Saturday night is typically the day of rest for Closing Time, but there's been some interesting stories today and I've got some juice in the Mac, so let's get some quick snippets out to the masses. Say hello to Extra Time. If you're coming across this post Sunday morning, pop it into the microwave and reheat as necessary. I'll keep typing until the Mac conks out or the official comes running over with a red card, whichever comes first.
If you've played fantasy baseball for the last few years, you've probably been mad at Gordon Beckham at some point. He's basically been in a slump of over two years since his snappy 2009 debut, and the ugly numbers have been passed around most leagues, from one owner to another.
I thought I was done with Beckham, too, but maybe I'm ready to buy back in. He's looked terrific for a couple of weeks now, and we shouldn't hold a grudge when crooked numbers come calling.
Beckham's bat started to get going in the late stages of May; he had a couple of hits, including a homer, in the May 18 win at Wrigley Field (otherwise known as Kerry Wood Day). If you cluster all of Beckham's at-bats from that date to the present, you get this impressive run: .317 average (20-for-63), 14 runs, six homers. And there haven't been many cheap hits here; Beckham has been a line-drive machine, as you see in his play log. It's not luck if you keep squaring the ball up and hitting it hard.
Perhaps there's a logical reason for Beckham's recent hot streak, but I haven't come across it. Is it a new stance? A more aggressive approach at the plate? A subtle mechanical fix? Maybe he's just building off a little confidence? I'm not sure. But I like how he's parked in the No. 2 slot in a strong Chicago lineup (thank goodness we don't have to watch Brent Morel bat second any longer), and this is still a young player (just 25) who was a ballyhooed first-round pick just four years ago. The development curve is not standard from player to player, and who knows how much the White Sox might have messed up Beckham when they shifted him from third base to second base back in 2010 (anytime you move to a harder position on the defensive spectrum, you're asking for trouble).
The fantasy public hasn't rallied behind Beckham yet, either; he's still unowned in 86 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Time to step up, gamers. Like it or not, Beckham is on a pace to club 24 homers and score 84 runs. That plays in any format. And while his average isn't pretty right now, there's no mistaking the potential here, or the impressive swings we've seen lately.
The Jose Valverde Experience goes far past that. Detroit Tiger fans shouldn't watch him pitch. Opposing fans shouldn't watch him pitch. The Surgeon General needs to slap a warning patch on Valverde's uniform and the Detroit bullpen phone. No one should step into the batters box against this guy: you are not safe. Everything is crumbling around Papa Grande these days.
Valverde's latest unraveling came Saturday night against the Yankees, a white-knuckle ride all the way. He hit two batters - including Russell Martin with the first pitch he threw - and walked two other men. Only 13 of his 28 pitches were strikes, and at least two strikes were outright gifts from Bob Davidson, Captain Myopic behind the plate. Somehow Valverde escaped with just one run scoring, perhaps because the Yankees swung the bats against him a little too often. When someone is this wild, let them beat themselves.
The roto gods smiled on Valverde a few minutes later, as Detroit pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth and secured the win. Valverde now has three wins to go with his three blown saves . . . and a 4.64 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. He's walked 15 men against his 17 strikeouts.
Jim Leyland says there's nothing physically wrong with Valverde, but that can't be said of primary set-up man Joaquin Benoit. The veteran righty left Saturday's game with a tight forearm, after bailing out Phil Coke's mess in the seventh. The Tigers can't afford to lose Benoit right now; he was outstanding in May (2.19 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, two walks, 17 Ks) and has the package of skills that would best work in the ninth.
Octavio Dotel worked the eighth inning Saturday and picked up one of those fake blown saves that middle relievers are burdened with; Dotel was unlikely to work a six-out appearance for the save, no matter what, but when he allowed a run and lost the lead in the top of the eighth, the red ink goes on his card. His WHIP is a tidy 1.09, but he's carrying a 4.42 ERA. He's had two notable ninth-inning scenes this year: he flopped as a ninth-inning temporary closer May 7 at Seattle (he couldn't find the strike zone and basically handed the game away), but he was fine a week later when Valverde (back) needed a ninth-inning caddy. Dotel retired one of two men at Chicago that day, scoring an easy handshake.
You need a bottom line to all this, so let's break into quick takeaways. Valverde is not to be trusted; there's a good chance he won't be closing all year. Maybe ineffectiveness does him in, maybe it's an injury . . . Benoit's upside is significant, if he can stay healthy. See if he's floating around your wire; just make sure you check his status in a day or two . . . Dotel is the clear No. 3 option in this bullpen, but it's a card the Tigers might need to play if Valverde and Benoit can't stay healthy or land the planes consistently. Be cognizant of him, too.
Where have you gone, Mike Henneman?
scouting video on Matusz, see what you make of it.
To be fair, the environment at Tropicana Field played into Matusz's gem. It's a good life under the catwalk, where pitchers have nine lives: Tampa Bay's eyesore was the strongest run-blunting environment in both 2010 and 2011, and it's doing similar work this year. And with Evan Longoria nowhere near the Rays lineup, it's a good time to attack Joe Maddon's crew.
The Orioles have an off day Monday, which means Matusz might stay on normal rest and pitch Thursday at Boston. There's no way I'm using him in that park against that opponent. But Matusz has pitched well enough of late to be part of the stream police, and we also have to be open minded to the opportunities that come along in Tampa Bay. Pitchers don't get many breaks in New York, Toronto, Boston or Baltimore, where every park floats run scoring, home runs, or both. But the mound at Tropicana Field remains a sweet spot.
- Sports & Recreation