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We’re still more than a month away from the start of the MLB season … so how do you approach drafting bullpen arms at this time of year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft: As would be the case with any position, the further ahead of Opening Day that we’re drafting, the more heavily I’m weighing the “skills over roles” axiom when it comes to relief pitchers. It’s simply a more pronounced strategy at that position compared to others, even if that seems odd because fantasy value is more role-oriented there than at any other position.

Saves are the easiest category to fill after the draft, when the least is known about who will be getting them — more saves still up for grabs means more will likely land in the free-agent pool. And the downside of drafting an ordinary (read: no ERA/WHIP/K’s help) reliever who winds up in middle relief, providing you no value whatsoever, is simply too scary at this early stage.

In short, this is a time during draft season when I’m going to pass up Fernando Rodney and his inconsistency and history of poor ratio support, instead grabbing Addison Reed, who has superior skills, in the much later rounds.

It’s a time when I’ll take a chance on Archie Bradley, the most talented of the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ top three closer challengers, or even David Robertson, hoping that maybe the New York Yankees will need to shed his salary in a trade to stay under the luxury-tax threshold.

And I’ll be more apt to pass on Luke Gregerson, the St. Louis Cardinals‘ de facto closer, and Kelvin Herrera, whose skills declined sharply in 2017.

Worst case: If I end up with no saves coming out of the draft, any saves “dart throws” I took that missed would just end up being my first cuts for the eventual winners of these spring closer battles.

Eric Karabell: In ESPN standard formats, I likely don’t deal with bullpen uncertainty at all. These are shallow leagues, and saves will always be available on free agency in April, May and beyond.

I think, for example, that Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, wily veteran that he is, will eventually settle on right-hander Blake Parker, who pitched so well in numerous roles last season — including the ninth-inning role — so I might spend a pick in the final round or two on Parker. I probably will not, though, because I do not see much upside there.

After all, don’t we know by this point that nearly a third of closer roles for Opening Day — and we are still a month from that point — will change?

So I am more likely to use precious bench spots on upside options for other statistical categories in case they make their respective MLB rosters or their situation becomes more positive during spring training.

For example, top outfield prospects Ronald Acuna and Victor Robles seem like better initial investments than Parker, Miami Marlins right-hander Brad Ziegler and Texas Rangers lefty Alex Claudio. Same with Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Brent Honeywell and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes.

In deeper formats where it might be tougher to secure saves during the season, then I will likely bypass the top-100 closers — I always do — and take four or five lesser relief pitchers with the hope a few perform well and secure roles.

I like Parker. I think Parker, Bradley and a few others who are off the radar, like Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corey Knebel a year ago this time, can actually be top-10 closers if the opportunity presents itself. But still, we are talking about late draft selections here, after a deep roster of hitters and rotation depth is secured.

AJ Mass: It’s all about job security when it comes to closers, whose value in category-based formats is almost completely tied to how many saves they can give a fantasy manager. So, while the ideal scenario would be to actually know the results of the many spring battles for that ninth-inning role as possible, when time is not on your side, for many teams, you’ll simply have to make your best guess.

Obviously, established relievers like Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are very unlikely to lose their jobs and are, hence, “safe.” Similarly, Wade Davis didn’t get a $52 million contract to pitch in long relief. In cases like his and that of Rodney, follow the money.

For the rest of the bunch, I’d play the “follow the leader” game. If someone picks Mark Melancon, I’ll grab Sam Dyson. If Jeurys Familia gets drafted, I’ll pounce on AJ Ramos. For one thing, the more “lottery tickets” I draft in this fashion, the more chances I have that at least one of these closer competitors will come out on top come April. Plus, say my Carl Edwards Jr. ends up as the Cubs’ go-to guy. That opens a big door for me to call the guy who put all of his eggs into Brandon Morrow‘s basket and name my price.

Kyle Soppe: The necessary evil of forecasting bullpen usage is nothing short of a pain — and often a game-changer. If I’m drafting today, I’m making a run at, but not reaching for, one of the six top closers.

From Jansen to Ken Giles, if value presents itself, I’ll happily lock in the few “safe” saves on the board and piece together the rest, knowing that I have an edge on at least a handful of teams, given the stability. But if you decide to pass on the top options, my philosophy is pretty simple: Go for talent or résumé.

The thought with the talent angle is that, at the bare minimum, you’re supporting your ratios while you wait for a role to present itself (the Bradley approach). The résumé idea is more of a short-term plan, hoping that loyal managers look in the past to determine whom they hand the ball to in the ninth (the Melancon-rebound approach).

I prefer the Bradley approach, as there is less risk involved, but it is important to understand that you are not the only manager struggling to secure saves (29 players had 15-plus saves last season, but only 10 had more than 30), and that this category is often decided during the season.

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After five straight series losses, the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking for answers

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They were built for unprecedented greatness, a pursuit only strengthened by a blistering start. But now, 5½ weeks into their season as reigning champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers are basically average. An initial 13-2 record has been followed by 15 losses in a stretch of 20 games, a stunning reversal that has the Dodgers at 18-17 while occupying the No. 3 spot of a division they have dominated for most of the past decade.

“I’m pissed, personally,” Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer said after a 2-1 loss to the crosstown rival Los Angeles Angels on Sunday afternoon. “I freakin’ hate losing. I wanna win. That’s why I came here. We are not playing up to our capability right now.”

After Bauer left a curveball slightly up to Angels first baseman Jared Walsh with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning — a pitch that resulted in a two-run double — Bauer retired 10 in a row to keep the game close. But the visiting Dodgers only scored a single run all outing in support. They put the leadoff runner on in the fifth, sixth and seventh and came up empty each time. While still down a run in the ninth, they put two runners on base with one out for Justin Turner, their best hitter this season, and lost anyway.

The Dodgers have lost five consecutive series for the first time since the stretch run of the 2017 regular season, when they cruised to a massive division lead and seemed bored for most of the second half. They’ve gone 5-15 for the first time since the early portion of the 2018 regular season, when they suffered through what several players described as the proverbial World Series hangover.

Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor said the team is “too talented for it not to turn around,” a notion demonstrated by a plus-32 run-differential — first in the National League. But the root of their struggle is difficult to identify. The Dodgers haven’t been hitting to their capabilities, but they haven’t been hitting poorly. Their starting pitching has fallen off a tad, but it has been a strength nonetheless. Their bullpen has been short-handed, but it hasn’t necessarily imploded.

The Dodgers have been hurt mostly by an inability to match their hitting with their pitching on the same day. They’ve also played a lot of weird games, with this week serving as a prime example.

The Dodgers dropped both ends of a doubleheader from Wrigley Field on Tuesday after Clayton Kershaw struggled through the first inning of Game 1 and the bullpen blew a late, two-run lead in Game 2. The following day, they took leads in the 10th and 11th and still lost. They returned to Southern California, enjoyed a day off and then prepared to face an Angels team that had lost four straight. It felt as if the Dodgers might finally break out again. But on Friday, two of their most important pitchers (Julio Urias and Joe Kelly) each gave up four-run innings. On Saturday, the Dodgers took a 13-0 lead and nearly gave it all up. And on Sunday, they went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“You can say it’s early, and you can say there’s no need to panic and you can say all these things — and they’re all true,” Bauer said. “But at the end of the day, we’re not just gonna roll the bats and balls out there and win baseball games. We’re not just gonna sleepwalk our way to winning another division title and going to the World Series again. That’s not how it works.

“You gotta go out there and beat someone, every single day. And we haven’t been good at it. We have to be better.”

The Dodgers have lost a major league-leading 10 games by one run. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that, but he struck an optimistic tone postgame on Sunday. He credited the at-bat quality in the series finale and constantly alluded to how close his team seems to turning a corner.

Still, he admitted that other players share Bauer’s anger.

“There’s no complacency.” Roberts said. “Guys are grinding. That’s who we are. But at the end of the day, it’s a performance game. We’re better than this, and we expect to win baseball games considerably more than we lose. He has every right to be upset, and he’s not alone in that.”

The Dodgers aren’t whole, of course. Cody Bellinger, the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2019, hasn’t played since April 5. Two key bench players, Zach McKinstry and Edwin Rios, reside on the injured list. Dustin May has opted for season-ending Tommy John surgery. Tony Gonsolin — May’s replacement in the fifth spot of the rotation — is still working his way back. And three crucial relievers are currently recovering from injuries, a list that includes Corey Knebel, Brusdar Graterol and David Price.

But the Dodgers haven’t fallen too far behind in the NL West. They sit 2½ games back of the surprising San Francisco Giants and 1½ games back of the San Diego Padres, with nearly 80% of the season remaining.

Roberts claims he hasn’t even looked at the standings. He doesn’t believe he needs to.

“We’re gonna be at the top of this division,” Roberts said. “I have no doubt in my mind.”

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St. Louis Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado homers in win over Rockies, says playing former team was ‘definitely weird’

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ST. LOUIS — Nolan Arenado homered against his former team, Adam Wainwright pitched a three-hitter into the ninth inning and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Colorado Rockies 2-0 on Sunday.

Yadier Molina hit an RBI double, and Ryan Helsley got Josh Fuentes to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded. St. Louis completed a three-game sweep and has won nine of 11 overall.

Arenado was acquired from the Rockies in a blockbuster trade in early February after the star third baseman spent the first eight years of his career with Colorado.

He said it felt strange playing against his old teammates during the weekend series.

“It was definitely weird,” Arenado said. “Obviously, I know a lot of those guys. At the end of the day, it was a great series to win.”

Arenado has reached safely in 18 of the past 20 games. His mom, Millie, was in attendance on Mother’s Day, which made the home run even more enjoyable.

“It’s just great to have moments like that with your family,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “That’s what life is all about. These are magic moments that people will cherish for a long time.”

Wainwright (2-3) struck out five and walked three over 8⅓ innings, improving to 11-1 against the Rockies. He retired nine batters in a row at one point and eight straight during another stretch.

The 39-year-old right-hander fell two outs short of his 11th career shutout. His last one came in 2016. The veteran simply keeps plugging along.

“I can’t even tell you how much younger I feel than when I was 36, 37. It’s just not even close,” Wainwright said. “I have a great time outperforming expectations.”

Molina and Wainwright have made 279 starts together, which ranks them sixth all-time.

“This guy amazes me every time he takes the mound,” Molina said.

Helsley earned his second major league save and first this season.

Arenado homered leading off the second against German Marquez (1-4), who allowed two runs, one earned, in six innings. Marquez struck out six and walked three.

Molina added a run-scoring double in the fourth.

St. Louis improved to 14-4 since April 23, the best record in the majors during that span.

The Rockies have lost 22 games — 13 by two runs or fewer — and dropped to a major league-worst 2-14 on the road.

“There were a couple situational at-bats where we didn’t get it done early in the game,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “And then again we didn’t get the big hit there in the ninth. We just couldn’t cash in.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Atlanta Braves add some bullpen depth, bring back veteran Shane Greene on a one-year contract

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ATLANTA — Relief pitcher Shane Greene has signed a one-year contract to rejoin the Atlanta Braves.

Greene, who was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett, will need some time to get ready before returns to the majors. The right-hander went 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings last season.

Braves relievers began Sunday with a 4.56 ERA that ranked 22nd in the majors. It’s a considerable slip from last year when the bullpen ranked fourth with a 3.50 ERA.

Greene, who was free agent, was used primarily as a setup man for closer Mark Melancon last season and will eventually fill the same role behind closer Will Smith this year.

“He showed the benefit in the role he assumed in that very strong bullpen last year,” manager Brian Snitker said before the game when the deal was not yet official. “There’s a guy that’s willing and able to do pretty much any role in that bullpen. He came to me last year when we had all the starting woes and guys were down and said, `I’ll start games if you want me to.’ He’s a durable guy. He had a very solid year. If and when we get him back here, I’ll be excited to get him in the mix.”

The Braves are expected to get reliever Chris Martin back on Tuesday. He has missed the last 29 games with right shoulder inflammation.

“These guys have done a great job this last week,” Snitker said of his relievers. “They’ve been very big in that series in Washington and last night what those guys did, they’ve done a really strong job here, handing the ball off to each other and what they’ve done, but if you add guys like that, absolutely, it’s going to help strengthen the bullpen.”

Atlanta originally acquired Greene in a three-player trade with the Detroit Tigers on July 31, 2019, and he has pitched 55 games for the Braves over the last two seasons, going 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA and one save.

Greene allowed seven runs over his first six appearances with Atlanta after being acquired in 2019, but in his last 49 games for the club dating to August 14 of that season he has allowed just 12 runs over 48.0 innings for a 2.25 ERA and 38 strikeouts.

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