Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
One down, 49 to go.
Unless you were living under a rock Thursday, you heard the news that Major League Baseball banned star outfielder Manny Ramirez 50 games for a drug violation. We covered this sad, breaking news with Tristan Cockcroft's spin and Matthew Berry giving written advice, as well as a pair of videos in our fantasy baseball video section by Berry and myself. (Watch Matthew's spin | Watch Eric's spin )
Then the Dodgers played, and gauging the team's reaction was difficult. Initially, the Dodgers took out their collective frustrations on the lowly Nationals and promising young hurler Jordan Zimmermann, exploding for six first-inning runs. Then they didn't score again until Washington had scored 10 runs, ceding the momentum. The final tally was 11-9 as the Dodgers lost for the first time in 14 home games, and it was hard to tell whether this uneven offensive performance sans the dreadlocked power hitter was a harbinger of the next 49 games. Watch
Manager Joe Torre opted to simply move most of his offensive players up in the order, as Andre Ethier went up a spot to third, where Ramirez normally hits, followed by James Loney, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp. Juan Pierre (certain to be on ESPN's most-added list soon) was indeed the new left fielder but batted in the nine slot after the pitcher. He singled twice, stole a base and got picked off by lefty Ron Villone. He had larceny on his mind, which is a good sign for prospective fantasy owners. Don't let the fact that he hit ninth, a possible trend, sway you from adding him if you need steals. This move should help him see better pitches, and he can act as a second leadoff hitter and run more.
I think Kemp, who knocked in five runs, is the key to the Dodgers being offensively proficient while Ramirez sits out. Kemp's first-inning grand slam would have been arguably the team's biggest hit of the season had the lead held. Fantasy owners seem to constantly complain about Kemp's production, but he is hitting .290 and is on pace for more than 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 40 stolen bases. This isn't Matt Holliday struggling, so enjoy what you've got. I don't think Kemp will play better or worse in Ramirez's stead, but the point is, there's nothing wrong with him.
As noted in our reaction spins, Orlando Hudson and Ethier probably are the Dodgers' hitters most adversely affected by the suspension, so it was a good sign to see the second baseman take a walk and score two more runs, but Ethier will need protection in the batting order from powerless Loney, still seeking his maiden home run this season. It won't surprise me if Kemp is moved higher in the order. Also, let's not expect Loney to have a goose egg in home runs all season.
The bad sign for the Dodgers on Thursday was they didn't score for seven innings after the first-inning explosion, and two members of the bullpen helped give it all back and then some. The Los Angeles bullpen was arguably the best in baseball before Thursday, and maybe it will remain as such moving forward. Of course, a bit of production from a fellow with 500 home runs might have squashed the comeback. Call it a bad night, overall, on and off the field for the Dodgers, but ultimately, I think the Los Angeles hitters are good enough to weather the storm.
• White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle took a perfect game into the seventh inning, ultimately allowing one hit and two walks in eight innings in a 6-0 win against the Tigers. He joined Randy Johnson as the only active pitchers to have a perfect game through six innings twice in their careers. Buehrle also became the first White Sox lefty to start a season 5-0 since Wilson Alvarez in 1994. Buehrle is one of the more underrated pitchers in fantasy, going undrafted in most leagues this season, but he's up to 94.4 percent ownership in ESPN standard leagues now. We'll see how he's overlooked in 2010. Watch
• Speaking of non-strikeout pitchers, how does Jair Jurrjens do it? He lowered his ERA to 2.01 with seven innings of three-hit ball at sputtering Florida on Thursday, and for the season, he's managed only 20 strikeouts against 16 walks in 40 1/3 innings. Normally, someone with a rate like that would be a disaster waiting to happen, but extreme ground baller Jurrjens seems to be the exception. Watch
• Giants catcher Bengie Molina still hasn't taken a free pass this season, and his batting average (.310) remains higher than his on-base percentage (.308), but nobody cares as long as he's knocking in runs. Molina swatted two home runs off Jason Marquis on Thursday, giving him seven for the season, and his four RBIs buoyed his total to 27. You couldn't have been blamed had you sat Molina in a daily league, as he entered 0-for-12 off Marquis. Molina is on pace for 42 homers and 162 RBIs. He's never hit 20 homers in a season or knocked in 100. As with all catchers, prepare for his stats to level off, but he's not a fluke. We would like to see a walk at some point, though. Watch
• Matt Holliday waited until his final at-bat of April to hit a home run, but Thursday's three-run mash off Kris Benson gave him three in the first week of this month. Holliday now has 20 RBIs, half in the past 10 games. He still hasn't attempted a steal, which is a major part of his appeal, but he's back on pace for strong power numbers. Patience is paying off. Watch
• If you remove Mariano Rivera from the current Yankees bullpen, it's not pretty. In fact, it's an awful non-Rivera crew. And on Thursday night, Rivera pitched like the rest of the bullpen, giving up a pair of ninth-inning home runs to break a 6-6 tie. It was the first time in Rivera's Hall of Fame career he allowed back-to-back home runs. It's one thing for early American League MVP favorite Evan Longoria to homer, but Carl Crawford, while running wild, had two extra-base hits in the past three weeks. Rivera has allowed four home runs in his past five outings. Want perspective? The last time Rivera permitted five home runs in a season was 2001. Oh well, he still hasn't walked anyone this season. Watch
• More closer follies: Earlier this week, the Orioles announced a committee for saves, but there was George Sherrill finishing off the Twins anyway for his fifth save. It was the first time in six outings Sherrill didn't allow a hit. Of note was Chris Ray starting the seventh inning. Meanwhile, Ryan Franklin moved to the top of the major league leaderboard in saves with his ninth, and he still hasn't been scored on. Heath Bell of the Padres threw a perfect inning, but the game was tied, so no save. After saving seven games the first two weeks, he has one save -- through no fault of his own -- since April 18. Oakland's Brad Ziegler was getting the "dreaded work in" with his team up 9-1. That rarely goes well, right? Ziegler allowed four hits and three runs, retiring one of six hitters. Looming closer Andrew Bailey replaced him. The Cubs' Carlos Marmol struck out the side for the second time in May, after not doing it all of April.
Jayson Werth, Phillies
The right fielder homered and doubled among his four hits, raising his batting average 31 points, and stole his third base of the season. One of only nine 20 home runs/20 stolen bases players in 2008, Werth looks well on his way to a repeat, but after replacing Pat Burrell in Philly's No. 5 lineup spot, he's also on pace for 122 RBIs.
Brian Bannister, Royals
Bannister entered his fourth start having walked 10 hitters and struck out seven. Then he controlled the Mariners, walking one and fanning seven in six shutout innings. Is this a new Bannister, different than the one who lost 16 games with a 5.77 ERA in 2008? He's available in 96 percent of leagues, so most of you can find out.
Everyone knows Ryan Howard has power, but since the start of the 2007 season, Carlos Pena is second in the majors with 90 home runs. Howard has 100. Pena hit his major league-leading 13th home run Thursday, and while he's never going to win a batting title, so what? He's on pace for more than 70 homers. Like 2007, he's the Howard of the American League.
• Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli returned to the team after missing a few weeks with a bad hamstring and delivered a two-run single in Boston's 12-run sixth inning. Baldelli played center field with Jacoby Ellsbury ailing, but moving ahead, Baldelli playing time will be tough to come by, except against southpaw pitching.
• Speaking of the Red Sox, the Indians called up Jeremy Sowers from Triple-A Columbus to replace Aaron Laffey in the rotation, then watched him pitch fine for five innings Thursday until that 12-run inning. Sowers suddenly became a strikeout pitcher for Columbus, and he'll need a far better K rate for major league success. In his first 49 major league starts, his K/9 rate was 4.0. For reference, "fireballer" Jamie Moyer's career rate is 5.4.
• Click here for all the latest MLB transactions.
AJ Mass: Thanks, Ben. The only real value Callaspo has is his batting average, which I do not think is a fluke, and people always underestimate its value. A .330 season is just as valuable, if not more so than a 30-HR season. I think Hill is slowing down steadily, and Callaspo is heating up. Even though I think Hill ends up with better overall numbers, he's going to come back to Alberto.
-- Full chat transcript
Jason Grey: Good question -- I might actually say Bourn here. Seems like he finally got some things figured out.
-- Full chat transcript
Friday's fantasy chat schedule:
Stephania Bell, 11 a.m. ET
Pierre Becquey, 3 p.m. ET
• The Rays did not get a great pitching performance from Jeff Niemann, who allowed three hits and four walks -- only two runs -- in 3 1/3 messy innings in Yankee Stadium. However, David Price was worse down at Triple-A Durham, as he permitted six hits, five walks and four runs -- with nary a strikeout -- as he fell to 1-4 with a 4.74 ERA. Of note are his 16 walks against 21 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. It's looking like Price isn't particularly close to getting promoted, whether a rotation spot opens in Tampa Bay or not.
• Meanwhile, the Phillies have numerous starters struggling, so maybe Carlos Carrasco is doing his Brett Myers impression at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Carrasco allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings Thursday, seeing his season ERA rise to 5.46, and he remains winless in six starts. There are good signs, though, like only three home runs allowed in 31 1/3 innings and 34 strikeouts against six walks. If the Phillies need another starter anytime soon, it's likely that J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick are next in line.
• If the Jeff Weaver experiment doesn't work out in the Dodgers' rotation -- and I know how stunning that would be -- look for Eric Milton to get a chance. Milton threw six shutout innings for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday, allowing two singles and walking nobody, striking out five. Milton's ERA is an even 3.00, and the usually homer-prone lefty has allowed only three gopher balls in 33 innings.
• Want some other buy-low options? Florida's Ricky Nolasco has been unlucky and he's better than his 7.03 ERA, but buy him after he pitches Friday at Coors Field. Scott Baker has a 9.15 ERA, but remember, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning his last time out. And you might have run out of time to acquire Justin Verlander on the cheap, since he's allowed one run in his past two starts.
• Thinking of selling high on Scott Richmond? He's 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA and a strong strikeout rate. It probably won't last much longer, but the offensively challenged Athletics, last in the AL in runs, shouldn't pound him.
• Finally, we look ahead not to Friday, but next Wednesday, as Dontrelle Willis is scheduled to return to the Tigers' rotation. Willis' two rehab starts at Triple-A Toledo weren't the best, as he works his way back from an anxiety disorder, but we all should be rooting for him. Whether I'd add him now in a weekly league is a bit more problematic. He did walk 35 in only 24 innings with the Tigers in 2008.
• For more on Friday's games, check out Daily Notes.