Not every Closing Time has a deep and developed opening theme. Sometimes we simply load up the bullets and go where they take us.
• If you're a regular streamer in fantasy baseball, you surely took note of Houston's opening series against Texas. The Astros struck out 43 times in the three games, and look like an appealing target for the 2013 season. We discussed this at length in the Yu Darvish celebration piece on Wednesday.
This doesn't make Houston a one-stop shop for the Stream Police, of course. Take a look at what the Miami Marlins did – and didn't do – in their opening-week washout against the Nationals.
Miami scored just one run in the three-game sweep (on a Justin Ruggiano home run), posting an anemic .167/.227/.222 line in the capital city. Washington's terrific pitching staff deserves a lot of the credit, of course, but look at the names in the Marlins batting order. Other than Giancarlo Stanton, who's scary here? Donovan Solano and Placido Polanco don't keep opponents up at night (and heck, they're two of the better sticks on the club). This is a matchup we'll want to exploit early and often for 2013. Where have you gone, Jeff Conine?
The Mets draw Miami for this weekend, but there might not be streaming utility in those three games. Jon Niese (Saturday's starter) is already gobbled up in most leagues, while Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey are below most streaming standards. But the Braves offer an interesting opportunity for Monday, when Paul Maholm (40 percent owned) takes on the Marlins. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor work later in the series.
Maholm has settled in nicely as an underrated, staff-supporting lefty over the last few years, posting an ERA in the 3.50-3.70 range along with an acceptable WHIP. He offered 3.54/1.19 ratios in his 11 starts in Atlanta last year, and was solid in an opening-week victory over Roy Halladay and the Phillies (one run, one walk, six strikeouts). Basically this is another Mark Buehrle type - the strikeout rate will never sing, but Maholm forces opponents to beat him. And pitching to contact is a fine way to do business when you're backed by Atlanta's terrific outfield (Upton, Upton, Heyward) and shortstop (defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons).
Maybe a stream-to-perm situation is at play for Maholm here. He's on a bunch of my rosters, for whatever that means to you.
• Trevor Bauer is going to be a popular stream selection Friday, as owners look to get him in advance of Saturday's start under the catwalk at Tampa Bay. The Indians initially had Scott Kazmir set as their No. 5 starter, but a rib injury forced the lefty to the disabled list. Bauer is a Top 20 pitching prospect on most lists into the season.
I'm going to sit out the Bauer speculation sweepstakes, and if I wind up missing something special, so it goes. Bauer was mediocre in four starts with Arizona last year (16.1 IP, 14 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 13 BB, 17 K), and the walk problem was also present in his minor-league work (4.2 BB/9). His walk rate dropped in 14 spring innings, for whatever that means, though he also had a dip in strikeouts. Like most 22 year-old pitchers, he's still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work in pro ball.
• Rick Porcello had a big spring for the Tigers and we watched his first 2013 turn with much interest, a friendly spot Thursday at Minnesota. Porcello wasn't exactly a flop (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 K), but we were hoping for a better result - more strikeouts, a quality start, maybe a victory. Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe went deep against Detroit's right-hander. I can't see why anyone would gamble on Porcello next week against Toronto. Doug Fister was held back in reserve for Friday's home opener against New York.
Detroit's closer search became more complicated Thursday with Jose Valverde returning to the organization. Papa Grande agreed to terms on a minor league deal, a strange agreement when you consider how the club repeatedly said all winter it wasn't interested in Valverde. Scott Boras has been pitching for his client all spring, insisting Valverde has trimmed down significantly and is hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun. I'll believe it when I see it; for now, this is a thumbs-down.
• Even when Carlos Marmol gets the job done, it's a white-knuckle job all the way. You don't really shake hands with Marmol after a conversion; instead you exhale and try to get your body composition back to normal.
Marmol was given a cushy three-run lead to protect Thursday against Pittsburgh and barely got the job done, allowing two runs and escaping on a game-ending double-play grounder. His mess came on the heels of a brilliant pitching day from his teammates; Travis Wood allowed just one hit over six clean innings, and three relievers didn't allow a baserunner in the seventh and eighth.
Popular hedge play Kyuji Fujikawa worked the set-up role, needing just nine pitches (seven strikes) in a tidy frame. It seems inevitable that Fujikawa will be this team's closer, and you can still land him in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues. In the meantime, the Cubs (and fantasy owners) will dream of a make-believe Marmol trade market. Apparently the Easter Bunny wasn't interested last weekend.
• Whatever Chris Davis is having for breakfast these days, pour us a bowl of it, too. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the Tampa series, going 7-for-11 with three homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs. Davis wasn't pull-happy with all of his swings - he did his best to do what he could with the pitches he was seeing - and his gorgeous-follow through almost reminds you a little bit of Josh Hamilton. Davis is somehow unowned in nine percent of Yahoo! leagues, which makes you wonder. I know looked at last year's .270-33-85 line with skepticism, a decision which now gives me pangs of regret. I know, I know, just one series.
Baltimore stole four bases in the rubber game of the series, but the swipe by Brian Roberts in the ninth inning came at a cost. The injury-prone Roberts injured his hamstring on the play and will likely go on the disabled list. There's no exciting backup to consider if Roberts can't go; Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty are around.
Speed Round: Eight different closers picked up saves on Thursday's abbreviated slate, including trouble-dodging efforts from Mariano Rivera and Jim Johnson (Evan Longoria's critical base-running blunder was appreciated). Casey Janssen had a shutdown appearance in the YYZ, needing just 12 pitches to dispatch the Indians (nine strikes, two punchouts) . . . Stephen Drew (post concussion) started his rehab assignment Thursday and might be ready to go when the Red Sox return home for Monday's opener at Fenway Park. Snappy defender Jose Igesias went 7-for-12 in the New York series (six singles), but there's nothing exciting about his minor-league hitting profile . . . Josh Reddick got off the skids, pounding a homer and a double as the Athletics knocked around buzz kid Brandon Maurer (6 IP, 6 R). Reddick's outstanding facial hair deserves a blog post of its own . . . The Royals have some interesting decisions to consider as they visit Philadelphia this weekend (without a DH slot). Billy Butler is in line to play first base in all three games, which means Eric Hosmer either slides to the outfield or doesn't play. Perhaps Hosmer will take a day off against one of the two left-handed starters, most reasonably Cole Hamels on Sunday. Your move, Ned Yost . . . Like countless writers and movie buffs in my age range, I grew up reading, watching and admiring Roger Ebert. I've collected a bunch of his video guides in my library; back before the Internet exploded, reference books were everything. So sad to see Ebert pass on at age 70, when he clearly had so much more to say. Rest in peace, good sir. Your balcony, now and forever, is officially closed.