The past couple of years the northeastern region of the US seems to go directly from brutal long winter, into hot summer, and this year is no different. I knew it was Spring only because of the blooms on all my favorite flowering trees like Magnolia and Weeping Cherry, and that we were finally watching baseball. Now it is feeling like summer, both in weather and how our favorite teams are starting to shape up for the rest of the race. It is still early enough to plant tomatoes and peppers if you haven’t yet, and it is still early enough for some players and teams to turn around bad starts. We all know there is not much time left for turning around our fantasy teams though.
This week I found that many of the topics I want to discuss are coming in pairs. Some are Dynamic Duos, such as Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in NY, or Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in Toronto. Some are not so Dynamic Duos, such as Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb in Tampa, or Mike Napoli and Allen Craig in Boston. We’ve had many good duos over time, like Batman & Robin, Mantle & Maris, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Abbott & Costello, Brad & Angie, etc. In the AL East we have a pair of teams atop the standings that no one expected, as well as a pair of teams at the bottom of the standings that no one expected. Yes, it is still early, but there are some interesting trends. The Yankees (19-12) and Rays (17-14) top the East mainly because of stellar pitching. Even with so many pitchers on the shelf, the Yanks are #1 in the AL in ERA at 3.34, while the Rays are 3rd at 3.41. They are also paired near the top of the AL in WHIP (TB 1.121, NY 1.201), K’s (NY 265, TB 264) and K/BB rate (NY 3.08, TB 2.75). At the bottom of the standings Baltimore and Boston have some of the worst pitching in the AL which has led to 13-15 and 13-17 records. Boston’s ERA is 5.04, 2nd only to the Rockies for worst in baseball, while the O’s are near the bottom of the AL with a 4.25 ERA. It is the same story with walks per nine innings (Bos 3.4, Balt an AL 2nd worst 3.6) Where they differ is in hitting, as Boston has the 3rd worst AL BA at .234 with a league leading 235 men left on base, while Balt is 3rd in the AL at .276, tied for 2nd in the AL with 37 HR, and 3rd best with 177 runners left on base.
Lets look at the teams, but first a question.
Dynamic Duo trivia question: How many runs have Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances given up so far in their combined 54 2015 innings pitched? Read to find out.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Dynamic Duo: Jose Bautista, OF and Edwin Encarnacion, 1B – Both are starting to heat up, and just in time. Over the past two weeks Bautista is hitting .293 with a .937 OPS and Edwin is hitting .283. Neither is hitting a lot of homers yet, though Edwin did club a big one yesterday. Josh Donaldson has been hitting all season, and has been joined by rookie sensation Devin Travis and catcher Russell Martin, of all people, as stud hitters in the early going. A healthy return from Jose Reyes should increase some RBI totals for a team that is already 2nd in the AL with 37 HR. Watch out AL pitchers.
Kevin Pillar is the one of the most added players in ESPN with a 44% increase. I’m not sure what to expect there other than playing time, but I said the same thing about Jimmy Paredes last week. The Jays called up Chris Colabello to play OF, while Bautista is the DH and Saunders is on the DL. Just like 2014, he is off to a hot start with 7-for-14 (.500 AVG), 5 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI and 1 SB. Ride him until the inevitable crash. Devin Travis is suffering his first slump (.160 over the past week), so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. Does the following sound familiar? Michael Saunders started the season on the DL, played for a brief and wholly ineffective stretch, and then ended up back on the DL. If he is still on your fantasy radar you need to let go already. It took me a while as we dream of those 20/20 players.
Aaron Sanchez is 3-2 with a 3.62 ERA. Pretty good, huh? Wait, why is his WHIP 1.55? How often do you see a SP in MLB with MORE walks than strikeouts? 25 BB to 24 K in 32 IP, or a K/BB of .96. That is not a misprint, and no I don’t remember ever seeing that in my life. His minor league numbers show a similar pattern. His BABIP is .239 in 2015, which may explain why he has not been blown away yet, but I don’t need to look at any other peripherals to know that this recipe will not work at the MLB level. He is off my watch list for spot starts, as is Mark Buehrle right now. Buehrle has only walked eight batters in six starts, but is getting hit hard and often with some of the worst hit and HR rates of his career. That is also a recipe for disaster in the AL East, so he is another misleading Jays pitcher at 4-2. That record comes with an ERA of 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.85. No, still not misprints.
Hitter to Watch: Russell Martin, C – What is up with Russell? Over the past two weeks he has scored 13 runs and driven in 10, with 5 HR and 1 SB. His line over that period is a .417 BA and 1.317 OPS. No, he can’t keep that pace up, but it puts his 2015 numbers at .293/1.005. His 7 HR are tied for the team lead and his 19 RBI place him 3rd on the Jays. If you grabbed him before this streak you look like a genius. He won’t see the wire again for a while.
Pitcher to Watch: Drew Hutchison, SP – I panned him here last week, and hopefully I was premature. After two clunkers, he went five innings giving up 1 R and 1 BB, with 6 K’s. He now has a 29/13 K/BB in 36 IP. I’m still cautiously optimistic for 2015.
New York Yankees:
Dynamic Duo: Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances, RP – Did you figure out the answer to the trivia question above? Yep, ZERO. In six weeks, covering 54 IP, neither Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances has given up a single earned run. Talk about a luxury for Joe Girardi. Betances’ 28 K (14.26 K/9) are 3rd on the team (including starters) and Miller’s 26 K (14.94 K/9) are 4th. Each has issued eight walks and Miller has only given up 3 H all season to Betances 8. Miller’s 13 saves lead all of baseball and Betances has chipped in 1 SV, 8 HLD (2nd in MLB) and 4 wins. Yes, I wish the roles were reversed, but I have to just revel in this and enjoy the ride as long as it lasts. The only fear now is overuse as Girardi loves his end game duo.
Dynamic Duo Part II: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, OF – The Yanks 1 & 2 hitters are hitting a combined .415 the past 15 games, scoring 21 R with 11 RBI, 11 SB and an OPS of .920. Ellsbury’s 11 SB top the AL and put him behind only speedsters Billy Hamilton & Dee Gordon in MLB. If only the AARP middle of the order could drive them in more often, the Yanks offense would be hard to stop. But alas, the combined averages of Beltran, Teixeira, McCann and A-Rod is not much above the Mendoza line.
The Yanks activated Jose Pirela after he recovered from the concussion he suffered at the start of the season. Gregorio Petit saved himself a demotion by landing on the DL with a convenient “contusion”. Pirela is already stealing at bats from Stephen Drew and I bet that will continue. I predicted Rob Refsnyder would get the call, but Pirela beat him to it.
Watch out for Michael Pineda. He is now 4-0 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 38 K in 39 IP. On May 5th he pitched eight shutout innings, giving up 5 H, 3 BB, and striking out six versus the Orioles. As I type this article he had 9 K in 4 IP, giving up 1 R. I believe he is finally living up to the ACE tag that was put on him many years ago. Both Ivan Nova (TJ Surgery) and Chris Capuano are within weeks of a return. Unless something changes, Adam Warren should be the odd man out if Chase Whitley continues to pitch well. Warren has not been torched, but he can’t pitch past the 5th inning, and is a better reliever than a starter. (Note: Pineda earned the win giving up 1 R and 0 BB in 7 IP. He had 16 K. That’s a 16/0 KBB!)
Hitter to Watch: Carlos Beltran, OF – Beltran was close to having a DNR* tag assigned to him. but is trying to prove that he is not dead yet. In the last 7 days he’s hit .231 but with no power and an OPS of .577. The uptick is nice but I wouldn’t take the breathing machine off him yet. I also haven’t dropped him yet, but I’m loyal to players who have done it for me in the past. (*DNR = Do Not Resuscitate) (Note – Carlos Beltran just hit his first HR today as I was typing this.)
Pitcher to Watch: CC Sabathia, SP – Ughhhh. After that good start on May 1 the wheels started to come off again. His K/BB rate is fine but he is far too hittable now that he has lost so much velocity. As long as the Yanks keep giving him the ball and he can go eight innings there is still hope. It is starting to fade though like his fastball.
Tamp Bay Rays:
Not so Dynamic Duo: Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb, SP – Smyly started the season pitching pretty well for the Rays with a 2.70 ERA in his first three starts. He was on many a sleeper list entering this season, but has been diagnosed with a torn labrum. Cobb was nearing a return to the rotation after missing the end of last season with an elbow problem though now he has joined Burch Smith of the Rays with a torn elbow ligament. All three are scheduled to have season ending surgery. It is amazing that the Rays have such good pitching considering all the injuries they’ve dealt with this season.
When Desmond Jennings went down with bursitis the Rays did not consider it serious. It is curious, however, that there is no timetable for a return or rehab. The only report out of Tampa is that he is feeling better. I realize they are good fielders but how long can the Rays go with James Loney (.230 2 HR, 6 RBI) and Asdrubal Cabrera (below .200) hitting the way they are? Loney never had power but at least gave you average. Rene Rivera and Tim Beckham are both exactly 4/32 in their lat two weeks as well. Don’t get too excited but Nick Franklin started a rehab assignment.
Chris Archer finally hit a speed bump giving up nine runs in nine innings over his past two starts. He should right the ship but is worth keeping an eye on. Nate Karns seems to have saved his rotation spot after a bumpy stretch just in time for Smyly’s injury. On Friday, Karns logged 9 k’s in a 2 run 7 inning win. He gave up only 1 run in his 2 prior starts but logged merely 9 innings between them. We need to see some length. Brad Boxberger (8 saves) seems to have the closer role to himself now, just in time for Jake McGee’s comeback, likely next week. McGee does not have the track record to be handed the job back, and will have to win it.
Hitter to Watch: Evan Longoria, 3b – Longoria is continuing to hit well, batting .304 on the season. The past two weeks, however, he has hit .404 with a 1.160 OPS, 10 runs, 3 HR and 9 RBI. He even chipped in a SB. I still believe the fantasy world gave up on him being an elite 3bman far too soon. Just recently in one of my leagues he was traded with Dexter Fowler for Curtis Granderson and Lorenzo Cain. That would never have happened a few years ago.
Pitcher to Watch: Alex Colome, SP – Colome followed up his debut win with another in 5 innings pitched vs Boston where he gave up 2 runs. He has now beaten the Orioles and Red Sox in his first two games and gets the Yankees next tomorrow. What a way to start your career? He has not given up a walk yet but needs to show he can go more than 5 innings.
Boston Red Sox:
Not So Dynamic Duo: Mike Napoli, 1b, and Allen Craig, 1b OF – The pair of 1bmen are 6 for their last 37 at bats. It is true that the rest of the infield, Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval and Xander Bogaerts are 14 for 64 over the same stretch but they have far more job security. For the season, both Napoli and Craig are hitting FAR below .200 with no power numbers. I never liked Napoli as a 1bman but he does have power. I was reading yesterday that it appears Craig is going to be moved or removed very soon although he was in the lineup yesterday going 0 for 4. He has options, but it is more likely the Sox will trade him. We all know that no team, real or fantasy, can expect to win with this kind of production at any position, but it is inexcusable from first base. (Note: Both Napoli and Sandoval hit their 3rd HR today, Napoli’s being a 3 run bomb.)
Shane Victorino will be activated Monday and immediately inserted into right field. That will probably not alter the plans of too many fantasy owners at this point.
The bullpen is starting to show some signs of wear as it is being overworked from the starters not going deep into games. Edward Mujica was curiously DFA’ed this week and at their ages, Uehara and Tazawa are no longer more than one inning pitchers. Several minor leaguers have come up recently to help and they need one or two to stick.
Hitter to Watch: Mookie Betts, OF – Hanley Ramirez is the only other hitter aside from Betts that is hitting right now but Hanley missed five games last week with a sore shoulder. Betts survived his first slump and hit .320 this past week with an OPS of 1.170, 4 runs, 3 HR and 3 RBI. I hope no one dropped him last week.
Pitcher to watch: Rick Porcello, SP – In his last two starts, both wins, Porcello gave up a total of 1 run and 2 walks in 14 innings pitched. He now has 4 quality starts amongst his 6 starts. As I’ve mentioned before, Porcello has been lowering his walk rate and increasing his K rate this season which is starting to show results. I’m not saying he is turning into an ace this season but he is now worth owning.
Dynamic Duo: Manny Machado, 3b and Jimmy Paredes, OF – This duo has a player who has teased us for years with his talent and one who really hasn’t done much of anything in his career to this point. In the last two weeks, Machado is hitting .359 with a 1.046 OPS, 10 runs, 2 HR and 3 SB. In the past week since being inserted in the lineup, Paredes is hitting .320 with a 1.050 OPS, 4 runs, 2 HR and 6 RBI. I hope this is the start of a long streak for Machado as he is due. I said last week that Paredes would not be long for this gig, and I was wrong so far. Ride him while it lasts, he has never done this before for an extended period.
Delmon Young continues to impress in his limited role. In the past two weeks he has a .306 average and 8 RBI, with no power. This is better in real baseball than it is in our game. Matt Wieters caught seven innings Thursday in the minors and was scheduled to catch seven more this weekend. Caleb Joseph does not have to get nervous just yet.
Chris Tillman is becoming a Jekyl & Hyde pitcher this season, seemingly alternating between quality start and, well, see the attached picture. He pitched well on May 1st giving up only 2 runs in seven innings reminding us of what he can do. Then, in his last start he gave up 4 runs and 10 hits in 5+ innings reminding us of what else he can do. Ubaldo Jimenez hit another speed bump after a great 7 inning shutout in his prior start. He did not make it out of the 4th inning nor have good command at all. He threw far too many pitches (over 100), somehow only getting charged with three runs and two walks. Both of these guys are a bit too volatile for me right now.
Hitter to Watch: JJ Hardy, SS – Hardy came back in time to replace Everth Cabrera, who traded places with him on the DL. Hardy is 1 for 11 so far in the few games since being activated but the O’s hope he gives them more than Cabrera did. Hardy has never been a stud SS but when healthy he puts up plenty of power for a middle infielder. I hope he does well as he is the starting SS on my contracts league team.
Pitcher to Watch: Wei-Yin Chen, SP – Chen has become the rock of consistency on this staff. In fantasy he is barely roster worthy but is the perfect streamer for those matchups that look good. In 35 innings he has an ERA of 2.52 and a 27/12 KBB. He only has one win as he started the season barely able to go 5 innings, but has pitched at least six in his last three games. He won 15 games last season and is putting up some k’s this season, plus he seldom hurts your ratios. One could do far worse.
Pitching grabs for next week: Bolded pitchers are two start pitchers for the week.
Mon: Rick Porcello, Bos @ Oak, Ubaldo Jimenez, Balt vs Tor (could be sparks flying)
Tue: Chris Archer, TB vs NYY, Nate Eovaldi, NYY @ TB
Wed: Michael Gonzalez vs Tor
Fri: Michael Pineda, NYY @ KC, Wei-Yin Chen, Balt @ LAA
Sat: Rick Porcello, Bos @ Sea, Alex Colome, TB @ Min.
Sun: Chris Archer, TB @ Min, Ubaldo Jimenez, Balt vs LAA.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday May 17th from 7-9pm est for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will take live callers at 646.915.8596. Our topics this week will be the A.L. East, A.L. West, and everything fantasy relevant within those divisions. Feel free to jump in the conversation.