Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jay Bruce arrives, plus more tidbits

In case you hadn't noticed ...

The Reds are calling up top prospect Jay Bruce on Tuesday. He was hitting .364 with 10 homers in 49 games in Triple-A. You already put him on your bench like I told you to, right?

Lance Berkman stole his 10th base of the season Sunday. That's a new career high, in what could be a season of them for Mr. Berkman.

B.J. Upton has just three homers, none since his annual shoulder dislocation on April 1. Bossman Junior's legs are fine though, as he's on pace for more than 40 steals. He's also still hitting over .300.

Darrell Rasner has a 1.80 ERA for the Yankees in four starts (3-1). Who needs Phil Hughes anyway?

Kevin Kouzmanoff is hitting .309 with five homers in May. This after a .259, two-homer April.

Rafael Soriano and John Smoltz could both rejoin the Braves' bullpen some time during Atlanta's upcoming road trip. And Mike Gonzalez might also be only a couple weeks away from a return, too. First one back gets the saves.

Bartolo Colon is now 2-0 for the Boston Red Sox. Yes, THAT Bartolo Colon. He hasn't burst yet, folks.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kershaw gets the call (and delivers)

The Clayton Kershaw era begins Sunday in Los Angeles.

Kershaw, the Dodgers' top-rated pitching prospect, has been called up from Double-A Jacksonville and will make his major league debut against the Cardinals.

Hopefully Kershaw's a name you've been following the past year or two. L.A. drafted the 6-3, 220-pound lefty right out of high school in 2006, and he's been charging full steam ahead to the majors ever since. He had a tremendous spring training this year and has averaged more than a strikeout an inning so far in Double-A.

The Dodgers are in need of a fifth starter, having just suddenly realized Esteban Loaiza was on their roster, and it seems Kershaw could have at least three starts coming his way, so this isn't just a spot start. There's a decent chance the rookie's already spoken for in a lot of leagues, but if not, scoop him up and throw him in your lineup. There's always risk with rookie starters, and an innings limit will probably come into play at some point for the 20-year-old, but you can't afford to miss Kershaw for his strikeout potential alone.


Kershaw looked pretty good in his debut: Six innings, five hits, two walks, two runs, seven strikeouts and a no decision in the Dodgers' win over St. Louis. He threw 69 of his 102 pitches for strikes. Of course, not all his outings will be as smooth as this going forward, but you can confidently keep starting him from here on out until he shows signs of faltering.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Buying Ryan Howard (and a Philly cheesesteak)

In this week's fantasy baseball column, I'm investigating some buy-low candidates, including Mr. Strikeout himself, Ryan Howard of the Phillies. I'm also craving a cheesesteak from Pat's (and not Geno's!) ... Philly people know what I'm talking about:

As always, you can check out all my past print columns on the fantasy sports page of our site. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Save Situations, May 17: An update

Just a quick update since the last time we chatted about closers ...

g Eric Gagne is already back in the closer's role and earned his 10th save earlier this week. He says he's cleared of whatever mental demons that haunted him, and manager Ned Yost says Gagne is his "guy."

It also doesn't help that David Riske was put on the DL and Guillermo Mota imploded in a loss to the Brewers. So, it looks like Gagne's the guy, until the next meltdown at least. Stay tuned ...

g Turns out Jason Isringhausen did have something physically wrong with him: He was pitching with a lacerated hand, which he apparently gave himself by whacking a TV. Nice.

Now Izzy's on the DL, and the Cardinals called up Manatee County's own Chris Perez as we discussed the other day. Perez, who had some fine numbers closing in Triple-A, worked a scoreless inning Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays and hit 100 mph on the radar gun in his debut. Tony La Russa says he'll use a variety of pitchers to close out games, but I still think Ryan Franklin is going to get the call in the ninth most of the time. But Perez has got a very bright future.

g The Indians also find themselves in a closer-by-committee situation after fill-in Rafael Betancourt's ERA has floated above 7. Indians manager Eric Wedge told the Associated Press he plans to use four guys - Betancourt, Masa Kobayashi, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez - to close out games until Joe Borowski returns from the DL. In the meantime, my money's on Kobayashi, who's got prior closing experience in Japan and has already come in to save Betancourt's butt and pick up a save Thursday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Berkman's a beast

A few thoughts on the monster season Lance Berkman is having ...

The Astros slugger ranks first in the league in homers (13), runs scored (42), doubles (16), total bases (112), slugging (.800) and OPS (1.207) and second in batting (.393), RBIs (38), OBP (.470) and hits (55).

In other words, he's been awesome.

Berkman's always been a bit of an underrated player, beginning with his days as an apprentice member of Houston's famed Killer B's, where he played the baseball equivalent of Shemp to the Moe-Larry-Curly trio of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell.

But Berkman's been a steady producer for almost a decade: career .303 hitter in 10 seasons, averaging 35 homers and 116 RBIs a year. Last year's numbers took a bit of a dip (.278 average, his lowest in a full season, and 34 homers after 45 the year before), but you can chalk a lot of that up to a very cold April. That obviously hasn't been the case this year, and it's helped having a rejuvenated (but steroid-free, I'm sure) Miguel Tejada added to the heart of the Houston lineup.

Here's the best part about Berkman's career year, at least for me. I own him in my main league, and he's kept me in contention all season long. The funny thing is he went unprotected in our 10-team keeper league (we could keep five players), and then lasted until the sixth pick in the redraft, which essentially meant he was the 56th player taken. Not bad value for a guy who I expect to finish the season among the top five offensive fantasy players.

You could consider dealing Berkman now while he's red-hot, but like I said, I'm not expecting a huge fall-off in production for such a proven hitter. The only way a trade makes sense is if you swap him for an elite player or two at a position more scarce than 1B/OF (I'm talking Hanley Ramirez/Chase Utley territory here). Otherwise, keep enjoying the ride.

I know I will.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Save situations, May 12: Izzy, Gagne demoted

Times are tough. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Foreclosures are on the rise. The economy is slumping, and job security is a big concern for Americans everywhere.

Jason Isringhausen and Eric Gagne feel your pain.

Well, OK, maybe that's an overstatement. Those guys are still collecting multi-million-dollar paychecks while the rest of us are scrounging up loose change from the couch cushions just to fill up our gas tanks. But Izzy and Gags are understanding the uneasiness some of us feel about our job futures. Both of those guys were demoted from their team's closer role on successive days over the weekend after piling up the blown saves this year.

Gagne's "temporary" demotion certainly isn't surprising for anyone who's followed The Goggled One since last year. He almost single-handedly sabotaged the Red Sox's playoff push at the end of last year in a trade deadline deal gone horribly wrong, then imploded as the Brewers' closer this year (three blown saves in his past six chances) after somehow wrangling $10 million from Milwaukee this offseason.

Gagne's glory days as the NL's premier closer (152 saves from 2002-04 with the Dodgers) are clearly behind him, as injuries and now a case of a battered confidence have derailed him. The door was left open for Gagne to return to the closer's spot eventually this season after he works out his issues and earns back manager Ned Yost's trust. In the meantime, the Brew Crew will use an all-hands-on-deck approach in the ninth, with Guillermo Mota, David Riske and Salomon Torres, among others, all getting save chances as Yost sees fit.

If I'm a Gagne owner in a league where saves are scarce and I've put up with this nonsense all along just to fill that category, I'm holding onto him on the off chance he does figure things out. Otherwise, I'm dumping him and looking elsewhere. And if you're scrounging for saves and looking at this situation, Mota (2.25 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 19 Ks, 11 BBs in 16 IP, five holds) is probably the favorite to get most of the ninth-inning chances, although Riske and Torres also have some prior closing experience.

Now, onto Isringhausen. It's a similar case of lost confidence after an MLB-high five blown saves this year, and Tony LaRussa's suggestion of a temporary break isn't really a shock. But I do think Izzy is more likely to regain his job, and sooner. After all, he's got a much better track record in recent years than Gagne, even though he's been "pitching like a second-grader" (his words) of late. He's got a lot of miles on his arm but this doesn't seem to be an injury issue at this point. Looks like you'll have to hold onto him, too, if you're looking to boost your save totals, but obviously this rough patch is a concern.

In the meantime, the Cards appear to be going down the "closer-by-committee" road too, although Ryan Franklin, who's having a nice year (1.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) worked the ninth and earned the save the day of Izzy's removal. Also, looking further down the road, 24-year-old Bradenton native Chris Perez, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander and one of the majors' top reliever prospects, is waiting in the wings in Triple-A. LaRussa initially considered putting Isringhausen on the DL and bringing up Perez before ruling against that. Keep tabs on him, as he could someday soon be Izzy's ninth-inning heir.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another word on Cliff Lee

I'm standing by my analysis of Cliff Lee.

Even after he shut out my Yankees at the Stadium tonight.

Even after he whittled his ERA down to 0.81, lowest in the league.

Even after he didn't issue a base on balls.

Even after he improved to 6-0.

Yep, I'm still sticking to my guns. Lee can't possibly keep this up.

Can he?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

This week's column: Sell-high candidates

My column this week identifies some guys you should consider selling while their value's through the roof: Cliff Lee, Nate McLouth and Mark Reynolds. I explain why their hot starts just aren't meant to last, and I've got the stats to back it up.

As always, you can check out my baseball column every other Sunday in your Herald sports section, and you can catch up with past columns on the Fantasy sports page of our Web site, Bradenton.com. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Smoltz's fantasy future

John Smoltz's recent shoulder troubles have to be a big concern to his owners. The veteran entered the season as one of the top 15-20 fantasy starters and was off to a fine start in 2008 until the pain became too much to bear. He's now on the DL with inflamation of the right rotator cuff and a biceps tendon, and there's serious talk of him returning to the closer role when he's healthy.

That move would certainly make sense. Smoltz thinks it would put less wear and tear on his soon-to-be 41-year-old arm. He's had great success closing games before (168 saves from 2001-04). And the Braves could certainly use him there, with Rafael Soriano battling his own health problems, Peter Moylan perhaps out for the year and current closer Manny Acosta (two saves, 3.95 ERA, 11 walks and nine strikeouts in 13.2 IP) no sure thing.

If Smoltz can get through this thing in a relatively short time (he hopes to be back in 15-30 days), you may very well be losing a top starter but gaining a top closer. You have to hold onto Smoltz, but start exploring other starter options.

And also, don't forget about Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez, who was once a closer candidate himself before being sidelined by elbow reconstructive surgery a little less than a year ago. The hard-thrower had a fine season as the Pirates' closer in 2006 (24 saves. 2.17 ERA, 64 Ks in 54 innings) and is itching to get back to the big leagues. Reports from his rehab have been encouraging, and though it's a long shot, Gonzalez might end up being the Braves' final option.