I don't hide the fact that I love what I do for a living and where I do it. And fantasy baseball is a passion of mine, no doubt. But tonight's assignment is a little bit different; a Closing Time shift on the NFL's opening weekend sort of feels like writing a term paper on Christmas Day. Pour me some egg nog and let's get through this. My reward is helping you raise that championship flag in three weeks.
Crisp September bullets (at back-to-school prices) will follow:
• Max Scherzer was fun Sunday in LA, give him that (5 IP, 3 R, 11 K). At one point he whiffed eight of nine batters, but he also rung up 94 pitches pretty quickly, which kept him from going deeper in the game. His delivery remains violent as ever, but anytime you see him in a starting assignment, it's stream-worthy for all those pretty Ks. We'll see how Bob Melvin plans to handle his rotation next week; Scherzer got this assignment because the club wanted to skip Randy Johnson (sore shoulder); Johnson is expected to come back Saturday.
It was a struggle for Clayton Kershaw on the other side (4 H, 6 H, 3 R, 2 HR), and you'll probably want to ice him for the coming week as he heads back to Colorado (the Rockies hammered him six weeks ago).
• I was expecting the Brewers to run wild on Chris Young and his slow delivery Sunday, but the tall right-hander scoffed at my notion, taking a perfect game into the eighth inning. No, Virginia, you can't steal first base. Young's bid at immortality ended like you'd expect - Gabe Kapler roped a pitch over the left-field fence.
• David Ortiz homered Sunday after going 19 days without a tater, and the drought is not a coincidence. "My hand is not okay," he told the Boston Herald. "It's still bugging me once in a while but we're winning, so I don't pay attention to it." Ortiz also described "clicking" in his left wrist tendon. It looks like he'll gut it out for the rest of 2008, then get things fixed with off-season surgery.
• Keep an eye on Chase Headley, who's shown a keen batting eye in the second half after a power- and strikeout-laden first month with the club. He's only got three homers since the break, but the other indicators are favorable here, and he's also stolen three bases just for grins. I'm using him as a spot-starter on Monday, and it could be a temp-to-perm position.
• It's possible we've seen the last of Billy Wagner (elbow) for 2008; he had a setback in Sunday's simulated game and is set to be re-evaluated Monday. Luis Ayala, forever a journeyman, figures to stick in the closing role for as long as Wagner is out. As for John Maine, there's talk of him possibly returning in a relief role.
• Nate McLouth needed six stitches after a mild outfield mishap; the ball struck him above the left eye. "Maybe I'm kind of lucky I was wearing glasses," McLouth told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nyjer Morgan benefits if McLouth needs to miss any time, albeit this looks like a day-to-day thing and John Russell said McLouth is fine.
• Speed Round: A presumably-healthy Luis Castillo was held out of both games against Philadelphia, as the Mets chose to ride Damion Easley (4-for-8) on their most important day of the season. Thanks for the memories, LC, don't forget to write . . . Cliff Lee pitched great, like he always does. Ditto for Adam Wainwright, maybe the most underrated arm in the National League (and someone I'll go plus-one on next spring) . . . Pablo Sandoval keeps producing (two hits, five RBIs), are you listening? It's been a lost year for hitting catchers and he's a cornerman much of the time, what's not to like? . . . Yusmeiro Petit has become a trendy streaming choice for Monday's start against the Giants, but keep in mind he has to beat Tim Lincecum, and Petit's mistakes often wind up as left-field souvenirs. I'm an admitted streamer, but I'm leaving this one alone . . . Carlos Delgado didn't have any problem with Cole Hamels, clobbering a couple of pitches out of the yard and hitting the century mark in RBIs . . . Every garage band should cover "Ziggy Stardust" and "God Save the Queen." I will not debate this.
• Injury Lap: Carl Crawford (hand) is still hoping to play in the final week of the season according to the St. Petersburg Times . . . Jeremy Guthrie (dead arm) will be pushed back a day, now working on Tuesday . . . Rafael Furcal (back) is running and taking ground balls, while Takashi Saito (elbow) might be back Friday. Saito says he's throwing all of his pitches with no discomfort . . . Chris Dickerson is dealing with a sore ankle, though it didn't keep him from pinch hitting Sunday . . . Mike Cameron has a sore knee and hasn't played the last two days . . . We might see Dontrelle Willis (forearm) in another game this year but I wouldn't go anywhere near it, no matter the format . . . Hopefully you weren't counting on a double dip from Brandon Backe this week; he's got a sore arm and won't go Monday. The unexciting Alberto Arias gets the spot in his stead.
• The every-other start trend for David Purcey continued, as he shut down the Rays for the second time in three starts (eight scoreless innings, seven strikeouts). I'm not crazy about him in Fenway next weekend, however.
• Taylor Teagarden has made a splash in his brief time with the Rangers (5-for-15, three homers), but his mediocre minor-league numbers from 2008 keep him off my roster.
• Handshakes: Jesse Carlson (2) cleaned up for the Blue Jays as B.J. Ryan got a day off . . . Fernando Rodney (10) now has nine saves in a row, for those brave enough to ride the train . . . Jensen Lewis (8) got back in the save column for the first time in two weeks . . . Joel Hanrahan (8) hasn't thrown the ball well the last few times out, but he kept them off the scoreboard so we'll take it . . . A much-needed rally for Chris Perez (7) on the heels of two blown chances . . . Another unhittable effort from Jose Valverde (40), the NL's most dominant closer of the moment . . . J.J. Putz (12) allowed a hit and plunked Jason Giambi, but no one scored . . . Jonathan Broxton (13) worked hard for the money, getting five outs and striking out three. He's got six scoreless outings in a row since the Sunday night misstep in Philadelphia . . . That Francisco Rodriguez (55) is having a pretty good run.