that many neglect to properly understand is that this is supposed to the last person that either team sees. This is the guy who is closing the door. The one getting all the handshakes and pats on the back as his team heads to the locker room. That moment sends the team home excited and ready to go the next day.
However, when he does not deliver, there is a lasting impression as well. The team should have been going home happy, but they just took a punch to the gut. They say that it is a new day, but now teammates are wondering if their closer can really close the door. Starters worry their six-plus solid innings will go for naught, and hitters press to get two or three more runs hoping the closer’s entrance is not necessary.
All of those factors become magnified in a 60-game schedule. They are a part of the reason why Winnipeg and Milwaukee are enjoying their place atop the American Association standings.
By Robert Pannier