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Any fantasy owner would have felt pretty good about a Cy Young top of the rotation including CC Sabathia, Brandon Webb and Cliff Lee, but after Monday's games, when this vaunted trio of aces combined to allow 19 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings, those owners are wondering whether they made a mistake.
Hey, pitchers get lit from time to time, and fantasy owners have to roll with the punches. Sabathia, Webb and Lee, who combined for 61 wins and a sparkling 2.84 ERA last season, aren't going to win every outing, but it is a bit disheartening to see just how ugly they performed to open the season. When fellow Opening Day hurlers Aaron Cook, John Lannan and Justin Verlander, among others, get torched as they did Monday, their owners can't be too surprised.
For Sabathia, the third starting pitcher taken in ESPN average live drafts and the 16th player drafted overall, starting slowly in April shouldn't come as a shock. In April 2008 he pitched poorly, allowing an alarming nine earned runs in both his third and fourth starts. From April 22 on, he was the best pitcher in baseball. I'm mildly concerned that he couldn't strike out any Orioles on Monday, the first time since July 2005 he had a goose egg in the category, and these 13 baserunners in 4 1/3 innings is going to hurt all week, but I'm calling it a bad day, nothing more. I wouldn't be a bit concerned about Sabathia, even if he gets hammered next week as well. He has earned a pass.
Arizona's Webb, on the other hand, might have a more telling reason for his poor stat line, in which he allowed six earned runs in four innings. Webb said he was bothered by shoulder stiffness in the fourth inning, when he allowed home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta in a three-pitch span. An extreme ground-baller, Webb allowed 13 home runs in all of 2008. The right-hander said he felt fine after the game, but this situation bears watching.
Then there's fantasy's biggest surprise from 2008, Cleveland's Lee. Was it all a fluke? Watching the Rangers light him up for seven earned runs in five messy innings makes one wonder whether that 12.42 spring ERA was truly a harbinger of doom. Last season Lee didn't allow this many runs in any game, and didn't allow his seventh run of the season until his eighth start. OK, so this isn't 2008 anymore. But we can't give up on the guy after one start, either.
We keep telling ourselves, it's only one game, it's only one game. Don't panic.
• Not every pitcher was bad. Joe Saunders of the Angels was thrust into the Opening Day start by attrition, as injuries removed John Lackey and Ervin Santana from consideration. Saunders was up to the task, permitting three hits over 6 2/3 shutout innings. Despite 17 wins and a 3.41 ERA in 2008, fantasy owners have been ignoring the young lefty, as he's owned in barely 25 percent of leagues. The new Athletics offense didn't hit him.
• A pair of switch-hitting teammates each swatted home runs from both sides of the plate, but who would have guessed it would be Arizona's Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark? Lopez is already a third of the way to his entire 2008 power output. Judging by this power display, and his stated goal to run more, the fact he's owned in 83.6 percent of his leagues makes sense. Clark, however, doesn't figure to play enough to do this again.
• We're always watching for early closer explosions, and the Cardinals' Jason Motte became the first culprit of 2009. Motte was one strike away from saving a win over the Pirates when Jack Wilson hit a three-run triple, capping a four-run ninth inning. After allowing two runs all spring, Motte hasn't lost the closer's job yet, but knowing manager Tony La Russa, the leash will be short and Chris Perez should rent at Memphis, not buy. Motte is owned in 89 percent of leagues, while other closer options Perez and Ryan Franklin are owned in 8.9 and 2.2 percent of leagues, respectively.
• The Mets held off the Reds in a pitchers' duel, but both Johan Santana and Aaron Harang ran up high pitch counts early and neither made it through six innings. Santana walked four, and a rejuvenated bullpen held the 2-1 lead for him, a good sign for his victory potential. As for Harang? Coming off a terrible season, he pitched out of trouble, but might not be so lucky next time.
• The next generation of Blue Jays power hitters has arrived, as Adam Lind and Travis Snider each homered in the 12-5 rout of beleaguered Detroit. Lind knocked in six runs with four hits, while Snider, batting ninth, mashed his third career homer. I'd still prefer the more polished Lind for this season, but Snider has the greater upside long-term.
• The Mets boast some of the top players in fantasy, and I don't expect new left fielder Danny Murphy to be that good so soon, but his Monday homer was a nice start. Murphy always hit -- and ran -- in the minors, and he'll see no shortage of quality pitches hitting between Jose Reyes and David Wright. Big sleeper if you can still get him! Murphy is owned in just 17.3 percent of leagues.
• Odd lineup quirks I noticed: Tony La Russa threatened to hit shortstop Khalil Greene cleanup against lefties, and apparently he meant it. Incredibly, Albert Pujols walked only once. In Houston, newcomer Ivan Rodriguez seems an odd choice to hit second, while eighth-place hitter Michael Bourn surely will move up with more multi-hit games. And the No. 3 hitters in the Mariners-Twins game were Mike Sweeney and Michael Cuddyer. I get that the Twins are missing Joe Mauer, but even when Seattle gets Ichiro Suzuki back, who bats third? Mike Sweeney? In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp batted seventh after batting in the first two spots for more than half of his at-bats last year. If this keeps up, his counting numbers could decline slightly because of fewer plate appearances.
Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins
The switch-hitter did it all Monday, with four hits, four runs scored, three stolen bases and an inside-the-park home run. Bonifacio, eligible at second base in fantasy, and soon to be third base as well, has usurped the leadoff spot from Cameron Maybin, and made a great first impression. Owned in fewer than 2 percent of leagues when Monday began, he'll be a very popular add this week.
Kevin Millwood, Rangers
Another player generally ignored in drafts, Millwood scattered five Indians singles and one walk over seven strong innings, winning for the first time in four Opening Day starts for Texas. With an ERA topping 5 each of the past two seasons, Millwood has been fantasy poison, despite 19 total wins. Will fantasy owners buy into this impressive outing? Not likely, at least not yet.
8: Just a day after I wrote in my new Monday column that Ken Griffey Jr. was unlikely to extend his active mark for Opening Day home runs to eight against tough lefty Francisco Liriano, the future Hall of Famer swatted a fifth-inning dinger to right field. Griffey has been anemic against southpaws the past three seasons, but this could certainly be a good sign. Liriano allowed one home run to a lefty hitter in all of 2008. My advice: Sell high. And buy low on Liriano.
• The Blue Jays placed three starting pitchers on the DL, none of them a surprise, and in two cases the team doesn't know if they will return this season. Casey Janssen and his ailing shoulder aren't in bad shape, and we might see the soft-tosser again in May. Shaun Marcum (elbow) and Dustin McGowan (shoulder) both could miss the entire season.
• Who was that playing center field against Johan Santana on Monday? Alas, it was longtime minor leaguer Darnell McDonald, who had his contract purchased before the game, along with Laynce Nix. The Reds were without ill Willy Taveras, so the 30-year-old McDonald earned the start, while Jonny Gomes was designated for assignment. Neither McDonald nor Nix is expected to play much.
• The Dodgers placed outfielder Delwyn Young on the 15-day DL, and pitcher Claudio Vargas on the 60-day DL. Doug Mientkiewicz and Will Ohman take the roster spots. Keep an eye on James McDonald, who earned the No. 5 rotation spot, while Ohman's addition as an extra lefty is good news for main set-up man Hong-Chih Kuo, who won't be used merely against lefty hitters. Ohman has fantasy value if games pitched is a category.
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Christopher Harris: It's a guess, obviously, but I'll say Rodney. I've just never seen anything from him that indicates he's ready to be a full-time closer, and like him or not, they do have an option right there in Brandon Lyon. I think Street is actually going to be fine, and as for Motte -- I have to admit I haven't seen him pitch more than a couple times, but the Cards do seem willing to give him some rope, having sent down Chris Perez.
-- Full chat transcript
Matthew Berry: Who cares? Seriously, projections are all ridiculous. I discuss this at length in Love/Hate and Manifesto. If I say Shin-Soo Choo (currently going in 19th round) hits 25 home runs, you grab him in the 17th as a result, and he only hits 21, am I wrong? Or did I do my job, which was to alert you to a potential break-out guy you grabbed early?
-- Full chat transcript
Tuesday's fantasy chat schedule:
AJ Mass, 11 a.m.
Stephania Bell, 3 p.m.
• Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo had a rough spring as carpal tunnel syndrome got the best of him, but a Monday throwing session went well and he's back on track to make his Thursday start.
• The Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez will aim to stop his team's seven-game losing streak in Arizona, a place that featured eight home runs Monday against two sinkerball pitchers. Jimenez has a 2.77 ERA against the Diamondbacks in four career starts.
• The champion Phillies try to avoid a 0-2 start, with the league's oldest player on the mound. Jamie Moyer was a 16-game winner in 2008, though he struggled against the Braves. Moyer is owned in a mere 14.3 percent of ESPN leagues.
• Justin Morneau is 8-for-16 (.500) with two home runs and nine RBIs in his career against Erik Bedard, a remarkable track record for lefty-versus-lefty.
• Check out Daily Notes for more information on Tuesday's games.