All YYZ, all the time. We'll give a pseudo-endorsement to a relief pitcher of note, and talk of a a restless young infielder who wants to run the big machine.
I've been trying to avoid the Toronto bullpen whenever possible (as a writer and as a roto player), but Frank Francisco is doing what he can to reverse the reputation. Francisco worked a 1-2-3 inning Thursday against the Orioles, picking up his 12th save, and he hasn't allowed a run since the middle of July. Check the results over his last 14 innings: 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K, grace under pressure. You'd sleep better at night if this story were about missing bats and not batted-ball fortune, but bagels are bagels. Now watch Francisco blow up this weekend and counterfeit this entire paragraph.
Jon Rauch is also around to complicate things; he came off the DL on Thursday and worked a perfect eighth inning. I'm assuming Francisco has pitched well enough to hold the ninth inning for now, but this closing situation has been fluid all season. I hope the Jays have a reasonable monthly plan for their bullpen phone.
The hitting stars in Toronto's 8-6 victory were the infielders. Forever underrated Yunel Escobar posted a 5-1-4-2 line, Kelly Johnson had three hits including his second AL homer, and Brett Lawrie did the usual (three hits, seventh homer, fourth steal). What's a realistic price for Lawrie next year in a mixed-league redraft? Late fourth round? Fifth round? Sixth round? Would anyone go earlier than that? I still don't get Farrell batting the kid in the bottom third of the order, but that probably won't carry over into 2112 2012.
• Let's make it a hearty handshake for Jordan Walden, because it's been a while for him. The rookie closer set down the Mariners in order (one strikeout), picking up his first save since Aug. 9. Walden has only been scored on once in his last 19 appearances, though he recently admitted that he's feeling some late-season fatigue. He's struck out at least one man in 11 straight outings, so I don't see anything wrong with his stuff. Sometimes save droughts are more about random chance than anything else.
• Bobby Parnell's fourth save was nothing spectacular; mostly, it was a freebie. D.J. Carrasco couldn't get out of his own way in the ninth inning against Florida, so Parnell was summoned for the final out (which he recorded on an infield liner, after John Buck knocked a double to right field). The Parnell narrative hasn't changed at all - he's got a mid-90s heater and the ninth inning to himself, and that makes him ownable even if the overall skills package hasn't matured yet. I don't want to keep having this conversation with you, gamers; let's push Parnell far past his current 19-percent ownership tag and move on to other subjects.
• I still think the Brewers are a lock in the NL Central, but the Cardinals aren't going gently into that good night. The Redbirds swept their critical set at Milwaukee, getting through on Thursday with power (four homers off the maddening Yovani Gallardo, Yo Gabba Gopher) and excellent bullpen work (5.2 IP, 1 R). Jason Motte might have the baton in the closing race here; he worked the ninth (non-save spot) while Fernando Salas pitched in the seventh and eighth. Motte hasn't allowed an earned run since June 23, a stretch that covers 32 appearances. He's struck out 19 and walked just two over that span, and you can grab him in 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• A.J. Burnett pitched in Boston and lived to tell about it, getting through 5.2 innings without a major catastrophe (5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K). That should buy him some time with the Yankees, but we can't trust anyone with a 5.25 ERA and 1.44 WHIP at this time of year. Take off, hoser. The Red Sox hit Mariano Rivera better than anyone (and it's not even close), but Rivera escaped Thursday, loading the bases before an Adrian Gonzalez strikeout ended the game.
Jesus Montero is up with the Yankees but there's no regular job waiting for him. He'll probably DH against all lefties (he went 0-for-4 against Jon Lester and friends) and see some occasional at-bats elsewhere. Russell Martin remains the full-time catcher, and his two hits and two RBIs sparked Thursday's win.
• The Marlins want everyone excited about the 2012 season and their new ballpark, but there's isn't much fun tied to the current team. Josh Johnson isn't expected to pitch again this year (though he might throw off a mound in a couple of days), and the Hanley Ramirez shut-down notice could come at any time. Ramirez has a bad shoulder and might need surgery.
Emilio Bonifacio did all he could to spark the club on Thursday, collecting three hits and a couple of steals to go with two runs and three RBIs. He'll probably be the shortstop for the rest of the year, no matter his defensive issues. Say this for Bonifacio, his game has taken off nicely since Jack McKeon came on board. Logan Morrison went 1-for-3 in the loss and is 6-for-31 since returning to the big leagues.
• The Reds are just about ready to shut down Mike Leake for the season. He's currently at 158 innings after throwing six mediocre ones (7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 3 K) against Philadelphia on Thursday. There aren't a lot of strikeouts to be had with Leake, but a 4.12 ERA and 1.23 WHIP isn't bad for a young pitcher. It's a shame he has to work in that Cincinnati launching pad about half the time, but a career ground-ball rate of 48.5 keeps us interested.
• Let's get you streamed up for the Saturday slate. Start with Cory Luebke (54 percent), working at home against Colorado. Add a dash of Mike Minor (22 percent), who welcomes the Dodgers to Atlanta. Brandon McCarthy (23 percent) is another homeboy, drawing the Mariners. Need to look deeper? Feel free to consider Luke Hochevar (seven percent) against Cleveland, Chris Narveson (14 percent) at Houston or Wade Davis (13 percent) against Baltimore.
Speed Round: Carlos Zambrano won't return to the Cubs even after his stint on the disqualified list ends. Mean mean stride, mean mean pride. … Pedro Alvarez hasn't been able to fix anything in the minors, scuffling through a .154 slump through 14 games, along with 20 strikeouts. He can't help you in 2011. … The Jair Jurrjens slump might be tied to physical problems. He'll have his ailing knee examined on the weekend, and he won't pitch Sunday as scheduled. The banged-up Braves might go with Julio Teheran for a spot start in next Thursday's doubleheader with New York. … It's a good thing the Yankees really don't need the AL East title (a wild-card spot would be fine, big money goes around the world), because they're a banged-up club right now. Alex Rodriguez is dealing with a sore thumb, though he might play Friday, and Mark Teixeira (knee) probably needs a day off. … Kevin Youkilis (back) is ready to rejoin the Red Sox, but J.D. Drew (finger) is at least a week away (just typing his name makes me a little ornery). … The Orioles are going to skip Brian Matusz next week, much to the chagrin of American League batters. … Jered Weaver's next start has been pushed back a day, which means he'll go Saturday against Brian Duensing and the Twins. … Alex Presley finally had a game of note, going 2-for-4 with a homer. He seems locked into Pittsburgh's No. 2 slot and could be a sneaky power/speed source down the stretch. … Jason Kipnis (oblique/hamstring) might be back with the Tribe next week. He was knocking the cover off the ball when he got hurt. … Stephen Strasburg was sharp in his final rehab start, allowing just one hit over six shutout innings. He's back in the majors Tuesday, starting against Los Angeles. … Gio Gonzalez was a mess in four of his five August starts, but he didn't have any problems with the Indians on Thursday (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 7 K). Have a look at the moving pictures. Gonzalez is an interesting play for next year, stepping into his age-26 season. We know he has the ability to miss bats; a modest improvement in control could make him a star. He's been superb in Oakland this year, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Now go prove it on the road, lefty.
Image courtesy Associated Press