I understand why many of you want no part of Kyle Lohse. He's been around the scene for a decade and most of his results have been mediocre; he's occasionally been useful in mixed leagues, but more often than not he's blown up on us. I understand why you wave your hand dismissively.
But after watching four strong Lohse starts to open 2011, we at least have to put him under the microscope. Do you believe in Dave Duncan miracles?
The latest Lohse conquest came Thursday afternoon, a two-hit shutout against the punchless Nationals (.218/.305/.333). Lohse walked two, struck out six, and was in command the entire way. He's at 3-1 for the year with a 2.01 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. He's worked seven innings or more in every turn.
Although Lohse has a sparkling K/BB rate thus far (22 whiffs, four walks), this is mostly a pitch-to-contact story. He's only getting swinging strikes on 4.9 percent of his pitches, and the contact rate against Lohse is well above the league average. It's certainly helped that his ground-ball rate is slightly higher than his career norm, and the usual fluke-flashing stats also come into play (.207 BABIP, 3.8 HR/FB). That established, when you throw all the component numbers through the car wash Lohse still comes out looking solid (2.50 FIP, 3.05 xFIP).
We don't have to make a five-month plan with Lohse, obviously; let's take this surprise story on a start-by-start basis. His next turn comes next week at Houston, and that's a favorable draw. He's still available in about two-thirds of Yahoo! groups.
• Brandon McCarthy was a hot property around 2005 or so, so it's easy to forget that he's still just 27. Elbow and shoulder problems dogged him over the years, and working in a pair of hitting havens (Chicago, Texas) didn't help the cause, but maybe the timing is right for him to come into fantasy relevance now that he's with the Athletics.
McCarthy lost a 1-0 beauty to Felix Hernandez on Thursday, going the route on the road (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K); Adam Kennedy's homer was the difference. McCarthy lowered his ERA to 2.10 with the outing, and he's piled up 20 strikeouts against just three walks. He's got a 50 percent ground-ball rate to point to, and Oakland's roomy park to bail him out when the ball goes in the air. His next turn comes in Anaheim next week, and the post-hype righty is still unowned in 89 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Nothing adds to a game's intrigue quite like lead changes, and the Braves and Dodgers had plenty of them in their Thursday matinee. Freddie Freeman's homer off Clayton Kershaw staked Atlanta to the early lead, then the Dodgers surged ahead when Juan Uribe and Casey Blake went deep. And things got really interesting in the ninth.
Don Mattingly gave Kershaw a shot to close the game out, but the Braves spoiled things with a two-out rally (three hits and a walk plated two runs, with David Ross of all people coming up with the lead-flipping hit). Jonathan Broxton entered the game after Atlanta took the lead — and he put the fire out — but you get the idea Mattingly's handling of the ninth was more about not fully trusting Broxton than it was about validating Kershaw.
No worries for Mattingly in the end, as a Hollywood ending bailed out the Dodgers. Blake squared the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out single off Craig Kimbrel (on an 0-2 pitch), and Matt Kemp ended things two innings later with his second walkoff homer of the week. It was a stunner to see the Braves pitch to Kemp in that spot; with Andre Ethier on second and first base open, the situation was screaming for an intentional walk (Uribe was on deck). Instead, Kemp launched another moon shot, Vin Scully spun his elegant post-game poetry, and Randy Newman serenaded the fans on the way to the parking lot. Whatever you paid for Kemp this year, a major profit seems likely.
• The Indians finally hit a sour note as Chris Perez handed away a ninth-inning lead in the Kansas City rain. Royals reliever Aaron Crow picked up the win (he still hasn't allowed a run this season), while Chris Getz stole a couple of bases (he's up to four). Grady Sizemore had three hits for the Indians, raising the estrogen level in Ohio by 47 percent.
• While we're still looking at small sample sizes and you don't want to get crazy with any player analysis, at what point is it okay to get concerned about Angel Pagan? The Mets center fielder had a messy night Thursday, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout before a sore left side knocked him out of the game. He's at .159 for the season. You don't want to judge anyone's defense too harshly from Thursday given that heavy winds played havoc with everything hit into the New York air, but Pagan's been struggling in the field as well, routinely taking bad routes to fly balls. (He also had a minor collision with second baseman Justin Turner early in Thursday's game, though it wasn't the source of the injury; Pagan hurt himself swinging the bat.)
Pagan is expected to miss a few games (hello Willie Harris), and some head-clearing time might do some good. Then again, Pagan really had no track record before his 2010 surprise season and remember his stats came down significantly in the second half (the OPS dropped 167 points). Pagan owners probably have no choice but to sit and hope for the best, but non-owning gamers probably don't want to invest here unless the sticker price is significantly reduced.
Everybody Hurts: Logan Morrison (foot) is down for 2-4 weeks, which opens up opportunity for Scott Cousins or Emilio Bonifacio. Both men were in the lineup Thursday; Bonifacio took the collar, while Cousins had two hits including a grand slam. … Kevin Youkilis left Thursday's game due to a sore shin. X-rays came back negative, so he's day-to-day. … Daric Barton didn't start due to an undisclosed illness, but he was able to pinch hit. … Jason Bay (ribs) rejoined the Mets and scored a couple of runs (one of them courtesy of the Hunter Pence follies). … Nyjer Morgan (thigh) went on the DL, which means nothing can stop the Brewers from Carlos Gomezing us to death. … New York's Chris Young (biceps) is on pace to come off the DL early next week. … Delmon Young (ribs) is headed for an MRI, as the poor Twins can't get a break.
Speed Round: The Rays have been the saving grace to Gavin Floyd — he's beaten them twice and rolled up 15 strikeouts. His key moment Thursday was getting John Jaso to rap into a double-play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second. … Mike Leake's off-field problems didn't hold him back against the Diamondbacks (7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 6 K). Leake threw 62-of-97 pitches for strikes. … Roy Oswalt and three relievers combined on a four-hit shutout at San Diego, because that's what pitchers do against the Padres. Mat Latos struck out seven on the other side but otherwise it was an uneven start from him (five walks, two homers allowed, a fielding error too). … Mike Stanton finally got off the skids (homer, plus two walks), and Hanley Ramirez stole a couple of bases. … Scott Baker threw seven super innings at Baltimore (4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K), and you'll like him against Tampa next week. … Sergio Santos worked in a non-leverage situation (Chicago hasn't seen a save chance in a while) and looked good, striking out two in a scoreless inning. … Pedro Alvarez finally broke through, knocking his first homer of the year. … Jair Jurrjens was sharp in his second start, allowing just one homer over six innings in LA (7 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K). He gets a favorable turn at San Diego next week. … Wandering the earth aimlessly, without direction? Follow me on Twitter. We'll wander aimlessly, together.
Images courtesy Associated Press