The Curse of the Cubs is a well documented theme, from Bartman to Billy Goats. It's been over a century since that last title in 1908 (imagine how many roto titles Three Finger Brown won for teams that year).
But Theo Epstein and the new regime is not afraid of a challenge. And perhaps Tuesday's improbable win over the Cardinals is a signal that karma is ready to ride with the North Siders.
Tony Campana was at the center of the dramatic victory, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. Campana stole two bases on the night, giving him four swipes over two days. It's the one ticket he has to the big leagues: he's an insane 28-for-32 as a thief over 99 games.
A number of breaks fell Chicago's way Tuesday night, no getting around that. Campana should have been called out on his tenth-inning steal attempt, and the same goes for David DeJesus in the first inning (that call was botched at the plate). Bryan LaHair extended the game with a solo homer in the ninth, squaring the match at 2-2, and the winning run scored on a sharp Alfonso Soriano grounder that ate up Cardinals infielder Tyler Greene. The Chicago diehards had to feel pretty damn good as they ushered out of Wrigley Field; this was one of those "we never win games like this" victories. And it was their second walk-off win in as many nights; the Cubs flipped Monday's game by scoring two runs off Jason Motte in the ninth.
Campana's a worthy fantasy play if you find yourself lacking in the speed category. Manager Dale Sveum has no choice but to ride the hot hand as long as he can, and ten of the next 11 probable starters the Cubs face are right-handed pitchers. Campana's not an imposing stick against anyone, mind you, but like most lefty batters, he's better when the platoon advantage is in his favor. He's a career .303 hitter over 326 games in the minors, with a .358 on-base percentage.
In 5x5 rotisserie, there are two specialty categories with low barriers of entry: steals and saves. If a player is capable of running or set up to be closing, almost nothing else matters to their profile: they'll have wide-ranging fantasy appeal. Campana is owned in just one percent of Yahoo! leagues as we go to press, but that number needs to go up swiftly. Sveum is the type of skipper who will let his players run, too.
Jeff Samardzija (22 percent) is another Cub worth considering on the waiver wire; his ownership tag deflated after a couple of mediocre starts, but he was terrific in Tuesday's no-decision (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K). Have a look at the video and see for yourself. That's swing-and-miss stuff; there's a lot of room for strikeout potential here. And even though his ratios don't look like much right now (4.13 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), you can feel good about the walk/strikeout ratio (25:8 over 24 innings). He's going twice next week, up against a Philly team that is no longer imposing and a Los Angeles team that has gaps in the lineup.
Chicago fans can't feel too good about closer Carlos Marmol right now (6.35/1.94, six walks, two blown saves), though Sveum has given the struggling pitcher a vote of confidence. Who else is there to look to? Kerry Wood is currently on the disabled list and third-in-line Rafael Dolis hasn't been sharp (4.35, eight walks, two strikeouts). The Ghost of Rod Beck has to be dealt with, too.
Perhaps LaHair's ninth-inning homer against Cardinals lefty Marc Rzepczynski will be a springboard to full-time play. LaHair is just 1-for-7 against southpaws this year, but he's absolutely crushing against righties (.424/.535/.727, nine walks). His 35-percent tag needs to come up, especially with the righty-heady schedule Chicago is looking at over the next two weeks. No matter how Anthony Rizzo fares in the minors this year (or the majors), the Cubs seem committed to giving LaHair a chance to play, too.
While you're pondering Chicago Hope and working on a slice of left-over deep-dish pizza, let's have a look at some of the other Tuesday sandlot stories:
• Adam Wainwright's start was a forgotten part of Tuesday's game at Wrigley, but he needs to be mentioned. The St. Louis righty went six strong innings (6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K), and the buy-low window could be closing. Smart owners see the big picture here (21 whiffs against five walks over 19.2 innings, along with an unlucky BABIP and HR/FB), while the lesser-skilled rotoheads are blinded by the winless ledger and 7.32 ERA. I fully expect Wainwright to be a Top 25 pitcher for the majority of 2012.
• I suppose I could give Max Scherzer the same optimistic spin I handed to Wainwright — Mad Max has a similar profile with ERA, WHIP, walks and strikeouts — but in the case of Scherzer, I'm not interested. He's had trouble in the past working deep into games, and I get nervous when the Seattle Mariners knock you all around the park (5 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 6 K). And while the AL Central is the cushiest division in the junior circuit, it's still the American League, where the DHs hack and big innings happen. Scherzer's more of a 40-60 percent ownership guy, a matchup play to me; he's not someone I'd be comfortable owning all season in a standard mixed league.
The league has been squaring up Scherzer all month (note that glaring 27 percent line-drive rate), which makes me really nervous. A weekend start in Yankee Stadium? None for me, thanks.
• I've been humming a skeptical song on Yu Darvish all spring, but I need to be fair: he looked awesome against the Yankees on Tuesday night, a whiffle ball start all the way (8.1 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K). This is mandatory video to watch; look at that gorgeous breaking stuff, twisting and darting. Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher had to be talking to themselves all night, beguiled by the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Big picture, it's not realistic to expect Darvish to have this sort of command every start; any big-name pitcher is going to look unhittable on the right night. But after this type of outing, in Arlington and against the Yankees no less, I have no choice but to give Darvish a Circle of Trust pass and a few extra bucks on the Shuffle Up clipboard. Call him a $17 or $18 arm for now; full starting-pitcher prices will be released at some point on Thursday.
• In my aim to make your Hump Day a little more enjoyable, let's break out the midweek chat tools and get together for a fantasy pow-wow. Settle in at 4 pm ET today, coinciding nicely with the Jarrod Parker-Chris Sale matchup in Oakland. If we can get the word out quickly, perhaps our chat attendance will surpass what they draw by the bay. I'll give you the best 60-90 minutes of intel and entertainment that I can.
• What the heck do we do with Tommy Milone, the soft-rock lefty with the Athletics? Milone's an easy guy to watch: he works quickly, pounds the zone, lets his defense do the work. Basically it's another Mark Buehrle story. But how long can the story last when he's operating in the high 80s?
The White Sox didn't do a thing with Milone over eight innings Tuesday (3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K). But Milone's four-game slate to this point has been favorable (the White Sox, Angels, Mariners and Royals are a combined 27-42) and he works in Fenway Park next week (that's where you say no to Mayday Milone).
When you hash it all out, your league format makes the call on Milone. In medium mixers with no start limitations or innings caps, he's someone you can trust more often than not. But if you have ceilings to deal with, K/9 hanging over your roster, you need to reach for a higher upside. I like how Milone is figuring out a way to get righties out (.213/.250/.321), and he hasn't allowed a hit to a lefty batter all year. But this is the type of arsenal that teams and batters will make adjustments on. Preliminary Shuffle Price: $7.
• Pedro Strop picked up a stand-in handshake for the Orioles, subbing for normal closer Jim Johnson (flu) and retiring three of four Blue Jays. Strop's shown the ability to miss bats (15 punchouts in 11 innings), though he's had some control issues (five walks). His average heater gets up to 96.8 mph; this is a power arm. Matt Wieters continues his boys-to-men campaign, slugging his sixth homer. Maybe the new uniform makes all the difference. (One thing we should all be able to agree on: the old-school Oriole absolutely rocks.)
• A trip to Minnesota has patched the Red Sox up temporarily. Boston rolled up 11 runs and 18 hits in Tuesday's laugher, including homers from Roto Arcade mascot Mike Aviles and surging David Ortiz. But the Red Sox outfield might be in limbo for a while, with Carl Crawford (wrist) lining up a visit to Dr. James Andrews. At least the subs have been hitting: Ryan Sweeney is at .392 (little category juice though), Cody Ross has five homers, and Marlon Byrd is 3-for-9 since touching down. It's not Rice-Lynn-Evans, but for now it will have to do.
Speed Round: Sergio Santos (shoulder) has been told to rest for at least a month, so get used to Coco Cordero in the closing chair for the Blue Jays. … Ryan Zimmerman had an MRI on his troublesome shoulder and is out indefinitely. Imagine how dangerous the Nats could be if they could get full health from their primary sluggers; Michael Morse has been hurt all year, obviously, and Jayson Werth is playing through a sore hip. … Casey McGehee reached base four times in Pittsburgh's victory over Colorado (one hit, three walks), and he's also starting in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader. McGehee wouldn't be a difference-maker on a strong offense, but the Pirates need all the help they can get. … So much for Mike Pelfrey's nifty start: he might need Tommy John surgery. … Henry Rodriguez will never have plus control, but he's seizing control of the closing gig in Washington. He set down the Padres 1-2-3 on Tuesday, keeping the ERA tucked at 0.00. He's allowed just one hit over his 8.1 innings, so you can live with the walks to some extent.. … The Jose Altuve train keeps chugging along: he went 2-for-4 with a homer and steal in Tuesday's loss at Milwaukee. He also was moved up to the sixth spot in the order. He remains unowned in 65 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Unclaimed freight — it's great. … Matt Carpenter is in a 2-for-22 funk, dropping his average to .250. He does have five walks over that span. I'll be surprised if we're talking about him in a couple of weeks. … Some good streamables for Thursday: Edwin Jackson (60 percent) at Petco; Jonathon Niese (and his new nose, 51 percent) against Miami; perfect Phil Humber (47 percent, still too low) against Boston. I don't know what to do with Edinson Volquez (48 percent); the backdrop of Petco speaks for itself, but he's looking like one of those frustrating six-innings max guys, and it's hard to get wins that way. San Diego is just 4-8 at home. I generally like Ryan Vogelsong (50 percent), but not at Cincinnati.