Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/19/12
There's nothing more difficult to predict every year than how a closer will do. The top two closers in the West Seattle's Brandon League and Los Angeles' Jordan Walden are entering just their second full seasons as closers. The Texas Rangers are gambling that Joe Nathan has returned to his former standout self and Oakland is still trying to settle on its ninth-inning man. Here are the closer rankings for the AL West. 1. Seattle It's setting up to be a big year for Brandon League. The right-hander with a bad haircut, League is eligible to be a free agent after this season. He's found his niche at the right time. League, who worked as a middle reliever in 2009 and 2010, took over as the closer because of an injury to David Aardsma. He didn't disappoint either. He collected a save in his first outing last season and went on to save 37 games for a team that won just 67 games. He had a 2.79 ERA on his way to earning his first trip to the All-Star Game. While League doesn't overpower hitters (45 strikeouts in 61 13 innings), he also doesn't give up free passes either. He walked just 10 batters last season and blew just five saves. 2. Los Angeles Former Mansfield High standout Jordan Walden had a huge rookie season for the Angels, saving 32 games, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and finishing seventh in American League rookie of the year voting. He wasn't even the closer to start the season but took over after Fernando Rodney struggled early. Just 24, Walden struck out 67 batters in 60 13 innings and his fastball routinely reached triple digits. Even though the right-hander posted an ERA of 2.98 there are still some questions about whether or not he's closer material. He did lead all AL pitchers with 10 blown saves. A converted starter because of injury concerns, Walden should be better in his second season as a closer because he knows what to expect. 3. Texas The Rangers made an early splash in free agency by signing veteran closer Joe Nathan. The move allowed Texas to move Neftali Feliz from that role to the starting rotation. Texas made the move believing Nathan is all the way back from 2010 Tommy John surgery. If he pitches like he did at the end of the 2011 season, the two-year deal makes sense. Nathan, who has 261 career saves, converted his final 11 save chances last season with the Twins. Nathan started last season as the Minnesota closer but lost the job because of inconsistency and injury early in the season. After he returned from the disabled list last July, opponents hit just .193 against him and he finished the year with 14 saves despite a 4.84 ERA. He believes he's all the way back after having his surgery in March of 2010. 4. Oakland The Athletics have a closer derby going on after trading former closer Andrew Bailey to Boston in the offseason. The job is now a two-man race between left-hander Brian Fuentes and right-hander Grant Balfour. Fuentes has the edge in experience but hasn't been able to hold down a closer's role full time since he saved 48 games for the Angels in 2009. With Oakland last year he had a 3.70 ERA and 12 saves. The right-handed Balfour was one of Oakland's best pitchers in relief last season, allowing just 44 hits in 62 innings. But there's a huge difference between pitching in the seventh and eighth innings and trying to get the final three outs. He has just 10 saves over his career.
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