Saturday, May 30, 2009

Canada Sighs

Due to time issues, the quick glance at the Toronto Blue Jays is a few hours late, but we're going to roll with it, nonetheless.  The great nation of Canada, reduced to just one Major League Baseball team earlier this decade, cowered as its precious Blue Jays eh'd and aboot'ed their way down a brutal 9-game losing streak that placed the Jays' AL East lead snugly into the scoop of a Medieval style trebuchet, and catapulted it to Greenland.  In fact, Toronto lost every single game on the 9-game road trip.

Rumor had it the team was heard complaining that they had faced entirely too many pitchers that threw the mystical "fastball."  Luckily, the first home game for the Jays was scheduled with the Red Sox cagey knuckleballer, Time Wakefield.  The first game home after a long road trip can be either a huge mess or a colossal relief, and no term could be more apt than the latter.  The Blue Jays hit Wakefield just hard enough, and didn't cough up their lead, finally winning a game and stopping the skid.  The team was rewarded with its first sips of Gatorade in almost 2 weeks.  Amazingly, too, the win today, another over Boston, moved the Jays back to within only a game of the AL East Lead.  Good thing there are 3 good teams, and 2 decent teams in the AL East, so even when one of them loses a chunk in a row, the others are too busy beating up on each other to gain much ground.

Everywhere else in baseball, team owners and managers posted the status quo on the team corkboard, and everybody read it aloud.  It was cute, but didn't lead to much in the way of compelling fantasy information.

SCOTT FELDMAN - Feldman, like many others, has appeared in our larger, less focused pickup lists, but is still largely ignored in fantasy circles due to his lower than optimal strikeout numbers.  He has been, for lack of a better expression, a win-meister.  Since becoming a starter for the surprisingly good Texas Rangers, Feldman has lowered his season ERA from 12.15 to 3.91.  He's 4-0 as a starter.  In 7 starts, he has exceeded 5 innings in all 7, and has tossed 5 consecutive quality starts.  The strikeouts will not be there, make no mistake.  Feldman is a sinkerballer with decent secondary and tertiary options, but he pitches to contact, and for the first time in more than a decade, that's not a terrible move with this new-look Texas defense.  Shortstop Elvis Andrus has a way to go offensively, but his range and arm are as good as any 6-man in baseball.  Ian Kinsler is an excellent shortstop, and Chris Davis is strangely cat-like at first.  Feldman would seem to be a good option not only in the short term, but really, for as long as Texas is winning games.  They could go cold when Arlington gets hot, but Feldman's sinker makes him an option in even the launching pads of the AL.

And as a post-script, some of you may have noticed the lack of sports picks for the last few days.  That will continue to be the case for the next couple, as well.  Stick with us, we'll be back with newer, more incredible baseball cards, but for the time being, it's fantasy or bust!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursdays are for Pitching

The five-game Thursday night baseball world didn't give us a whole lot to work with, but we'll make do.

If you're a gambling man, all 5 games yesterday went Under the total.  Other than that, it was a bit of a stinker, as fantasy implications go.  The Indians won a battle of futility with the Rays, 2-1.  Jason Varitek homered twice for the Red Sox, then got tossed in a 3-1 Boston victory.  The Dodgers wasted 15 small scoring opportunities, but the Cubs wasted 1 big one and lost 2-1.  And in the night's high-scoring affairs, Arizona and Baltimore each managed a whopping 5 runs, and each won their contest.

I must admit, I wish, for one night at least, we were still covering basketball, as the NBA Playoffs this year are just outstanding.  Right from the get-go, they've been exciting, compelling, hard-fought; just about every adjective you can throw at them has been accurate.  The Celtics and Bulls went to, what, 75 combined overtimes in the their first-round series?  The Yao-less Rockets pushed the Lakers to 7 games in a series that, for all intents and purposes, should have been over in 4 or 5.  The surging Nuggets plowed through the Hornets and Mavericks to make 2008-09 the most successful season in Nuggets history.  Everywhere you turn, the action has been heart-stopping, and the stars have been involved in every series.

Hell, if last second buzzer-beaters, overtime action, long series, physical beatings, and playoffs that have involved huge shots from Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Big Baby Glen Davis, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and a host of other names I've neglected hasn't been enough to satiate your desires, how about an absurd double-booking of Denver's Pepsi Center?  The WWE, of all organizations, had apparently booked a show in Denver on the same night as the Nuggets would have hosted a home game against the Lakers in what has been one of the most physical and emotionally exhausting series I've ever seen.

I was hoping for a Triple-H versus George Karl show-down, with Karl delivering a match-ending piledriver, but sadly Los Angeles offered the WWE a backup venue, and Vince McMahon staging a feud/attack with the Pepsi Center's ownership at his show was the best we could do.

No baseball pickups today, unless something slipped by, and if so, I welcome commenters drop a note below the post.

And now, for everyone who finds chasing cheese down a slippery hill, here, as promised, is the most ridiculous video I've seen in years:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Carlos Zambrano is Frickin' Crazy

An awful lot of folks are describing Zambrano's latest meltdown as "one for the ages," and "epic," and a host of other overblown expressions.  And because my words mean about as much as those, we're going interactive today.  Enjoy Zambrano's wig-flipping:




Make no mistake, it was a good one, but doesn't even come close, doesn't even hold a candle, doesn't even SNIFF this Minor League Manager of days gone by.  This gentleman goes by the name of Phil Wellman, and in his words, he doesn't remember doing anything after getting tossed.  If that doesn't scare the crap out of a team of umpires, I don't know what would.  Sadly, embedding was disabled on this YouTube clip, so just navigate over there real quick, then come on back.  Zambrano, learn from the master: Phil Wellman Goes Ballistic

Ah, taking joy in the simple things.  I have another great, unrelated video clip for tomorrow, but no sense blowing all three in one article.  Need to keep you coming back, right?

RICK PORCELLO - Porcello has won 5 straight decisions for the Tigers, making him the first rookie to perform that feat since Gooden did it over 20 years ago.  He'll lose, there's no doubt about it, but it looks like Porcello is the real deal.  His sinker was described by Todd Helton as nasty, and when he gets even a little run support, he can settle into a nice groove.  He throws strikes, will get a strikeout every so often, and his ERA is settling nicely into the mid-3's.  When he hits a slump, bench him; youngsters don't generally do well with adversity, but as long as his confidence is high and he's rolling along, you should be deploying Porcello, as well.  He's been cashing in wins at an alarming clip, and that can be invaluable on most fantasy teams.

AARON ROWAND - A repeat offender, a shorter writeup.  The Giants scored 6 runs yesterday, and Rowand scored 2 of them.  That's most likely how it's going to be for SF, with Rowand getting on base at the top of the order, and every so often Bengie Molina or Randy Winn will drive him home.  Expect a nice batting average, and good run totals, and little else, but at least he'd be better than continuing to expect anything offensively from major disappointments like Corey Hart.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Sprinkle in Chicago

Sometimes 6 innings is more than enough.  The Cubs entered last night mired in a season-long 8-game losing streak, and jumped out to a quick lead over Ian Snell's lowly Pirates.  Sean Marshall pitched pretty well in the game, allowing just a single run, and things appeared to be in good shape for the Cubbies to snap their losing ways.  Apparently, the Cubs inability to win has nothing to do with Mother Nature.  Down came the rain, and the Pirates never got a chance to bat in the 7th, 8th or 9th.  It was the single most perfect way to ensure a Cubs win: don't let the bullpen into the game!

If the Cubs could somehow figure out how to end 2 out of every 3 of their games after the 6th inning going forward, this time might have a legitimate shot at moving into at least 3rd place in the NL Central.  Poor, poor Cubbies.

San Diego's 10-game win streak ended last night as well.  The D'backs jumped out to a 6-0 lead, then nearly gave it back, finally winning 6-5.  Every night a new adventure with teams that have no bullpens.  That is really the key in this day and age, when starters generally go 5 or 6 innings.  The good teams very rarely have a terrible bullpen.  They may not always be the best in the game, but there are going to be a few guys at the back end that get it done.

Another note from yesterday -- not to be lost in the shuffle of winning and losing streaks, the Blue Jays are spiraling harder than ever.  They have fallen behind both Boston and NY in the AL East, and have now lost 8 in a row.  Mellow Manager Cito Gaston is going to have to channel Ozzie Guillen, or the Jays could be out of the playoff picture in the next 2 weeks.

Today is a day of change, for the baseball sections of the daily article.  As noted a few days back, it is extremely difficult to conjure up a large handful of pickups when you get to the middle of the season.  That being the case, we may go 2-3 days at a time without a pickup, and that just means stay patient.  The right guys are out there, and we'll point 'em out, but rather than waste hours trying to give fantasy relevance to a pitcher that made 2 decent starts, we're only going to make prudent moves -- surging hitters, stud pitchers, and new closers to name a few.  So, without further ado, the less sweeping, but more thorough, pickup "list":

CASEY BLAKE - Casey appeared on our list way the heck back near the beginning of the season, and he hasn't disappointed.  Yahoo ranks Casey as the #60 offensive fantasy performer thus far, and his numbers are only going to improve.  Blake is now beginning to face pitchers in the National League for the second time, and his average is reflecting that, as the bearded infielder is hitting .309 on the season, well above his career average in the American League.  That isn't completely crazy, since the NL has been consistently worse than the AL, and Blake plays in a very weak division, the West.  Also, Joe Torre seems to have fallen in love with Blake's power numbers and RBI production, and Casey's been moved from the 8-hole all the way up to the clean-up spot.  This is huge news for his fantasy numbers, since he will likely be working with Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, and depending on the starting pitcher and how the lineup gets twisted about, Andre Ethier batting ahead of him.  What does this all mean?  Well, Blake will come up to the plate with runners on base almost every stinkin' time.  Last night, Blake came up with 2 runners on in the 1st inning and hit into a double play.  Perhaps you thought that was his big RBI chance of the night.  Well, perhaps you'd have been wrong.  Blake doubled to lead off the 4th and was stranded on base, but in the 6th Blake got a 2-out, bases-loaded at-bat, and doubled to the left field wall to score 3.  Mark my words, as long as the Dodgers don't suffer a rash of injuries all at once, Blake will be averaging just under an RBI every night until Manny returns.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Streaking

When you post an article every day, it becomes tougher and tougher to come up with witty, or even mildly amusing titles, so for that, I apologize.  The only true streaking occurred weeks ago at Citifield.  Authorities are still trying to figure out who that mysterious streaker might have been.  Initial evidence points to a rehabbing Billy Wagner, on serious pain killers and excited by the high outfield fences.

Yesterday was a pretty entertaining day of baseball, all the same.  First, there are few things better than baseball running from 1pm through the late evening on a day off.  If you argue with that, you are no friend of mine.  Second, we had all kinds of record-nearing occurrences that made every game worth watching until the last pitch was thrown.

The Cleveland Indians, yes, those very same Indians that have been getting clobbered all season long, scored 7 runs in the 9th inning to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 11-10!  Is this the start of a 35-game winning streak that catapults Cleveland back...uh...to within a few games of first place in the AL Central?  Probably not.  But, it was still a great win for a piss-poor team.

Chris Carpenter and Yovani Gallardo dueled to a scoreless tie after 8 full innings, Carpenter taking a perfect game into the 7th.  Milwaukee won it in the 10th in a Bill Hall walkoff base hit to the right-centerfield gap.  

The Houston Astros gave up 8 unearned runs, and lost 8-5.  You do the math.

The White Sox beat the Angels 17-3.  Ervin Santana went 1+ and allowed 7 of those 17.  The Angels pen surrendered the other 10.  Every Angels pitcher gave up at least 1 run, and 5 Sox batters had multiple-RBI games.

The San Diego Padres came from 6 back to beat the D'backs in extra inning and extend their winning streak to 10 games!  The Dodgers scored 7 and 8 runs in two separate innings, and bludgeoned the Rockies 16-6.  It's pretty clear, this Memorial Day we must also mourn the bullpens of the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Rays.  Yikes.

And the Cubbies.  Oh, the Cubbies.  Another day, another pathetic loss, this time at home at the hands of the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Cubs finally scored a few runs, so at least there was a microthin silver lining, but this defeat makes 8 in a row, and suddenly the pre-season favorite to win the NL Central is 1 game under .500, and in 4th place.  Is this the year?

From a fantasy perspective, you might have thought there'd be more to cover, but we're starting to hit that point in the season where new players aren't emerging on a daily basis.  Here are two key notes from a jam-packed Memorial Day:

MATT CAPPS - Capps was struck by a line drive on his pitching elbow, and had to come out of the game.  If you recall, earlier this season we tried to pick up a replacement closer for the Pirates, but learned a valuable lesson: the Pirates don't win games, so they don't need a closer.  Don't waste a roster spot trying to guess on which awful setup man might get 2 save opportunities, and focus instead on shoring up other sections of your team.

CHRIS CARPENTER - The world mustn't forget that this guy was a Cy Young Award winner when he was healthy.  Unfortunately, health only seems to last for 1-2 weeks at a time for Carpenter, but hey, if you can get 10-15 scoreless innings in those 1-2 weeks, it's worth it.  Carpenter is almost surely already on someone else's team, but you might as well take 2 minutes and check to make sure before you just assume he's gone.

Back to the Norm

The Interleague weekend teaser was a nice little precursor to the real stretch coming up in a few weeks, but it's time for teams to get back into their own Leagues.  I'd like to say we learned a great many worldly truths from these matchups, but, for the most part, it was just a few good games.

I suppose the biggest news to come out of the weekend was something we already knew: Brad Lidge is either hurt, or suddenly terrible.  Now, the world knows it.  Lidge took the rare opportunity to stink up back-to-back games against the Yankees.  If he is indeed still ailing, Lidge should be a team player and take some time off.  If he's just reverting to post-Pujols, pre-Phillies form, maybe a break from closing might help him get his head on straight.

Brad Lidge blowing yet another save does raise the interesting question of when an injured player should stop trying to be the hero, and just get healthy.  The dynamics of this issue are unique to every sport.  For instance, a slightly injured basketball player might be wise to play through the pain, if for no other reason than the guy sitting on the bench is probably far worse than the guy on the court.  The same reasoning probably applies to baseball position players, as well.  A first baseman can have a little soreness in his calf, but still play at almost full strength and contribute.  But pitchers are different.  If even one little thing goes wrong, that baseball can scoot right over the heart of the plate, and the best hitters in the world get to tee off.

It's not really fair for me to call out Brad Lidge, but enough's enough.  I know you want to be the big, scary closer, Brad, but your team needs you to step away when you can't get the job done.  Get healthy, fix your mechanics, whatever it is, but stop thinking about your career save total, and start thinking about the fact that your ERA is nearing double digits, and your team's morale can only get blasted so many times before it stops bouncing back.  Plus, the Phillies have one of, if not the best set-up men in the League in Ryan Madson.  True, it would weaken the 6th or 7th inning relief, but if the starter can go deep in the game, it's not an issue.

The same directive goes for all other injured pitchers that think they're better than letting a healthy long reliever make a spot start, or better than letting a AAA-closer try his hand at 7th inning work, or...whatever.

BRIAN BANNISTER - Bannister shut down a short-handed St. Louis lineup, and he may hit some bumps along the way, but in general he's a solid option for Kansas City, and a solid option for a 5th starter on your team.  His real team can't hit, so the win totals might not exactly skyrocket, but a good ERA, a good WHIP, a few K's here and there are all nice additions to a fantasy team in need of help.

AARON ROWAND - Once a quality fantasy option, Rowand is surrounded by skinny kids swinging twigs in the San Francisco lineup (besides Bengie Molina).  That being the case, we'd normally avoid anyone on the Giants offense like the plague, but Bruce Bochy decided to get fancy and move Rowand into the leadoff spot.  We had recommended grabbing Emanuel Burriss when he was the leadoff man, so we'll advise the same with Rowand, who isn't quite as fast, but has better power potential, and has been seeing the ball very well over the last 2 weeks.  If anyone else in the Giants lineup decides to get some hits, Rowand could turn the leadoff spot into an RBI producing alcove, as well as some nice Run totals.

WILLY AYBAR - This one is mostly speculative.  Akinori Iwamura got his leg smashed in a collision at second base, and Aybar will probably see a spike in playing time.  He's not much to write home about defensively, but he's an underrated switch-hitter and might give teams with poor production out some of their infield slots an extra option.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Saturday Evening Wrap

With the day's pick shifted comfortably over in the Daily Wager Zone, and our baseball record slowly climbing back up near its high-water mark, it's time to launch into the wacky weekend fantasy breakdown.

Last night was the much-anticipated start of Interleague Play.  Well, if you're a fan of AL Pitchers staring death in the eye, then buckling out of the way of death's vicious 12-to-6 curveball.  Or if you prefer, we can toss an out-of-shape, aging pinch-hitter into the DH spot and have some NL teams get creamed by their AL rival.  Either way, what's not to like?  Seemingly, quite a bit, if you're a so-called "purist."

How do I feel?  As always, a little apathetic, at least about Interleague play's significance.  I am annoyed, though, by the fact that a decade later, everyone still has to re-hash the same old story lines every single year.  Enough complaining, just play the other League and learn to love it.  They may not be the more vocal of the two groups, but the folks that enjoy Interleague play severely outnumber those that don't, and I don't need a Gallop Poll to tell me.  Fact of the matter is that attendance is up during Interleague games, and that's all the proof we should need.  The Red Sox and Mets played one of the ugliest games I've seen all year, and the fans ate up every minute of it.  Johan back at Fenway, the massive media markets squaring off without the name Steinbrenner involved.  It's a marketing cookie-cake of enjoyment!

After day one, the AL leads 8-6.  Perhaps this is the year the NL finally gets back on the winning side of Interleague play.  I don't see it happening, and we'll go into more detail about why as I-League play continues.

TROY PERCIVAL - May have pitched his last game.  Percival hit the DL, but no one is quite sure if he has the muscular fortitude to make it back.  Unfortunately, Joe Maddon has not been too forthcoming with his bullpen hierarchy, and because of the mish-mosh of 8th inning guys he has already used, we can't narrow it down much farther than Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler or Joe Nelson.  Roulette, anyone?

A good deal of pitchers' duels in the first day of Interleague action, but a lot of that can be contributed to teams' unfamiliarity with one another.  I wouldn't read too much into most of the efforts.

I would, however, recommend visiting FAN NATION and setting up a free account, which can be used for Forum posting, in addition to competing in the quick (but enjoyable) weekly Fantasy Sports Lite $500 prize competition.

The Art of the 1-Run Win

Yesterday, 6 out of 14 games were decided by 1 run.  Just a wonderful day to be a fan of baseball, and hopefully you didn't have too much money riding on these games.  Late-inning heroics, bullpen meltdowns, clutch saves, we had it all.

We also had one of the worst games in the history of Major League Baseball.  The Minnesota Twins, fresh off getting leveled in New York, then coming up short twice in Chicago, took advtange of some early White Sox errors to take an 8-0 lead.  Often, we'll see the strike zone enlarge when a game starts to get out of hand, and teams take their collective foot off the gas pedal, but the Twins were downright mad.  They had been embarrassed in the Bronx, and 7 days of anger and disappointment do not an 8-0 victory make.  White Sox middle relief had apparently snoozed a tad too long, and the Twins scored TWELVE additional runs, briefly leading by TWENTY.  The White Sox scored 1 run late to keep the deficit in the teens (19, to be exact), but I can't imagine there have been 3 hours that have been less bearable for Ozzie Guillen than those he suffered through yesterday.

A short pickup list today, in an effort to really help the fantasy community concentrate their efforts.  I will not be listing marginal grabs from here on out, only moves that I believe should be made soon!

AARON COOK - It's quite possible he was drafted and unloaded in your league when he got off to a miserable start.  4 of his last 5 starts, though, have been very good.  Now is the time to get Cook, and hope that his sinker is beginning to sink.  I'm not sold on his starts at Coors, but if he's on the mound in a large stadium or one with thick infield grass (you know who you are, Wrigley), Cook is hitting his stride and should be started.

MARK REYNOLDS - He is a whiff-master, but fantasy sports don't usually count strikeouts for offensive players.  To the fantasy gray matter, all his strikeouts are the same as warning track liners caught by our old pal, Spiderman Leftfielder.  In between those K's, Reynolds has started to post top-30 fantasy numbers.  If someone got bored of his early-season woes, by all means, scoop up the mess, put it in a bio-bag, and plop it at third base.

And a repeat...NICK JOHNSON - I'm going to refrain from posting his name every day, but Johnson just keeps on getting hits.  Again, he's not going to drive 30 out of the park, but if he continues to get singles and doubles, he will drive in runs, and he will score.  No one can tell me that won't help every fantasy team out there.  There are very few teams that are solid at every position.  Johnson can help in quite a few.

AS ALWAYS, SURF ON OVER TO BASEBALL FAN NATION, MAKE A FREE ACCOUNT, AND START PLAYING GAMES.  It's only 5 bucks to play, and like I noted before, if you win your weekly battle, you'll take home $500.  There aren't too many bets out there where if you win 1 out of 100 times, you break even.  Especially not wagers involving KNOWLEDGE of the game!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Long Day in St. Petersburg

Florida, of course.  If you're working on a History assignment, and stumbled onto our site, relax, stay a while.  We'd be glad to answer questions about the Russian Revolution, though we make no promises about our answers being right.  Still, it'll be more fun for you than actually reading about what happened.

The double-header down in Florida was a wild one.  Game one was a fairly standard 8-6 Florida victory, though you could already tell pitching was not going to be a strong suit for either team moving forward.  Game two was a marathon, the clock tick-tocking its way past midnight and into the early morning.  Four hours and fifty minutes in total, with Arizona somehow prevailing.  The game looked like it might end a few minutes earlier when Mark Reynolds homered in the top of the 12th, but the Marlins tied the game up in the bottom half.  Justin Upton slugged his second three-run shot of the game in the 13th, the D'backs tried to give that lead back, as well, but Jon Rauch (who pitched in game one) managed to squeeze through the 13th and get the D'backs the win.  

I'm not completely certain why the Marlins insisted on starting the double-header so late.  Perhaps weather played a factor, but in most cases you'll see a day-night double-header for this exact reason.  It allows for a few extra minutes between games, and the evening game can, at the very least, start on time.  Yesterday, the Marlins pushed the evening game back an hour to 8pm Eastern time, after the opener was played in the late afternoon.  Very strange, indeed.  Arizona has to be thanking their lucky stars last night was not a get-away day for them, so at least they can try to catch up on sleep, play tonight, then jet off to their next destination.

This double-header did yield a few notes, and that shall be our jumping point for this morning's pickup list:

MARK REYNOLDS - His embarrassing strikeout totals mask what is otherwise an impressive power line: .257, 11 homers, 25 runs, 20 RBI (would be more if anyone on the D'backs could get on base), and 9 steals.  The steals are inflated from his 4 last night, but Reynolds is a multi-cat type player, and if your team can weather the dust his mighty swings-and-misses kick up, Reynolds could add an awful lot to your power numbers.  He's available in about half of all leagues - at least take a peek.

JUSTIN UPTON - We covered baby Upton a couple weeks back, and there is absolutely no chance he's still available, but as expected, his numbers have skyrocketed.  He is the clear offensive leader of the Diamondbacks, and at just 21 years of age, has a long, promising fantasy road ahead of him.  Current line: .313, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 26 R, 4 steals.

PAUL MAHOLM - Another guy that is more than likely already on a team, but suffered through a poor stretch and may have been dropped.  Maholm is a very good pitcher, and while he may be a tad streaky, his numbers will eventually stabilize with an ERA in the mid-3's.  Get him if he was dropped.  If not, no harm done.

WANDY RODRIGUEZ - He gave up his first home run of the season, but this guy is legit.  Trading for him is not out of the question.

CHRIS CARPENTER - I'm betting a great many teams gave up on the former NL Cy Young Award winner when he went down with yet another injury.  And to be honest, I can't blame them.  Carpenter is healthy, for now, and when he can fully throw a baseball, he still has some of the nastiest stuff in the game.  Even if he only lasts 3 or 4 starts, I would strongly consider picking him up (if he's not yet taken), and trying to milk his skill for as long as the metaphorical udder delivers.

Maybe the biggest news of the day - Big Papi had 2 hits, and one of them was a homer!  That ends the longest draught in the giant DH's career.  The question is, was it a fluke, or will he actually begin to make solid contact with the baseball?  The timing on his pathetic, inept start to the season couldn't be a whole lot worse, given the steroid scandal.  If Papi wants to distance himself from the Manny/A-Rod/juicing testosto-goodness, he better get that average up lickety split.

And, trying to keep this link fresh, remember to head on over to BaseballFanNation, sign up for a free account, and take a look around!  You don't have to play the games if you don't want to, but I already won $500 in the weekly fantasy pick'em.  It's a neat game, and if were the unfortunate beneficiary of the autodraft giving you Big Papi, it's a solid way to forget about your Yahoo leagues.  If nothing else, do me a favor and register (again, for free) and at least browse the available games and articles.  You might see a few you recognize!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All Aboard

The D-Train!

Dontrelle Willis may have been given a gift last night, pitching against a listless and apathetic Rangers team that just looked sickly for some reason, but what's done is done, and no one can take that away from him.  The D-Train, one of the feel-good stories of, well, 5 years ago, pitched maybe his best game since 2006.  Listen carefully here: I'm not instructing anyone to pick him up for their fantasy team.  This paragraph is merely to point out that we had a nice development in the MLB.  In a year (or group of years) when the public is completely inundated with steroid scandals, guys taking pregnancy hormones, ejections, suspensions, and so on, it's a breath of fresh air to see a likable guy like Dontrelle have a reason to smile.  Now, let's just see if he can duplicate that performance, or if he slips back into 2007-08 Willis form.  If Willis can remain even marginally effective as a starter, the Tigers suddenly become, in my eyes, the favorites to win the AL Central.  They're currently a game up on the Royals, who had a pretty amazing comeback last night themselves, but don't really have the offensive firepower to sustain this kind of pace for 162 games.

Yesterday also officially marked the Yankees as "awake" in my notebook.  Yes, they had previously swept a 4-game series from the Minnesota Twins, but the Twinkies are always terrible in the Bronx.  I wanted to see if NY could continue to pummel whoever came into their house next, and they most certainly did.  The poor, pathetic Orioles happened to the be the victim, a role they seem to relish in recent years.  NY rode another CC Sabathia dominating start to a 9-1 victory, and a 7-game winning streak.  Love him, or hate him, A-Rod is making a huge, huge, huge difference for that team.

I hope you traded for Matt Holliday back when I pointed out that he was hovering in the .220 neighborhood, because the big guy has been surging ever since.  Holliday hit his 5th bomb of the year (an extra-inning, 2-run shot), and his average is nearing .270.

TIM WAKEFIELD - This knuckleballer's career is almost mind-boggling.  He's all over the place, but when push comes to shove, Wakefield gets wins.  If that's what you need, and you don't mind a higher-than-normal WHIP, Wakefield's your man.

CASEY KOTCHMAN - An interesting development in Atlanta, with Kotchman slipping up to the #2 spot in the batting order.  That's right folks, this means at-bats in front of Chipper.  Kotchman picked up 3 RBIs last night, but I would think his Run totals will be the stat looking way up.

JOEL PINEIRO - Pineiro won his first 4 starts, lost 3, then rained sinkers all over the Cubbies last night in a 3-0 complete game shutout.  Play the streak.

BARRY ZITO - Took the loss last night at Petco, but pitched the full 8 innings, allowing only 2 runs on a pair of solo shots.  You can feel safe using Barry against the weak-hitting teams, but don't expect too many wins, as the Giants still can't hit a lick.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two Bomb Night

We had a partial slate of games last night, but certainly no shortage of dingers.  The slowly waking Mark Teixeira had his second 2-homer game in the span of 2 weeks, giving him 10 on the season.  Kendry Morales, a name we flashed here in the pick-up list (that I'm sure most of you ignored!) hit 2 more homers himself; he now has 8 on the season, to go along with a hard-fought 26 RBIs.  A-rod hit his 4th since returning, and about 10 others smacked one out of the yard, as well.  More remarkable than all the homers, though...or maybe I should clarify, more HILARIOUS, was the game out in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, time zone issues forced me to the world of slumber before this game would come to its conclusion, but the Mets, who were playing decent baseball only a few short days ago, committed FIVE errors en route to a 3-2, 11-inning loss.  Tim Redding pitched well in his 2009 season debut for New York, but the defense behind him was beyond atrocious.  Only 1 of the 3 Dodger runs was "unearned," but giving a good team 5 extra outs over the course of a game will take its toll on the pitchers and on the players' collective psyche.  The game was finally decided in the 11th when a routine fly ball landed at the feet of two outfielders, unable to effectively communicate three simple words: "I got it."  The Dodgers scored the winning run 1 out later on a softly struck fielder's choice grounder.

A few names to consider:

KENDRY MORALES - He had been hovering in the .260-.270 range since we mentioned his breakout a few weeks back, but woke back up last night with the aforementioned 2 homers and a 3-for-5 night, overall.  He is a good 1B, and the Angels are, understandably, quite high on him.  Morales should see plenty of playing time the rest of the season, and if indeed his power numbers are starting to come around, may get a boost up in the batting order against righties.

NICK JOHNSON - We've been pushing Nick down your throats recently, and for good reason.  He has a supremely high OBP of .433 (he has always had an excellent eye at the plate), he's batting .336, and he's scored 25 runs while driving in 24 -- all out of the 2-spot in the Nationals batting order.  Johnson, even when he's in a slump, will still take walks, so he will be a very reliable source of runs the rest of the way.  Expect another 6-10 homers this season, an OBP near .400, and a batting average that will probably dip down to around the .300 mark.

RUSSELL BRANYAN - It isn't so much that I recommend having Branyan permanently, because he always slows down at some point, but he's a huge human being with an uppercut swing, so he would be a good source of homers.  He's hitting .306 right now, but there's almost zero chance that lasts.

A final thought, as well, pertaining to a new fantasy sports site.  You may have noticed the dysfunctional Flash graphic over in the right sidebar listing 7 Games, 7 Days, 7 Cities.  We are working on getting that fixed, but that's not my point.  The site associated with that contest is Baseball Fan Nation.

The reason I bring this up today of all days is that last night I found out I won $500 playing the weekly Fantasy Sports Lite game at that site.  Those of you reading this know I rarely post links unless they can provide free streaming video of sports, but this one bears mentioning.  Yes, I can get game credit at the site if any interested parties sign up through my link, but that's not the reason I'm promoting this site, either.  Hell, sign up without using my referral link!  I just think it's a really neat way to play a weekly fantasy sports game.  So, if your season-long team stinks or you're just bored of it, it's a $5 entry to play, and like I noted before, you can win $500 if you beat the other competitors.  You have a pretty good chance of winning, too, if you know your baseball.

The key elements of the game are drawn from normal fantasy seasons.  You select 5 games from the list of matchups throughout the week.  For each of those games, you pick a final score (winning team, and margin of victory), then select the 3 players you believe will be the top offensive performers in that game (from either team).  The website will tabulate your score based on how close you got to the correct values, and also how well your particular selections played in those games, and will post the scores on a leaderboard at the end of the week.

The website is still making a lot of changes to the aesthetics, but the game will remain the same.  Like I said, entry is just 5 bucks, it takes about 15 minutes to pick your games and players, then Monday morning you just might be $500 richer.  If you click the link below, you can quickly create an account at the site (registration is free and takes about 5 minutes) and get your team set up immediately thereafter.  The site and game are already cool and fun, and are only improving day by day.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Closer Coverage, May

If we can find adequate time, and enough changes have taken place since the start of the season, we'll cover closers in bulk as well as the notes included in our usual pick-up list.  Let's start with the National League, and get as far as we can.

NL West

Dodgers - The man in LA is still Jonathan Broxton.  4-0 with 9 saves is downright absurd for a closer.  What the big fella is doing with 4 wins at this point in the season is beyond me.  And after watching him toss and turn as the fill-in closer the last couple seasons, Broxton's success through the first month and a half this year is even more surprising.  He did have one single melt-down against the Phils late last week, but his team picked him up with an extra-inning victory.

Padres - Another clear-cut closer situation, as most of the NL West is fairly squared away at the back end of the bullpen.  Heath Bell has, to this point, been a stout, bearded beast.  If the Padres could get a lead or two, he could be one of the best.

Diamondbacks - Much like the Friars, if Arizona could ever enter the 9th inning winning, Chad Qualls could be pretty good.  Unfortunately, the young snakes seem to score either 1 run or 9, leading to a great many losses, and a scant few blowouts.

Giants - The Giants may be the surprise of the West thus far, if only because they're not losing as many games as the Rockies, Padres and D'backs.  Their pitching staff is excellent, but the lineup leaves a heck of a lot to be desired.  Thankfully, due to the prowess of their starting 5, the Giants are in most games, which means plenty of chances for Brian Wilson to pitch in late innings.

Rockies - The Rox bounced back and forth between last year's setup man, Manny Corpas, and the former A's closer, Huston Street, with both relievers pitching their way out of the closer job.  First, Street launched his ERA into the 9's, then Corpas walked his way to an ERA over 6.  Then, suddenly, Street settled in, and he's been good for the last couple weeks.  The whole mountain could come crashing to the ground at any moment, but for now, Huston is the mile high man.

NL Central

Milwaukee Brewers - Having Trevor Hoffman back has really changed the confidence level in Milwaukee.  The Brewers offense is outstanding, and an overachieving starting rotation is doing just enough to win on a regular basis.  All this has led to an NL Central Division lead.  But things weren't always so great.  Carlos Villanueva laid an egg in his efforts as fill-in closer, and Todd Coffey was inconsistent at best.  Villanueva will still see a save opportunity or two, as Hoffman won't be pitching in 3 straight games, but he's not worth having for any reason.

Chicago Cubs - The closer situation in Chi-town isn't interesting yet, but it might soon be.  The Cubs picked up Kevin Gregg to bolster the pen, and he's the closer now, but he doesn't have the trademark "closer repertoire" that most teams seek in their game-ender.  His fastball is low 90's, and if the goggles didn't give it away, he's mostly a control pitcher without a put-away pitch.  Gregg surrendered 4 runs without recording an out in his last appearance, and even though Lou Piniella says he's still the closer, Carlos Marmol (who seems to have located home plate at long last) is perched very close by.

St. Louis Cardinals - There was no clear closer to start the season for the Redbirds, but Ryan Franklin has been everything they could have hoped for, and more.  There was talk that Dennys Reyes might close some games against a lefty-heavy opposing lineup, or that Chris Perez or Jason Motte would be the go-to guy, but their performances thus far (ranking from awful to bearable) have left Franklin comfortably in the driver's seat.  A key pickup in the early parts of this 2009 season.

Cincinnati Reds - The Reds are winning!  It's a Memorial Day miracle, I think.  Francisco Cordero, paid huge bucks to close games, is actually getting a few chances to do so.

Houston Astros - Jose Valverde is the tenured ship captain, but he's out with some nagging injuries, and Latroy Hawkins has picked up a few saves in his absence.  Hawkins always seems to surprise me.  Just when I think his career is right on the cusp of tumbling headfirst off a precipice, he picks himself up, and succeeds with some other team.  Kudos to Hawkins while he remains the closer in Houston.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Still not completely clear why the Pirates are in the Central Division, though I guess Pittsburgh is on the Western side of an Eastern state.  In any case, Matt Capps is the only reliever with any real skill in this bullpen, so, barring a serious injury, he's the guy.  Capps missed a few games earlier this season, and the scrubs that tried to pick up the pieces looks miserable.

NL East

Mets - K-Rod is making a lot of money to keep the Mets from decomposing down the stretch.  Let's see how all the spending turns out.  J.J. Putz has been a rather mundane setup man so far, so it doesn't look like the closer job is in any sort of jeopardy.  Plus, Rodriguez has been as good as the Mets could have hoped, so it's not like he's fumbling the gig away.

Phillies - The defending World Champs are playing like a collective deer in the headlights.  A number of analysts have referred to becoming the "hunted," and if indeed they are correct in their terminology, the Phillies seem to be a bit shaky in their 2009 role as the team that everyone plays tough.  Or perhaps they're just starting slowly.  However you slice it, Brad Lidge is still the top choice for closer in Philadelphia.  His perfect streak was broken a few weeks back, and he's battled a few injuries, but when he's healthy enough to pitch, the 9th inning is his to cover.  If he does miss any more time, Ryan Madson (a terrific setup man) will close.

Marlins - The shine had to come off the hood of this car at some point.  After smashing through the starting gates at 11-1, the Marlins now stand at 18-20.  This team is probably closer to its final record now than it was at 11-1, and my expectation is that they'll play close to .500 ball the rest of the way.  Matt Lindstrom is the closer for Florida, but he's been downright bad.  A few decent appearances in a row over the last week has probably bought him another month as closer (barring a complete collapse), but the rest of Florida's bullpen is even worse.

Braves - The Braves have, in my opinion, a better bullpen than most believe.  The issue is that they really don't have any good options in the pen when the starter fails to pitch deep in the game.  If Atlanta can get to the 7th inning, guys like Rafael Soriano, and current closer Mike Gonzalez can be a dynamic shut-down pair of arms, but the middle relief in Atlanta is nauseating, a weakness that many teams are trying to exploit.  As closers go, Gonzalez is an injury risk, so keep a watchful eye on Soriano if any word of a sore arm creeps up on Gonzo.

Nationals - Saved the most bizarre for last, in the NL at least.  Let's see if we can't put the timeline back together.  Joel Hanrahan closed games at the end of the 2008 season, and was marginally successful, so the job was his to start '09.  Hanrahan was terrible, blowing lead after lead, and he was demoted.  Julian Tavarez saved his first try, then imploded.  Joe Beimel threw meatballs in his efforts, and suddenly Hanrahan didn't look so bad.  As it stands right now, Hanrahan is once again the main closer in Washington, but not the only closer.  Kip Wells tried a few, and has been about as good as Hanrahan, so it's likely that Acta (the Manager) will go with whoever looks less shaky on any given night.  I'd advise avoiding all closers in Washington, since there are so many more trustworthy injury replacements available that won't give up a run every time out, but if you must subject yourself to the balding stress of the Nats, go with Hanrahan.

American League (and updates on any changes in the NL) coming next week!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Half-Sat, Full-Sun

The title doesn't make a lick of sense, but I thought it had a mystic ring to it, so off I went.  This early evening Sunday article does indeed cover the remainder of last night's games (Half-Sat), and the entirety of the Sunday schedule (with the sole exception being the ESPN 8pm Giants-Mets contest).  With that in mind, we can't very well write tomorrow morning's article on just one game, so it will instead be a feature piece.  Something tells me closers deserve a chunky breakdown.

A great number of players rested today, and for the most part the decent ones played decent ball, but there were a few slightly longer-term solutions that jumped out.

NICK JOHNSON - After having a bit of a tough time in yesterday's day-night, 9-inning/6-inning double header, Johnson bounced back nicely.  He's a very good #2 hitter in the Nationals lineup (which is more than shouldering its share of the load -- the pitching staff continues to embarrass itself), and is batting a robust .333.  Not a big-time power guy, Johnson reaches base over 40% of the time, and the boppers behind him are doing a nice job of driving Johnson home.  After scoring twice today, Johnson has been plated 23 times in only 36 games: very respectable numbers for a guy on an 11-25 team!

SCOTT FELDMAN - Who?  Yeah, well, this is what our site is truly about.  Bringing to light the players that would otherwise get lost in the shuffle.  Feldman, on the season, has a mostly unspectacular 4.04 ERA, but a closer look reveals an interesting trend.  Feldman became a starter in a better Rangers rotation after already compiling an ERA over 12.  Since that time, Scott is 2-0, and has surrendered just 7 runs over nearly 30 innings.  I thought it was a fluke, and it still might be, but he's confident right now, and could continue to post good numbers as long as his sinker stays low in the zone.

And a name you may recognize...JAKE PEAVY - His start to 2009 has been utterly uninspiring, with a 2-5 record, and an ERA in the mid/high 4's.  But if you look closely at the numbers, Peavy really has been almost as good as usual, and just significantly more unlucky.  He has been burned by more big innings than usual, and rather than scattering weakly hit singles, his opponents seem to collect them in bunches, then go half the game without another hit.  My point in all this rambling is that he is the perfect buy-low candidate for this point in the season.  He's showing signs of breaking out of his little funk, despite losing his last 4 decisions (pending today's game with Cincinnati).  He has struck out 8, 12 and 9 in his previous 3 games, spanning 21 innings, and he's working on an 8-inning, 1-run outing as we speak.  If now isn't the time to try to pry Peavy from an unsuspecting owner, disenchanted with his ERA or poor record, then I'll eat my hat.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Workin' Stiff

I may need to slightly alter the tagline on the home page as the sole editor is no longer unemployed.  That's right, the weekend warrior is gainfully employed...part time.  The timing of Saturday and Sunday articles is going to be shifted about just a bit, but weekday posts should continue to pop up most mornings in the early a.m.  You'll still get the same eye-popping, mind-blowing fantasy advice -- it's just going to occur at less predictable intervals.

We're about half-way through our Saturday slate of games, so this breakdown of key fantasy players and points will cover Friday night's games (at least those that weren't rained out), and whatever we've learned about the games of Saturday afternoon.  And as usual, we've got a crop of part-time closers (today is ALL about part-timery), and some superstars that you should have bought at their lowest point.

C.J. WILSON - Frank Francisco is on the 15-day DL (retroactive to last week), so the Rangers will be looking for a backup closer.  There are a few options, and it isn't 100% clear who will get all the save looks while the uber-dominant Francisco is out, but the logical choice would be the closer of Rangers past.  This is estimated as a 2-save replacement.

DAVID AARDSMA - He's back, yet again.  The Mariners are cooling off a bit, partially due to the spotty relief work of Brandon Morrow, who may or may not be fully healthy.  Whatever the case, Morrow has vomited on enough 9th innings to lose his spot.  Aardsma might very well still be on your bench (or someone else's), but if not, he could be the closer the rest of the way.  This is ranked as a very wobbly 5-15 save window.

EDWIN JACKSON *Last Warning* - We are no longer going to cover Jackson, as he has been amazing for too long to still be available in any league worth its salt.  Dominating the league, enough to make this Dodger fan punch innocent passersby right in the face.

MIKE JACOBS - The Royals' first baseman, perhaps angry that the pitching staff is drawing all the accolades (which they deserve) has decided he's going to hit everything out of the park.  Only problem, no one has been on base.  Jacobs has 3 homers this week alone, but only 3 RBIs.  A man can only drive himself in so often, but if any of the other Royals position players get their act together, Jacobs could be prime for a juicy couple weeks.

And at long last, it looks like Mark Teixeira and B.J. Upton might be coming out of their season-long slumps.  Upton's can be blamed on an injury that forced him to have "spring training" during the regular season.  Tex just plain can't see the ball until the cool May sun rises overhead, apparently.  If you traded for them, nice work.  Upton is a dynamic player, capable of stealing 30+ bases, and hitting 20+ homers, if he gets close to his potential.  We all know Teixeira will be fine, so the only way you might have snagged him is if his previous owner was not a baseball fan.  Unfortunately for yours truly, I had 'em both.  I can only hope things continue to improve.

Another sidebar -- the Dodgers, in their infinite wisdom (or love for recycling/environmentalism), have given the ball to Eric Milton today in Florida.  First Jeff Weaver, now Eric Milton?  I know Shawn "pair of" Estes is hovering somewhere in LA's Minor League system.  This pitching staff might set new precedents for washing up. 

The Dodgers: beached whale edition.  No, wait.  The pregnant beached whale.

Home Aloney

Due to time constraints, tonight's article may be a bit abridged, so we'll try to cover any mid-tier players even remotely close to waiver material.  I'll admit, I spent most of my time last night watching the home teams win their respective game sixes in the NBA Playoffs (mind you, I was rather surprised by both outcomes).  I did watch some frustrating baseball in the afternoon, and have fully scoured the remaining box scores.

I know I'm not the only person out there comtemplating homicide due to Tigers' implosion in the 7th inning in Minneapolis.  I'm not a Tigers fan (and thanks to yesterday, I probably never will be), but I spent half my morning researching the game to make sure I had all the variables accounted for, then took what appeared to be a pretty solid line of Tigers -110.  Verlander took the Twins to school for 6.1 innings, then allowed a single and a walk, and was pulled from the game.  I read a few betting forums where folks were losing their minds about Leyland's choice to remove Verlander, and to a certain degree, I concur.  But Verlander was at 122 pitches, and even though he's the definition of a horse, 122 of his high-octane deliveries can take a toll.  So, let's say for a moment that removing Verlander was the right decision.  The choice that sent me into a rage-filled attack on some local shrubbery was Leyland's obsession with left-left matchups.  The Tigers bullpen was overextended after some long games, and Bobby Seay, normally reliable, was summoned to face a couple of the Twins lefties.  On paper, makes sense.

Seay looked awful.  More accurately, he looked like a pitcher that was completely gassed.  His fastball was completely without movement and the velocity was down to 84, and his breaking ball was just fluttering, belt-high, to a series of accomplished Major League batters.  Jim Leyland has been a great manager for a long time, but I just couldn't quite fathom why he let his poor reliever twist and turn in a game the Tigers should have won.  If current broadcasts didn't the have the score listed on-screen, I could have been convinced pretty easily that Detroit was down 9-2, and Leyland just figured they were cooked and preferred to just let his one struggling lefthander get his clock cleaned.  By the time that mayhem was done, the Twins had plenty of momentum, and powered on to the victory.  Yesterday should have been a 2-win day at the virtual sportsbook, but back we go to square one.

Today's trophy for the Biggest Chump goes to Big Papi, who posted a delicious 0-for-7 in the Sox extra-inning loss to the Angels.  Ouch.

JAMES LONEY - Loney is not a power guy, let's get that straight.  He is a line-drive hitter that doesn't mind batting with 2 strikes; sort of a Todd Helton-esque feel about his plate appearances.  He has homered in 2 straight games, though, which may be an indicator that Loney is going to smack a couple more before slipping back into a long homerless draught.  Consider adding him, as his average will be decent, and he often bats with 2 guys on base, so the RBI totals are solid as well.

HANK BLALOCK - This may be another case where we missed the boat just a bit.  Blalock has been a hot pickup for a few days, and I overlooked him because of name recognition.  I just figured he'd be drafted in most leagues, but upon inspection last night, he wasn't.  10 homers thus far may be a sign of a return to Blalock's golden days.

WANDY RODRIGUEZ - For whatever reason, most teams still aren't trusting The Magic Wandy.  He picked up a win at Coors yesterday, allowing just 2 earned runs over 7 inning.  Wandy's for real.  

MICHAEL BOURN - Another guy I assumed would be drafted, but such is not the case in a number of leagues.  He's got his average up around .300, which means (pardon the expression) a crapload of stolen base opportunities.  Bourn's up to 13 already, and could singlehandedly win you steals in a head-to-head league on a weekly basis.

EMMANUEL BURRISS - We listed him a couple days back due to his move into the leadoff spot, and he stole another base last night.  If Bourn isn't available, Burriss might be a nice backup, along with JUAN PIERRE, if he hasn't already been plucked in your league.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Feel Victor's Wrath

Unfortunately, it's a pretty common occurrence for a young superstar to struggle through a season of nagging injuries, unwilling to believe that a sore forearm or tight oblique could cause them to lose their superior ability.  It's also quite common for a player of that mold to let the failure send his career down a 4 year spiral.  Such does not appear to be the case in Cleveland, where Catcher/First baseman Victor Martinez has put a stinker of a 2008 season beyond the rear view.  Martinez is batting a ridiculous .385 through his first 35 games of the '09 season, and perhaps more impressive, Victor has walked 23 times to just 13 strikeouts.  I will admit, he is just the type of high-value player I would have avoided in the draft due to last season's injuries/slump, but Victor has stuffed a metaphorical sock in my yapper over the initial month-plus.

What fun would this column be, though, if I didn't get to deliver a verbal bludgeoning to somebody famous, or trying to become famous.  Today, I think it's time to lay the beatdown on the Arizona Diamondbacks.  An organization that has done a very nice job in the draft recently made a few trades to acquire Dan Haren, and it's tough to complain about a guy who competes for the Cy Young year in and year out.  If Brandon Webb could get healthy, this team would have a chance to win most games (assuming they ever manage to score more than 3 runs).  Every conceivable strikeout cliche has already been used by the broadcasters calling the game, which makes my life a little more difficult.

To a certain extent, I actually feel bad for the D'backs.  Every time they get a runner on base (which, more often than not, is Justin Upton, the only player doing anything at the plate), the next 3 batters strike out.  Mark Reynolds has flailed at more breaking balls a foot off the plate in the season's first month than most big-leaguers do in their entire careers.  Conor Jackson gets jammed 3 out of every 4 at-bats.  Eric Byrnes had a few multi-hit games in a row, but he's still batting near .200.  Chad Tracy is playing regularly!?  And poor Bob Melvin lost his job.  I guess they had to try something, but I hardly see how this was Melvin's fault.  He made the right moves with the bat-waving chumps he was given, and the Director of Player Development is managing the team now.  I can almost make sense of the logic -- you have a Major League team made up of mostly ultra-talented guys that belong in Triple-A, why not make their every-day manager the guy that shuttled them through the Minors?  All I can say is "yikes!"

NICK JOHNSON - Washington is actually starting to score a few runs, and Johnson is in one of the very few enviable spaces in the lineups, batting second behind Christian Guzman and ahead of Ryan Zimmerman.  Johnson's average will likely take at least a slight dip at some point from its current perch at .333, but he walks a fair amount, and has scored and driven in ~20.  It's about that time to start benching underperforming big names and waiting out their slumps with guys like Johnson keeping you afloat.

KIP WELLS/JOEL HANRAHAN - It seems the closer committee for Washington is just going to be these two guys, as both Joel Beimel and Julian Tavarez were downright terrible in their brief runs.  After Beimel and Tavarez soiled the pitcher's mound, Wells has been serviceable, and Hanrahan doesn't look quite as bad.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

July 3rd is a Long Way

We wondered a few days back how the young Dodgers would fare without Manny anchoring the lineup.  So far, the answer is "like a boulder in the ocean."  A team that relied on Manny not only to improve the offense and turn a good, line-drive hitting lineup into a feared row of RBI machines but also to guide the youngest players is suddenly without a man at the helm.

I watched the Dodgers-Phillies game last night and one can't help but get the feeling that the team is just going through the motions.  It's no one's fault (at least no one currently playing), but this is what happens when you remove the one true team leader.  The Dodgers aren't like the Red Sox; they don't have other go-to guys if the biggest of the big dogs goes down.  Kevin Youkilis got hurt, so Dustin Pedroia became the man; Pedroia got hurt, so Jason Bay stepped up.  Behind Manny, there was a void.  The closest thing the Dodgers have to a secondary leader would be catcher Russ Martin (or Russ J. Martin, as he decided he wanted to be known this year to honor his mother), but Russell J was more responsible for last night's demise in Philly than anyone.

The coming 2 months could be mostly summed up by one play.  Sure, Chan Ho Park shut down his former team, and Raul Ibanez took a 96mph fastball up around his shoulders and smacked it for an improbable 2-run double, but the play of the day, and the play that will either wake the Dodgers up or turn them into zombies for the next 45 games was courtesy of another former Dodger, Jayson Werth.  Werth stole 4 bases, none more demoralizing than when he burgled a run right out from under the Dodgers' noses.  The Phillies were up 2, already in the driver's seat, but the Dodgers were far from buried.  Werth, at third base, didn't take off for home during a pitcher's full wind-up as you might see from time to time.  On the contrary, Werth watched, stalked his prey, made absolutely certain that Russ Martin was not checking him at 3rd base, and inched slightly farther off the bag after each pitch.  Then came the right time -- Martin, still not paying attention, framed a sinker for strike two at the plate.  And off he went.  Werth, fully confident Martin wouldn't look at him once again, started running.  Martin casually tossed the ball back to his pitcher, and before he knew it, Werth was jogging into the Phillies dugout.  Brad Lidge nearly blew things in the 9th, but the Phils got the win, and the Dodgers got another helping of disappointment.

Today is a huge day for the Dodgers.  Will they bounce back from more humiliation?  The Giants are charging fast from 2nd place in the NL West, and LA needs to win a game or two to keep them at bay.  I wish I could say I was confident, but unless someone steps into Manny's spot, it's a long way down.

GEORGE SHERRILL - So much for closer by committee.  A hearty thank you to Dave Trembley for being a complete jackass.  Sherrill is still the guy.

ZACH DUKE - 8 innings, 1 run against the Cardinals.  Of course, it was a Pujols solo homer.  Duke appears ready for a breakout season.

SCOTT ROLEN - I think I may be a few days behind on this one.  Rolen had another 3-hit game to raise his average to .319.  He's a little low in the Blue Jays lineup to be a reliable source of runs and RBIs, but he's consistent, and he's doing a heck of a lot better than some of the top third basemen taken in the draft.

MILTON BRADLEY - There's a maniac out there that poses as Milton Bradley once every 3 or 4 months.  This loon generally strikes a fan or uses his bat to do bad things to the umpire crew chief.  Beware of that doppelganger.  When the real Milton is out there, he can be a decent steal.  One of the top fantasy options last year with Texas, Bradley is off to a truly horrid start.  But as bad as he might end up, he's not a .186 hitter.  Another buy-low candidate, or maybe a waiver wire casualty, Bradley will, mark my words, raise his average into the mid-200's, and the power numbers should come around as well.

UBALDO JIMENEZ - Sound the alarms!  Ubaldo has posted back-to-back 7-inning, 1 run starts.  Make no mistake, if he can remember how to pitch to the corners of the plate, Jimenez has top 20 starter potential.

TREVOR CAHILL - Cahill walked just 2 batters in Oakland's beatdown of the Royals.  If he can limit the walks, Cahill is on his way to a very successful career.  As for this season, it seems like he's a prime candidate for that "before batters adjust" rookie charge.  Might not be a bad idea to take a chance on him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Enough Runs to Go Around

There were only 4 games yesterday, but we had totals over 10 in each of them.  So, we scoured the box scores, tirelessly questing for that next big bat, and, well, most of the names that popped up we've seen before.  It's not so much that we enjoy tooting our own horn, it's just that when things go as predicted, it's worth noting.  Thus, while everyone else is busy with the Cavaliers moving onto the next round of the playoffs, and the Mavs somehow managing to cling to the side of their tiny tugboat, we'll look at one player from each of yesterday's 4 baseball contests.

JHONNY PERALTA - A week back we noted that he was well below his career average, and was showing signs of waking up.  A man can accomplish quite a bit in one week.  Peralta is still not quite at his normal numbers, but his average is up almost 50 points, as the shortstop with the misplaced "h" picked up 3 hits yesterday, and drove in his 12th man of the season.  Clearly, he's not going to go flying off the waiver wire with those numbers, but sometimes the short term is the most important term of all.  Peralta has 10 hits in his last 5 games, good enough for an average near .440, so to say he's hot is a pretty stark understatement.

CASEY KOTCHMAN - His availability isn't quite as predictable as the other names on this list.  Kotchman has a recognizable fantasy place, not necessarily because of his accomplishments, but because he was traded for Mark Teixeira last season, and everyone just assumed he would be amazing.  Kotchman is a lefthanded 1B that generally hits for a high average with less exciting power numbers.  Most feel his ceiling has yet to be reached in the power department, and that's why he's on this list today.  He's only bopped 2 homers, but Kotchman's 13 doubles are reason to be optimistic.  Add a few more feet on some of those, and they might start leaving the yard.  Kotchman is a good pickup for BA and OBP for now, but keep a close watch.

ERIC BYRNES - The D'backs got squished by the Reds last night, but Byrnes had his fourth consecutive multi-hit game.  He's always been streaky, so I'm not sure now is the best time to hop on the bandwagon, but it seems like Byrnes might be starting to feel healthy again.  My guess is he stays hot for another day or two, raises his average into the .230-.240 range, then hovers in that neighborhood for a few weeks.  At that point, it may be time to capitalize.  When Eric shows signs of his next blistering hot streak, then it may be time to start the beast for the rest of the season.  I'll admit, I'm getting darn close to doing that even sooner, given my personal team's unbelievably disappointing start.

EMMANUEL BURRISS - The Giants promoted Burriss to the leadoff spot yesterday, and Emmanuel proceeded to hack his way to an 0-for-5.  That said, he's been spraying hits all over the field in a notoriously Juan Pierre-like fashion (2005 edition).  Burriss has stolen 9 bases despite playing predominantly from the 8-hole in the lineup, and Manager Bruce Bochy likes his chances of swiping a few more at the top.  He'll have better protection behind him now (an actual hitter instead of the pitcher), and the team won't immediately bunt him into scoring position.  If Burriss shows he can comfortably get on base from the top position, roll him into your lineup and start counting the steals.

And remember, each of the names in the list above is now a hyperlink to their Yahoo! statistics, so you can do a little research on each before blindly grabbing.  If history has taught us anything, it's that blind grabbing will only result in sexual harassment suits and scratched knuckles.  Click on those names, learn a bit about the player -- become their fantasy pal -- then improve your team.

I hope you've been enjoying the wild ride through baseball's first month-plus of betting, as well.  It's a bit of a learning process for all of us, but we're in the positive, and hopefully will continue to grow that money pile.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Meet the Mets

Mets fans are often pretty quick to snap at their team, and over the last few seasons, with good reason.  Over the last week, though, the Metropolitans are all about wins.  With today's 8-4 doubling-up of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets have now rattled off 7 straight victories, many of them decisive.  The Fantasy Perspective on the Mets winning streak doesn't mean a great deal for pitchers like Livan Hernandez due to an inflated ERA, but gents like Mike Pelfrey and John Maine, who hadn't exactly been dazzling up to this point, could rack up a few wins in a row.  On the offensive side, I don't believe the hot hitting necessarily means it's time to grab Luis Castillo -- in fact, you couldn't pay me enough to come into contact, even fantasy contact, with Luis.  It does mean that every star can be counted on for slightly better stats, and fringe players like Ryan Church and David Murphy could conceivably climb back into relevance.  Church started 2008 with a ridiculous flourish, but after suffering through various injury woes last year, just hasn't been the same.  Maybe a team-wide confidence explosion will be the cure.

From a betting perspective, it's time to put a very watchful eye on the Mets.  The lines are going to be pretty bad as long as their winning ways continue, but most Vegas sportsbooks offer a bet known as the "Run Line," where 1.5 runs are added or subtracted from a team's final score, much like a "spread" in football or basketball.  Taking the Mets, minus 1.5 runs will often move the betting line into the positive, and give us a chance to cash in better than 1:1 odds during the winning streak.

JUAN CRUZ - He's back!  This is a huge chance for your Roto team to pick up a chunk of saves.  Joakim Soria has hit the DL, and he'll be out for 2 weeks at the very least.  Cruz has been excellent as a setup man, and should translate well to closer.  Grab him immediately, and start counting the saves from an eerily decent Kansas City team...though, they did get spanked over the weekend in Anaheim.  If you're in either of my leagues, sorry, he's mine.

MIGUEL TEJADA - A lot of experts are extremely low on Tejada.  I'm not.  He's been hitting around .300 all season long, just without the power.  This is Miguel Tejada, though.  He'll hit a few out!  He plays 81 games a year at Minute Maid Park, with that absurd "shelf" in left field.  He hit just his 2nd of the year this afternoon, but picked up his 13th-16th RBIs of the season.  For those counting on some underperforming shortstops, Tejada could be a nice stopgap, or even a more permanent solution if you need Batting Average help.

ERIC BYRNES - I've mentioned him before, and he's still under the radar, but Arizona has made some managerial changes, and it looks like Byrnes might getting more playing time with Conor Jackson making the word "struggle" look like a hot streak.  Byrnes does, despite an horrific start, have 4 homers and 5 steals so far, and his average can't get much worse.  Lest we forget, too, that when Byrnes is fully healthy and seeing the baseball, he's a 25-25 guy, maybe better.  He doesn't walk, but if he starts putting up 2007 numbers, he could be a huge waiver-wire steal.  Because of his poor play, you probably have time before you'd need to get him, but he has a very high ceiling, and may start to ascend the stairs toward at least some of his potential.

Dumping Time:

David Aardsma - Brandon Morrow is back, and throwing 98.

John Grabow - Because he sucks.

Manny Corpas - Because Huston Street is actually succeeding as closer.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Hat Trick

More important than any fantasy baseball player's box score, FS-OD came through with the big 3-0 in baseball picks this evening, 2 of which were underdogs.  Enjoy the 3.60 unit gain, and hopefully this will put the team back on the right foot.  It's a learning process, so fluctuations are bound to happen, but things should only get better over the course of the season.

On the baseball (reality) front, Zack Greinke finally took a loss to fall to 6-1, but it took a near-perfect performance by his opposition to make it so.  It wasn't as if Greinke didn't have his stuff.  Zack pitched a complete game (8 innings, since he lost), and allowed just one run to the Angels, but that was enough.  Joe Saunders blanked the Royals in a complete game (9 inning, since he won) of his own.  Greinke's ERA, by the way, is still half a run.  This hurts me almost as much as admitting to film buffs that I haven't watched the Godfather series from start to finish, but I haven't seen a Greinke pitch this year, outside of SportsCenter.  Here, though, I will take a solemn oath to watch his next start and laugh at some hitters looking foolish.

Also worth noting, you may be running short on time to make a move on the few Buy Low candidates I mentioned in the last article.  Mark Teixeira homered in a Yankees loss (big surprise there), and B.J. Upton picked up a pair of hits, walked, and scored 3 times.  This raised his average to .165, so there's a long way to go, and I highly advise trying to score B.J. before he breaches the Mendoza Line.  Now a few lesser names:

JASON GIAMBI - Giambi homered twice in the A's home loss to the Jays. Giambi will never hit for a high average again, but he has only 3 longballs this season, and a guy that big will not be held to just 3.  He also walks an absolute ton, so he'll score some runs and could provide a nice OBP if Jason can get his average up near .250.

EDWIN JACKSON - Jackson has been trading off bad and amazing starts, but watching him pitch, you can't help but get the feeling he's right on the cusp of tipping that average in the direction of amazing.  When he locates his pitches, he is nearly unhittable, but for whatever reason Jackson can go through stretches where, instead of walking, he "misses over the plate."  It's an expression tossed around by analysts, but it's an accurate one, as instead of missing inside or outside and walking batters, Jackson falls into the bad habit of firing fastballs right down Broadway, and they get hammered.  Stop serving up 1 inning of meatballs every other start, and Jackson will move into the league's elite.

KIP WELLS & JOEL HANRAHAN - It takes two!  Wells started the 9th, seemingly in charge of saving the Nationals game in Arizona, but the wheels came off with 2 outs, and in walked Hanrahan, who did the unthinkable.  He closed the game.  The closer by committee in Washington is looking more and more like Wells and Hanrahan, while Beimel is still pitching the 8th.  Admittedly, Beimel's 86mph cut fastball isn't really the mark of a closer, so perhaps he is best suited as a setup man.  Brandon Morrow is back in Seattle, so perhaps you can dump Aardsma and run a pair of Nats out with the hope that one of the two gets a save.

Buyer's Guide

This article is ALL business.  We'll introduce a little package I'd like to call the "Buyer's Guide," where we take a look at a few buy-low candidates, then follow that up with a few names on the traditional "Pick-up List."

I was inspired to make a buyer's list last night as I was scanning the box scores of all the evening's games, and noticed that B.J. Upton was batting a robust .156.  Of course, B.J. is on my team, so I let out a noise reminiscient of a dog getting its paw stepped on, then continued in my reading.  B.J. is just one of a few players that are putting up numbers like their families are being held hostage, all of whom you should think about trying to pry from your opponent while their values are so awfully low.

B.J. Upton, Mark Teixeira, Josh Hamilton, Garrett Atkins, and to a lesser extent Cole Hamels, Matt Holliday, and Jose Reyes.  I tried to pick the biggest possible names who had the greatest room for improvement.  These guys all have very strong track records, which means that in all likelihood they will go on a tear to approach their career numbers.  This may be especially good idea if your team is already doing WELL in your fantasy league.  Take the guys who have gotten you off to this hot start, and sell them for players that will surge in June and July.  It's not how you start, as they say, it's how you finish.  I'm not 100% sold on Matt Holliday outside of Coors, but he's certainly better than a .236 hitter.  Probably not .330, but he should at least climb into the higher .200s.

I'll try to come up with a short "Seller's Guide" in the not-so-distant future, but one name that leaps off the list is the Dodgers' Orlando Hudson, who piled up some robust numbers batting in front of Manny.  With or without Manny, those numbers were going to come down, but one can assume it will drop faster without ManRam.

WANDY RODRIGUEZ - Made the Padres look like, well, the Padres last night with 8 shutout innings.  Rodriguez has quietly lowered his ERA to 1.80!  That will rise, probably in one bad start, but Rodriguez, right now, is hitting his spots, and his fastball is jumping on hitters.  Definitely start Wandy against weaker offensive teams, and certainly consider him even against the tougher competition.  He is rapidly ascending the fantasy ranks, I must say.

KIP WELLS - Well, we found out at least one other name involved in the Nationals closer sweepstakes.  Kip Wells got his first career save last night, and while we have no idea how long it will be until he grasps another save in his clutches, if you're short in saves and have an open roster spot (and I truly mean "open" - don't drop anyone of value for Wells), Kip should get about one save every couple of weeks.

Friday, May 08, 2009

So Long, Mannywood

No sooner had we penned a touching article describing all the ways Dodger management would Manny-up the ballpark when the bomb of the year dropped on the left field line.  Manny Ramirez, lord of the NL West, was caught using a banned substance, and won't be playing again until July 3rd.  The initial reports seem to indicate that Manny was taking a "sexual enhancer," but the true breakdown is a little more disturbing.

The substance itself is human chorionic gonadotropin, a chemical normally found in high quantities in pregnant women.  That, in and of itself sets Manny up for all kinds of jokes -- the line from The Governator's Junior is especially apt: "My body; my choice!"  For what it's worth, Manny's not pregnant, and I'm willing to wager he's not taking the medicine for his libido.  He also wouldn't be the first athlete to self inflict morning sickness for the good of his game.  See, hCG, like a few others, is often taken by an athlete after said multimillionaire comes off steroids.  The 'roids, as you've all heard, can do quite a number on the genitals.  The concept of "shriveling up" is easily the most hilarious part, but the imbalance of hormones in the body can cause the male testes to stop producing testosterone (since so much is already present from the drugs).  hCG can help to create testicular function once again, so a ballplayer can go back to making his own endogenous (meaning, from within) testosterone, and continue to smash baseballs.

The post/pre-Manny (between Manny?) era is off to a very poor start.  After breaking a 97-year old record in Manny's last game by starting the season 13-0 at home, the Dodgers stormed out to a 6-0 lead over the Nationals, only to lose the game 11-9 when the bullpen gave up 10 runs in 3 innings.  Obviously, Manny's not in the pen, but it really draws attention to the team's depression that such a massive lead was surrendered to such a hapless opponent.  The loss will also crank the spotlight already on the Dodgers up a few notches, since analysts will not only be scrutinizing the Manny situation, but now discussing whether the Dodgers have enough moxie to keep winning.  However you spell it out, this is a sad situation, and hopefully further details will put Manny in a better light.

GEORGE SHERRILL - We tried our darnedest to come up with a viable solution to the closer mess in Baltimore, and when all was said and done Sherrill still got the save.  It raises some questions about what's actually happening with the team, and given the multiple statements that it's a "closer by committee," we'll probably still see Jim Johnson and Chris Ray get a shot or two at closing a game, but Sherrill may still see the bulk of the opportunities.  If someone dropped him, grab Sherrill and see if he can't still get you 15 saves the rest of the way.  If he's taken, stashing Jim Johnson as a backup isn't a terrible idea, but only if you've got roster space.

BRIAN BANNISTER - Bannister went 6 shutout innings last night to pick up his 3rd victory without a loss.  Bannister is a decent starting option if one of your normal starters is missing some time, but I'd be cautious before running him out against a high octane team like the Blue Jays.  More matchups with the Mariners are looking just fine for Brian, who is even striking out a few more batters this year.

JARROD WASHBURN - The Mariners offense is costing Washburn wins, but Jarrod is still pitching the lights out.  He is making a serious early-season bid for comeback player of the year.  His numbers really weren't too bad last season, but aside from one bad start, Washburn has been very reliable.  He's around the strike zone, and he's pitching well against all types of opponents.

TREVOR CAHILL - Cahill should probably still be in the Minors, but the A's are rushing the youth movement, and Cahill is improving every time out to the mound.  Last night he finally managed to get the ball over the plate, and dominated the streaking Texas Rangers, holding them to a run on 5 hits over 7 innings.  Cahill has a very good ERA (considering his WHIP and record would seem to indicate otherwise), meaning that guys aren't hitting him that well despite all the walks.  If he can continue to throw strikes, Cahill could vault himself into true relevance.  Keep an eye on the youngster for now.

TODD HELTON - His power numbers aren't where they once were, but Helton has his average up to .355.  Helton went just 1-for-4 yesterday, but was hitting near .500 over a 6-game stretch.  If your team needs an AVG and OBP boost, Helton may just come in handy.
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