“That’s Amore!” National League Central: Fantasy Focus Week 1
Sunday night, Wrigley Field welcomed the 2015 season. The Cubs showed why it’s been 107 years since they’ve won a World Series. They struck out 12 times, left seven guys on base, and Lester refused to keep runners close to first. How does a left-handed pitcher not once throw to first? It was a free-for-all on the base paths. Four Cardinals successfully stole second and three came off of Lester. The highlight of the night was Cubs fans resorting to relieving themselves in their beer cups due to very few open restrooms.
Opening night featured Adam Wainwright and Jason Heyward setting the tone for the 2015 season. There are plenty of fantasy relevant players in the NL Central. I want to start off covering position battles throughout the five-team Central division.
Spring Position Battles Decided
Cardinals 5th Starter – Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales battled all the way through Spring Training. It came down to the wire, but Martinez eventually landed the fifth spot in the rotation. Throughout Spring Training he posted a 2.86 ERA, with 21 strike outs to only six walks in 22.0 innings pitched. The result doesn’t mean Gonzales was beaten. He posted a 1.04 ERA of his own with nine strikeouts to eight walks in 17.1. Each hurler was lights out. Personally, I would’ve given the nod to Gonzales. I’d prefer carrying at least one left-handed starter in my rotation. Gonzales was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Friday. It’s safe to bet that we will see him before the middle of the summer. With a 36 year old John Lackey, injuries and inconsistency could arise. The Cardinals have the depth to pick up the slack if he falters. Depending on your league size, Martinez and Gonzales are both available. Martinez is a 23 year old with a powerful arm that will lead to a plethora of strikeouts. Control issues have been his achilles heel as he tends to fall of the third base side of the mound. If your pitching staff starts to let you down keep track of Martinez.
Cubs Second Base – I was really pulling for Javier Baez. Joe Maddon gave him all the opportunities to prove he could hit Major League pitching. He wound up striking out 21 times in 55 at bats with only one home run. Don’t get me wrong, Kris Bryant stole the Spring, and Baez didn’t even have the pressure of being “the guy.” He’s since been sent to Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs are left with two players to platoon at second base. Tommy La Stella got the Opening Night start, but he’s not the answer. I’m not a fan of guys like him. The Cubs had Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Darwin Barney in the past. Yes, they can play defense, but they offer very little in terms of offensive production. La Stella is no different. Arismendy Alcantara is a more intriguing player. He can play second as well as the outfield. He posted a moderate .280 average in the minors and looked pretty decent at the plate last season when he went .205/10 HR/29 RBI. He has some speed and is good for some cheap stolen bases. His average won’t be .280 in the Majors, but he’s safe to produce .260-.275 with 15 home runs and around 15-20 stolen bases. He could be a nice addition if he hits his way into the lineup.
Reds Back of The Rotation – The Cincinnati Reds had the biggest question marks with their starting rotation. With Homer Bailey looking to miss the first two to three weeks of the season, the Reds were forced to give other guys opportunities. Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were locks, but the other three spots were up for grabs. The jobs were won by Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias. Of the three, DeSclafani and Iglesias are the most intriguing. DeSclafani had a pretty impressive Spring posting a 3.64 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. His 11 walks were a bit high, but it’s not a huge concern. During his first few starts he was getting command of his pitches. His best outing came against the Rangers on March 27 where he had nine strikeouts in six innings. Iglesias made a name for himself with the Reds going for just about a strike out per inning, while only walking five batters. He’s a 24 year old Cuban defector who was used mostly as a reliever. The Reds intended on making him a starter and did just that. He’s small at 5’11” 165lbs, but can bring the heat at 95 MPH. He has a great sweeping curve, but control is his main concern. He was another product of Bart Hernandez and Praver Shapiro Sports Management that represented Jose Abreu, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Jorge Soler, Adeiny Hechaverria and Leonys Martin. They’re the management guys to get ahold of for Cuban talent. DeSclafani and Iglesias are owned in few leagues and are poised to eat innings.
Cubs Third Base – To many, Kris Bryant being sent to Triple-A Iowa was the biggest story of the Spring. Throughout its entirety, Scott Boras was using social media to harass Cubs management to keep Bryant on the Opening Night roster. To be fair, he was just doing his job. He’s been a dynamite agent to those who have hired him and if he’s your agent you will get paid! I want everyone to glance at these numbers: .425/11 HR (two in “B” games)/15 RBI. He was the MVP of Spring Training. If you didn’t believe the hype, do you now? I listen to a lot of MLB Network Radio on Sirius. One caller had the audacity to say Bryant could be the next Dallas McPherson. I keep telling myself, as a Cubs fan, only two weeks. Once the Super Two deadline has passed, Bryant will get his call and pick up right where he left off. He was hitting everyone. He belted two home runs against lefties and demolished righties hitting .484 with 7 dingers. The guy is a phenom and he will not be stopped. If you drafted him in keeper and dynasty leagues I commend you. If you have any shot at getting him, do so now.
Favorite Pitchers Week 1
Adam Wainwright: 2 Starts (@CHC & @CIN) He dominated the Cubs Opening Night throwing six scoreless innings with six strikeouts and zero walks.
Jon Lester: 2 Starts (STL & @COL) He was the exact opposite of Wainwright. Eight hits, two walks and three earned runs. The mind boggling stat is the three stolen bases allowed. Not once did he throw to first. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. I don’t care what your track record proves, a pitcher must hold a runner on base. If St. Louis was successful three times what does the season have in store when facing Billy Hamilton 19 times? He may steal every time he’s on base against Lester. I didn’t want to add Lester to this list because his second start is in Denver, but after his debut I’d say he’ll be out for blood Saturday afternoon.
Francisco Liriano: 2 Starts (@CIN & @MIL) He’s the number one, for now, in Pittsburgh. Yesterday he tossed seven strong innings giving up only two runs. He has another favorable matchup against Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon.
Wild Card – Michael Wacha: I’m a huge fan of Wacha. I love what he brings to the table and he had a dominant spring posting a 1.59 ERA with eight strikeouts in 11.1 innings pitched. His first start comes Friday at Cincinnati. Wacha, along with Gerrit Cole, should be representing the NL Central come All-Star Break in Cincinnati.
Favorite Hitters Week 1
Jason Heyward: 6 Games (3 @CHC & 3 @CIN) He lead the way Sunday night going 3-5 with a run and a steal. I knew the Cardinals landed a steal when they traded for him. The rivalry against the Cubs brings the best out of players and during the road trip to Cincinnati he gets to feast on Jason Marquis, Johnny Cueto, and Raisel Iglesias. He’s primed to be a great outfielder on any fantasy team.
Andrew McCutcheon: 6 Games (3 @CIN & 3 @MIL) The 2013 MVP didn’t let his owners down last season. McCutcheon looks eager to start his 2015 MVP campaign. He gets Cueto, Leake, and DeSclafani in Cincy followed by Fiers, Nelson, and Lohse in Mill-e-wah-que [that’s Algonquin for “the good land”].
Joey Votto: 6 Games (3 vs PIT & 3 vs STL) I know what you are thinking if you heard my rant during the radio broadcast. The truth is, I still don’t like Joey Votto and I own him in ZERO leagues. He is intriguing. He’s going to open the season hitting number two, after Billy Hamilton. Believe it or not, Hamilton is in scoring position while he’s on first. With Votto knowing this, I’d like to see him hit gap shots and drive Hamilton around the bases. The possibility is there and he could rack up runs with the power behind him.
Wild Card – Matt Holliday: 6 Games (3 @CHC & 3 @CIN) I have him on my list for the same reason as Heyward. He gets to go after enticing pitching, and he’s been one of my favorite and consistent fantasy baseball outfielders. He’s no longer a number one outfielder, but is a great piece to have as a second or third.
Bonus Prediction – St. Louis has the best first week starting the season 6-0.
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