AP Photo/Gregory Smith
Jair Jurrjens tossed seven shutout innings against the Florida Marlins on Monday, earning his 14th win and lowering his ERA to 2.61. For a guy who seemed to come from nowhere to finish third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2008, Jurrjens continues to improve. Acquired in the one-sided Edgar Renteria trade after the 2007 season, Jurrjens hasn't allowed more than one earned run in any of his past four starts. His season ERA ranks fourth in the NL, behind only Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright, each of whom is likely vying for Cy Young honors, while you never hear Jurrjens' name in the conversation. Jurrjens won't get much Cy support, but his season ranks near those other guys. Nobody in the Atlanta rotation has more quality starts or a better home run rate.
Who will you be picking early among Braves starters in 2010 drafts? In colleague Jason Grey's Sixty Feet, Six Inches column last week, he ranked Jurrjens third among Atlanta pitchers, and 26th overall. I think that makes sense, because Vazquez is the superior strikeout pitcher, and Hanson might contend for a Cy Young award in the next few years. Despite making a nice leap this season, Jurrjens remains regarded as a solid No. 3 starting pitcher, but rarely is seen as having considerable upside. Maybe so, but for a guy with a 1.25 ERA in five September starts, fantasy owners certainly aren't complaining about a lack of upside. The upside is here. Jurrjens has gone seven or more innings in his past seven starts, really helping fantasy owners -- and the Braves -- when they needed it most.
Somehow Jurrjens remains unowned in more than 6 percent of ESPN leagues. He's likely to make one more start this upcoming weekend, and based on how he's performed pretty much all season, he'd obviously be a wise addition to any fantasy roster.
• Speaking of power hitters seemingly getting toward the end of the line, how amazing is it that David Ortiz now has 28 home runs? He hit one in the season's first two months. Ortiz hit seven home runs in June, July and August, and needs one more this month to get there again after his sixth-inning solo shot off Scott Richmond. Ortiz's batting average is a drag at .238, but he might reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, which is quite the feat.
• Josh Beckett did not make the start for Boston, as he was scratched with back spasms, and those who expected a two-start week for him will be disappointed. The Red Sox now plan to start Beckett over the weekend. As for the team's other potential Game 1 starter in the playoffs, Jon Lester threw a scheduled side session before Monday's game and could start Thursday against the Indians. Prospect Michael Bowden did not look very good against the Blue Jays on Monday.
• The Angels clinched the AL West title, but the fantasy spin was a complete-game shutout performance by Ervin Santana. The right-hander hadn't won in more than a month, and his season ERA remains above 5, but this is a reminder that Santana won 16 games in 2008 and was a Cy Young candidate, and fantasy owners shouldn't forget his 214 strikeouts and 1.11 WHIP. It's certainly possible he returns to his big 2008 season next year.
• Ian Kinsler is baseball's lone 30/30 guy. Aaron Hill has 35 home runs. Brian Roberts has stolen 29 bases. And Chase Utley is regarded as the best second baseman in fantasy. Where does that leave Robinson Cano? It leaves him underrated. Cano smacked a grand slam Monday, his 25th home run of the season, and he is now the No. 2 second baseman on ESPN's Player Rater. Cano was hitting third in the lineup, only because other Yankees like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were rested, but on many other teams Cano would warrant hitting third. Cano becomes the fourth Yankees hitter to reach 25 home runs and 200 hits in the past 70 years, joining Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Alfonso Soriano.
• Closer follies: Grant Balfour earned his second save of the season by getting the last out in a 7-6 win against the Orioles. The Rays went with J.P. Howell for much of the season, but it's anyone's guess who gets the next save chance, or who starts 2010 in the role. Hard to believe Mike MacDougal went from the unemployment line to getting 17 saves, but he threw a perfect inning Monday to close out the Mets. You won't see many successful closers with 38 walks against 30 strikeouts. Speaking of messy numbers, Brad Lidge threw a scoreless inning for the first time in six outings, lowering his ERA to 7.38. Don't bet on any saves from Lidge this week, or in October. Across the state in Pittsburgh, the Pirates say Matt Capps will be their closer in 2010, barring unforeseen circumstances. Another year of a foreseen 5.91 ERA and circumstances will certainly change.
Andy LaRoche, Pirates
LaRoche hasn't been a fantasy factor this season, just reaching double digits in homers a few days ago, but he really enjoyed his Monday against the Dodgers, swatting a pair of home runs, collecting five hits and knocking in six runs. LaRoche has a mere 12 home runs for the season, and is owned in 2.3 percent of ESPN leagues, which seems about right.
John Danks, White Sox
The young left-hander shut the Indians down for a three-hit, complete-game, winning for the first time in a month. Danks won't match his breakout 2008 for ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, but he bested his win total, earning his 13th victory. Danks continues to be a reliable No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy starter, and could get even better in 2010.
Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays continues to add to his best season, hitting his 35th home run Monday. He becomes the third second baseman in AL history to reach this total, joining Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone. Soriano's 39 homers in 2002 stand as the AL record, while the NL mark is 42. Hill would really have to thrive this final week to reach that mark.
• The Phillies activated J.C. Romero from the disabled list, which normally wouldn't seem like relevant news to a fantasy owner, but with the bullpen of the defending champs lacking a closer, it's possible Romero is called upon to save a game if a lefty hitter is up in the ninth. Romero permitted a .102 batting average to left-handed hitters in 2008. He's struggled this season, but in limited work.
Jayson Stark: He's 22 years old. This was just to get him a taste of big-league life. It was never in the cards for him to get any extensive playing time. If the Giants get eliminated, I think you'll see him start a couple of games. But not before then. Bengie Molina means too much to that team and to that staff.
-- Full chat transcript
Team USA topped Cuba for the World Cup title Sunday in Italy, giving the Americans consecutive titles for the first time since 1974. Team USA lost its first game of the tournament, and won its final 14. Some of the players who led the USA team are prospects fantasy owners will need to know, like future Texas Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit nine home runs and knocked in 22 runs in the tournament. Other heroes included veterans Terry Tiffee and Jon Weber, as well as pitcher Brad Lincoln, who hurled 4 1/3 innings in relief of starter Cory Luebke to win the deciding game.
• Make sure your Twins and Tigers are active, as the AL Central leaders will play a pair of games at Comerica Park, with Monday's rainout turning into a Tuesday twin bill. The Tigers really seem to have the advantage in both games. In Game 1 rookie Rick Porcello, with a 3-1 mark in September, takes the hill. Later, Justin Verlander goes for his 18th win, and tries to extend his AL-leading strikeout total. The Twins counter with Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing.
• The last time the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley won a game was eight starts ago. The L.A. ace pitched well in his last outing, allowing only one hit in six innings and fanning nine Nationals, but the hit was a Ryan Zimmerman three-run home run and earned Billingsley a no-decision. Fantasy owners can't like the 5.40 ERA since the All-Star break; before that, it was 3.38.
• Meanwhile, on the other side of Los Angeles, Scott Kazmir is 1-2 in five starts since joining the Angels from the Rays, but his ERA is 2.01. In other words, Kazmir is pitching very well and has deserved better. He's 2-1 against the Rangers this season with a 1.96 ERA, so don't be scared of the matchup. Kazmir is scheduled to be opposed by the unlikeliest 17-game winner in baseball, unheralded Ranger Scott Feldman, who has allowed six or more runs in two of his past three outings.