Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Diamondbacks Are Awful

This is not going to be a very long article. I just merely want to point out that the D'backs committed THREE errors in one inning on Sunday night. And we're not talking about top-spin grounders that kicked off the heel of a glove. We're talking about Little League hit-you-in-the-mitt type boners that are more offensive to the public than a steroid suspension. In fact, I think anyone committing a similar error in the future should have to take at least 3 days away from baseball. Describing the events in words wouldn't do them justice, really. Suffice it to say that the plays were so pathetic, the hometown crowd -- which, mind you, was still paying to watch this 30-46 team -- rained boos down upon the field. Then, in an act of pure adultery, a D'backs outfielder pretended to throw a ball to a fan in the crowd. More boos later, the outfielder was defended by his Manager.

If you haven't had the unique vomitous joy of watching the worst team in baseball (yes, worse than the Nats, especially now that it looks like Brandon Webb is out for the season), I highly suggest either finding the highlights from that recent affair, or just watching any game from here on out. They went 1-5 on their most recent homestand, and in a division that includes the San Diego Padres, they have somehow stolen the laughingstock trophy. Anybody still think more expansion teams was a good idea?

Boy, firing Bob Melvin really made a huge difference.

Monday, June 29, 2009

If This is Wang, I Don't Want to be Right

A baseball weekend is in the books, and easily the biggest news across the League is the dramatic turnaround (AGAIN) of the Yankees. This Yankee squad is one of the streakier teams in the League, which is a tad odd given the veteran make-up of the team.

Very young teams will often win in waves. The Marlins opened the season 11-1, then lost just about every game for the next 2 months before remembering how to win about 15 days ago. But that's to be expected with rookies, sophomores and guys that have only been in the league for a short term -- they are prone to let their emotions get the best of them, and both good and bad sentiments will snowball.

The Yankees are an interesting exception to the rule. This team is made up of old farts like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and various others; guys that have been around the block enough times to know that one win does not a championship make, and one loss doesn't end your season. There are a few youngsters on the team, but none saddled with the burden of leading the team. So, who, or what, is responsible for these veterans going on such blatantly hot and cold streaks?

Well, the "what" could be a few things. A series with the Red Sox hasn't helped much. Figuring out the wind and dimensions of a brand new ballpark was also a bit of a win blockade. Then, as soon as every member of the sportswriting media had written an oh-so-special piece about how the Yankees' new ballpark was a shell of the old one, and blah-de-blah, the Yankees learned how to win at home, and sportswriters had to turn to something else.

My disdain for these members of the media blowing little stories out of proportion is a rant for another day (I really don't care what the opposing manager said about the "smell" of the new ballpark versus that of the old one, and the "advantage" that smell gave the Yanks). This article is about the Yankees streakiness, and subsequently, a sinkerballer named Wang. The streaks this year seem worse, for whatever reason, than those of years past, and I can only think the biggest factor is Joe Girardi. The stressed-out, second-year Manager seems to take his team with him when he's up, and brings the bunch down when he's tumbling.

Take the current win streak -- the Yankees were sliding, not spiraling so much, but losing games that were more than winnable. Then, midway through the middle game of an interleague set with the Braves, Joe Girardi decided to flip the switch. The Yankees had a baserunner picked off (though replays later showed the runner, Brett Gardner, was safe), and Girardi got himself tossed. It appeared to be a case of Girardi pleading with the umpire to toss him, and after Girardi took too much time, "blue" grudgingly complied. The Yankees went on to win that contest 8-4, and haven't looked back, taking 5 straight, the last 3 against their Subway rivals.

What's more, the starting pitcher in the most recent victory, posted late last night, was the formerly 0-6 Chien-Ming Wang. Wang has been slowly getting better since his return. Mind you, "slowly" is a bit of an understatement, but the sinker is starting to move again, and his velocity has hit the mid-90's. Getting a chance to run through a pathetic Mets lineup wasn't a bad thing for him, but that first win might very well take the monkey off Wang's back. We shouldn't forget, this is a pitcher that won 19 games in 2007. He doesn't strike out many, but when he's on his game, he doesn't walk many, either. Somewhere deep in my mind I even thought Wang might be a bit of a sleeper draft pick this year, but he didn't turn out to be healthy.

The Yankees are going to be large favorites as long as they're on a winning streak, so for the bettors, this might not be the best time to hop on the train, but now is an outstanding time to eyeball the Yankees starting rotation for wins. A.J. Burnett is heating up, Wang looks like he might be able to keep the Yanks in the game, C.C. is C.C., and so on and so forth.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's Singles

Curse the middle of the baseball season. We had ## semi-interesting occurrences yesterday, but yet again found ourselves without any mind-blowing fantasy news. So, today, we combine basketball and baseball in a mostly comprehensive list of quick hits.
  • Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Cavaliers for paper clips and cash. Even if Shaq only plays in the 3-10 games against the Magic, it will be a good trade for Cleveland. Lebron got his wish of acquiring a player that can take some of the pressure off of him (and box out Dwight Howard), and Shaq, like most aging veterans, is on a team with a shot at a title. On the flip side, the Suns got some financial wiggle room, with Sasha Pavlovic sure to get bought out, and Ben Wallace pondering retirement.
  • The New Jersey Nets shipped off Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Magic for Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Tony Battie. The initial reaction of Magic fans was to lament the loss of Courtney Lee, who was indeed turning into a nice little wing player, but when you can get a player of Carter's calibur for, basically, one unproven man in a plastic mask, you take him. With Jameer Nelson healthy, Rafer Alston is expendable, and anyone that thinks Tony Battie did anything of note has been utterly lost.
  • The Hawks snagged Jamal Crawford from the Warriors for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton. The Warriors then drafted Stephen Curry, so this trade appeared to mostly be about clearing out room at SG for Curry. The Hawks got a nice scorer in the deal - they can bring him off the bench for some quick firepower, or start him, move Josh Smith to the 4 and Joe Johnson to the 3.
  • Maybe the biggest trade that didn't happen...ESPN reported that there is a swap in the works that would send Amar'e Stoudemire to the Warriors for Andris Biedrins, Marco Belinelli, and Brandan Wright. This trade could not be completed until the free agent signing period begins in early July, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on.
  • In baseball, John Smoltz made his season debut for the Red Sox and was less than inspiring. He pitched well in his rehab starts in the Minors, but got in trouble early and never really got on track. He's one of the most competitive players to ever toe the rubber, so my guess is he'll bounce back, but it's way too early to put him on a fantasy team.
  • Casey McGehee has stepped up for Milwaukee in a big way. The loss of Rickie Weeks should have hurt the lineup more than it has, thanks in large part to McGehee. If you need a replacement at second base, he might do the trick.
  • On a similar note, Jose Lopez is back from bereavement. He was just starting to heat up prior to leaving the Mariners, so hopefully his swing didn't regress, but note that he is indeed back with the team, and playing.
  • The Tigers have won 7 in a row. It's tough to call them the hottest team in baseball, but I suppose they are. They haven't really overwhelmed the competition, but over the course of the 6-game homestand sweep, they have fought back from early deficits, pushed a few runs across late, and just generally found a way to win. Today, they begin a series with the Astros, and Justin Verlander's cannon should give them another good chance to win. On the offensive side, Magglio Ordonez hit a home run yesterday, and a child laughed. Marcus Thames is back in the Tigers lineup, as well. He's never going to be a high-average guy, but is one of the most powerful players in the league, and when he gets hot, he can hit about 7 homers in 3 games.
  • Don't look now, but the Giants are the NL Wild Card team right now, narrowly eclipsing the Brewers for that honor. This is a team with enough offensive firepower to outscore MAYBE the Padres, but thanks to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, they have one of the most feared collection of aces in the League. This is a team that no one wants to play in a best of 5 series. They also desperately need to learn how to win on the road, where they're just 15-20.
  • The Rockies lost a series! Tough to say if this will cool them off. Might as well go out on a limb and make a prediction: this team is going to contend the rest of the way. They have 2-3 starters that can win games, and a couple other serviceable pitchers that can keep a potent offensive club in ballgames. They probably won't win 95% of their remaining games, but slightly over .500 is pretty reasonable. Suddenly, the NL West doesn't look like the worst division in the League. It may sound crazy, but the Dodgers, Giants and Rockies are easily among the top-5 or 6 NL teams right now.
  • The Marlins are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and have quietly moved within 1.0 game of the NL East lead. We'll see how the injury to "closer" Matt Lindstrom alters the bullpen. With the way he was pitching, they might actually get better...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Joba's Vulcan Neck Pinch

Guard: What the hell are you doing?
Lone Starr: Uh… the Vulcan Neck Pinch?
Guard: No, no, stupid. You’ve got it much too high. It’s down here where the shoulder meets the neck.
Lone Starr: Like this?
Guard: Yeah! (faints)

The wildness of Interleague play is nearing its end, but we have had the rare pleasure of seeing David Ortiz playing the infield in Washington. Amazingly, moving laterally didn't cause any long-term damage, and Papi even homered in the game. He is a consistent starter now, and if you had the patience to weather the early-season (2.5 month) storm, he should be able to produce for you now. Who would have thought that this could all be from dry, sore eyes. Is it too late for Ben Stein to try his hand in the Minors?

Last night's game in Atlanta featured a bit of a scare. Joba Chamberlain stepped up to the plate to hit for himself (since pitchers can't be delicate little flowers in NL ballparks), crouched that stout, block-like frame into the right-hand batter's box, and waited. Kenshin Kawakami went into his wind, and whizzed a fastball on the outer half of the plate; Chamberlain swung...

Next thing we knew, Kawakami was down, the ball was slowly creeping across the infield grass, and Chamberlain grounded out off of Kawakami's neck. If that tub could run, he might have beat it out to break up Kawakami's 3.0-inning perfect game. We're used to seeing pitchers duck, bob and weave to try to avoid liners. Make no mistake, that pitcher's mound is not far from the plate. Chris Young (Padres) took a smash right off the face a couple years back. It's really a testament to his competitive spirit that he was able to recover, and remained willing to toe the rubber. Kawakami had to leave the game due to soreness in his shoulder and neck region, so it seems like the situation could have been much worse, but frightening nonetheless. Even stranger was that it was the opposing pitcher who hit it, and you just know Joba had a moment where his mind flashed to his own body on that mound watching a smash whistle by.

Hopefully Kawakami will be fine soon, and can get back to pitching. The Yankees were the eventual winners of the game, Joba got the W instead of a no-decision for once, Joe Girardi got tossed arguing a pick-off (for the record, he was right -- the ump blew the call) and we'll see if this game wakes up the pinstriped ones.

Down in Anaheim, there was a Garrett Atkins sighting. He clubbed a homer and drove in 2 of the Rockies 3 runs, but the Angels had the last laugh. This is certainly not enough evidence that Atkins is back, as he occupied the DH spot against a lefty, but at least he saw some action, and might be worth starting when he goes against southpaws.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Li'l Tommy, Yankee Killer

TOMMY HANSON

Well, the day of reckoning is upon us. The man whose name we've heard in 3,241 trade rumors, 62 Baseball America articles, 973 blogs and 100 ESPN reports has burst onto the big stage in a very big way.

After 4 starts, Hanson is 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA, and lately, he's been even better than that, if that's possible. In his last 2 starts, Hanson has gone 11.1 scoreless innings, roughly cutting his ERA in half. The Braves as a team are 4-0 in games Hanson has started, though, admittedly, it took a few runs to win the first one. Run support or not, there is a certain confidence among the players when Tommy takes the mound. He's the next big thing, and when he's on the hill, his players not only want to win for him, but feel confident they can.

And suddenly, there's a similar confidence among some of the starters. The Braves have posted back-to-back shutouts (the other was courtesy of Javier Vasquez), and look like a decent team at home. They're still less than capable on the road, but with the Mets badly injured, and the Rockies and Giants looking like wild card contenders, if the Braves can turn things around soon, they'll still have 3 good months to make a push. I suppose we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here.

However you slice it, Hanson has been a very positive change for the Braves. His control hasn't been overwhelming, with 15 walks in 23 innings (and just 16 strikeouts), so that WHIP is climbing a bit, but his stuff is so devastating that he seems to be able to get away with putting guys on base for free. It is a little scary that a misplaced slider could lead to 3 runs instead of just 1, but as long as he's making pitches with guys on base, it's tough to complain much.

If he's still available in your League, I'm giving him my seal of approval. If you're in a keeper league, he's almost definitely gone. A smaller traditional league might still give you the chance to grab him. Either way, if you get a chance to watch one of his starts, I highly recommend it -- you're checking out one of the next high profile arms when he's still trying to figure out how to play with the big kids.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rocktober in June

Seems it's time for me to jump on the bandwagon.

I wasn't convinced when the Rockies began pounding on some downtrodden teams. I will admit, I just assumed they were on a hot streak, but one of those rare streaks where the bats AND the arms all come around simultaneously.

When Colorado lost to the Rays in the opener of a 3-game Interleague series in Colorado, I thought for sure the luster would come off, and they'd go back to being a slightly sub-500 team. But, lo and behold, the very next night, the Rockies came out and beat the Rays, then did it again in the rubber match. Along came Pittsburgh, and the Rockies swept them right back to sea level.

Then, the real test. Could the Rockies go on the road and beat the Angels? Admittedly, LA was half-slumping: the Dodgers took two of three while shutting down the middle of the Angels lineup. If the Rockies were going to prove themselves on the road against a decent team, this would be the time. Surely, Colorado could squeak out a few while the Angels were sorting out a few small slump-related issues. A couple of late-inning wins would do the trick...

But that was not how the Rockies wanted to play it. Colorado came into town knowing full well the Angels weren't hitting, and clobbered them. An 11-1 drubbing behind Aaron Cook's arm and production from (basically) the entire lineup made a mockery of any effort the tumbling Angels put forth. I'm still curious how the Rockies will handle a good team on the road when that team isn't scuffling, but the streak they're on right now has done enough to convince me they're at least pretty darn good.

There's a distinct lack of starting pitching. Guys like Jorge De La Rosa and Josh Hammel are doing their best to hold the game relatively close, but unless Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez pitch like All-Stars the rest of the way, I'm not sure this team can do more than win the wild card. Jason Marquis is not a #3 starter -- he's a #4 at best. The Rockies appear to be July buyers now, considering their surging/improving record. Perhaps they'll find a way to shop Garrett Atkins for a pitcher, or package Atkins with one of the prospects down on the farm. The Rockies have quite a few youngsters looking to make an impact (most of them coming over from the A's in the Matt Holliday trade), and maybe that impact will be made in another trade.

Not a great deal else to glean from last night's miniscule, 4-game slate. The Cardinals missed a golden opportunity to strike a tired, debilitated Mets team that is now without All-World talent Carlos Beltran. Currently, the Mets disabled list is packed with more talent than most of the small market clubs in the League. But it's tough to pity a team that can afford to sign Johan Santana, so on that note, I'm sure they'll bounce back, but I don't care terribly if they don't.

Manny Ramirez starts his Minor League rehab stint tonight, and you can be darn sure we'll be following it like a hawk. Plus, it'll be interesting to see if Manny gets any weird cravings mid-game...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maybe and No

The initial intent was to get content up every single day, but baseball season has, and undoubtedly, football season will also bring into focus the point that something interesting isn't happening every single day.

A 12-team basketball league generally has 10-11 teams with severe injury concerns, or at the very least looking for a solution at the center position. Thus, every night a new player may become worthwhile -- Brendan Haywood coming off the disabled list, a 2nd year stud starts to see consistent playing time. One tiny change can make all the difference for a player's fantasy value.

Such is not the case for baseball. Even when a player...scratch that...even when a good player gets a boost in starts, or works his way into the rotation, there's no guarantee he'll be worth picking up. So, as we near Summer, the July heat and the "dog days" and what-have-you, it's important to remember that the early-season wheeling-and-dealing is probably over, and it's time to exercise some patience.

Now is the time to grab sure bets, but it really takes a great deal of work to make sure you're on the right track. Watch pitchers closely, don't jump on a particular player's bandwagon because of one good game. Most likely, you've already got 90-95% of a fantasy team accounted for, so you may be dropping a better player than what you'd be picking up.

There's your lesson of the day. Now, a couple names to ponder, both good and bad.

JEREMY GUTHRIE - Guthrie has been a relatively slow starter throughout his brief career, but this year has featured a surplus of stink. Guthrie worked his way on and off of rosters in just about every fantasy league, with owners hoping that each decent start was a sign of things to come. So far, they haven't been. It's not entirely clear what's going wrong -- maybe hitters have finally figured him out. Guthrie has good stuff, though, and it seems like if he can spot his pitches, he could still salvage the season. The Orioles are hitting the ball a tad better, just finishing up pounding on the Phillies for a few nights (why the Phils are so awful at home is a discussion for another day, and maybe another person -- that one is just nuts). So, can Guthrie start pitching like he did in 07 and 08? I'm not sure. Last night was arguably his best start of the year, going 7.0 innings and allowing just a run on 3 hits. It was his second 7-inning, 1-run performance of the year, the other coming against a slumping Blue Jays team roughly one month ago. The key for Guthrie seems to be keeping the ball in the yard. He has allowed a ridiculous 17 home runs so far this season, and even the 1-run he allowed last night came on a solo shot by Greg Dobbs. Maybe the answer is to start Guthrie in large ballparks. Maybe the answer is to stash him on your bench for 5 days and see if he can't string two decent starts together.

GARRETT ATKINS - Now the bad news. I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong, and I honestly believed that Atkins couldn't tank this hard for an entire season. First, a benching, then a platooning, now he's just out of the lineup. Ian Stewart is the starting 3B in Colorado on a Rockies team that's suddenly destroying all competition. No reason to think new manager Jim Tracy is going to hand the corner back to Atkins with his team playing this well. If you're one of the unlucky saps with Atkins (I'm wearing the burgundy "sap" sash, Atkins is on my head-to-head league team), it may be time to cut the cord. I see no light at the end of this dark time, unless somehow the Rockies can trade him. At the very least, get him at the splintery end of your bench, and put someone in that's actually playing. My apologies, once again, on this mis-read.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quick Pitcher Update

We did more than our fair share of rambling over the course of this week, covering fantasy topics from time to time. To recap: sell high on Juan Pierre, buy low on David Ortiz, and love Casey at the bat (for the Dodgers). Today, we'll try to catch up on a few pitching notes that either occurred this week or over the course of the 10-day hiatus. Three names jump off the page:

C.J. WILSON - Some fantasy champ I am. I didn't even notice he was gone, at least not until a buddy pointed out that he hit the DL. Texas hadn't won too many close games, so it hadn't really come up. Well, coming up or not, Wilson is the closer in Texas until Frank Francisco can get right. Francisco is a huge loss for the Rangers, who had a wonderful back end of the bullpen prior to his demise. Francisco had been on the DL once already this season, and if you'll recall, we picked up Wilson then, and we'll do it again now. Wilson has picked up a win and 2 saves since becoming the closer this second time around, and even though Francisco is attempting to get back soon, we all know how pitchers generally perform when they rush a return.

MIKE MacDOUGAL - The Nationals latest attempt at finding a closer has, so far, passed the test. His work as closer might also be the reason Manny Acta is still managing the team. MacDougal isn't exactly dominating anyone. He has walked 12 to just 9 strikeouts, but is 2/2 in save chances, which is better than Joel Hanrahan, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, and Joe Beimel have done in their tries. In the eyes of Nationals fans, MacDougal is like Pepto cruising down the esophagus while the Hanravareiwells combo burrito is doing flips in the jejunum. As long as he's closing games without regurgitating leads, MacDougal's the man. Might as well grab him and see how long he can hold down the fort.

NICK BLACKBURN - The Twinkies can sense Summer is near. Their mid/late-season surge is on the horizon, and the starting rotation (along with battery-mate Joe Mauer) is likely to lead the charge. The Minnesota starting five, with the possible exception of a struggling Francisco Liriano, are all quite capable, and we could almost list all 3 others here (Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins). Right now, Blackburn is the innings and ERA leader, Slowey has 9 wins, and Baker is mostly underachieving, but he's got the stuff to turn it around. Perkins started the season well, but suffered through some throwing arm irritation, gave up a ton of runs, then hit the DL. He's back, and if he's healthy, he's as good as any of the others. Just because Blackburn's name is in bold, large font doesn't mean he's the only one worth grabbing, just the one coming off a complete game last night.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sound The Alarms

The baseball season is a long, grueling one, which unfortunately means that numerous days will often elapse without anything extraordinary taking place. Thankfully, while weathering the storm of the mundane, an overweight DH traded his cow for some magic eye-drops and suddenly has the vision of a hungry hawk.

Placing metaphors on the shelf for a moment, something did, at long last, snap Big Papi out of his valium-induced slumber. The day was June 6. The Red Sox were hosting a surprisingly good Rangers club that had not won a series in Boston in over a decade. David Ortiz was batting .196, and had an OBP of just .281 (as a point of comparison, Papi's OBP in 2007 was .445). Papi ventured deep into the Atlantic Ocean, where a mystical man(ny)atee gave Ortiz a potion. "One drop in each eye," the sea-cow told David, "use more and it will show up on your tox screen."

Since that fateful day, Papi has raised his average by 17 points and his OBP by a whopping 34. Only 6 of Ortiz's 57 strikeouts on the season have come in the last 2 weeks, and suddenly the Red Sox lineup looks even more formidable. Francona has to be overjoyed that he has his lefthanded threat back, since the Sox are a predominantly righthanded hitting team, at least power-wise.

What this ridiculous story should indicate is that if you're not making offers for Papi, you're not doing your job. The guy may never get back up to a .445 OBP, or 35 homers, or whatever inflated numbers he had when he was eating his "wheaties," but he's not a bad ballplayer. He is on the rise, and should be a solid contributer from here on out. Fortunately for you, his price tag is absurdly low, and I'm betting a fair number of teams gave up on that mountain. Yes, his Util-only defensive tag does create a bit of a lineup issue for fantasy teams, but I'd wager a guy that could hit multiple home runs in any game, will likely be on base 1-2 times per contest thanks to the walks, and should have the likes of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis and Jason Bay batting around him will put up some beefy numbers the rest of the way.

And come on, don't try to tell me that Mannytee remark wasn't sheer brilliance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two First Names, No Problem

I get the feeling I'm going through a series of emotions as I learn to deal with games occurring on Eastern time. When I first found my way to the venerable "EST", I was upset. Games didn't begin until 7pm locally, and West coast contests ended in the wee hours of the night. It wasn't as great of a stress during basketball season, since hoops games only seem to last about 2:15-20. This brought my night to an end around 12:30am, which was rather late, but doable.

Then baseball season came rolling in, and with the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, A's, Padres, and Mariners all starting play at 10pm Eastern time, I consider myself lucky if my night is over by 1am. Joe Torre manages a notoriously slow, plodding, bullpen-heavy style of baseball. With due credit for winning year after year, Torre's Dodgers would keep me up until 1:30am every home game, later if extra innings got involved. I was exasperated, unable to get anything done the following day before 10am.

Then came aggression -- anyone unlucky enough to ask me about sports was left with an earful about how insane the "7-to-2" sports window was "out here." I whined; I moaned. I made sure everyone knew that this time zone was "stupid," and robbed me of the 4pm sports start time that made the last 1-2 hours of every West coast workday move that much quicker.

Denial. After complaining for a while, I realized nobody cared. So I tried to ignore it, convince myself I didn't care about the late games, but this tactic didn't last. At heart, I'm a Dodger fan first and sports fan second, but I was caught watching only the first 5 innings of every game. I yearned for the Dodgers midseason swing through the NL East. When that trip came and went, something had to give.

Turns out I was wrong. Somewhere along the way, I'm still not sure where, I became infatuated with the idea that teams were hammering at each other long after I was fast asleep. It was flat out weird, yet intriguing. I could wake up in the morning and see what my childhood team had done while I slept, almost like a dream. This is where I sit now, convinced that the folks resting on the Pacific are merely playing late at night so I have something to read in the morning.

Why is he rambling on and on about time zones? Because we're going with back-to-back profiles of Dodgers.

CASEY BLAKE - Before the 2 week hiatus, we had noted Casey Blake's move to the Dodgers' cleanup spot in the batting order, with the report that his RBI total should skyrocket. Well, we were kind of right. He has 6 in his last 2 games, and is currently riding a 7-game hitting streak, so he has been valuable. He hasn't, however, been the cleanup man every night. Torre likes to rotate the batting order depending on the throwing hand of the opposing pitcher, so Blake may fall as far as 6th against some righties, but is generally in a coveted spot against lefthanders. Tonight, he goes up against Cahill, and in most cases, I might say to rest him, but with the hitting streak going, it may be best to ride the horse until he tires. My fantasy team was, up until very recently, saddled with some dead weight (Big Papi), though he appears to be squirting some sort of power-infused, liquified spinach into his eyeballs, and may now challenge Blake for the Utility spot on my roster. Still, Blake is batting over .300 in his second year against NL pitching, and when Manny returns, the Dodgers offense will get even more opportunities to thrive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sell High, Juan Pierre

It's in the title, but we'll elaborate just a bit.

Today is June 16, just over 2 weeks away from Manny Ramirez's return to the Dodgers lineup. Juan Pierre will likely still see a fair amount of playing time, but unless you want to check the Dodgers lineup card at 6:50pm Pacific time every single night to see if Juan is in there, now is the time to unload. Pierre has been electric at the top of the Dodgers order this year, which, in addition to helping the Dodgers win a solid share of close games, has also helped Pierre's confidence snowball and his critics to remain relatively quiet. Pierre leads Dodgers regulars with a .343 batting average, and has more extra base hits this year (14) than he had all of last season (13), despite playing in half as many total games. He has also stolen 16 out of 20 bags, and based on a few replays, "blue" might have taken a few away. A conspiracy against Juan Pierre, you say? No, but umpiring is hit-or-miss, and for whatever reason, Pierre gets a large quantity of misses.

The main point of all this is that there is likely a team in your league that desperately needs stolen bases (and runs), and might take on Pierre, either because they think he'll still play 3-4 times a week, or because they don't play close attention to the ManRam situation. My advice: put in the time. Propose some trades, try to score an undervalued pitcher or infielder. Get SOME value for Pierre now, before he drops off the radar, and you have to drop him off your team. His left arm is still a limp noodle in the outfield, and teams continue to take extra bases against that flimsy little thing, but the power arms of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in center and left, respectively, have counterbalanced Pierre's childlike tosses (to a certain extent). Bottom line is that he's not likely to play anywhere besides left, and a handful of games in center, so the playing time can't possibly be THAT large.

Many of you are already aware of this little spot, but with the NBA and NHL Playoffs coming to a close, your attention might have waned. Get back in the game, like I'm trying to do, package Pierre with your 5th starter, and try to score a #3 or #4, or something of the like, and ride that clever play to victory.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Back on the Scene

Well, it's been a while, but it's time to come storming back!

After a brief personal hiatus, I've been trying to piece together what I missed, and I'll tell ya, it hasn't been easy. The NBA Finals came to a close last night, the Lakers grabbing their 15th championship in franchise history. I must admit, even though I still think the first round should go back to a best-of-5 series so we can shorten what has become nearly a 2-month postseason, overall, the playoffs this year were about as exciting as any I've watched. The Celtics-Bulls overtime bonanza, the Rockets pushing the Lakers to 7 games, Lebron's game-winner, the list goes on and on.

That being said, I think NBA officiating is getting worse by the nanosecond. It seems like the longer we watch, the more we learn about rules, the better the technology the world acquires, the more unbalanced and inconsistent the referees become. I read an article three days ago about how the NBA has no officiating schools, and has only one "camp" where wannabe refs actually have to PAY to attend. So, as time passes, NBA referees just keep getting older, slower, more crotchety without an influx of young guns to take the old dogs' places. I suppose that could have something to do with it, but it's a little tough for me to stomach the idea that the refs are getting worse year by year simply because they're, on average, getting older. I just don't know what else to blame.

In any case, despite the calls that seemed to generally favor whatever team was losing a series, I enjoyed watching. I think my pleasure can be chalked up to about 35 factors, but after mulling it over, I've figured out the most important one. The Spurs were knocked out early. It was that simple. Get Tim Duncan, Greg Popovich, Tony Parker and the rag-tag group of role-players out of the playoff picture, and the sun can shine again. With that, I extend a warm thank you to the good folks of the Dallas Mavericks. Sure, you got your face bashed in shortly thereafter, but your work was top notch.

See, the Spurs have been getting credit for years for popularizing the slow-it-down, grind-it-out, defense-first style of basketball that seemed to be the recipe for a championship, which, in addition to be horrifically boring, only works if you have one of the best inside players in the history of the NBA. Then, ten other teams decided playing that same style was best, and the NBA had to change some rules to make sure scores didn't drop into the 70's.

The Spurs were different this year, though, and while they faired just fine during the regular season, they were exposed in the playoffs. Yes, they were without a healthy Manu Ginobili, who could have provided a little more offensive firepower, but I'm not sure it would have mattered. This is a team that is no longer playing slow because of defensive unity; they're playing slow basketball because they are a collection of slow players (besides, perhaps, Parker). The Spurs, this year, decided they had no chance of winning a game of labored breathing and jump shots, so they chose to run 20 seconds off the shot clock on every possession, try to limit the total number of combined shots, and hope that Parker and Duncan could hit a few in a row in the 4th quarter and get the win. In the playoffs, the Mavs simply ran them out of the building, and when that didn't work, Dirk Nowitzki could nail a spinning, fading, high-arching, back-breaking 18-footer. A note to the Spurs: it's time to improve your team by adding a player of decent calibur, rather than just a Roger Mason. If not, it's peace out San Antone.

Alright, so baseball, then. Not much has changed in the last week-plus. The Red Sox still own the Yanks, though NY has played pretty well against everyone else. The AL East is strong, overall, the Rangers are holding a lead over the Angels, the Phillies are playing solid ball now that Hamels is healthy, and the Dodgers, with or without Manny, are way out ahead in the NL West.

A few teams have fired head coaches already, and it has really worked out well for one of them. The Colorado Rockies, a hyper-talented offensive team, seems to be putting things together for the first time since the closing weeks of the 2007 season. Former Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy is the man at the helm for Colorado, and his calm, optimistic approach is rubbing off on the players. I'm not sure he's a long term solution, but so far he's pushing all the right buttons. And let's be honest, almost anyone following Clint Hurdle would have be adequate. For all his success with the Rox a few years back, Hurdle had given up on them this year. He was going through the motions, and teams can sense that in their leader. The Rockies have since rattled off 11 straight wins, so they're due to cool off, but they've at least moved back into the "middling" category in my book.

From a fantasy perspective Ian Stewart is getting a good deal of playing time, and Clint Barmes appears to be hitting again. This all spells disaster for Garrett Atkins owners, as he is only getting into the lineup against lefties. Who would have thought Atkins would find himself in a platoon? Not I. Elsewhere in the league, B.J. Upton looks like he's starting to find a swing. His average is up near .220 at long last, he has stolen 22 bags, and there's no real limit to how high this athletic freak's numbers might go. His younger brother Justin is a beast in the making.

Big Papi, according to a Boston-based fan site, has "found eye-drops with HGH in them," and even he's getting a hit every once in a while, these days. Oh, and Brad Lidge is on the DL.

That about catches us up on the happenings across the Majors. Starting tomorrow, we'll dive back into some pickup notes. For today, make sure someone in your league has grabbed Ryan Madson. If not, he's a damn good closer solution until Lidge returns. And, as usual, please pay a visit to our affiliate site, BaseballFanNation.com, and have a go at the $5 weekly Fantasy Sports Lite game. It is currently being marketed across the nation, and with marketing and participation come even better prizes. It's a $500 payout right now, but every time 100 new people play the game, the prize can get even bigger. So get while the gettin's good!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Rangers Ace

It's June now, but apparently the Rangers didn't get the memo.  It may seem like eons ago, but there was a time not too far in the past when Texas used to succeed for 1-2 months out of the season.  

We've become pretty used to the idea of Texas flailing and losing 11-5 on a daily basis all season long, and maybe that's for the best.  The Rangers have had terrible pitching, despite spending millions on Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, and Chan Ho Park if you turn the clocks back a few extra years.  They've always had relatively successful offensively-inclined position players with stone fists in the field, but by mid-June other teams began to put together scouting reports, slow down the Texas offense, and those teams would crumble in the Summer.  That was around the turn of the century.  Then, the pitching got even worse, the position players stayed decent, but injuries mounted, and Texas didn't even both to stay in the hunt through April.

This season feels different, though.  The Rangers still have their usual crop of overachievers with the bat.  Ian Kinsler is easily one of the top 2nd baseman in the League.  Chris Davis is pure power, and if he can learn to reduce his strikeouts to, say, 35% of his at-bats, he'd really be a force.  Michael Young and his gap-to-gap power slid over to 3B where he could hide his subpar defensive range and instead concentrate on blasting throws across the diamond and driving in runs at the plate.  Josh Hamilton has been injured, but he put up MVP numbers last year.  The list goes on and on.  But there's one position that deserves credit this year that hasn't in decades -- pitcher!

Texas has a good bullpen, to start.  That sentence by itself exploded the minds of at least 1/4 of all FantasySports One-a-Day readers.  The three-fourths of you who persevered are likely already aware of this fact.  Frank Francisco catapulted his way up the closer ranks, storming past teammate C.J. Wilson and into the upper echelon.  Having Wilson around gives Texas a nice 8th/9th combo, and shortening games at the Ballpark at Arlington is a top priority when runs can seem to score even if nobody's playing.

The starting rotation could still use a little boost, but the mere fact that I didn't write, "The starting rotation could be replaced by 5 well-trained orangutans," is a testament to their progress.  Converted reliever Scott Feldman, who we featured as a top pickup option, continued his dominance as a starter by picking up his 5th win tonight, holding the shorthanded Yanks to 2 runs over 6.1 innings.  Millwood is finally pitching like an exorbitantly paid Major Leaguer; Padilla was throwing the ball with minor purpose before getting hurt; youngster Matt Harrison was briefly the hottest pitcher in baseball for the Tigers cooled him off, and a couple rookies have done a bang-up job in mop-up time and middle relief.

Add it all up, and you're 10 games over .500, in first place by 4.5 games, and in possession of the best record in the American League.

Now, Texas, play well through June and make me a true believer.

ADRIAN BELTRE - Dropped by many, scorned by the masses, Adrian Beltre is taking a hefty metaphorical dump on the season's first half...again.  Beltre has never been a strong starter, and for some reason, everyone forgets this every damn year.  He has been a pillar of consistency during his time with Seattle, albeit not a terribly ornate pillar.  Beltre will end the year batting near .270.  He will hit close to 20 homers and drive in close to 85 or 90 runs.  He will not walk much.  He will play good defense, and make fine barehanded scoops at third.  Right now, Beltre is batting .244 with 4 homers and only 25 RBIs.  Now, Seattle is winning with pitching this year, so maybe Beltre's RBI numbers will suffer a bit, and maybe he won't catch fire for quite as long, but he will improve.  With the temperature comes his average, and there's an awful long list of third basemen out there laying eggs.  All I really want to convey is that there will be a time when Beltre will start hitting, and you should be ready to dump your underperforming hot corner'er for a surging Mariner.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Forgotten Man

And the best part, he's still mostly unnoticed after one start off the DL.

The man I'm referring to is Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers opening day starter who made one electric appearance, then landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle that just wouldn't heal.  Fast forward 2 months, Kuroda dropped by most fantasy teams that had the pre-season gumption to draft him in the first place, and returning to the big club off a pair of uninspired rehab starts.  Kuroda went 5 (we'll call them) decent innings against the Diamondbacks, allowing 2 runs on a limited pitch count.

The coverage on Kuroda, even for Dodger fans, has been pretty mild.  Jason Schmidt, dead to rights for the last 2.5 years, seemed to get more media attention even though his chances of contributing a single Major League pitch are still terribly low.  I'm not really sure why Kuroda has flown so far under the radar.  I know what you're thinking, but he's a pretty good pitcher.  He got no real attention last year, and after closing the year on a vicious tear that propelled the Dodgers to a successful postseason for the first time in 20 years, nobody cared.

Well, now's the right time.  Kuroda is getting his pitch count up, loosening that right arm, and getting ready to slip into the number-two starter spot in a rotation desperately in need of some veteran leadership, even if that vet doesn't speak English.  Plus, if you needed any numerical reasons, take a look at the Dodgers Major League-best overall record.  The bullpen isn't great, but for a starter like Kuroda they'll do just fine -- he can generally go 6 or more innings, which means the 7th and 8th are the only question marks, and nice surprises Ronald Bellisario and Ramon Troncoso have handled those situations with aplomb.

We're at that point in the fantasy season, just about 1/3 of the way through, where it's time to cut ties with starters that just aren't cutting it.  Kuroda would be a reputable and tested replacement that should post an ERA in the high 3's, serviceable numbers across the board with a bonus in the wins department on a damn good team in a pathetic division.

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