Every full slate of baseball gives us something juicy and fun to digest, but Wednesday's haul stands as the leader in the clubhouse through five weeks. We saw three walkoff homers, a snappy debut from a touted rookie, a crazy 15-13 game between two division kingpins, an umpiring gaffe for the ages … but the best was reserved for last.
There's not much fantasy spin needed on Weaver; everyone knows he's one of the top pitchers in baseball (real and fantasy), a true ace. When I ranked all the starting pitchers in last week's Shuffle Up, Weaver checked in as the No. 4 commodity — and it didn't generate any discussion, pro or con. We know who this guy is, how valuable he is. Weaver's style might catch some people by surprise (he's a fly-ball pitcher with an ordinary fastball — in the high 80s most of Wednesday night), but you can be successful with that profile.
The bigger fantasy takeaway comes with the Twins offense. Remember, Jerome Williams threw a three-hit shutout at these guys in advance of Weaver's gem. Minnesota's hitting has actually been strong at Target Field this year, but the Twins haven't hit a lick on the road. They've got a .207/.265/.298 slash out of a suitcase in 2012, far and away the worst line in the majors. Rod Carew isn't walking through that door, Kent Hrbek isn't walking through that door, Disco Danny Ford isn't walking through that door. Heck, Justin Morneau isn't walking through that door, either.
Jason Vargas (26 percent owned) should be your first streaming target if you're looking to pick on the Twins. He's in line for a Friday turn at Safeco, with Carl Pavano on the other side. Nothing intimidating about that assignment. Vargas isn't a smoke-thrower but he does have an acceptable K/BB ratio (27 whiffs, 11 walks), and a 3.38 ERA and 1.04 WHIP play in any format. His career ratios at Safeco are solid (3.57/1.21), and remember those were compiled against all opponents, good and bad. The punchless Twins are as tasty a matchup as you can get right now. Let's take advantage.
Like any streaming pick, there's nothing guaranteed here. The Ivan Nova play Wednesday certainty didn't work out (oh, those plucky Orioles). But the idea in this game is to make as many sound decisions as you can, to put yourself in good positions consistently. The idea is to win over the long haul, knowing that there will be plenty of individual days where things don't work out. Variance will always be a part of the game.
As for other plays against Minnesota; here's what they face for the next six games, starting on Friday: Vargas, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi (you're on your own), then home games with Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. It's a shame we can't jump on more streamers here, but that's the way the schedule falls. We'll have plenty of chances to pick on Minnesota later in the season.
• The Cardinals have the best offense in baseball right now, so it wasn't that shocking that they absolutely pounded A.J. Burnett on Wednesday night (12 H, 12 R, 2 HR). Be that as it may, I'm not going to make a significant change to Burnett's fantasy value. I still like him as a now-and-then streamer in mixed leagues, and in a mono-format I'd look into trading for him right now, while the 12-run scar is fresh. Burnett was sharp in his first two turns, and he should rebound next week, back at home and against a Washington offense that doesn't scare anyone. What's done is done. There's still a respectable pitcher here, honest.
• I'm sick of writing about Heath Bell, but Closing Time's soul is the save chase, and we have to pay attention when a bullpen is volatile. With that in mind, to San Francisco we go.
The blown save stat is misleading in its definition, let's establish that up front. Bell was the man who made the mess in the bottom of the ninth at AT&T Park on Wednesday (allowing three straight hits before his removal), but backup man Steve Cishek gets tagged with the blown save because the score didn't get squared until he entered the game. Mind you, all Cishek did was allow a couple of infield singles (one of them was essentially a squeeze bunt) and he was otherwise terrific in his two innings (no walks, three strikeouts). Giancarlo Stanton's tenth-inning homer off Santiago Casilla put Miami back ahead, so Cishek picked up a victory for his trouble.
As for Bell's stint, it wasn't as bad as the box score looks. Brandon Belt opened the ninth with a double to left-center, a softly-hit line drive. Left fielder Bryan Petersen didn't get a good read on the ball - you couldn't call it an error, but on a different day maybe he catches it. Joaquin Arias followed with a soft single to right, a good piece of two-strike hitting (even if Bell didn't perfectly locate the pitch). Buster Posey followed with a sharp single to right, on a Bell fastball that caught too much of the plate. And with that, Bell was done for the night.
Ozzie Guillen hasn't specifically laid out his emergency bullpen plan if Bell needs a demotion (at least I haven't heard it — if you have, share the word in the comments), but Cishek's numbers are begging for a chance. The tall, sidewinding righty is murder when he has the platoon split in his advantage, and he's been fine against lefties for his career, too (.216/.316/.286). While Edwin Mujica has the more traditional closer look and style, Cishek's been the bullpen's best arm this year. If I had one roster spot dedicated to a Marlins hedge, I'd give it to Cishek. He's ready for pickup in 92 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and Ozzie had some praise for Cishek after Wednesday's game.
But the big-picture conclusion remains the same in Miami, what we've been saying all along; the team has a built-in reason to get Bell fixed: that bloated three-year, $27 million contract. I don't have any pull with Guillen and I've forgotten all of my high school Spanish (sorry Mr. Agostino), but I'll be stunned if Bell isn't given most of the chances going forward, unless he's absolutely horrible and forces a change. Mind you, a temporary day off or a brief switch is possible (maybe even likely), but unless the Marlins decide there's a physical problem with Bell, I think it eventually shifts back to business as usual.
It doesn't mean I want to trade for Bell, mind you. And I'm glad I cashed in my one Bell share a few days ago. But it's probably going to take more than one bad five-week stretch for Bell to get buried; that's how I'm reading the Guillen tea leaves right now. If you've got a different read on Miami's save chase, I'm all ears.
• What the heck do we do with the Baltimore Orioles, and specifically, the Baltimore pitching staff? The setup is tricky for this team and group, but we can't ignore how well these men are performing.
Jake Arrieta was coming off two so-so starts before Wednesday's assignment in The Bronx and I didn't have high expectations for him. Silly me: Arrieta cruised through eight dominant innings (5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K), scoring his second victory of the year. Arrieta's 3.52 ERA doesn't grab you, perhaps, but he's collected 33 strikeouts against just nine walks and his WHIP just moved under 1.00.
I'm not going to play the "AL-only" card with Arrieta because you guys know that stuff already. Anyone with a pulse is valuable in a mono league, and Arrieta is surely long gone in those formats. Recommending him for only-leagues is just a waste of time and a slap in everyone's face. The question we need to worry about is this: can we trust Arrieta (and other Baltimore pitchers) in mixed formats?
My long-running respect (if not fear) for the AL East hitting environment sometimes gets a few readers in a huff, but the numbers back me up. Consider what's happened through five weeks: the Red Sox are fourth in the majors in runs, the Jays are sixth, the Yankees are seventh and the Rays are ninth. Heck, the spunky Orioles are 11th. Four of the parks in this division are favorable for scoring and/or home runs, and every club here has a respectable lineup. (Sure, it's only five weeks, but Baltimore's opponents have been scoring consistently for years. Go through the data if you need the backup. It's all there.)
I know it's the simplest roto rule going and it's something that most of you already know, but I strongly prefer to ignore AL East pitchers unless they absolutely force their way onto my mixed-league roster. Sabathia, Price, Shields, Lester, sure, we'll have room for those guys. Everyone else, I'll get to you when I get to you - and if someone else beats me to the bunch, so it goes.
The Orioles just finished a series win over the Yanks, bully for them. But the May schedule isn't going to let up for a while. Baltimore faces Boston, Texas, Tampa Bay and New York over its next 12 games, and those matches come without any off days in the middle. If Uncle Buck's Boys are going to be a legitimate story for 2012, we should know in a couple of weeks. I'm not buying in yet.
Speed Round: Someday Chipper Jones will be in the Hall of Fame. Jason Giambi? Maybe. Ian Desmond? Doubtful. But they all share Wednesday's spotlight, hitting walk-off homers in their respective games (Jones described Atlanta's 15-13 victory as "psychotic" and you won't get any argument from me). Chipper has some daily-league juice if you have admirable offensive depth (and don't mind doing a lot of lineup jockeying), but I don't trust him enough in a weekly league, because we all know an injury is eventually coming . . . Will Middlebrooks got off to a strong push in his Boston debut, with a single, double, walk and stolen base. He also struck out once. The Red Sox aren't going to put too much pressure on the 23-year-old right away; he batted eighth on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Old Man Youkilis was officially placed on the disabled list . . . Brian Fuentes has 200 saves in the major leagues, hard to digest. He landed on that round number Wednesday (and in shaky fashion), taking over for Grant Balfour, who needed a rest . . . Another tough days for injuries, if you own guys like Josh Beckett (sore lat, will miss weekend turn), B.J. Upton (quad injury, not playing Thursday), Mat Gamel (torn ACL, probably out for the year), or my personal favorite, Pablo Sandoval (hand or wrist injury, left early Wednesday) . . . Jeff Samardzija seems to have righted the ship; he was money against the Reds (7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K). All this guy needs to do is stick around the strike zone, because he clearly has swing-and-miss stuff. It won't be easy against Atlanta's offense next week, but I'll likely use him anyway. Carlos Marmol had a rare clean save (with two strikeouts), though hacking Drew Stubbs turned a likely walk into a whiff, and home plate umpire Dana DeMuth gave Marmol a couple of borderline pitches on the inside corner . . . Stephen Drew (ankle) is finally ready to begin his rehab assignment.