As a Travis Wood sympathizer, I was expecting the worst when he left Friday's game against St. Louis. Wood did his job (7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K) and held a three-run lead, but the Cubs have an uncanny way of blowing his likely victories. It's absurd that Wood has just 12 wins over his last 38 starts, despite a deep resume of outstanding work. It was no shock to see the Cardinals score a couple of runs in the top of the eighth.
But once Hector Rondon took the mound in the ninth, I figured things were okay. The 2014 Cubs are a train wreck in 100 different ways, but they've found a dominant reliever for the closing role.
Rondon set the Cardinals down in order, needing just 12 pitches. He's off to a terrific start: 0.63 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 15 strikeouts against just four walks over 14.1 innings. And with Jose Veras blowing up (and hitting the DL) and Pedro Strop battling a walk problem, Rondon makes sense as Chicago's pitcher of choice in the ninth.
The handshake was just Rondon's second of the year, and Chicago's third. Part of that is life with a fifth-place ballclub, though the overall save total is partially a fluke. Either way, I'm fully expecting Rondon to own this gig going forward, and even a bad team can support a fantasy closer if its steering the chances to one primary reliever. Rondon is significantly underowned in our world, a mere 22 percent in Yahoo. Let's fix that.
Before we leave Chicago entirely, let's circle back to Wood. No one expected him to keep his ratios from last year (3.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), and to this point, he hasn't (3.35/1.25). But this year's ERA and WHIP are perfectly acceptable in most formats, and they've come with Wood pitching much better in the component areas. His K/BB rate is excellent (37 strikeouts, just seven free passes), his ground-ball rate has risen significantly, and he's getting a lot more swinging strikes (especially on pitches out of the zone). Next week's matchup against Chicago won't be easy (the White Sox lead the AL in runs), but I fully expect Wood to be a worthwhile fantasy play for the entire season.
• The 2014 Astros, as it turns out, are who we thought they were. They're 10-19 through the first wave of the season, worst record in the American League. They've been outscored by 53 runs. They've been bad at home (6-11), bad on the road (4-8). It's going to take a while to fix things here.
Maybe it's going to take a while for George Springer, too. Although Springer had Friday's game-winning hit (a fortuitous chop through the infield), it came on the heels of four more strikeouts. He's compiled a paltry .180/.254/.213 line through his first 61 at-bats, with a whopping 23 strikeouts. He has a couple of doubles, no home runs. He's also made five errors in the field, quite an accomplishment in today's see-no-evil MLB.
Is a touted prospect better off learning (but struggling) at the major-league level, or would a return to Triple-A be good for a kid's confidence? The Astros aren't going to publicly throw Springer under the Metro, but you wonder what the team thinks behind the scenes. My gut feel: I expect Springer to be back in the minors at some point in 2014.
• Toronto reliever Casey Janssen (back) is expected to start a rehab assignment Monday at Double-A New Hampshire. Exhale, YYZ. Your ninth-inning nightmare is almost over.
Interim closer Sergio Santos has five saves on the young season, but he's also had gasoline moments. The Pirates took batting practice against Santos on Friday (three runs, two homers), stealing the game in the bottom of the ninth. Santos also allowed three runs agains the Royals on Tuesday. He's sitting with two losses and three blown saves, and despite a gaggle of strikeouts (17), his ratios are hideous (10.61 ERA, 2.25 WHIP).
Maybe fantasy owners are best served to ignore this bullpen until Janssen returns. Santos certainly can't be trusted, and there's no obvious save solution in the meantime. Nonetheless, let's have a look around.
Todd Redmond has been solid in middle relief (2.45 ERA, three strikeouts for every walk), but he's not seeing any leverage work. Steve Delabar has a 3.86 ERA over 14 appearances, but look at six walks against seven strikeouts. He worked in the sixth inning Friday.
Brett Cecil piles up the whiffs (21), but he's walked nine men over 12.1 innings. He's also a lefty and fights that closing bias; same for Aaron Loup (3.38 ERA, mediocre K/BB rate). Nondescript Neil Wagner has five holds.
If saves were all that mattered and I needed a gamble who wasn't Santos or Janssen, I'd go with Cecil – but it's not a pick with any confidence. Cecil did post two strong innings Friday (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 K), setting up the save chance that Santos frittered away. I suspect John Gibbons will take a committee approach until Janssen returns.