The Nationals gave fantasy owners cause for concern on Saturday, when it was announced that ace right-hander Max Scherzer would have his first start out of the All-Star break pushed back from Sunday to Tuesday due to a nagging back issue.
No big deal, right? The 34-year-old hurler has logged a substantial workload over the last 11 seasons and fired an MLB-leading 129 ⅓ innings during the first half. Giving him an extra couple of days before taking the hill in the second half made sense.
Then came the announcement later in the day that Scherzer had been placed on the 10-day injured list -- retroactive to July 10 -- with a mid-back strain.
Is this a cause for alarm? No, probably not. At least not yet.
He’s eligible to be activated from the injured list on July 20, and the Nationals appear to be hopeful that he’ll be ready to take the hill on that day. That would mean that he would really only miss one start -- while getting a nice extended absence for his back issue to calm down.
The back injury has been lingering for a while now, but you wouldn’t know it from Scherzer’s performance to date. He’s 9-5 on the year with a sparkling 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and a league-leading 181 strikeouts (against only 23 walks) in 129 ⅓ innings. His 2.00 FIP is the top mark in all of baseball.
It’s impossible to tell how long this issue may have been lingering, because his performance has only gotten better as the season has gone on. Scherzer has whiffed double-digit batters in each of his last five starts (and six of his last seven). He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in a start since May 17, and has logged 14 straight quality starts. Over his last 12 starts, he owns a ridiculous 1.30 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 119/16 K/BB ratio across 83 innings.
He’s well on his way to contending for another National League Cy Young Award. He already has two of those on his shelf at home, as well as a third that he earned in the American League with the Tigers in 2013.
So in all, there’s really nothing to see here -- at least for now. Fantasy owners can remain hopeful that this extended break will do everything that it needs to do to calm down Scherzer’s ailing back and that he’ll be the same dominant presence that we know and love for the remainder of the season.
BvP - Believe!
There has long been a debate amongst the fantasy baseball playing public -- specifically those in DFS circles -- over the relevance and importance of batter vs. pitcher data. While the prevailing wisdom is generally that it’s too small of a sample size to provide any meaningful and predictive conclusions, there have always been outliers. Certain cases where a hitter just seems to own an opposing pitcher. Paul Goldschmidt over Tim Lincecum and Enrique Hernandez against Madison Bumgarner come to mind.
Perhaps we should be paying more attention to Twins’ slugger Max Kepler when he takes on division-rival right-hander Trevor Bauer. Entering play on Saturday, the Twins’ outfielder had been 11-for-34 in his career with three homers and a pair of doubles off of the Indians’ hurler. Much of that success was extremely recent, as Kepler slugged all three of those home runs in their last matchup on June 6.
Kepler extended that dominance on Saturday. The 26-year-old led of the game by crushing the third pitch that he saw from Bauer over the wall in right-center, marking the fourth consecutive at-bat in which he has taken him deep.
But wait, there’s more!
In his next plate appearance, Kepler lined a 1-0 pitch into the seats as well, extending the Twins’ lead to 3-0 and his consecutive home run streak against Bauer to an astonishing five at-bats.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kepler’s streak tied the record for the most consecutive home runs off of a specific pitcher -- joining Carlos Delgado who crushed five straight long balls off of Jorge Sosa during the 2003-2004 seasons, and Frank Howard who tagged Bob Hendley in five straight at-bats in 1963-1964. Kepler is the only one to accomplish the feat in a single season.
The Twins will get their next opportunity to battle the Indians in a four-game set at Target Field in Minnesota beginning on August 8. Bauer is likely to work in one of those games. Expect the ownership on Kepler on DFS sites to soar for that one.
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Red Sox Cash In
The Red Sox made a move to bolster their starting rotation on Saturday, acquiring right-hander Andrew Cashner from the Orioles in exchange for minor leaguers Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero.
Cashner, 32, has done a nice job for the rebuilding Orioles this season, compiling a 3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 66/29 K/BB ratio across 96 ⅓ innings in his 17 starts. He has been especially good of late -- delivering five straight quality starts since the calendar flipped to June -- posting a 1.41 ERA over 32 innings in his last five outings.
From a fantasy perspective, the move to the Red Sox provides a slight bump to Cashner’s value -- though savvy owners have already been riding his hot streak the past few weeks. He should see a nice uptick in wins with the move out of the cellar in the American League East and onto a contending club.
While the move to Fenway Park would typically be a major negative for a starting pitcher, Cashner shouldn’t see much of a change as he has already been pitching his home games in the homer-happy Oriole Ballpark at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Cashner is still owed $3.5 million through the end of this season and also carries a $10 million club option for the 2020 campaign. In return, the Orioles were able to pick up a couple of lottery tickets in Prado and Romero. Both are 17-year-old prospects from the international market and many years away from possibly contributing at the big league level.
American League Quick Hits: Byron Buxton was forced to leave Saturday’s game after injuring himself while making a diving catch in the eighth inning. He appeared to scrape his face and torso against the ground and may also have had the wind knocked out of him, though manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t provide an update after Saturday’s game. … Hunter Pence (groin) is expected to return from the injured list on Tuesday in Arizona. … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is expected to start his minor league rehab assignment next week… The Orioles placed Dylan Bundy (knee) on the 10-day injured list after he was obliterated in Friday’s loss to the Rays. He’s only expected to miss one start. … The Rays acquired Peter Fairbanks from the Rangers in exchange for minor league infielder Nick Solak. … Daniel Robertson (knee) is recovering from his arthroscopic knee surgery quicker than anticipated and could begin a minor league rehab assignment next weekend… Danny Duffy (hand) is expected to make his next scheduled start. … Ken Giles was unavailable on Saturday due to nerve inflammation in his right arm. He’s being considered day-to-day for now. … Carlos Correa (rib) will begin his minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Round Rock on Monday. He’s expected to need around 30-40 at-bats before he’s ready to return to the Astros. … Keynan Middleton (elbow) will move his rehab assignment up to Triple-A Salt Lake and is likely only a week or so away from a potential return to the Angels’ bullpen. … Steven Wright had to leave Saturday’s game against the Dodgers after being struck in the foot by a comebacker. He’s considered day-to-day… Brendan McKay dazzled in a no-decision against the Orioles, striking out seven over five shutout innings… Stevie Wilkerson swatted a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh to spoil McKay’s victory and win that one for the Orioles. … Mike Brosseau and Nate Lowe each homered twice as the Rays salvaged the nightcap of that doubleheader. … Aaron Judge went 4-for-5 with an RBI in a losing effort against the Blue Jays. … Randal Grichuk provided the critical two-run single to lead the Jays to victory over the Yankees. … Chris Bassitt struck out six over six innings of scoreless baseball in a victory over the White Sox. … Franklin Barreto slugged a three-run homer to lead the offense in that lopsided win. … Brad Keller dominated in Saturday’s victory over the Tigers, fanning seven over eight innings of one-run ball. … Matthew Boyd struck out 10 in a losing effort… Trevor Bauer struck out 11, but allowed three solo homers in a loss to the Twins… Bobby Bradley slugged his first big league home run in that defeat. … Xander Bogaerts homered and drove in a pair of runs in a loss to the Dodgers… Jose Altuve went 4-or-6 and scored three runs as the Astros topped the Rangers… Alex Bregman (chin) belted a solo home run in his return to the Astros’ lineup. … Danny Santana homered and stole a base in a losing effort for the Rangers… Mike Trout slaughtered his 30th home run of the season as the Angels triumphed over the Mariners. … Albert Pujols homered and drove in four runs in that rout. … Matt Harvey pitched well in his return from the injured list, allowing one run on four hits over 5 ⅔ innings. … Mallex Smith tripled and swiped two bases in that loss.
National League Quick Hits: The Phillies signed Logan Morrison to a minor league contract. … Jay Bruce sat out Saturday’s game due to mild soreness in both of his Achilles tendons. He’s considered day-to-day. … Keone Kela (shoulder) started his minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday. … Daniel Ponce de Leon will stick around in the Cardinals’ rotation for at least one more start on Wednesday against the Pirates. … Willson Contreras clubbed a three-run homer as the Cubs walloped the Pirates. … Jordan Lyles lasted just ⅔ of an inning in that one, giving up seven runs on four hits and four walks. … Starling Marte swatted a pair of solo homers in a losing effort. … Noah Syndergaard fanned nine over seven innings of two-run ball in a win over the Marlins. … Robinson Cano crushed a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning of that one. … Carlos Martinez recorded the final four outs against the Diamondbacks -- three via strikeout -- to earn his fourth save. … Tyler O’Neill homered, doubled and plated four runs to lead the charge for the Cards… Ben Gamel delivered a walk-off RBI double in the ninth inning to beat the Giants. … Madison Bumgarner fanned six and didn’t allow an earned run over five innings in a no-decision there. … Ross Stripling punched out seven over five innings of one-run baseball in a win over the Red Sox. … Cody Bellinger blasted his 31st home run in that blow-out win. … Aaron Nola struck out nine while allowing only one run over six innings in a tough-luck no-decision against the Nationals. … Juan Soto went 3-for-5 and crushed a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth inning to lead the Nationals to victory in that one. … Patrick Corbin fanned 10 in a no-decision for the Nationals in that one. … Josh Donaldson crushed his 21st homer and scored three times as the Braves topped the Padres in extra innings. … Ronald Acuna clubbed his 23rd long ball in that win. … Manny Machado left the yard twice in a losing effort for the Friars. … Manuel Margot drew four walks, scored twice and swiped home in that loss. … Nick Senzel went 4-for-5 with two triples as the Reds crushed the Rockies in a slugfest at Coors Field. … Nolan Arenado homered and drove in three runs in the loss for the Rockies.