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It was worth the wait. After an extensive COVID-19 outbreak forced the Nationals to delay the start of their 2021 campaign by nearly a week, franchise icon Juan Soto delivered a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday to complete a dramatic 6-5 comeback victory over the division-rival Braves.
Shortly after the Nationals finally unveiled their 2019 World Series championship banner before the 4,801 fans in attendance, Braves’ superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. deposited Max Scherzer’s first pitch of the afternoon into the left-field seats. The nightmare scenario for Scherzer only continued from there as Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson also left the yard before Acuña Jr. clobbered his second round-tripper of the contest -- his sixth career multi-homer performance -- in the third inning. It was the first time in 378 career appearances that he allowed four home runs, but there were extenuating circumstances here. The 36-year-old workhorse hadn’t pitched in a competitive situation in over two weeks and was throwing to a catcher that wasn’t on the Nationals’ roster last week. Despite those obstacles, he retired the final 10 batters he faced, recorded nine strikeouts (21 swinging strikes), and managed to grind out six innings in his season debut.
Dynamic shortstop Trea Turner jump-started the Nationals’ comeback effort, launching a game-tying, two-run homer off Braves’ lefty Drew Smyly in the third inning. The seesaw battle continued with Acuña Jr. -- who finished 2-for-5 with three RBI in the losing effort -- putting the Braves back in front briefly with an RBI ground out in the seventh inning, before Andrew Stevenson tied the contest with an RBI infield single in the ensuing frame, setting the stage for Soto’s eventual heroics.
Starting Pitchers with an EDGE
Gerrit Cole vs. Orioles
7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K
45% CSW, 27 swinging strikes
Cole took full advantage of a tasty matchup against a perpetually rebuilding franchise, authoring one of the most dominant performances of his entire professional career on Tuesday evening. He scattered four hits, allowed one batted ball with an exit velocity over 95 mph, and recorded 13 strikeouts over seven shutout innings. It was his ninth career regular-season start with 13-plus strikeouts and the first time he's accomplished the feat since September 24, 2019. The hard-throwing 30-year-old righty threw a whopping 71 of 97 pitches for strikes, hit 100 mph on the radar gun, and also generated an eye-popping 27 swinging strikes over seven frames. He owns a microscopic 1.46 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 21/2 K/BB ratio over 12 1/3 innings (two starts) to open the 2021 campaign.
6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
30% CSW, 14 swinging strikes
Glasnow looked virtually unhittable for the second consecutive start to open the 2021 season. The uber-talented 27-year-old fireballer generated whiff with all three pitches in his repertoire and threw his newly-added slider 34 times out of 97 pitches. He owns a microscopic 0.75 ERA, 0.58 WHIP and 15/2 K/BB ratio across 12 innings (two starts) this season.
Clayton Kershaw vs. Athletics
7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
40% CSW, 21 swinging strikes
Kershaw delivered a vintage throwback performance in an interleague matchup against the Athletics, settling down after a shaky opening frame to retire 20 of the final 22 batters he faced. The 33-year-old veteran southpaw threw 61 of 91 pitches for strikes, while also generating an eye-popping 21 swinging strikes, and finishing with a sublime 40 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs percentage). It was an extremely encouraging bounce-back effort after he was roughed up by the Rockies at Coors Field on Opening Day last week.
Freddy Peralta vs. Cubs
5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 K
33% CSW, 17 swinging strikes
Peralta and a pair of relievers -- Brent Suter and Brad Boxberger -- combined for a one-hit shutout on Tuesday in the Brewers’ win over the Cubs. The electrifying 24-year-old righty generated an astronomical 17 swinging strikes, including 11 on his curveball, and threw his breaking ball nearly as many times (41) as his fastball (43) in his first start of the 2021 campaign. He needs to improve his control if he’s going to evolve into an upper-echelon fantasy starter, but this isn't all smoke and mirrors. His arsenal has taken a massive step forward and he’s missing enough bats to overcome all of the traffic on the basepaths so far. Peralta remains a work in progress, but there’s massive fantasy potential here.
Hitters with an EDGE
Ryan McMahon vs. Diamondbacks
4-for-6, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R
Despite frigid 40-degree temperatures at Coors Field, McMahon delivered an epic career-high, three-homer performance in the Rockies’ loss to the Diamondbacks in a 13-inning marathon. The 26-year-old second baseman took Diamondbacks’ starter Luke Weaver deep in the second and fourth innings, respectively, before capping off the monster three-homer effort with a solo shot to right field against lefty reliever Alex Young in the seventh inning. He also tacked on an RBI double in the 13th inning just for good measure. The 26-year-old second baseman has gotten off to a phenomenal start at the dish, slashing .444/.444/1.222 with six extra-base hits and seven RBI in 18 plate appearances. He should be rostered in all fantasy formats.
Nelson Cruz vs. Tigers
3-for-5, HR, RBI, R
Cruz tallied three hits and homered for the third time in his last two games, while teammate Byron Buxton also walloped a colossal 451-foot solo homer on Tuesday in his return to the lineup, but it wasn’t enough as former Twins’ prospect Akil Baddoo -- selected in the Rule 5 Draft during the offseason -- delivered a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning, propelling the Tigers to a victory.
Mookie Betts vs. Athletics
2-for-5, HR, RBI, R, 2 SB
Betts blasted a solo homer and also swiped a pair of bases in the Dodgers’ win over the Athletics. It was his 10th career multi-steal effort and only the third time that he’s homered and stolen multiple bases in the same game. The 28-year-old fantasy stalwart owns a pristine .348/.464/.565 triple-slash line with three extra-base hits, six runs scored, four walks and a pair of steals in 27 plate appearances so far this season.
Tyler Naquin vs. Pirates
3-for-4, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 R, BB
The Reds’ lineup has been an absolute buzzsaw to open the 2021 campaign, scoring a club-record 46 runs over their first five games of the season. Naquin was at the epicenter of their 14-run explosion on Tuesday, collecting three hits and a career-high seven RBI out of the leadoff spot, homering in each of his first two plate appearances against Pirates’ starter Trevor Cahill. Injuries to Shogo Akiyama and Jesse Winker have left the door ajar for the 29-year-old outfielder to get on the field, and there’s a chance he’s secured additional playing time moving forward. Given his career track record, he won’t be able to sustain this level of production, but he’s worthy of a speculative roster spot in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats.
Nate Lowe, 1B, Rangers (Available in 59 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues)
Lowe recorded his third career multi-homer game on Tuesday evening, blasting a pair of round-trippers in the Rangers’ victory over the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old first baseman, who was acquired via offseason trade from the Rays, owns an extra-terrestrial .381/.409/.857 triple-slash line with three round-trippers and a major league-leading 14 RBI in five games this season. There’s an inherent chasing stats component to every waiver wire acquisition, but there is no reason to doubt his ability to sustain this level of over-the-fence power production moving forward. He’s ensconced as an everyday player in the Rangers’ lineup, splitting time between the cold corner and designated hitter, and appears to be evolving into a legitimate middle-of-the-order force. If he’s floating around amidst the flotsam and jetsam on the waiver wire in shallow mixed leagues, it’s time to correct that.
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Padres general manager A.J. Preller told reporters on Tuesday that an MRI revealed that Fernando Tatis Jr. will not require season-ending surgery on his injured left shoulder. The 22-year-old franchise icon, who inked a 14-year, $340 million deal this offseason, has been placed on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder subluxation, but there is optimism that he could return to the Padres’ lineup after a period of rest and rehabilitation. He suffered the injury on a vicious swing-and-miss on Monday evening, which resulted in a partial dislocation of his shoulder and a partial labrum tear. There is no timetable for his return at this time. Barring a dramatic recovery, fantasy managers should plan to be without Tatis Jr. for the foreseeable future.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters late Tuesday that tests revealed no fractures or structural damage in Cody Bellinger's left leg. The 25-year-old slugger was held out of the starting lineup on Tuesday after taking a spike to the lower leg area earlier this week. It appears as though he’s avoided a serious injury, but he’ll likely be given at least a few days off to fully recover. It’s worth noting that Roberts wasn’t willing to rule out the possibility of a 10-day injured list stint, so fantasy managers should continue to monitor the situation closely.
Just a few hours after it was revealed that Athletics’ closer Trevor Rosenthal flew to Dallas on Tuesday for an examination of his right shoulder; Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the specialist he visited, Dr. Gregory Pearl, specializes in treating thoracic outlet syndrome. Rosenthal added that there is currently “no word” as to whether he’ll eventually require thoracic outlet surgery, which would likely sideline him for 3-to-4 months. The hard-throwing right-hander is scheduled to undergo further testing on Wednesday, and there should be more information about his status by this weekend. Lefty Jake Diekman is expected to operate as Oakland's primary closer in his absence, though manager Bob Melvin could elect to take a committee approach instead. Speculate at your own risk.
Diamondbacks officially placed Joakim Soria on the 10-day injured list with a left calf strain on Tuesday. The 36-year-old veteran righty suffered the injury while trying to cover first base during an appearance against the Padres over the weekend while trying to cover first base. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo turned to righty Chris Devenski to protect a one-run lead against the Rockies on Tuesday evening, and he failed to get the job done, coughing up a game-tying homer in the process. The entire situation has devolved into a real quagmire and is starting to look like a total stay away for fantasy managers.
It’s unclear where Nationals manager Dave Martinez will turn in the ninth inning after stopper Brad Hand (COVID-19) was placed on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, just a few hours ahead of their regular season opener. The 31-year-old lefty was among a large group of players impacted by the organization's COVID-19 outbreak. They’ll also be without righty Will Harris, who was also placed on the 10-day injured list as he continues to recover from a procedure to remove a small blood clot from his right arm last month. There’s no way of knowing exactly how long Hand figures to be sidelined, but the most logical successors include Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson.
Closer Quick Hits: Mark Melancon fired a perfect frame against the Giants to collect his third save of the season … Alex Reyes recorded the final four outs of the Cardinals’ win over the Marlins to collect his second save of the season … Ian Kennedy notched his first save of the year for the Rangers with a perfect inning against the Blue Jays … Diego Castillo surrendered a game-tying solo homer in a blown save against the Red Sox … Raisel Iglesias was saddled with a loss after giving up a go-ahead homer in a non-save situation versus the Astros … Will Smith failed to record an out and took a loss in a non-save situation against the Nationals …
Wednesday’s Matchup of the Day
Bauer flirted with a no-hitter in his Dodgers debut at Coors Field last Friday, yielding four runs on three hits over 6 1/3 innings. The 30-year-old reigning NL Cy Young Award winner racked up 10 strikeouts, 15 swinging strikes, and finished with a 36 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs percentage). Meanwhile, Luzardo is aiming for a bounce-back performance after he was rocked for five runs on eight hits over five innings against the division-rival Astros on Friday in his regular season debut. The electrifying lefty recorded eight strikeouts, generated 12 swinging strikes, and finished with a solid 34 percent CSW. Fantasy managers can be sure of one thing, there will be plenty of whiffs in this one.
American League Quick Hits: James Paxton exited his start against the White Sox on Tuesday due to elbow discomfort … Yankees acquired INF Rougned Odor from the Rangers in exchange for minor-league outfielders Josh Stowers and OF Antonio Cabello … Jose Abreu launched a grand slam and drove in five runs in the White Sox’ win over the Mariners … Lucas Giolito posted 10 strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings to pick up his first win of the season … Ty France went 3-for-5 with an RBI in the loss … J.D. Martinez scalded a two-run, walk-off double in the bottom of the 12th inning to lift the Red Sox to an extra-inning victory over the Rays … Carlos Correa belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning, leading the Astros to a win over the Angels … Kyle Tucker went deep for the second straight contest in that victory … Mike Trout homered for the second consecutive game, blasting a mammoth 464-foot two-run homer, in the Angels’ loss … Shohei Ohtani went 2-for-4 with a stolen base in the losing effort … Dylan Bundy notched 10 strikeouts over six innings of two-run ball in a no-decision … Aaron Judge went 3-for-5 with a three-run homer and four RBI in the Yankees’ win over the Orioles … Dane Dunning whiffed six batters over five innings of one-run ball in a win over the Blue Jays … Nick Solak went 2-for-4 with a pair of stolen bases in that contest … Bo Bichette crushed a pair of solo homers in the losing effort … Rays placed OF Kevin Kiermaier on the 10-day injured list with a left quad strain … Eduardo Rodriguez (dead arm) will be activated from the 10-day injured list to start for the Red Sox on Thursday against the Orioles … Matt Olson (knee) was held out of the Athletics’ lineup on Tuesday due to a left knee contusion.
National League Quick Hits: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred officially announced on Tuesday that the Colorado Rockies will host the 2021 MLB All-Star game at Coors Field on Tuesday, July 13 … Braves acquired SS Orlando Arcia from the Brewers in exchange for RHP Chad Sobotka and RHP Patrick Weigel … Pete Alonso launched his first round-tripper of the season, lifting the Mets to a win over the Phillies … Sandy Alcantara matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over six innings of three-run ball in a loss to the Cardinals … Yu Darvish racked up seven strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Giants … Jonathan India went 3-for-4 with a triple and four RBI in the Reds’ blowout win over the Pirates … Travis Shaw hit a three-run homer in the Brewers’ victory over the Cubs … X-rays turned up negative on the left hand of J.D. Davis after he was hit by a pitch and removed from Tuesday’s game against the Phillies … Lorenzo Cain remains sidelined from the Brewers’ starting lineup due to a minor oblique issue … Dinelson Lamet (elbow) threw a bullpen session on Tuesday at Petco Park … Zac Gallen (forearm) is scheduled to throw another simulated game on Wednesday … Nationals placed LHP Patrick Corbin, LHP Jon Lester, LHP Brad Hand, OF Kyle Schwarber, 1B Josh Bell, C Yan Gomes, C Alex Avila, INF Josh Harrison and INF Jordy Mercer on the 10-day injured as a result of COVID-19 protocols.