When it comes to the ninth inning in our fake baseball racket, there are really two types of leagues. Some pools are casual about closers, with a few on the waiver wire at any time. Conversely, many pools are blood-for-saves, where every handshake turns into a virtual knife fight.
I've grown up with the latter framework, which is why Chia-Jen Lo was on my television in the cobwebs of Tuesday night. And now, Lo is our featured opener in Closing Time.
Former Astro reliever Jose Veras cobbled together 19 saves for Houston over the opening four months, but he was moved to the Tigers in a late-July deadline deal. The hapless Astros have fallen on rough times since the Veras move, coincidentally of course, dropping 11 of 14 games. There hasn't been much time for a new bullpen structure to take shape.
Josh Fields had the first post-Veras save, striking out four in an impressive Aug. 5 lockdown of the Red Sox. Alas, Fields quickly undid all of that goodwill, getting rocked for five runs over his next two appearances (including a blown save at the hands of a Stephen Drew homer). Move to the back of the line. Time for a Plan B.
Don't feel bad if Lo wasn't on your radar entering the season - he's a 27-year-old marginal prospect who's spent five years in Single-A and Double-A. Excellent strikeout rate, dicey walk rate. Elbow problems cropped up a couple of years ago, and he was limited to 16.2 innings in the minors this season before his recall to Houston three weeks ago. Five scoreless appearances (dodging six baserunners) pushed him into Bo Porter's circle of trust, to the point that Lo was asked to get the final four outs Tuesday at Oakland.
Lo came through with the assignment, but not without some scary moments. A one-out walk complicated the ninth, and then the Athletics narrowly missed a pair of walk-off homers (one shot to the base of the wall in right, and one blast down the left-field line that may or may not have grazed the foul pole). Lo didn't close this game out so much as he survived it. Nonetheless, the Astros happily shook hands when it was all done.
Is 6.1 scoreless innings enough to put Lo into your plans? Depends on how desperate you are for saves. He's worked the last two days, so he might need a rest Wednesday; otherwise, I suspect he'll be at the top of Porter's list the next time Houston has a late lead to protect. Maybe that won't be until Labor Day, no one really knows. Lo is ready to add in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Scooter Gennett has been a popular Yahoo! pickup over the last 24 hours, fresh off a 7-for-15 binge with three homers (two on Tuesday; one no-doubt blast and one Arlington jetstream special). He's now hitting .284 and slugging .552 over his 67 at-bats with Milwaukee, and obviously the second-base gig is his with Rickie Weeks out for the year. Bernie Brewer likes this.
But when you look at Gennett's minor-league profile, you have to treat this power surge with skepticism. He only had three homers in 79 games with Triple-A Nashville, along with a .371 slugging percentage. He showed a little more pop in the low minors, but never got to 10 homers in any season. You need a rest-of-season projection to base your Gennett plans, and here's what I see: .273-23-1-12-4. Unless you're in a deep league where at-bats are a currency, I'd look for better options.
• I see three streaming options of note for Thursday, if that's how you play the game. Both sides of the Petco Park matchup look appealing, Zack Wheeler (39 percent owned) and Tyson Ross (just 24 percent, despite some silly numbers). And it's not like anyone is afraid of the New York and San Diego offenses (they rank 17th and 20th in runs scored, respectively).
Highly-regarded Oakland righty Sonny Gray had an ordinary start at Toronto last week, but now he's at home, taking dead aim at the swing-and-miss Astros. Good work if you can get it. Gray posted a superb strikeout rate in the minors, and he's owned in just seven percent of Yahoo! pools.
• With Miguel Tejada out for the year, the resurgent Royals decided to make an upgrade to their middle infield - if you can call Emilio Bonifacio that. Kansas City added the Toronto handyman on Wednesday, either for cash or a player to be named later. I suspect Bonifacio will get a chance to play regularly in KC - perhaps a steals spike is coming - and hopefully this will unblock Rajai Davis back in the YYZ - he's one of our favorite fantasy rabbits.
• Jeff Samardzija continues to be a reasonable source for strikeouts, but at what point is the rest of the jagged profile not worth it? Chicago's righty allowed four more runs (and 10 more baserunners) to the Reds on Tuesday, and he's been cuffed around for 34 runs over his last 45.1 innings. Chicago went for an early shutdown of Samardzija last season, and maybe it's worth considering this year - fatigue might be an issue right now. I'll sign off on any fantasy cut you want to make, short of NL-only leagues. You can usually find useful pitching, hiding in the shadows.