Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One Down, Five To Go

We're one month into the 2008 season, and since I went to the trouble of detailing my fantasy league draft, I feel the urge to deliver monthly reports on how everyone is doing. The Gabe Sox are doing just fine, thank you. They led the big 16-team Cooperstown League about half of April and are currently tied for second, 8 points behind Los Hooligans, a team managed by Eric E. Enders of El Paso. Balance has been the key for the Gabe Sox. Of my current 138 points, 68 are in the six offensive categories and 70 in the pitching categories. I'm leading the league in HR, RBI, and total bases, and I'm second in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. There could be trouble down the road, however; I'm also second from the bottom in stolen bases and saves. I knew I'd have trouble with stolen bases, and benching my best stolen base guy for three of his five steals hasn't helped. I've always been a bottom-dweller in saves, and this season is no exception. Francisco Cordero has pitched well but has only had four save chances; Rafael Betancourt recently took over the job, so I do have a chance there. Most importantly, I'm fourth in holds, only three behind the leader, and that is my traditional good-luck category.

Without a doubt, my two key hitters have been guys I gambled on. Jeff Hamilton has been an RBI machine for the Rangers; with his grand slam tonight, he has 32 RBI in just 28 games. But the Cincinnati Reds aren't unhappy that they traded him away. Edinson Volquez, the equally unproven pitcher they got from the Rangers, has been one of the top three or four pitchers in the NL so far with a 4-0 record, 1.23 ERA, and more strikeouts than innings. Great trade! My other stud on offense so far has been Nate McLouth (who's on all three of my teams). If I wasn't already sure he was for real, I was convinced yesterday when he led off the game with a HR off Johan Santana. That'll teach me to bench him on one of my teams! McLouth is piling up big numbers in all offensive categories so far--except steals. He has only two and has been thrown out several times. He's too busy hitting homers to bother with steals.

Most of my offensive players have blown hot and cold so far. Carlos Pena had one torrid weekend when he posted most of his numbers; the rest of the time he's been injured and ineffective, batting below .200. Magglio Ordonez began by sharing the deep swoon of his teammates, going more than a week before driving in his first run of the season, but he's hitting .300 with 19 RBI in a month, and his numbers are rounding into form. Aaron Hill has been solid at second base, Jeff Keppinger has seized the shortstop job with the Reds and is hitting over .300, and Edwin Encarnacion, despite an atrocious start and fielding woes which not only almost cost him his job in Cincinnati but made me come close to dumping him from the serious league, has gotten hot the last ten days and is doing just fine, thank you. Raul Ibanez had a sizzling week early on, keeping his numbers strong despite a recent skid. If you take their numbers and multiply by six, I'll have six guys over 30 HR this season and four well over 100 RBI, including Jeff Hamilton with 185. Okay, that won't happen, but I don't need them hot all at once to stay on top.

My other hitters have been spotty at best. Orlando Cabrera has done nothing. For the second straight season, I'm getting almost no help from my catchers. I exchanged Gregg Zaun for Chris Snyder right before the season started, but Snyder and J. R. Towles are both hovering around the .200 mark, though Towles has produced some runs for me. Daric Barton never got untracked, and I made what might be a key pickup when I dumped Barton in favor of Joey Votto. Votto has taken over as the main part of a strange lefty-lefty first base platoon in Cincinnati, but has the potential to put up some big numbers in the Cincy bandbox. I've been starting him regularly since I got him, with Carlos Pena slumping badly. In an attempt to pick up some stolen bases, I added Erick Aybar of the Angels. He hasn't stolen any bases for me, but he's hitting about .330 in reality and driving in some runs, so he's been playing in Cabrera's spot lately.

I built this team around starting pitching, and that has definitely been a strength so far. As well as my starters have pitched, they haven't picked up as many wins as they should have. Aaron Harang and Jake Peavy haven't gotten much run support. In one of those awful ironies which occur all the time in fantasy ball, when Peavy dueled last time out against Brandon Webb, I benched Chris Snyder against the wickedly tough Peavy. Naturally, Snyder's two-run HR was the reason why Peavy lost the game 2-1. John Maine has been spotty so far. After giving up nothing in spring training, he hasn't looked good in April, lacking the command and control I expected from him. Still, he's learning how to pitch and isn't giving up too many runs even when he isn't sharp. The best pitcher on my staff right now is Cliff Lee, whom I picked up after his second great start for the Indians. In his first two starts for the Gabe Sox, he gave up one run and five hits in 17 innings. Nice pickup! I dropped my original fourth starter, Jon Lester, after two bad starts and picked up Jake Westbrook, who pitched well before going on the DL. I'm keeping him and expect him and Lee to be nearly as solid for me as the other Indians starters, Sabathia and Carmona, were for last year's champion Gabe Sox.

The bullpen has been inconsistent but decent. Lots of holds, a few saves and wins, and a number of very bad outings. I jumped Joaquin Benoit after several horrid outings, watched Scott Downs and Leo Nunez give up three runs each one night last week, and have endured several pastings of Rafael Betancourt. Cordero and Scot Shields have been the steadiest relievers, but I'm not complaining.

Not like some of the managers in this league. Tom Shieber issued his annual "why am I doing this?" plea before making a run at the first division. John Odell staked a claim to last place early, but may have been premature as his team is now up to tenth place. There's a furious battle going on for last place between the teams managed by Freddy Berowski, Bill Francis, and Rob Pendell (see "How We Did It" for more on them). Freddy may have a light at the end of the tunnel. He's about to use his first waiver position to pick up Max Scherzer, who made a spectacular debut the other night by retiring all 13 hitters he faced, fanning 7. Freddy is confident that with Scherzer in his rotation, he'll be able to make a strong run at 11th or 12th. Rob is already looking forward to the All-Star Game break; in our league, the team that makes the biggest improvement after the break gets his money back, and that is always a hotly contested race.

I have my sights set on first place, currently occupied by Los Hooligans. Their big performers so far have been Hanley Ramirez, Lance Berkman, Carlos Quentin, and a starting rotation featuring Felix Hernandez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the immortal Zack Greinke. Despite the Jeff Hamilton home run I mentioned earlier, I fell into third place by the end of the night, behind Guermantes Way, managed by David Jones. Fittingly, both Eric and David both held the job I currently hold, researcher at the Hall of Fame library. I'd say there's some significance there, but Freddy and Bill have the same job, and they're duking it out for the cellar. Guermantes had a huge night with Geovany Soto hitting a pair of 3-run homers and Ervin Santana giving up no runs in an easy victory. His stars so far have been Soto and Mark DeRosa, Casey Kotchman, Ervin Santana, and George Sherrill. Not a household name in the bunch, but that's fantasy baseball, where the rosters in this league total 352 players and you'd better scour the nooks and crannies for anybody who might produce big numbers for you. Where will the next Max Scherzer come from? Tell me!

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Sgt. Schultz the Ewok said...
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