Shane Bieber Racks up Strikeouts

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David Shovein
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Shane Bieber Racks up Strikeouts

Shane Bieber had a breakout year during the truncated 2020 season, going 8-1 with a league-leading 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and a league-leading 122 strikeouts en route to his first American League Cy Young Award.

While many predicted some form of regression for Bieber in 2021 -- especially since he’s now facing the entire league instead of just the Central divisions -- there’s a chance that Bieber could be even better this season.

In his latest gem, he dominated the Reds on Sunday -- racking up 13 strikeouts over eight innings of three-run baseball to earn his second victory of the season. Bieber recorded a staggering 25 whiffs during the game -- 21 of those on breaking balls which matched his career-high.

The 25-year-old hurler has been unbelievable through his first four starts, registering a 2.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a 48/10 K/BB ratio across 29 1/3 innings. He’s also striking out hitters at a record pace.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bieber became the first pitcher since 1893 (when the mound was moved to its current distance) to record 10 or more strikeouts in each of his first four starts of a season. His 48 strikeouts also matched Nolan Ryan (1978) for the most by any pitcher through the first four starts of a season. Impressive company. He also became the first pitcher in Indians franchise history to strike out 10 or more batters in six consecutive starts dating back to last season.

Since the start of the 2020 season, Bieber has now reached double-digit strikeouts eight times -- more than any other pitcher in baseball. The next closest are Jacob deGrom (5) and Trevor Bauer (4).

He’ll look to extend his dominance and further etch his name into the record books when he does battle against the Yankees on Saturday in Cleveland.

Acuna IL-bound?

Braves superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna was removed from Sunday night’s game against the Cubs with what has been diagnosed as an abdominal strain. Acuna appeared to suffer the injury while diving headfirst back to first base on a pickoff attempt -- which prompted a visit from the Braves team trainer.

He remained in the game afterwards and wound up sliding headfirst into home plate on the final play of the inning. He was then pulled before the start of the next inning.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said late Sunday that they didn’t have any imaging available at the stadium on Sunday night, so they’d have to wait to re-evaluate Acuna on Monday. Only then will they be able to make a determination as to whether or not he’ll require a trip to the injured list.

Acuna has been the top overall fantasy baseball performer through the first two and a half weeks of the season, slashing a monstrous .419/.486/.887 with seven homers, 16 RBI and three stolen bases.

While it would be wise for the Braves to err on the side of caution here, a trip to the injured list would be devastating for fantasy managers who are counting on Acuna’s elite five-category production. All we can do now is wait. Those with Acuna should be sure to have a contingency option in place for next week in the event that he’s forced to miss some time.

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Starting Pitchers with an EDGE

Aaron Nola - 9 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 10 K

Aaron Nola had pitched decently through his first three starts of the season -- registering a 3.45 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 18/3 K/BB ratio across 15 2/3 innings -- but was nowhere near the ace that many fantasy managers drafted him to be.

Nola was the 18th player on average in NFBC Main Event drafts in March, drafted as the seventh starting pitcher (behind only Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber, Lucas Giolito, Yu Darvish and Trevor Bauer). That ace definitely showed up for Sunday’s start against the Cardinals.

Nola recorded his second career shutout -- and first in a nine-inning game as his first came during a seven-inning affair as part of a doubleheader during the 2020 season. He allowed just two hits -- both singles -- and didn’t walk a batter in the game while striking out 10. Nola recorded 21 whiffs in the game (12 on his fastball, seven on his knuckle curve and two on his changeup) and posted a CSW rate of 39%. He now owns a 2.19 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 28/3 K/BB ratio over 24 2/3 innings on the season.

Pablo Lopez - 6 IP, 0 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 9 K

Pablo Lopez delivered his best start of the 2021 season on Sunday, striking out a career-high nine batters over six shutout innings against the Giants. Unfortunately for him, Alex Wood was terrific on the other side as well and the Marlins weren’t able to scratch out a single run for him. Lopez registered 16 whiffs in the game (10 on his changeup) and posted a CSW rate of 31%.

Kyle Gibson - 8 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 6 K

It’s about time that fantasy managers start taking Kyle Gibson seriously. His overall numbers on the season are skewed by his disaster his first time out -- where he gave up five runs on four hits while recording just one out against the Royals. Since then, he has been straight fire -- a total of one run allowed over 21 innings with a 17/3 K/BB ratio.

Hitters with an EDGE

Trea Turner - 2-for-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI

Turner accounted for the entirety of the Nationals offense in Sunday’s loss to the Diamondbacks, taking Madison Bumgarner and Taylor Clarke deep. His 2021 season is off to a tremendous start, slashing .308/.357/.596 with four homers, seven RBI and three stolen bases in his first 13 games.

Guillermo Heredia - 3-for-4, 2 HR, 6 RBI

Guillermo Heredia crushed two of five Braves home runs in a shellacking of the Cubs -- a two-run blast off of Kyle Hendricks and a grand slam off of Ryan Tepera. With Christian Pache and Ender Inciarte on the injured list, Heredia has a clear path to playing time in center field and could be worthy of a flier in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats.

Bryce Harper - 3-for-3, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 BB

Harper reached base in all four plate appearances against the Cardinals on Sunday and clobbered a solo homer off of John Gant -- helping to lead the Phillies to victory over the Cardinals. He’s off to a sizzling start at the plate, slashing .289/.439/.556 with three long balls and seven RBI on the season -- though he has yet to attempt a stolen base.

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Priority Pickup

Andres Gimenez, 2B/3B/SS, Cleveland Indians -- 57% rostered in Yahoo fantasy leagues.

Gimenez was a consensus top-150 pick heading into the season after coming over to the Indians in the Francisco Lindor trade, but many fantasy managers used a quick trigger in jettisoning him after a slow offensive start. He showed signs of life over the last week though, hitting .294 (5-for-17) with a homer and two RBI. He’s got a much higher ceiling than most waiver wire options and carries three positions of eligibility.

Closing Time

The Diamondbacks got their first save in two weeks on Sunday -- and it was Stefan Crichton working a scoreless ninth inning to protect a three-run lead. Kevin Ginkel, Yoan Lopez and Taylor Clarke worked the sixth, seventh and eighth innings respectively. It still sounds like it will be a committee that will handle saves here, but Crichton is at least worth a flier for those that are speculating.

Just when you thought that Diego Castillo would be used as the primary closer for the Rays, Kevin Cash threw everyone a curveball on Sunday. Castillo was called upon to get the final out in the seventh inning on Sunday, then stayed on to work a scoreless eighth. It was then Jeffrey Springs who came on and worked a scoreless ninth inning to earn his first career save. While the 28-year-old has been terrific this season, it’s unlikely he winds up with anything more than the occasional save chance.

Emmanuel Clase closed out the Reds to earn his fourth save of the season. His job security continues to grow by the day and he looks like one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball. If he’s somehow still unowned in shallow leagues, now is the time to pounce.

With Jake McGee unavailable due to negative effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, Tyler Rogers stepped up and worked a scoreless ninth inning to protect a one-run lead against the Marlins on Sunday. The side-arming right-hander looks to be the next man up should anything happen to McGee, but isn’t going to usurp the job any time soon.

The Royals had a two-run lead to protect in the ninth inning on Sunday and it was veteran right-hander Greg Holland getting the job done to earn his second save of the season. Scott Barlow, Wade Davis, Jesse Hahn and Kyle Zimmer have all been in the mix at some point this season, but Holland looks like the leader of the pack at this point.

Monday’s Matchup of the Day

Nathan Eovaldi (BOS) vs. Lucas Giolito (CHI)

The overall slate of action is a bit light on Monday with only seven games on the board, but the early matchup at Fenway looks particularly intriguing. Both right-handers are off to terrific starts this season, with Eovaldi owning a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP while Giolito sports a 2.55 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. Giolito is still searching for his first victory of the season and will do so as a slight favorite over Eovaldi and the Red Sox on Patriots Day.

American League Quick Hits: Monday’s series opener between the Twins and Athletics was postponed due to the COVID-19 issues on the Twins. The Twins had no new positive tests on Sunday and they’re tentatively scheduled to play a doubleheader on Tuesday. … In a surprise move, the White Sox placed right-hander Lance Lynn on the 10-day injured list with a strained right trapezius. He’s only expected to miss one start. … Jay Bruce announced his retirement from professional baseball after 14 major league seasons. … Cavan Biggio missed his third straight game Sunday with a hand injury. … Jordan Romano is progressing nicely in his recovery from ulnar neuritis and is expected to be activated from the injured list when first eligible on April 25. … Tim Anderson went 3-for-4 and blasted a leadoff homer as the White Sox bested the Red Sox in the first game of their doubleheader. … Jose Ramirez smacked his fourth home run as the Indians topped the Reds. … Joey Wendle had two hits and a homer as the Rays finished their sweep of the Yankees. … Salvador Perez crushed a two-run homer, powering the Royals past the Blue Jays. … Brady Singer hurled six shutout innings while striking out six in a tough-luck no-decision there. … John Means punched out nine over seven scoreless frames in a no-decision against the Rangers. … Mitch Haniger tripled, doubled, scored twice and drove in three runs in a victory over the Astros. … Yermin Mercedes clubbed his fourth home run as the White Sox took the nightcap of Sunday’s doubleheader from the Red Sox.

National League Quick Hits: Starling Marte was pulled from Sunday’s game after an awkward swing in the ninth inning. It appears to be an issue with his left side -- perhaps an oblique -- though no determination has been made and no timetable has been given for his recovery. … The Nationals placed Stephen Strasburg on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. … Ke'Bryan Hayes progressed to hitting on the field for the first time Saturday and could join the team's alternate training site Tuesday in Toledo, according to Pirates general manager Ben CheringtonMike Moustakas missed his third straight game Sunday due to a non-COVID-19 related illness. …The Diamondbacks recalled J.B. Bukauskas from the team’s alternate training site and there are rumblings he could factor into the ninth-inning mix there. … The Diamondbacks also placed Tim Locastro on the 10-day injured list with a dislocated finger. … Shogo Akiyama (hamstring) could see time in live games by the weekend… The Dodgers placed Gavin Lux on the injured list with a sore wrist. … Buster Posey showed improvement on Sunday, though his elbow was still swollen. A determination on his status and whether or not he’ll require a trip to the injured list should come on Monday. … Trent Grisham was scratched from the Padres lineup with a quad injury -- he’s considered day-to-day. … Tyler Naquin blasted his sixth homer in a losing effort against the Indians. … Alex Wood fired five shutout innings in his regular season debut against the Marlins on Sunday. … Colin Moran homered and drove in four runs, leading the Pirates past the Brewers. … Daniel Vogelbach homered twice and drove in three runs in a losing effort there. … Marcus Stroman struck out five over eight innings of one-run ball in a victory over the Rockies. … Trevor Bauer fanned seven over six innings of one-run baseball in a no-decision against the Padres. … Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Dodgers, earning his sixth save of the season. … Kyle Hendricks allowed four first-inning home runs -- and seven runs total over four innings -- in a loss to the Braves. … Anthony Rizzo homered twice as the Cubs fell to the Braves.