In the unbalanced world of Major League Baseball, teams out of division don't meet up very often. The Royals and Athletics just played a three-game set in Oakland that marks Kansas City's one and only trip to the 94621 this year. We hope you got something out of it, because it was a quirky little series.
That crafty Tommy Milone played dodgeball against the Royals on Monday, posting eight bagels despite the fact that he didn't strike anyone out. Kansas City got even Tuesday, with Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow dominating in a rain-shortened game.
The clubs saved the best for last, giving us 12 innings of baseball fun Wednesday afternoon. You had Jeff Francoeur buying pizza for his new friends in the Oakland outfield. Yoenis Cespedes stole his first base. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Jonny Gomes knocked balls into the seats (Gomes also swiped a bag; be good, Jonny). And with no one scoring in the eighth, ninth, tenth or eleventh inning, you had a tense, exciting baseball game.
This rubber match should have gone down as the Francoeur Pizza Game, but Jonathan Broxton wound up stealing the show in the bottom of the 12th inning. You'll always remember where you were when you saw Broxton's meltdown for the ages.
The Royals plated a run in the top of the 12th — Butler's double scored Eric Hosmer — and then handed the ball to Broxton, the nominal closer. Big John headed to the mound and wound up throwing 24 wildly and crazy pitches. Three outs and a handshake? Forget about that. For 15 minutes on the mound, Broxton turned into Eric Plunk.
Clip and save this play-by-play log for the ages:
Seven Oakland batters came to the plate. No one hit the ball out of the infield. Broxton was unlucky to some extent — Alcides Escobar's error forced him to get one extra out — but it's hard to defend any closer who walks two batters and then hits two more over a crazy five-batter sequence. Only 10 of Broxton's 24 pitches were strikes. The ending to this baseball game was straight from the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.
Broxton's meltdown came on the heels of a dominant outing Sunday at Los Angeles, a perfect three-strikeout handshake. He was rocky in his only other appearance this year, allowing two hits and a run in a get-work appearance on Saturday. It's too early for the Royals to have a forced shift in the bullpen, but all blown saves are not created equal. If you fritter a game away because of wildness or the gopher ball, you basically do a Hong Kong Phooey chop to the collective stomach of your organization. If Broxton doesn't fix this problem soon, Ned Yost won't have much of a choice.
Greg Holland is the looming save threat for the Royals. He was all over the place in Friday's season opener 4.0, but he's rallied back with three scoreless innings, including a tidy 2-0-0-0-0-3 line in Wednesday's matinee. He's struck out 102 batters against 28 walks for his 82.1 MLB innings, the type of ratio that works in the ninth (okay, or in any high-leverage role). If Big John doesn't rally quickly, Little Greg (5-10, 200) is ready for a promotion. And Crow, last year's All-Star rep for the Royals, would also be a viable candidate here if everything else failed. Yost has some options.
The Indians visit Kansas City on Friday, settling in for a three-game set. The Tribe knows a few things about blown saves; they've given them and forced them through the opening week of the year. Track these endgames closely, as both teams have a potential closer on the brink. Don't head to the exits until the last out is recorded.
While you digest the Broxton walk of shame, let's have a look at the other Wednesday stories from the sandlots.
• Is this the year the light goes on for Aroldis Chapman? He had an electric five-strikeout stint at the end of Cincinnati's victory over St. Louis (here's the video evidence), giving him 10 punchouts over five scoreless frames. He's only allowed two hits this year and he's yet to walk anyone (that's as shocking as the strikeout total). Go back and read all the press reports about Chapman a couple of years ago; they were glowing in their praise. The post-hype sleeper file wins again.
The Reds are happy with Sean Marshall manning the ninth inning, but perhaps Chapman is ready to have a breakout similar to what Kenley Jansen posted in 2011 (monstrous strikeout rate in middle relief). That's useful to most fantasy owners. I can see why Chapman isn't universally owned — the non-closing reliever isn't that attractive in very thin formats — but he should be owned in the 70-90 percent range, not his current 53-percent tag. Give a look on your wire, just in case.
• Justin Masterson's buzz had a short shelf life, as the White Sox hit him for four first-inning runs and cruised to an easy matinee victory at Cleveland. He really needs a consistent out pitch against left-handed batters, something that escaped him here. Intriguing leadoff man Alejandro De Aza started the fun with a homer; he's collected five runs, two round-trippers and a stolen base through five games. You can still add him in 56 percent of Yahoo! leagues; this looks like a 15-30 type of breakout season. No. 2 hitter Brent Morel is buried with a .062 average, but he found a way to score three times in Cleveland. The Tribe could use something from Michael Brantley, who's in a 1-for-17 skid. At the bottom of the order, Jason Kipnis is off to a 2-for-21 start. Where have you gone, Carlos Baerga?
The Indians aren't standing by idly as their team struggles; the club is negotiating with journeyman free agent Johnny Damon, though a signing isn't official yet. Damon is lost at any outfield position, given his rag arm — he'd be a terrific short fielder for a beer league softball team — but the Tribe needs someone who can get on base. Perhaps Damon can do that. It's a situation that AL-only owners obviously have to pay attention to, but Damon has to force his way onto standard mixed league rosters.
• As much as I don't pull for the Yankees to win ballgames (I've got New England roots, after all), it's nice to see them back in form, taking their frustrations out on the Orioles in a three-game sweep. We need some absolutes to keep us centered in this world, and the "New York good, Baltimore bad" theme in the AL East always works for me. Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher (two of the coolest ballplayers East of Francoeur) reached the seats in the series finale, with Kevin Gregg eventually taking the loss in the top of the tenth inning (you want a ballgame finished, you summon Gregg to the mound). And Mariano Rivera doesn't want anyone to worry about him; he's posted three scoreless innings since his opening-day meltdown, and he's also got five strikeouts over 3.1 frames. He's still a Tier 1 closer.
Baltimore righty Jake Arrieta received a no-decision for his respectable start, working into the seventh inning. He's turned into a mildly-buzzy pitcher for deeper leagues, with a 2.63 ERA and 0.73 ERA over two starts to go with a post-hype case, but I can't trust him on any of my mixed-league rosters. Go look at that division again, and consider the unbalanced schedule. Where's the easy game in-division? The Yankees and Red Sox still have elite offenses, Tampa Bay might be the best team in the entire American League, and Toronto is a sleeping giant (and the Blue Jays were sixth in MLB scoring last year). Why run uphill when you don't have to?
• The endgame in Detroit was screwy to say the least, as Justin Verlander blew up after eight dominant one-hit innings (his bullpen did him no favors), and the Rays wrapped the game with a 1-2-3 save from temporary closer Fernando Rodney. Although Rodney threw nine of his 14 pitches for strikes, he's always a carnival ride — a couple of his offerings would have been wild pitches had anyone been on base. He's clearly one of those "own, don't watch" stoppers, along with Jose Valverde (messy again) in Detroit. The way Joe Maddon and staff turn nuclear waste into wine down in Tampa Bay is incredible; if you see Maddon at a casino, backline all of his bets.
• Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Dempster had a nifty pitcher's duel in Chicago, taking advantage of another hitter-taxing day at Wrigley Field (44 degrees, wind blowing in). Gallardo got the better of it in a 2-1 win; good old Canadian Boy John Axford closed up with a three-strikeout ninth. I've been in on the Dempster Dive all spring, despite the catcalls, but the park has been friendly to him through two starts. We need more proof before he gets full-fledged Circle of Trust status. Dempster's next turn comes at Miami's new stadium Tuesday, an assignment I'll sign up for — and scout in high definition. Starlin Castro hasn't offered much pop yet as Chicago's No. 3 hitter, but he does have a quick five stolen bases.
• Stephen Strasburg worked hard for the money, throwing 109 pitches over six scoreless in New York (2 H, 3 BB, 9 K). It's the first time Strasburg has topped 100 pitches for his career; by way of comparison, Verlander has done it in his last 54 regular-season starts (an amazing stretch). This isn't a put down of Strasburg in any way, just an illustration of how he differs from a Verlander type: Strasburg is younger and with a thinner frame, and obviously the league styles are different (Verlander never has to worry about being pinch-hit for, unless it's a rare interleague game on the road). Both are fun to own, but they're still in different classes.
Johan Santana turned in his second consecutive five-inning start, but there are encouraging signs here; he's allowed just one run, with 13 strikeouts against five walks. Santana will never throw in the mid-90s again but that's not a big deal; he's always been as much about location and movement as he's been about pure power. With his change-up and pitching mind, he can still be a useful starter, both for the Mets (and maybe a different contender, down the road) and for fantasy owners as a support guy. You'll want to dial up Santana next Tuesday against the unthreatening Atlanta lineup. If I were Shuffling Up the pitchers today, I'd have Santana around $13-14.
• I hadn't had a chance to digest the Tim Lincecum tape yet (last night's Roto Arcade Auction turned into the Never Ending Story), so I don't know what to really say about the blow-up in Coors Field (2.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 3 K). I was mildly down on the Mitch Kramer doppelgänger before the season — I'm on record as saying Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will be better fantasy values this year — but I didn't expect him to be an economic bad. At least we can take heart that his two poor starts have come in offensive havens (Arizona, Colorado). I think you still use Timmy for Monday's home opener against the Phillies. Long term, you might want to consider selling Lincecum when the stock eventually bounces back (now is not the right time). Right now, all you can do is play the waiting game.
• Chad Billingsley continues to take advantage of choice matchups; he mowed down the Padres last week and he was sharp (though less dominant) in Wednesday's victory over Pittsburgh (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR). You're on your own with his Monday assignment at Milwaukee; my gut says that's a stay-away. The tag team continues to work well in the Dodgers bullpen, as Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the eighth (he's got eight punchouts against no walks) and Javy Guerra worked a 1-2-3 ninth. Nothing's broken here, so Don Mattingly has nothing to fix.
Speed Round: Jon Lester has been sharp in both of his starts but the Red Sox haven't hit for him. Ricky Romero out-dueled Lester in the Wednesday getaway, with Sergio Santos finishing up the last two outs (boy did he need that). Santos is expected to miss the next few games as he attends to The Stork Twins the pending birth of his child, so Francisco Cordero might see a handshake opportunity against Baltimore this weekend. Don't be surprised if Toronto finishes ahead of Boston this year. In the eight-man over/under pool that I did with some industry friends, every pundit picked the Jays to go over their posted 80.5 win total (Tampa Bay-over was the only other consensus pick). … Maybe it's time to slow down on Cory Luebke a bit; he's only managed 10 innings through two starts, rolling up the pitches (five walks, 11 strikeouts). You need to work deep into games if you want to record a big number of wins. And there's no way I'm starting Luebke for Monday's start at Coors Field; while anything can happen in a one-game sample, I'll side with gravity every time. … Jeremy Hellickson suffered a freak injury in Detroit — Austin Jackson's batting practice homer beaned Hellickson in the Tampa bullpen — but Hellickson should be fine for his Saturday start at Boston. That's a borderline start for fantasy purposes (Fenway Park's run-scoring potential must be respected), so flip your own coin.
It's Operation Shutdown for Michael Morse (lat): he's not going to do anything for six weeks. Washington's outfield depth is pretty thin, so mixed-league owners don't get a spike from this news. If you're battling it out in NL-only, you can think about journeymen Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa. … The Washington wire is more encouraging with closer Drew Storen. He had what's being termed "minor" elbow surgery and the club thinks he'll be back before the All-Star break. In the meantime, we return you to the Brad Lidge versus Henry Rodriguez cage match, already in progress. … The Twins (maybe the AL's worst club) found a way to beat Jered Weaver and the Halos, but they've lost Scott Baker (elbow) for the season. Josh Willingham has three homers and a double through five games; the rest of Minnesota's roster has three doubles, a triple and no homers. You'll want to stream aggressively against this group, especially at mistake-forgiving Target Field. … That's all I got, gamers; please offer up your comments about all the great stories I didn't have room for. And go audit a few daily lineups, as Thursday's card pushes off at 1:05 pm ET.