When injuries strike early in the season, and you watch your draft-day gems go down in shambles, you feel just like that. Like you stared at a guaranteed first date only to realize that she's not a guarantee; she's not even a phone call. I'm not speaking about Vladimir Guerrero (OF, LAA) and his torn pectoral muscle. Or Jed Lowrie (3B/SS, BOS) and Mark Teixeira's (1B, NYY) wrist problems either. Or Chipper Jones' (3B, ATL) bruised thumb. You, Alex Gordon (3B, KC)! I'm speaking to you! We've had enough sub-par campaigns filled with the pre-season overblown hype, and we were finally expecting a payoff. Now, you give us the injury du season, a hip cartilage tear. First it was "Ut, the Gut," Chase Utley (2B, PHI), then "A-Roid," Alex Rodriguez (3B, NYY), and the "Duke of Scher", Justin Duchscherer (SP, OAK), and now you. You've teased us long enough -- we're just about out of stares for you.
THE BATTER'S BOX -- NOW STEPPING UP
There's no doubt that Tony La Russa in some ways is a magician. At the beginning of the season, the biggest issue he faced was how you replace a giant bat like Troy Glaus (3B, STL) in your lineup. Chris Duncan (1B/OF, STL) had undergone revolutionary disc surgery in his neck, which meant he couldn't necessarily be relied on for his supposed innate thunder. What to do?
Well, if you're Tony La Russa, you just reach down in your hat and reinvent your infield with two journeymen infielders, who have shown the ability to hit at all levels of A-ball, but have never caught on with anyone.
Joe Thurston (3B/OF, STL) is 30. Brian Barden (3B, STL) is 28 as of two weeks ago. Neither has logged a full season in the major leagues. Thurston's longest tenure was 18 games for the Phillies. Barden trumps that by five games split between two teams in 2006. Both have basically the same career minor-league batting average -- .295 and .294 respectively. Thurston's best year saw him hit .334 with 12 home runs, 39 doubles and 70 RBIs while stealing 22 bases in 31 attempts. Barden's best minor league year saw him bat .307, with 15 home runs, 36 doubles, 85 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases out of 19 attempts. It's like La Russa captains a ship that has an endless amount of bailers who can remove the water faster than it can fill the hull.
You can also thank Khalil Greene's (SS, STL) consistently sub-.230 average and career OBP of .303, as well as David Freese's (3B, STL) wonderfully enticing 3-for-18 start, for making La Russa and company nervous enough to stack their infield with expendable sleepers. Except, these guys are making an impact.
Through Friday, Barden had hit three home runs this week, and was sporting a .500 average. In lesser action, Thurston is 10-for-28 (.357) and has six RBIs of his own. Neither is yet commanding a full time gig, but in deeper NL-only leagues, both are worthy of ownership.
FIRST BASE -- IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN
The hype that surrounded Joba Chamberlain (SP/RP, NYY) when he arrived was certainly deserved. He was listed as having the best curveball, fastball and slider of all the Yankee prospects in 2008, and was projected to be a No. 1 starter in the Yankee rotation by 2011. He didn't disappoint in his bullpen role, or his move to the starting rotation, where in 11 starts he allowed just 15 earned runs and posted a 69:23 K/BB ratio in 60.2 innings. His fastball tops out at 98, and when he has control, as evidenced by his opener, he's brutal: 6 IP, 4 H, ER, 5 K, 1 BB. But that can be a big if, as evidenced by his two hit batsmen opening day, and his five walks in his second appearance this past week. His first full year as a starter will see occasional bouts with wildness, but as long as his shoulder stays intact, he'll be a top strikeout pitcher for your staff.
When you're in a small market, and in a division with talent-laden teams like the Yankees, you're often willing to rush a prospect with eye-popping power numbers, even if it's not in his best interest. Travis Snider (OF/DH, TOR) could be one of these guys. Sure he's flown high for the Blue Jays since his baptism in the big leagues last year. In just 28 games in 2008, Snider posted a .301 average and hit two home runs with 13 RBIs. This year, he's off to a scorching start, hitting .321 with three long balls (as of Saturday). However, in Single-A Lansing, Snider had just a 71 percent contact rate, and that rate dropped to 68 percent last season with his time split between Advanced-A, Double-A and Triple-A. It rose to 75 percent in his 18-game stint at Triple-A in 2008, but before his promotion, he had struck out 116 times in 362 at-bats, for a contact rate of an abysmal 68 percent. Also, his BABIP last year was .400 in his stint with Toronto. So far, this season it's .357. There's keeper potential if you can afford to stash him, otherwise, sell high now before the crash comes.
SECOND BASE -- PREFERABLE OVER THE SS I TOOK
Dear Jimmy Rollins:
At the WBC, you looked like a kid who has the secret to the magic trick before everyone else does; a .417 average, .500 on-base percentage and an OPS of 1.250. So naturally, everyone was still posting you a close third on the list of top three shortstops behind unanimous five-tool stud Hanley Ramirez (SS, FLA) and Mets speedster Jose Reyes (SS, NYM). That generally put your average draft position in the first round, somewhere near nine or 10, and with that, expectations naturally followed. Your career OBP is .333. Your career average is .277. In the last three seasons, April has seen you hit for at least your career average, and generally better.
So what is it? You're in the final year of a five-year deal, and though the club has an option for 2011, isn't this time to be putting the pedal to metal? Because at present, your car isn't even out of the pits, as you've posted a .125 BA and .163 OBP the first two weeks. Even Mario Mendoza is laughing at you right now, wondering if his name, synonymous with sub-par infield hitting, will be expunged and we'll establish the Rollins line. Am I being too tough on you? You're a No. 1 draft pick for a good portion of fantasy teams. Certainly, you were on base enough to give the steals category some love in the past. The only thing you're stealing so far is our fantasy thunder, which is making less noise than sugar addicted children sucking on their Dum Dum lollipops.
There's that old fantasy saying that you can't win your season with your first-round draft pick, but you can certainly lose it. Don't make us invoke such words when discussing the choice we had of taking you or Ian Kinsler (2B, TEX) and our eggs went into your Easter basket; and when Philly fans throw batteries, beers and other foreign objects you'd expect to be brought into the ring at most WWE wrestling matches. On July 12, the Phillies will host "Jimmy Rollins Wrist Band Night," and I can't think of a more appropriate giveaway, because right now it seems clear you're not using those wrists for baseball.
THIRD BASE -- DRAFTED THE CLOSER, SHAFTED BY THE CLOSER
The revolving door at closer has started spinning, and is already smacking some owners on their backend. While there were rumors aplenty that Baltimore's Chris Ray (RP, BAL) was lights out in spring training, and would thus supplant George Sherrill (RP, BAL), Ray has been abysmal, posting numbers that would be great if he were a quarterback, not a reliever. Huston Street (RP, COL) took all of five appearances (one actual save) to be deemed unfit. The 25 year-old suffered through hip flexor problems last year, and arm problems in 2007. Manuel Corpas (RP, COL) will now step in, and if that makes you feel safe, then usher yourself back to the nine blown saves he posted in 2008. In Chicago, Carlos Marmol (RP, CHC) picked up two saves this past week, but then blew one Saturday after being asked to pitch consecutive days. Lou Piniella insists Kevin Gregg (RP, CHC) is still his man, but Gregg isn't holding two saves. And in Oakland, Joey Devine's (RP, OAK) trip to the DL has muddied the waters for Oakland, because although Brad Ziegler (RP, OAK) has done the job before, he doesn't have the tools of a traditional closer (30:22 K/BB in 2008). With such a young pitching staff, the A's bullpen is likely to see a lot of work, and save opportunities may be rare. With Devine's injury likely serious, Ziegler is the man with the big A on his chest, for now.
HOME -- FANTASY HOME RUNS -- BEST OF THE WEEK (Leading stat is bolded)
Carlos Peña (1B, TB) 9-for-28, .321 BA, 5 HR, 11 RBIs, .367 OBP, .929 SLG, 1.296 OPS -- Streaky, and the faucet will run out of hot water soon.
Jason Bartlett (SS, TB) 10-for-24, .417 BA, 2 HR, 4 SB, .462 OBP, .750 SLG, 1.212 OPS -- Speed is what you have him for and he's delivering, and it appears he'll get 500 ABs this year for a change.
Ian Kinsler (SS, TEX) 13-for-25 .520 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBIs, .586 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 1.586 OPS -- Yes, those who took Rollins over Kinsler lament.
Albert Pujols (1B, STL) 7-for-26, 3 HR, 12 RBIs, .394 OBP, .692 SLG, 1.086 OPS -- Still the scariest hitter in baseball and one of the most consistent fantasy producer.
J. D. Drew (OF, BOS) 8-for-21, .381 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBIs, .480 OBP, .952 SLG, 1.432 OPS -- Yes, this is his potential. Realize that even companies are afraid to sign Drew to a promotional contract due to his chances of injury.
Pitching (minimum of 13 IP):
Roy Halladay (SP, TOR) 2 W, 14 IP, 13 H, 5 ER, 15 Ks, 3 BB, 1.29 ERA -- He was virtually unhittable against Minnesota and Cleveland. A nice two road wins for Roy.
Paul Maholm (SP, PIT) 2 W, 14 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 5 Ks, 5 BB, 0.64 ERA -- He won't punch a lot of guys out, but he's retiring everybody. Imagine if his command gets even better.