Do early-season phenoms fade once the rest of the league learns to stop giving them pitches to hit?
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What started out as a pitchers' duel turned into a bloodbath when the Phillies got hold of the Giants' relief corps.
You know, going in, that this would be another tight contest, because where Game One of the National League Championship Series was doomed to be an anticlimax, the combination of Jonathan Sanchez's past dominance of the Phillies and Roy Oswalt's past dominance of the Giants' collection of hitters figured to make this a tight ballgame. Through to the seventh inning, we got something that very much resembled that anticipation, at least up up until the Phillies generated and delivered on another one of their long, gory innings, disassembling the odd second-rank reliever or two en route to converting a duel into something dull and then done.
A series that will feature spectacular pitching may come down to the tiniest advantages to decide the winner.
So, let's see, for an initial checklist for maximum LCS entertainment potential, is there anything missing? Record-wise, the two best teams in National League? Check, even if we allow for the fact that the Giants weren't one of the top two teams in Clay Davenport's adjusted standings. The two best rotations in baseball? Check. Heck, it even features two of the three best defensive units in the league (via PADE), with only the already-vanquished Reds separating the Giants and Phillies. And the offenses are... well, OK, this whole clash of the titans thing only goes so far, because they're not both among the best in the league. The Phillies are, tying for third in the league in team-level True Average, but the Giants finished back in ninth place, even with Brian Sabean's ticky-tack trades to accrue incremental improvements.
Checking out which teams have benefited most from increasing their Defensive Efficiency this season.
Defense has been on my mind lately, and not just because I've covered it in the context of my recent So-Called "Year of the Pitcher" investigations. It has been a topic I've followed closely over the past few seasons, particularly in terms of the relationship between teams' year-to-year improvement in the field and their overall success. While clubs' hitting and pitching upswings are often attributed to the work of individuals in our conversational shorthand-the Redsare winning because Joey Votto is having an MVP-caliber season and because Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake have anchored the rotation-defense is rarely mentioned in such a manner; indeed, it often slips under the radar entirely. Nonetheless, the past few seasons have seen some interesting turnarounds anchored by defenses, so the question is which ones have improved and declined the most since last year.
The Cubs make a move with serious fantasy implications.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Cubs called up Double-A shortstop Starlin Castro today in order to bump Ryan Theriot to second and get Mike Fontenot out of the lineup. It's a strange move—Castro has 109 at-bats at Double-A, and Fontenot's main issue is a lack of power (something he normally has plenty of for a middle infielder) but in just 77 plate appearances—but it's one that can benefit both the Cubs and fantasy owners.
Castro, who turned 20-years old in March, hit .376/.421/.569 in the Southern League this year and projects to be a star level bat, according toKevin Goldstein. Chances are good he is available unless you are in a super-deep league because, as stated before, he was not supposed to be called up this time of year, and while he had an impressive line in 2009 for his age at Double-A, he didn't look like someone that was about to be summoned to the bigs, either. Fantasy owners will take any help they can get at the shortstop position though, and as a bonus, Ryan Theriot will now be eligible at second base and shortstop.
Taking a Spring Training tour around the first half of the league.
We're deep enough into spring that we're starting to take the results of the exhibition games into account--although we're still at a stage where a player can raise his TAv 40 points with a single good game. Still, there are players who have moved up or down their team's depth charts. Good thing, or the biggest change in the depth chart would probably be the 5% switch of Hernan Iribarren from the Brewers to the Rangers.
Most of these moves are still quite small--guys moving up and down by 5s and 10s in percentage terms. The big moves will come in the final week, as teams lock in on certain players and release others. Everything today is still "inclinations" and "seems to have a leg up", not "has won".
Michael Jong reports on the injury replacements for Russell Martin in Los Angeles, the second base battles for the Dodgers and Cubs, and playing time changes in Tampa Bay.
Russell Martin was bound to regress a little after the fantasy nightmare that was the 2009 season. After posting batting averages in the .280-.290 range in each of his first three seasons, he batted .250 thanks to a career-low .284 BABIP. After hitting double-digit home runs in those three seasons, he hit just seven homers in 2009, posting a puny .079 ISO. And after averaging 20 steals in his last two full-time seasons, he only swiped 11 bags. Martin probably isn't the home run hitter he was in 2007 (HR/FB% of 12.2%), but neither is he the popless guy of 2009 (5.4% HR/FB%). With a regression to his career HR/FB% and BABIP, you could once again expect something close to the 2008 version of Martin.
But that will have to be put on hold as Martin will be out 4-6 weeks with a groin pull to start the year. Martin's replacements are fantasy duds. A.J. Ellis will get the bulk of the time at catcher, with Brad Ausmus serving his honorary backup/mentor role. In the minors, Ellis was known for one thing: drawing walks. In 1795 minor league PA, he's drawn 273 walks while striking out 248 times. He also has a minor-league ISO of just .100, with only 17 home runs. Essentially, he walks like Adam Dunn, with Juan Pierre power and Bengie Molina speed. Ausmus is a man who needs no introduction, because he should never be on your fantasy team.
A few well-placed bunts in game-same situations produce another "never seen before" event.
One of the well-worn tropes of baseball is that, at any game, you'll see something that you've never seen before. In going to the ballpark, there's so much you can look for and see in any one ballgame-a pitcher's mechanics, a hitter's swing, a manager's player usage patterns. Heading to Wrigley Field for last night's game, however, I went with one mission in mind, something I want to explore as I spend this spring and summer going to ballparks across the country: did I see something new?
The Cubs were limping back into town after a disheartening 2-4 road trip through St. Louis and Phoenix, while the Marlins have been inching back to the pack after racing out to a hot start, diving into a seven-game losing streak after winning seven straight, but winging to Wrigley after winning their last two against the Mets. With two injury-depleted offenses-no HanRam, no A-Ram, and no Geovany Soto in tonight's starting lineups-and with an April night game, the chances for a low-scoring affair seemed pretty good. However, with Milton Bradley back in action for Chicago, I arrived at the park musing that there's always going to be the chance that you'll see something incredible-some feat of skill and strength from the switch-hitter, perhaps also some bit of unhappiness afield, or perhaps another embroglio inspired by his striving bleeding over into strife. Maybe in Milton the Cubs have somebody who might appeal to the NASCAR demographic, where people show up to watch for all the wrong reasons?