Here's the sneaky part of the Brian Wilson story in San Francisco: the Giants might not miss the departed closer very much. There's outstanding depth (and facial hair) left over in this bullpen, and it was on full display in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over Philadelphia.
Madison Bumgarner worked six solid innings for starters, then handed the ball to a lockdown parade of right-handed relievers. Clay Hensley (a sneaky comeback story) struck out two of three men in the seventh, Sergio Romo needed just 13 pitches in a pitch-to-contact eighth, and Santiago Casilla sandwiched three ground-ball outs around a bloop single, wrapping it up. Outstanding work from the bullpen brigade, low-stress bagels from the high-leverage men. Bruce Bochy has to feel pretty confident with this group, and don't forget that the Giants also have decent left-handed options in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.
Most of these pitchers would make for reasonable closers, but apparently Bochy has decided that he's most comfortable with Casilla being the primary ninth-inning man. He referred to Casilla getting the "lion's share" of saves before Tuesday's game, and we have to consider that Casilla handled this job adeptly last September while Wilson was out. Timing played into that appointment of course — Romo had a short stint on the DL in August and by the time he retuned, Casilla had territory carved out. If the Giants wanted to chair the bullpen with Romo in the ninth, surely that would work, too. But for the time being, Casilla looks like the man sitting in the cushy chair, the reliever who gets the save-recording glory.
In the aggressive save-chasing leagues, Casilla is already long gone. The only people adding him now are those that play in smaller formats or in pools where relief spots have a low cap (a strange way to run roto business, if you ask me, but do what you like). As for Romo, he's still worth a ticket in most leagues, as he can provide excellent ratio stats, a fantastic strikeout rate, and the ability for an odd save now and then (if Casilla works out) or maybe a promotion to the big chair later in the year (if Casilla flops). And it's fun to watch right-handed hitters flail away at Romo's frisbee slider.
• Heath Bell badly needed a clean and easy handshake, and he came through nicely in the victory over Chicago. Buoyed by a three-run lead, Bell pounded the zone and retired the Cubs on just eight pitches (seven strikes). With Bell back on the beam and Ozzie Guillen back in the dugout, the Marlins can shift their worry to other things, like Giancarlo Stanton's leg problems (yes, I'm concerned) and Logan Morrison's wayward play in left field. Things look more solidified in the infield at the moment; Hanley Ramirez crushed a game-deciding three-run homer Tuesday, and the defense turned four double plays.
Chicago's Ryan Dempster still doesn't have a win, despite whiffle ball stats through three turns (1.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, eight walks, 23 strikeouts). He's at home against Cincinnati on the weekend. Starlin Castro is up to .372, and he's a perfect 7-for-7 on the bases; with those numbers, we'll excuse the absence of a homer. Marlon Byrd's Age 34 season doesn't have anyone excited; he's off to a dreadful .059/.135/.059 push through 34 at-bats. You're now allowed to close your eyes and dream about Brett Jackson for ten minutes, Cubs fans.
• There's not much positive to say about Boston's 18-3 loss to Texas (if you came for the yummy Ranger stats, here's your box score, dig in). Most of the pitchers were knocked around, starting with Jon Lester (2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 4 BB, 2 K) and eventually getting to soft rock Mark Melancon (three loud homers allowed, six straight men reached). The Red Sox were worried about Melancon in March and he's been even worse than they could have feared this month. I'll be stunned if he's not in the minors or on the disabled list in short order; I suppose either move will come down before Josh Hamilton's home run lands.
Are they booing, or chanting 'Youk?' (USP)And then there's the Kevin Youkilis problem. The Greek God of Hobble struck out four times Tuesday and also botched what should have been a double-play grounder in the third inning (it didn't go as an error, but it helped Texas eventually get two more runs). For all the talk of Bobby Valentine's loose comments about Youkilis (and they were bush league), the skipper certainly seems right in his concern over Youkilis. If you currently own Youkilis and can still trade him for 60-70 percent of his March value, I'll sign off. Youkilis has looked completely lost since spring training opened.
• The White Sox never had a lead against Baltimore, ultimately losing 3-2. Right-handed relievers Addison Reed (scoreless inning, 2 K) and Jesse Crain (perfect inning, 2 K) both looked sharp, keeping Chicago within range. As we discussed Tuesday, Hector Santiago needs to start getting righties out, because there's outstanding depth behind him in this bullpen (Matt Thornton, Reed, Cain). Adam Dunn's hot spring hasn't carried over to the real games. He's at .179 with 18 strikeouts (against just four walks), and he hasn't homered since opening day.
As for the Orioles, they continued to make hay with their homer trot: Nolan Reimold (going, going, gone) and J.J. Hardy broke the game open with back-to-back taters in the sixth inning. The setup for Reimold is easy to see, a post-hype guy who was a monster last September (.281-16-5-17-6). I worry a little bit about Buck Showalter screwing things up for Reimold later in the year, but you can't bench a slugger who's 8-for-16 with four homers over his last four games. (Reimold did miss two starts in the middle of all that, dealing with a sore leg, but it's not considered a big deal). If I were shuffling the outfielders today, I'd have Reimold in the $13-14 range.
• If Lester Burnham were still with us, he'd be smiling along with Detroit rookie Drew Smyly. The lanky lefty went to Kansas City and produced a quality turn (6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K), taking advantage of a Royals lineup that struggles against left-handers. Smyly wasn't able to get the win — the game was 1-1 when he left — but Detroit's Big 3 in the bullpen dodged four baserunners and closed out the 3-1 victory. Give the win to Octavio Dotel and the save to Jose Valverde, though Joaquin Benoit had the best stuff (three strikeouts, 13 of 18 pitches were strikes). Smyly goes into the deep-streamer pile for now; I'm not ready to trust him against the Rangers next week.
• The Pittsburgh at Arizona game turned into a frustrating watch for fantasy owners, a game defined by the big names who weren't participating. Justin Upton is dealing with a bone bruise in his thumb; it's not clear yet if he'll avoid the DL. He's out for Wednesday, that we know. The Chris Young Breakout Tour hit a snag, as he suffered a shoulder contusion while making this terrific catch in left-center field. We'll see what the MRI from Wednesday tells us. In the meantime, it might be worth a look at Gerardo Parra as temporary outfield filler (short of that, you can always dial up Rico Suave and fill your Gerardo minimum). And the Pirates victory had an odd feel to it, as Joel Hanrahan (flu or hamstring tightness, depending on who you believe) wasn't available to close it out. Juan Cruz picked up the rogue save, getting three routine infield outs.
And speaking of frustrating, what about the Pedro Alvarez nightmare at third base? The aimless hacker took an 0-for-4 collar Tuesday (though he was the man Young robbed in the fourth inning), dropping his slash line down to .042/.042/.167. He's struck out 12 times over 24 at-bats (against zero walks), and this came on the heels of a washout spring training (.170/.182/.283, one walk, 22 whiffs) and a terrible 2011. What would Alvarez have to do to get benched or demoted? Casey McGehee (.333; pinch-single Tuesday) is capable of playing third full-time, and deserves to be there right now. I can only imagine how juicy those Polaroids must be.
Show me your soul (USP)• You never have to win a wrestling match if you want to own Kyle Lohse (consider that I got him for just $3 in NL Tout Wars, a deep mono league), but if you don't have to sweat his modest K/9 rate, there's a useful pitcher here. Lohse tossed seven bagels at the Reds on Tuesday (4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and was in line for a win before the bullpen handed the lead away. Lohse's game plan isn't tricky: he mixes four pitches, throws strikes (just two walks over 20.1 innings), and keeps you in the ballpark (his HR/FB rate has been super during his St. Louis career). Lohse comes strongly recommended for his Sunday turn at Pittsburgh, and I wouldn't be afraid of the home date against Milwaukee after that.
Jason Motte eventually claimed the victory for the Redbirds, working a scoreless tenth inning. He's off to a strong start as the chairman of the St. Louis bullpen, allowing just three hits and one run through five innings. Even better, he's got seven punchouts against zero walks. Tony La Russa was notorious for bumping Motte all over the place, but apparently new skipper Mike Matheny is going to be good to his closer. In this year of bullpen volatility, Motte is one of the few guys I really trust.
Speed Round: It was Brad Lidge's turn in the Washington closer shuffle and he converted against Houston, dodging a couple of baserunners. If I could have any reliever on this club and all I cared about were saves, I'd still take Henry Rodriguez (yes, over Drew Storen). … Francisco Liriano looked awful (2.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 2 K) for the third consecutive start, washing away any good feelings from March. As we used to say in the merciless days of college, get out the one-way ticket to dump city. … Chris Perez had to escape a bases-loaded jam in Seattle, though one of the hits was a bad hop single from Jesus Montero that almost decapitated shortstop Jason Donald. Vinnie Pestano worked a perfect eighth inning in front of Perez, and the Cleveland bullpen as a whole was outstanding (5.1 scoreless innings) after Justin Masterson blew up during his start (eight runs). … If Javy Guerra can blow a save, I guess anyone can: the Brewers took him down Tuesday. George Kotteras had the game-flipping hit; Kotteras is going to remain a reserve for the Brew Crew, but his frisky start could cost Jonathan Lucroy a few at-bats.
Jason Heyward reached base twice and had a steal out of the No. 2 slot as the Braves kicked Johan Santana around. Freddie Freeman (I love that he wears No. 5) returned to action and had a much-needed breakout (single, double, two RBIs). … Mike Scioscia gave away a game to the Athletics, as he decided Kevin Jepsen could be trusted in a high-leverage situation. You've got better options, skip. I've taken a few shots at Yoenis Cespedes this year, so let's be fair: he had a couple of hits, and a stolen base in Oakland's victory. Intriguing No. 3 hitter Josh Reddick (man, I wish Boston still had him) went 3-for-4 with a couple of doubles. … Post-hype kid Mat Gamel had his best day of the year, cracking three hits (including his first homer) and stealing his third base (much appreciated). Not that he's been tearing up the league, but I'm surprised he's currently unowned in 87 percent of Yahoo! Nation. Gamel has job security, a trimmed-down body, and a minor-league resume that screams out "hitter." … The Stream Police (looking at Thursday's starters): I'm in on Bud Norris and Edwin Jackson, up against each other in Washington (though they're both over 50 percent owned), and you should give Jeff Samardzija (grossly underowned at 37 percent) the ball at Miami. I'm not going to use Mike Minor (42 percent) at Arizona, even with Upton and Young dinged up. But I still think Minor should be owned in any league that has 12 or more owners.