Sweet swinger (USP)In a lot of ways it's been a season of distraction in Milwaukee. The Ryan Braun Controversy kicked off the campaign. The closer wheel has been in full effect all year. Zack Greinke was unbeatable at home, a mess on the road, and in trade talks all summer ... eventually parceled to Anaheim. The carnival of Rickie Weeks, the emergence of Carlos Gomez — there are plenty of stories here.
Somehow, in the middle of it all, Norichika Aoki flies mostly under the radar.
The Aoki contract didn't get a lot of attention in the winter. Although Aoki was a batting ace in Japan, he was seen as a tweener in the American game — maybe a third outfielder, maybe a fourth outfielder. In most standard mixers, he wasn't drafted or even queued up.
The Brew Crew has settled on Aoki as the leadoff man, where his .287/.355/.415 slash line plays well. He's stolen 22 bases and he's not a punchless stick, either (seven homers). He's been especially aggressive after the break, swiping 11 bags in 48 games. Perhaps he's finally more comfortable reading moves and picking his spots; there's obviously an adjustment period for this element of the game.
If you prefer to make Aoki a specialty play, consider he has an .810 OPS against right-handed pitching and the Brewers face five northpaws in their next six games. For those ready to kick some tires, you'll find Aoki available in 86 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Sounds A-OK to me.
• Kenley Jansen did some side throwing on Wednesday and the Dodgers are targeting a Sept. 17 return date, but if you're in any kind of non-keeper format where roster spots are fluid, I wouldn't wait around. Who's to say Jansen doesn't have a setback between now and then? How can we be 100 percent positive that he immediately returns to the closing gig?
Brandon League is the arm I want in this bullpen for the rest of the season. He threw another bagel on the board Wednesday, working around two walks, and he's been excellent over his last nine appearances (10 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 14). A few more walks than we'd like, sure, but if you're missing that many bats, you're generally fine at the end of the day. League is still waiting for pickup in 53 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• If you're streaming a little stream for Friday, here's a look at my clipboard...
Jonathon Niese and his new nose get the green light at Atlanta, especially given how Paul Maholm has struggled of late. Homer Bailey is as consistent as a paper cup in a windstorm, but he's at home against Houston and I'm never going to be worried about that matchup. AJ Griffin (18 percent) was outstanding in his last effort and now he's at Seattle; the only buzzkill — he's up against King Felix.
The San Diego backdrop is always a fun place to invest; grab Tyler Skaggs if you like. Andrew Cashner isn't as appealing to me off the layoff, but if you're simply looking for good innings and don't care about a deep start or a chance at a win, you have my approval. (I'd be shocked if the Padres allowed him to throw a lot of pitches). The Friars really need to think about a dimensional change for next year; it's okay to have a pitcher-favoring park, but an extreme pitcher park has competitive disadvantages.
I'm not dialing up Phil Hughes at Baltimore — as much as I wanted to deny this Orioles story, at some point you admit defeat. Wei-Yin Chen also is a tricky option, with a 5.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over his last month.
Lucas Harrell isn't a bad pitcher, but he's supported by a terrible club and he's on the road at Cincinnati. Best to avoid. Henderson Alvarez perished for me several weeks ago; not even a start against Boston holds interest for me.