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Closing Time: Stephen Drew heats up; Boston bullpen phone dials to Japan

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Love that dirty water (USAT)

Monday was a fun day to be a sports fan in The Hub. The Bruins took care of business in the YYZ, thumping Toronto, while the Red Sox enjoyed a walk-off win over Minnesota. John Farrell's club has a 21-11 record through the opening five weeks, the best mark in baseball.

A high-octane offense is driving much of the Red Sox story: Boston currently stands fifth in runs, third in OBP, third in slugging, and second in stolen bases. There's solid production all over this lineup. And with that in mind, let's check in with the most under-appreciated part of the group, shortstop Stephen Drew.

Drew was the hero of Monday's victory at Fenway, collecting four hits. His homer in the seventh inning tied the score for the locals, and a wall-scraping double in the bottom of the 11th (thanks, Ryan Doumit) ended the game. Drew also made a couple of snappy plays in the field.

Yahoo! owners haven't been keen on Drew this spring: he's owned in just eight percent of leagues. Gamers surely remember the injury-riddled past with Drew, and that seasonal line of .225/.317/.394 also sticks out at you.

The latter fact is misleading, however. Drew battled concussion issues in March and spring training was essentially a washout for him. He looked completely lost in his first two weeks back with the big club. If you focus on what Drew's done over the last 12 games (yes, a cherry-picked sample) you see a far different player: .317/.395/.585, two homers, 11 RBIs. Sounds like a guy worth adding to me. Get on your footwear of choice and let's kick some tires.

Boston's bullpen also requires an immediate audit. Andrew Bailey (biceps) is currently on the disabled list, a common spot for him, and Joel Hanrahan isn't healthy either. Hanrahan blew Monday's lead in the ninth, courtesy of a Brian Dozier homer, and he departed soon thereafter, complaining of right forearm tightness. Hanrahan's line through nine games is an absolute mess (7.1 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 4 HR, 6 BB, 5 K) and he's already had one DL stint in 2013.

A pair of Japanese relievers are worth considering as save-chasing adds. Veteran Koji Uehara has been sharp over 13.2 innings (2 BB, 17 K, 2.63 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) while emerging Junichi Tazawa has an almost identical stat line (14.1 IP, 3 BB, 18 K, 2.51/0.98). There are lots of options when Farrell picks up the bullpen phone; welcome to the Tokyo Police Club.

Uehara has some closing experience in the majors, if that matters to you, and he's proven to be reliable over 172 MLB appearances. The biggest downside to his case: Farrell prefers not to use the 38-year-old in back-to-back games. Tazawa, 26, was one of the AL's most underrated relievers last year (1.43/0.95, 5 BB, 45 K), and he's been sharp again this spring.

[Also: Giants' Brandon Crawford more than just a 'defense-first' shortstop]

Head to the waiver wire and place your bets. Uehara is currently owned in 22 percent of Yahoo! leagues, while Tazawa trades at 13 percent. Even if quality innings are all you want (with or without the handshake), these guys are worth your time.

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Trotting Simmons (USAT)

• The grip-it-and-rip-it approach didn't hold the Braves back at Cincinnati; Atlanta scored seven runs (in spite of 15 strikeouts) and grabbed the first game of the series. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons clocked a couple of homers (you get the idea he won't be batting eighth too much longer) and Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla collected two hits each. (Uninvited: Bossman Junior and his four strikeouts. That's what you sign up for with him, ridiculous peaks and valleys.)

Evan Gattis contributed a run-scoring double but his mixed-league usefulness could be near the end. Brian McCann (shoulder) made his seasonal debut Monday (0-for-4, walk, strikeout) and obviously is Atlanta's regular backstop, effective immediately. Gattis was given a start in left field Monday but looked uncomfortable throughout (one error, a handful of spotty routes). I'm guessing Gattis will be looking at 7-12 at-bats per week going forward, assuming nothing happens to McCann. And even if the rookie proves playable in left field, the Braves should have their full outfield back in business soon (Jason Heyward took BP on Monday). Start shopping for a new catcher in your start-one mixers.

I realize the name brand of the Dodgers is hard for some to look past, but I want my pitchers up against this team right now – especially in Chavez Ravine. The star-crossed offense is currently 28th in the majors in runs, along with a piddly .363 slugging percentage. Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis are on the DL, Adrian Gonzalez is dinged up, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier aren't doing much. There's no fear attached to names like Punto, Gordon, Schumaker and Uribe.

Bottom line, a start against this club is good work if you can get it. Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley finish out the Arizona series, and Jose Fernandez and Kevin Slowey take their shot on the weekend. LA is your lady.

Trevor Cahill cruised past the Dodgers on Monday, spinning a pitch-to-contact story (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K) in a 9-2 victory. There's a reason why discerning scouts like Cahill in his Age 25 season: his career ground-ball rate is a zippy 55.3 percent, and his K/BB rate continues to gain steadily. He's still on the escalator, and surprising unrostered in a third of Yahoo! leagues.

The stomach-punch loss of the night came under the catwalk, as the Rays somehow frittered away a seven-run lead against Toronto. J.P. Arencibia's ninth-inning homer off struggling Fernando Rodney put the wraps on the comeback. Creamy-smooth Casey Janssen rolled in the bottom of the inning, as he normally does. He's been ridiculous all year (one run, three baserunners, 12 Ks).

Back to Tampa, let's keep in mind eight different closers have led this team in saves over the past eight years (hat tip, Jason Collette). If Rodney doesn't rediscover the strike zone soon (he's walked nine men over 10.2 innings, to go with that messy 5.06 ERA and 1.78 WHIP), Joe Maddon might be forced back to the drawing board.

Set-up man Joel Peralta is the logical hedge if you need to bet against Rodney. Peralta occasionally struggles to keep the ball in the park, but his K/BB and WHIP trends all fit a closer profile. He had 37 holds for the Rays last year, so you know he's in the circle of trust.

Speed Round: Remember all that speculative silliness about Anthony Rizzo being demoted? That was a good one. Rizzo collected a homer and four RBIs in Monday's romp over Texas. He's up to .262 with nine homers, 25 RBIs and a .905 OPS. … Dominant James Shields (eight scoreless) lost a win courtesy of a Greg Holland blown save, but the Royals would have escaped if not for a misplay from Chris Getz (no error was charged on the play, par for the course) . . . Vinnie Pestano (elbow) was finally put on the DL, extending the leash on Chris Perez. … Kyuji Fujikawa (forearm) is on a rehab assignment and could rejoin the Cubs this week. … Jarrod Parker allowed four homers in Cleveland and now has a sore neck to go with that 7.34 ERA and 1.98 WHIP. Eventually the other cleat is going to drop here. … Andrew Cashner only had four strikeouts against the Marlins, but a shutout into the eighth inning is fine with everyone (7.1 IP, 4 H, 3 BB). Jedd Gyorko added his third homer of May.

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