Pitchers tease us, pitchers thrill us, pitchers break our heart and pitchers ultimately decide fantasy titles. We'll open this closing time with the starters, and we'll finish it with the bullpen aces.
• Make it 32.1 scoreless innings for Roy Oswalt, who mowed down the Pirates Thursday with a tidy three-hitter. He needed just 90 pitches (70 strikes), and got 19 ground-ball outs. The streaking Astros are now just three games out in the Wild Card race, but their run will be put on hold for a while; Hurricane Ike is about to hit Texas, forcing Houston and Chicago to cancel their scheduled games for Friday and Saturday. Sunday's game is no sure thing, either; the Houston Texans moved their home opener against Baltimore to Monday night.
Oswalt's run certainly caught a lot of us by surprise. He's finally nudged his strikeout rate up a speck after three straight years of decline and he's had better control than a year ago, but there's some other red ink on the file: a notable line-drive jump and homer spike. I guess at the end of the day it comes down to expectations; Oswalt shouldn't be priced as a fantasy ace at the table next year, but he's a reliable guy as your No. 3 or No. 4 option in a mixed league.
• Rich Harden made his first start in just about two weeks Thursday, and it was a solid effort, if not a dominant one (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K). His velocity was down all night, something the Cubs downplayed afterwards. "I don't know why everybody puts so much on velocity," Harden said after the win. "Location is the most important thing, change of speed. I realize that this year more than any other. I used to try to rear back and throw it as hard as I could every pitch. I've done better trying to take something off and locating. When you need it, you've got a little extra." Alrighty, ace.
• The Blue Jays aren't giving up on the Wild Card chase, even as they're not really that close (6.5 games out). Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Jesse Litsch will all pitch on three days of rest in the Boston series this weekend (remember the teams have a double-dip Saturday).
• Is it time to think about shutting down Matt Cain for the year? He was rocked for the third consecutive turn Thursday (3.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R), and over his last five starts he's managed just 16 strikeouts (against 15 walks). Something isn't right here.
• Jered Weaver didn't have any problems with the cuts on his pitching hand Thursday, blanking the Mariners for six innings (and outpitching Brandon Morrow). Weaver probably needs to keep throwing well if he wants to be in the team's playoff rotation.
• Livan Hernandez has been taken out of the Colorado rotation, much to the chagrin of hitters everywhere. The AL posted a .341 average against The Human Batting Tee this year, and it's been a .358 clip in the NL.
• Adrian Gonzalez has slowed down some in the second half, but he was on his game Thursday, clouting homers 30 and 31 and pushing his RBI count to 103. I can't wait to see what this guy does some year if he leaves San Diego.
• Mark Ellis is down for the year and probably headed for shoulder surgery. His .233 average definitely left a mark for roto players this year, but keep in mind he also contributed 12 homers and 14 stolen bases over 117 games (in addition to excellent defense). He could be a sneaky value next season, depending on where he signs.
• Adrian Beltre is going to need thumb surgery and he's also got a bum shoulder, but he hasn't decided if he wants to squash the final two weeks of the season. He's been surprisingly productive of late despite the ailments, collecting 26 hits and five homers over his current 14-game hitting streak.
• Injury Lap: Jeremy Guthrie will rest his tired arm this weekend and miss a turn. I don't see what's to be gained by pitching him again this year, and it's past cut-bait time for those fantasy invested . . . Paul Konerko (knee) won't play this weekend, according to Ozzie Guillen . . . Joe Crede is getting a second opinion on his back, another clear sign that we shouldn't expect him to return in 2008 . . . Josh Hamilton stroked three more hits Thursday, then had to leave the game in the eighth inning after taking a ball off his right foot. He's day-to-day . . . George Sherrill (shoulder) was activated Thursday, but he wasn't called into the game even as the Orioles had a save situation. Jim Miller got the conversion, getting a scoreless ninth despite a pair of baserunners . . . Troy Glaus doesn't have any structural damage to his shoulder, so he has a shot at playing this weekend. I'd suggest a safer play, even if it's a mild drop-down in name-brand value.
• You give Francisco Rodriguez a three-run lead in the ninth inning, he's probably going to hold it. That was the case again Thursday, as he put away the Mariners and collected save No. 57, tying Bobby Thigpen's major-league record. Let's hope misguided voters don't run with this team-context stat and give K-Rod the Cy Young Award; that trophy belongs on Cliff Lee's mantle, and anyone who's actually paying attention realizes that. Look under the hood with K-Rod's numbers and you can build a strong argument that he's not even the AL's best closer this year, let along the top pitcher. (Yeah, this rant has run before in this space, similar words anyway. It's the last time I'll subject you to it, unless Rodriguez actually wins the Cy Young. If that happens, I might need to give myself a 24-hour ban from the blogosphere.).
Hope you were able to shake down some stats from this 10-game slate; we'll do it all again tomorrow night. And before the season ends, we'll give you a cookie on the way out: preliminary 2009 fantasy baseball ranks. More info on that to come.
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