Watch these setup guys down stretch
Astros reliever Octavio Dotel is one of the top five setup guys to watch in the race for October.
As the pennant and wild-card races reach fever pitch, closers will be in the spotlight, as usual. But the setup guys, while not as well-known, are equally important. And setup guys will have an equally vital impact on who ends up playing in October.
Managers in a pennant race and in the postseason are more apt to go to the bullpen more quickly to get the matchups they want. In the regular season, managers tend to give starters more rope when they get in trouble. But in September and October, they'll use a quicker hook. Unless a team's ace is on the mound, a skipper will call for a fresh arm out of the bullpen.
This is especially true in September with the expanded rosters (remember Francisco Rodriguez with the Angels last year?). It seems that every club brings up a lefty from the minors for situational use. So expect to see early maneuvering with righty-righty and lefty-lefty matchups. With that in mind, here are the top five setup guys (or setup committees) to watch in the race for the postseason (listed in alphabetical order by team):
Boston Red Sox -- Setup Committee
The Red Sox tried and abandoned the closer-by-committee approach -- acquiring Byung-Hyun Kim to close -- but they still use a setup committee. The benefit of their earlier closer experiment is that some of their setup men have the versatility and experience to close games. Boston's lefty setup guys are Scott Sauerbeck and Alan Embree, while the righty setup guys are Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson. Sometimes all four are used in one game.
Chicago Cubs -- Kyle Farnsworth
An effective Farnsworth is key for the Cubs as they vie with the Astros and Cardinals in the NL Central. The right-hander keeps the ball down in the zone, inducing lots of ground balls, but he also has the arm to get a punchout when needed. Mike Remlinger is the Cubs' left-handed setup guy.
Houston Astros -- Octavio Dotel
Dotel is one of the premier setup men in baseball. The right-hander has an electric arm, and he's especially tough on righties with his three-quarter, slinging-type delivery. He throws with great velocity (96-98 mph), so he can get strikeouts in key situations. He does a great job getting the ball to closer Billy Wagner.
New York Yankees -- Jeff Nelson
Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer told me earlier this year that one of the team's priorities was to get a reliable setup guy. Reliever Antonio Osuna, an offseason acquisition, struggled some early, and with a veteran rotation -- two starters are 40 or older (Roger Clemens and David Wells) -- the seventh and eighth innings are crucial times for the Yankees.
The Yankees first acquired Armando Benitez, who closed for the Mets, to serve as the setup guy for closer Mariano Rivera. Then the Yanks traded Benitez to Seattle for right-hander Jeff Nelson, who owns four World Series rings from his previous stint in New York. Nelson is familiar with the pressure-cooker of September and October baseball in New York -- a definite plus for the Yankees down the stretch. Chris Hammond is an important lefty bullpen option for Joe Torre.
Seattle Mariners -- Shigetoshi Hasegawa
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1.19 ERA) has been phenomenal this season, as a setup man and and later as the closer when Kazuhiro Sasaki was injured. With Sasaki now off the disabled list, I expect Hasegawa to be Seattle's primary setup man down the stretch, although we know he can close as well. The right-handed Hasegawa has been so valuable for the Mariners, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a spot on the All-Star team. Arthur Rhodes is a key lefty bullpen option.
ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti won 151 games with a 3.73 ERA in 16 major-league seasons. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.