The San Francisco Giants lost Tuesday night’s game, when they couldn’t overcome the two runs Santiago Casilla gave up on a Xander Bogaerts 2-run single in the top of the 10th inning. It wasn’t a blown save, since Casilla came into a tied game in the ninth inning. But Giants fans are getting restless over Casilla’s continuance in the closer’s role, frustrated over a perceived repetition of failing the Giants.
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The disenchantment comes with some good reason: Santiago has blown four saves, and last night’s loss was his second consecutive outing in which he gave up a critical run. The problem is that Casilla is a closer, which is a position intended for one inning. Casilla fell apart in his second inning of work.
To make the situation more difficult, Casilla hadn’t pitched in six days. Sure, he had a fresh arm, but his break was longer than what his rotation mates get between starts. Relievers need to pitch more regularly to stay in game shape, and unless it’s a long relief role, most relievers are conditioned for one inning. It was too much to ask Casilla to pitch a second inning in a tied game against the best offense in baseball after five days of rest.
Pardon the series of prepositions, but the situation required that many qualifiers to explain just how daunting the task was.
Now, the first two batters Casilla faced in the 10th inning, Sandy Leon and Marco Hernandez, weren’t exactly charter members of Murderer’s Row. But then Casilla had to take on the top of the Red Sox order: Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts. There is no better top of the order in baseball. Even the best closers in the game—Kenley Jansen, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman and Boston’s Craig Kimbrel—would have had trouble getting through that trio in a second inning of work.
Yesterday, I explored what would happen with Casilla if the Giants acted on their interest in Yankees reliever Andrew Miller and traded for the big lefty. In all likelihood, Casilla would move to an eighth-inning setup role and Miller would take over as closer.
It remains a good idea to go after Miller, but not because Casilla is failing the Giants, but because the Giants lack depth in the back of the bullpen. As a unit, Giants relievers rank 9th in the National League and 21st overall with a 4.05 ERA. Even when Sergio Romo returns from injury, they still won’t match up, arm for arm, with most contenders’ bullpens. That’s a problem in this era in which so much emphasis has been put on relief pitching.
Casilla is essentially being asked to carry the bullpen, while: the offense underperforms; the starting pitching keeps the team in most games; and the bullpen, as a whole, is struggling. And still, after two poor outings, Casilla holds a 2.74 ERA.
No, Casilla is not in the same class as Jansen, Davis, Chapman and Kimbrel. But he is definitely good enough to be one of the 30 closers in Major League Baseball. He is probably in the top half of that group, and an argument exists for sneaking him into the top 10. So, while he’s not the best closer, he’s a good one. He just happens to shoulder the blame for not perfectly shouldering the load for the bullpen.