May 25, 2012
With a holiday weekend upon us, it's time to make a list and tick the items off. Clothes washed and packed, check. Various cords and chargers stashed away, check. A loaded and juiced iPod, good to go.
Okay, maybe we need one more thing to make it all complete: let's find us a winning streamer for the weekend. Brian Matusz, come on down.
Let's be clear on what I'm proposing: a short-term assignment, a streaming pick for Sunday. If he does well in that start, we can discuss future possibilities. One thing at a time.
You probably know the story with Matusz, but in case you don't, here's a quick refresher. The Orioles made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft and the lefty immediately went on the fast track to the majors. A strong finish to the 2010 season put him into that dangerous "improvement priced in" sleeper status, and he turned into a colossal flop last year (looking at his 2011 ERA and WHIP is more harmful than staring at the sun; you can look them up for yourself, but put on safety goggles first). We never really could tell what the problem was. Injury? Broken confidence? A stubborn refusal to bend his cap? Sometimes all you have is theories, no hard answers.
A train wreck season like that pushes you off the radar, but let's get Matusz back in our sights. He's been sharp in five of his last six starts, with the stats collecting this way: four wins, 35.1 IP, eight walks, 27 Ks, 3.57 ERA. Perhaps that final number leaves you a little cold, but keep in mind Matusz ran into the Josh Hamilton wrecking crew in his one poor start over the last month (seven runs). Otherwise, it's been smooth sailing, and he's cut his teeth against a handful of strong offenses. He's faced every AL East rival (and you know they can all hit) during this revival.
The Orioles are so impressed with Matusz's recent run, they're keeping him on normal rest and using him Sunday (meanwhile, Tommy Hunter gets bumped). And Matusz doesn't have to worry about an AL East rival in this spot: the Royals are the opponent on the schedule. Let's step up, take advantage.
Kansas City's offense has been vulnerable to left-handed pitching this year: the Royals are ninth in OPS against righties (.736), but the rank drops to 23rd against the southpaws (.656). Andy Pettitte cruised through this lineup earlier in the week. And it's not like the Royals are presenting a dynamic starter to go opposite Matusz: if you can't see the flaws in Luke Hochevar right now, you're not trying very hard.
I can't say definitely that the Orioles will be in the race all summer, but this certainly looks like an improved and competitive ballclub. Meanwhile, the Royals are stumbling along with a 17-26 mark. You don't win fantasy titles on paper, and paper can't throw strikes, but this has the look of an exploitable matchup. Matusz is available in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues as we go to post. Who's with me?
• The Yankees offense hasn't been great of late, to the chagrin of so many fantasy owners. But I love the idea of trying to buy low on some people here, almost any big name in the lineup. Your mileage will vary, of course; maybe you can't get any of these guys at a good price. But just be open-minded and try, just the same.
New York has just 103 runs over the last month, which ranks them 23rd in the majors. But has the offense really been that bad? New York ranks 12th in batting average for the same period (.253), thirteenth in OBP (.321), fifth in slugging (.430) and fifth in homers (37). If I merely presented the slash line and power stats to you in a blind survey, you wouldn't expect the scoring column to be so depressed. Heck, the Yanks were the AL's lowest scoring team in May before the recent breakout against Kansas City. I know a fluke when I see one.
Work the phones, gamers. I know someone's sick of Mark Teixeira, somewhere (or Alex Rodriguez, or perhaps several others). This still looks like an elite offense to me, a lock to be Top 5 when all the counting is finally done come October. Even if you have to pay full market for someone like Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson, there's a likely path to profit. Yankee Stadium is going to show its teeth many times this summer; get in on this while the getting's good.
• And sticking with the comeback theme of this Opening Time (east coast bias? nah), let's give a word about the rallying Phillies offense. As my buddy Mike Gianella pointed out earlier this morning, the Philly offense is third in wOBA over the past month, and the runs have been flowing as well (132 in all, which is third in the NL over that point). In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Given the loaded rotation here and the state of the bat-slumbering NL, I fully expect Charlie Manuel's gang to get back into the thick of the race. Okay, they're pretty much in it already — despite being in last in the NL East, the Phillies are just four games back of Washington. I'd be surprised if GM Ruben Amaro Jr. turned into a seller at the deadline; he has enough horses to compete, and you might as well take one more stab with this talented-but-aging core anyway.
Fantasy takeaway? Better days should be ahead for winless Cliff Lee and temporarily-struggling Roy Halladay. I doubt you can get a discount on them, but at least be open to the slight chance. Back in the real world, I'm not afraid to take a swing at a boring and unproductive veteran like Jimmy Rollins: shortstop is still a thin roto position, and this could be a fun lineup later in the summer - grab the triggerman. Despite the poor start, he still is on pace for 35 steals and 85 runs. That latter stat surely goes up if the club gets anything from Chase Utley and/or Ryan Howard (he's moved up to batting practice) later on.
• That jolting sound you heard in the middle of the night was the window slamming shut on the Dan Haren buy-low opportunity. Haren toyed with the Mariners over a dazzling four-hit shutout, walking no one and striking out 14. Roll the tape, enjoy the pictures. Resurgent Albert Pujols sparked the offense, hitting his fifth homer and adding a couple of singles. I still don't consider Pujols a first-round bat going forward; to me he's an early-third rounder. But at least he's been productive of late; the angst of an Internet world can now focus on something else.
The Mariners didn't have much to cheer about, but let's make a quick note about reliever Steve Delabar. He mowed down the Angels over two clean innings (three strikeouts), and for the year he's carrying a 0.91 WHIP and 28 whiffs (with just six walks) over 22 innings. The 4.50 ERA might push some people off the case, but this is a useful arm — and someone you want to consider in K/9 formats. He's out there virtually everywhere, owned in less than one percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• The Tigers offense could use a shot of adrenaline (the Indians earned their sweep and have to be considered the AL Central favorites right now), but help won't be coming from Austin Jackson for a while. The transcendent defender and improving hitter has been placed on the 15-day DL due to his abdomen injury. Such a shame, because this had "breakthrough year" written all over it.
Let's run through some possible Jackson replacements in the mixed roto environment: Brennan Boesch (45 percent owned, swinging a lot better of late), Andy Dirks (41 percent, a shorter but similar model to Boesch), Jeff Francoeur (40 percent, finally waking up), Mitch Moreland (36 percent, hitting .354 over last month), Yonder Alonso (30 percent, no power but super BA potential) and Coco Crisp (28 percent, use him before he gets hurt again). If you need to look deep, consider Daniel Nava (12 percent), Ty Wigginton (12 percent), Michael Brantley (10 percent) or Bobby Abreu (five percent).