Closing Time: Where did Eduardo Nunez come from?

Closing Time: Where did Eduardo Nunez come from?

Not a lot has gone right in Minnesota this year. Byron Buxton was a strikeout machine in April. Miguel Sano just landed on the DL, hamstring injury. Brian Dozier has been battling the Mendoza Line all year. And let’s not talk about the pitching, which is the worst in the American League.  

Instead, we’ll try to talk about something positive. Who the heck is Eduardo Nunez, and what is he doing batting .340? 

Entering 2016, Nunez was one of those players that you probably recognized but never took that seriously. He had a mediocre slash of .267/.308/.388 for his six years, never seeing more than 309 at-bats in a season. One year he hit as many as five homers. He stole 22 bases for the Yankees in 2011. Good enough to be in the majors, not good enough to make a solid impact. 

Something’s clicked for him through 42 games in Minnesota this year, though it’s not easy to pinpoint. He hardly walks — just five for the season. He’s striking out 17.1 percent of the time, more than his career average. His line-drive rate is under 19 percent, nothing to look at. A .386 BABIP makes you question the .340 average. 

That said, there’s category juice with the story. Nunez has five homers and nine steals, and he’s been particularly dynamic as Minnesota’s leadoff man (.979 OPS, 15 runs in 18 games). He also covers two key infield positions in Yahoo fantasy — shortstop, third base. He’s barely owned in more than half of our world, but this deep into the season, I’ll sign off on universal ownership (even as the average comes down, you're comforted by the steals, some pop, and a good lineup slot). Make sure he’s not floating around your waiver wire. 

— The deeper we get into this CC Sabathia comeback season, the more legitimate it appears. He continued to do his surgery in the 80s on Tuesday night, holding the Jays to a pair of runs over six innings (5 H, 1 BB, 4 K). He allowed his second homer of the year — even with this shiny sinker, we know that number will come up. Sabathia took a loss for his efforts — the Yankees didn’t do much with JA Happ — but quality innings have a value, nonetheless.  

Sabathia’s 2.85 ERA is a little better than the 1.20 WHIP would suggest, but let’s hear it for consistency. Sabathia has made eight starts in all, and he’s yet to allow more than three runs in any of them. His pinpoint control has returned over the last half of the run, along with more swing-and-miss stuff — he had 25 strikeouts against just five walks in May. Upcoming starts at Baltimore and against Detroit don’t sound easy, but after six quality innings in Toronto, anything seems possible. Sabathia should be owned in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues. 

Another Leak (BNB)
Another Leak (BNB)

— It took Mike Leake a while to get adjusted in St. Louis — maybe that goofy uniform No. 8 is an adjustment, too. But he’s been in fine form of late, winning four of his last five turns (1.59 ERA, WHIP under 1). His ground ball rate surged over 50 percent in May, and he also induced more soft contact. The Tuesday line at Milwaukee was classic Leake: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. The Cardinals offense took care of the rest, piling up 10 runs. 

The under-the-hood stats don’t completely buy into Leake’s snappy May, mind you. Although his strikeout percentage went up and his walks were cut by a third, it’s still been a case of living right. The BABIP rested at .216 for the month, the strand rate over 94 percent. FIP suggested an ERA of 4.48, xFIP a 3.88 number. I still think Leake will maintain a mid-3s ERA the rest of the way, but I’m not going to let the current run get me chasing rainbows. I do like him at Cincinnati for his next start, however.

— The Julio Urias debut in New York didn’t go as we hoped, but he’s going to get another chance. The Dodgers were forced to recall Urias on Tuesday, the corresponding move to Alex Wood (triceps) hitting the disabled list. It’s not clear yet if Urias will start at the Cubs or at home against Atlanta; that’s probably the biggest matchup disparity the NL offers this year. 

If Urias draws the Braves, I’ll sign off on him as a streamer candidate. For whatever nerves he showed against the Mets, it was also a case of getting squeezed on a few pitches. His glittering minor-league resume speaks for itself.  

— Hey, Mookie Betts hit three home runs at Baltimore. One to left, one to center, one to right. We generally don't lead with those items, because what the heck can you do with a Mookie Betts CT lead? Can you add Mookie Betts? What's actionable here? 

If you prefer to read some Betts propaganda, we direct you back to the Outfield Shuffle Up from last week. All we've been waiting for is more production on the road. Tuesday, we received a lovely down payment.