Maybe the whole “closers are overrated” argument has merit. It’s a lot of work to find a guy who can pitch just one inning. And chances are that the name of the guy you’re looking at isn’t Mariano Rivera or Lee Smith.
The quest for finding the next Jose Mesa is infinite and maddening. When we think we have that guy, it turns out to be a bumpy ride consisting of reclamation projects; talents never reaching the potential of what everyone assumed; headcases or pure shots in the dark. Once again, the Indians are taking a leap of faith to nail down that elusive 27th out, but this time they may have struck on the right guy. Enter John Axford.
Prior to his trade from the Brewers to the Cardinals on August 3o, the former closer found himself in an extended rough patch. The stylishly mustachioed Canadian burst onto the scene following a brilliant 2011, posting a brilliant 1.95 ERA and 46 saves. He’d go on to finish ninth in the National League Cy Young voting.
The next two years were not nearly as kind. In 2012, he posted a Joe Borowski-like 4.67 ERA with 35 saves. Last season, he lost the closer role to fellow Canadian Jim Henderson, but still posting middling results with a 4.45 ERA in a match-up role. By then, the Brewers decided it was time for Axe to go and shipped him and his bloated slash-line off to the Red Birds for the always in-demand Player to Be Named Later (Michael Blazek).
So why is there reason to be optimistic? Because the Cardinals know how to seemingly turn everything into gold, and they have some pretty smart people working in that organization. They noticed that Axford was tipping his pitches. And of course, everything came up roses. Even though Axford only threw for 12.2 innings total (including the playoffs) in his short time there, it apparently made all of the difference in the world for his confidence.
“I recall, sitting in that room when they told me that, a few different games running through my mind, including blown saves, and thinking, ‘Maybe that’s why they didn’t swing at that slider that was just out of the zone,’ ” said Axford.
Whatever reason as to why the Brewers didn’t catch on is anyone’s guess, but hopefully it becomes a bargain boom for the Indians.
He also seems to like the idea of being closer to his Simcoe, Ontario home, and having the opportunity to play for Terry Francona (THE FRANCONA EFFECT!). The guy has closer stuff; reaching the mid- to upper 90s routinely, sometimes even hitting triple digits. The hope is, like always, is that he can harness it.
He also seems to have the right personality for this club of lovable goofballs. Who could forget this? Between that and his majestic facial hair that I am eternally jealous of, he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite guys and we haven’t even seen him throw a strike for us yet.
Considering that the Indians have searched high and low and far for many years now for a closer that can routinely miss bats, it appears the Indians have found a guy who is capable of doing just that. And they have the Cardinals to thank for reaffirming the talent that Axford has always had.
We can only hope.