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So, who had the Expos 3-0/Royals 3-0 exacta?

(Sit down, Pete.)

Not since 1972 have those two teams, expansion brethren in 1969, both started
a season 3-0. (Historians will note that the 1972 season started late due to a
lockout, and marked the first games in baseball history to be lost to labor troubles and never made up.) The Expos would reach 5-0 before losing, and go on to a
nondescript 70-86 campaign. The Royals lost their fourth game that year, and
77 more, finishing 76-78.

No one will be surprised to see these squads match the desultory performance
of their predecessors. For now, the two teams can stand proud with the
Yankees, Twins, Pirates, Cardinals and Giants as the last remaining and-ohs.

It has to be especially rewarding for the Royals, who have won two of their
first three games by beating the White Sox bullpen, winning in the same
fashion that they lost so many contests in 2002. Thursday’s game in
particular, when they scored seven eighth-inning runs off of four White Sox,
was reminiscent of any number of Royals losses the past two seasons.

While beating up Chicago’s revamped pen, the Royals have gotten great work
from their own young fireballers. Mike MacDougal saved the first two
games, and Ryan Bukvich threw two shutout innings in closing out
Thursday’s win after Kris Wilson had blown a late lead. Even Rule 5
fireballer Dan Carrasco made a successful cameo appearance. If the
Royals can simply keep from losing many leads late in games, they’ll close a
lot of the ground between last year’s squad and .500.

The Expos won their first three games despite being without the services of
one of the game’s best players in Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero’s
understudy, Ron Calloway, was 2-for-6 with two walks and a double while
Guerrero served a two-game suspension. More importantly, Expos pitchers held
the Braves to two runs in 27 innings, with the three starters (Tony
Armas
, Zach Day and Javier Vazquez) coughing up just one run
in 18 2/3 frames.

While the Expos’ rotation should be a team strength, I think the three games
showed us more about the Braves, who couldn’t sustain anything offensively.
They’ve returned essentially the same team as last year, with Rob Fick
taking over at first base and Marcus Giles theoretically the everyday
second baseman. With Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez still in the
lineup, though, they’ll need Fick, Giles and Rafael Furcal to have
their best seasons to date, because they will be allowing more runs this year
than any Braves team has in some time. I don’t think they can make up the
losses of Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood, plus an expected
decline from the bullpen as a whole, with the current personnel.

Just a Fantasy

After playing no “personal” baseball last year–save a couple of
friendly Yahoo! leagues–I’m back in this season with both a Scoresheet team
and a rotisserie team. I mentioned the latter a couple of weeks back; we
finally finished the auction and drafts, and this is what I ended up with:

18-team keeper league, 23-man active roster, 5×5 roto (includes runs, strikeouts), $260
budget


Roster                  Price

C  Charles Johnson       16
C  Eli Marrero            9
1B Carlos Pena            5
2B Frank Catalanotto     15
SS Alex Rodriguez        57
3b Ronnie Belliard        1
CI Adam Dunn             37
MI Alex Gonzalez (Chi)    7
OF Endy Chavez            1
OF Eugene Kingsale        4
OF Carl Everett          10
OF Brad Wilkerson        10
OF Jay Payton             5
UT David Ortiz            1
P  Greg Maddux           26
P  Aaron Heilman          1
P  Damaso Marte           1
P  Vladimir Nunez         1
P  J.C. Romero            1
P  Octavio Dotel          6
P  Byung-Hyun Kim        14
P  Scott Williamson      15
P  Billy Koch            17

I had just $17 left when the auction restarted, which severely limited my
options. I had to watch Ted Lilly get away for just $3, which hurt. On
the other hand, I was able to out-max-bid one team–I had a max bid of $5, he
had one of $4–for Carlos Pena, which was nice. The endgame picks of
Endy Chavez and Ronnie Belliard were met with positive response,
and I still don’t understand how Jay Payton went for just $5. Is there
any real difference between Payton v.2003 and Jeffrey Hammonds v.2000?

My pitching strategy reflects my stubborn beliefs about what can win in roto,
even 5×5: Dominate ERA, ratio and saves, and hope for the best elsewhere.
Byung-Hyun Kim‘s move to the rotation leaves me with just two closers
(and four backup closers), but I think that might actually be a net positive.
If Aaron Heilman comes up in three months and does what I think he can
do, I may finish higher in wins than I expected.

The drafts went as follows:


Res Placido Polanco
Res Jack Cust
Res Bobby Howry
Res Colby Lewis
Res Mike Timlin
Res Desi Relaford
Res Chad Bradford

Placido Polanco will be eligible at second base soon enough, and
provides an insurance policy should Belliard flop. I think Desi
Relaford
could steal 20 bases and provide BA and runs if he plays. I
grabbed two members of the Red Sox bullpen as well, just in case the saves do
start flowing in one direction (which may be Chad Fox‘s, if it
happens).


Minors Jake Gautreau
Minors Jeremy Brown
Minors Lew Ford
Minors Josh Stewart
Minors Anderson Machado
Minors Jayson Nix
Minors Jhonny Peralta
Minors Andy Phillips
Minors Koyie Hill
Minors Kelly Shoppach

I had a bit of a brain lock in the middle rounds (Anderson Machado and
Jayson Nix, who are marginal for this depth) but recovered nicely with
Jhonny Peralta, and finished strong with two older catching prospects
who can hit a little.

I know a lot of fantasy players read this column, and many of you provided
feedback going into the auction that proved invaluable. If you have any ideas
on how to improve this squad, fire away.

Notes

  • I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to do a full piece on this, but check
    out what Grady Little is doing in Boston. It appears that he’s going to set
    his lineup not just according to the opposition starter, but according to his
    own, maximizing infield defense when groundball machine Derek Lowe
    pitches, and letting it slide a bit when Pedro Martinez takes the
    mound. It’s just a few games, but the pattern was already apparent in Tampa,
    particularly at first base and third base.

    I don’t think many managers have done this aggressively. I want to say Earl
    Weaver did, but I don’t know if that was based on his starting pitchers or
    other factors. Davey Johnson did a pretty good job of using Howard
    Johnson
    at shortstop when he started Sid
    Fernandez
    , who got groundballs as often as he ordered heart-healthy meals.
    Other than that, I can’t think of a comp for what Little appears to be trying,
    and I think it’s a more interesting storyline than the Sox bullpen is.

  • Speaking of good managerial decisions, Lloyd McClendon has just two
    catchers on his roster, so Craig Wilson is the #2 man. Jason
    Kendall
    catches 85% of the innings anyway, so there’s not much need for a
    backup. This gives McClendon another way to get Wilson in the lineup while not
    wasting a roster spot on a no-hit backup catcher. Additionally, it keeps
    Wilson’s catching skills from deteriorating further, sustaining his value as
    more than a wrong-league DH. It’s a great move by McClendon.

  • Terry Shumpert, Cleanup Hitter.

    On April 3, folks. Not April 1.

  • For the second time in as many games, Hee Seop Choi was on the
    Cubs’ bench, this time against righthander Steve Trachsel. I’ve
    seen/heard two reasons for this; on the Fox Sports New York broadcast, it was
    stated that Dusty Baker was doing it because of Trachsel’s effectiveness
    against left-handers (.233/.303/.358 in 2002, and a fairly long history of
    being better against lefties); at Rotowire, Karros’ recent performance against
    Trachsel
    was the reason given.

    I don’t care if it was because Karros showed up at Shea Stadium with a magic
    bat capable of roping line drives and curing the sick. To sit Choi in
    consecutive games–to sit him against any right-hander–and to make him go three
    days without an at-bat are criminal wastes of his talent. Exactly how much
    grace is Choi going to get when his OPS slips under 1.000?

    I know Dusty Baker comes into Chicago off a World Series appearance and with
    the reputation of being a winner. I return, however, to what I wrote when he
    was hired:


    “The Cubs have a ridiculous reserve of young talent, and Baker’s
    signature skill is his ability to manage veterans.
    For a team like the Giants, with a GM in Brian Sabean who uses his
    farm system as a tool to get veterans
    for the major-league roster, Baker is the right man for the job.
    I don’t think Dusty Baker is the right man for Hee Seop Choi and
    Corey
    Patterson
    and
    Bobby Hill.
    I certainly don’t like the idea of him handling
    Kerry Wood
    and Mark Prior
    and Carlos Zambrano,
    even if Zambrano is older than
    his listed 21. I don’t think, as much as Jim Hendry seems to want Baker, that
    the match between a player-development-centric GM and a manager who values
    experience is going to work.”

  • Choi’s absence from the lineup has some fans up in arms, and they’ve been
    e-mailing me to solicit my support in freeing him, a la Erubiel Durazo.
    It’s not just Choi; I’ve heard similar pleas from fans of Craig Wilson and
    Jack Cust.

    The next cause, however, is none of these people. While all have been denied
    their rightful plate appearances, none has suffered as long as the rightful
    heir to Durazo’s place as the most unfairly treated man in the game. From the
    mountains to the oceans, from ballpark to ballpark, on sports radio and the
    Web, let all baseball fans be heard in a movement that will break the chains
    of the one too long shackled, and allow to him shine his light from gap to gap
    across the major leagues.

    Free Ramon Castro! Free Ramon Castro! Free Ramon Castro!