Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to football: Week 4 pickups

If you're like someone I know, puttering along at 0-3, you've been scowering that waiver wire with a fine-tooth finger.

You know there is no coming back from 0-4.

And, of course, you have Manning or Wayne or Addai on a bye.

Here's some quick fill-in options for this week.

Matt Jones, WR, Jaguars (3.5 stars)

You mean, the former college QB, Matt Jones? That's right. And after 16 receptions, 24 looks and 173 yards in the first three games, Jones draws an ultra-Downey soft Texans defense. Then, there was this quote from Jags offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter: "We have to continue to find better ways to use Matt [Jones]," Koetter said. "Let's face it. He has some talents that other guys don't have." Expect 6 catches, 80 yards and a score.

Hank Baskett, WR, Eagles (3 stars)

His weekly yardage totals have been schizophrenic: 102, 10, 85. Which Baskett will show up against the Bears on Sunday night? After giving up 400 yards to Brian Griese and the Bucs, you'd have to think Baskett will get his share of looks. Expect 4 catches, 65 yards with a possible score.

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (3 stars)

You saw Chris Chambers torch the Panthers' secondary in week 1. You saw Bernard Berrian burn Carolina last week. And you've seen Matt Ryan's huge arm, connecting for a 62- and 70-yard TD score already this season. All it takes is one bomb to Roddy White or Michael Jenkins and you have a nice fill-in day for Payton or Eli Manning (how much you wanna bet those two are on the same golf course this weekend?). Think 205yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT.

Steve Slaton, RB, Texans (2.5 stars)

If it wasn't for the Jax defense, I'd make Slaton a 4-star sleeper. Slaton chewed up a good Tennessee defense with 116 yards on 18 carries. Jacksonville lived up to its reputation, holding Buffalo's run attack in week 2, but Chris Johnson ripped off 6.2 yards per carry in week 1 and Joseph Addai managed 4.9 last week. Slaton might not get to 100, but he'll get to 80 and score.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Eagles (2 stars)

With the game-time decision of Brian Westbrook holding up rosters Sunday afternoon, how could I honestly recommend Buckhalter? Dude, I gave him 2 stars. This is only a good idea, if you are in a desperation mode. But even if Westbrook plays, look for Buckhalter to get more carries than usual. All indications seem to point to Westbrook NOT playing, but you never know. Westbrook is good for 1-2 DNPs a season for regular maintenance. That's why he always comes at a slight discount on draft day. Expect 35 yards if Westbrook plays and 70 and score if he doesn't.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Final stretch: Brewers, Mets or Phils?

Nothing beats a late-September chase for the playoffs.

With five games left, three teams are battling for two spots in the National League. Sure, a few more are still mathematically alive, but basically it's the Brewers, Mets and Phillies.

And not in that order.

Thanks to Johan Santana, the Mets pulled within 1 1/2 games of the NL East-leading Phillies last night and hold a slim 1-game edge on the Brewers for the Wild Card spot.

So, who will be left without a chair when the music stops?

Conventional wisdom says it's the Brewers. After two more game with Pittsburgh, it's three with the Cubs in the Land o' Cheese.

Yes, the same Cubs who have clinched home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs and have little to nothing to play for.

Translation: The Brewers could very well sweep the Cubs, as motivation to win this weekend will be at polar opposite ends of the spectrum.

Look: The Cubs aren't about to tank the final weekend. It's considered un-American, or at least un-baseball-like for Lou Piniella to bench his starters, almost as bad as spilling your beer or not eating apple pie. Although you probably will see a few regulars get a breather, I would imagine.

If the Brewers were to get in, that would send the Cubs to Hollywood for games 3 and 4 of the opening round of the playoffs. Sure, nobody wants that kind of commute, but faced with the choice of facing the Dodgers or Mets/Phillies, I'm guess the Cubs would rather face Joe Torre's band of castoffs.

Just another reason why the Cubs shouldn't tank it.

But the sense of urgency is simply not there.

The scene in Milwaukee is quite different. The Brewers will throw C.C. Sabathia on 3-day's rest again. And will do so again this Sunday, if Sabathia's arm is still attatched.

Still, the Brewers will just miss facing Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harder, getting Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, three fine pitchers but still hittable.

The Mets? After two with the Cubs, the host Florida for three games. And the Phillies? After tonight's game with the Braves they roll out the red carpet for the vaunted Washington Nationals, who may be re-classified a AAA team next season.

On paper, the Phils will win the East. It may come down to the final day of the season with Sabathia going for the Brewers and Santana for the Mets.

I'm feeling a one-game playoff on Monday, but regardless, if this thing comes down to Sunday afternoon, the winner will be crystal clear:

All true baseball fans.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Back to NFL; Week 3 waiver gems

After watching Carlos Zambrano get rocked for 8 runs in 1 2/3 innings this afternoon, I have no other choice but to turn my attention to football.

Actually, The Ryder Cup is again making a claim for the best sporting event on TV, but even I think fantasy golf is lame, so we'll move onto the NFL.

While it may be a little late to give pickup advice, here are some sleepers you should think about, especially if you have a few holes on your roster (and who doesn't).

This week's pickups:

Michael Bush, RB, Raiders (4 stars)

With Darren McFadden battling the dreaded turf toe and Justin Fargas gimpy with a groin injury, Bush remains the healthiest back in what is turning into a run-heavy offense. McFadden is still starting, so don't expect miracles here, but moving forward, there's bound to be many weeks where Bush is a strong play. This week at Buffalo, however, may not be one of them, but if you're scraping for life in a flex spot, don't hesitate. After 90 yards last week on 16 carries, look for about half that this week (50 yards on 10 carries), but Bush could be a good bet to score, especially if this one turns into a laugher late. The Raiders won't ride McFadden in a blowout.

Justin Gage, Titans, WR (3.5 stars)

A Tennessee receiver? No, I'm not smoking anything. Here's the deal. Kerry Collins has taken over at QB with Vince Young's shenanigans going on. Coach Jeff Fisher said this week that Collins would keep the job, so long as the Titans keep winning. We all know Collins has a gun and while the Titans are a run-first team, someone's gotta catch the ball and Gage is the top target, although he is a game-time decision so you may want to wait a week before you en-Gage this sleeper. Facing Houston and Minnesota secondaries the next two weeks is like printing money. Think 75 yards and a TD, if he plays

Bernanrd Berrian, Vikings, WR (3 stars)

If you've missed out on Gage, Berrian's likely still hanging around your waiver wire. But what do you want with a wideout who has only 3 catches for 38 yards this year? Thy name is Gus Ferrotte. The benching of Tavaris Jackson is not only surprising after two weeks, but should increase the Vikings' passing game two-fold. Maybe now, they'll actually try throwing inside the red zone. Berrian is a star, paired with the right QB, and while Ferrotte is no Manning, he's been known to air it out with the best of them. Look for 65 yards and a score this week from B.B.

J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers (3 stars)

What? J.T. who? Yes, the obscure 6th-year QB who has thrown for 516 yards (thanks Mike Martz) has a dream matchup this week in the Detroit Lions. It's a good bet to start any QB and starting RB against what looks like the worst defense in the league. And it might not be close. O'Sullivan has developed nice rapport with Isaac Bruce and you know Martz knows how to use Bruce, regardless of how close he is to AARP status. Those of you who drafted Carson Palmer should plug and play this Irish gunslinger while Cincy tries to find themselves. O'Sullivan should get another 300-yard game this week, with two scores.

Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers (2.5 stars)

The main reason to pick up Jackson is Ryan Grant's tender hamstring. Grant practiced without pads on Thursday, but is expected to play Sunday night in what should be a wild shootout with the Cowboys. Any RB who could get carries for a team as explosive as Green Bay should be owned and Jackson should find carries, similarly to Bush, but in a much more prolific offense. And he could make for a good bye-week fill-in coming up. Look for 7-10 carries for 40 yards, but probably no score this week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Was firing Yost the Brewers' ticket?

The news of Ben Sheets' elbow injury has to be worse than the beloved bratwurst getting hit by a baseball bat in the beloved Sausage Race in Milwaukee.

The Brewers' collapse seems more eminent with each passing day.

The good news is the usually-dicey Brewers bullpen shut down the Cubs in a 6-2 Milwaukee win Wednesday night in Wrigley.

But the Brewers are still 1/2 game behind the Mets in the wildcard standings.

Milwaukee had lost 11 of 14 before the win, prompting the firing of manager Ned Yost, a move that may have been long overdue. Especially if you followed the Brewers through the past two seasons, including All-Star Ryan Braun mysteriously absence from the 2007 Opening Day roster despite obvious signs of stardom.

The Brewers have put everything on the line, trying to make the playoffs this season. They traded highly-regarded prospect Matt LaPorta to Cleveland for C.C. Sabathia, who will most likely be just a half-year rental, as the lefty is looking for big, big bucks and years. Sabathia and Sheets will probably be pitching elsewhere next year, which is a sad economic reality of baseball.

But now, Sheets, who says he's had this elbow pain since Aug. 26 will have an MRI, but you can bet if there's any way he can pitch at all next week, the Brewers will roll him out.

Tthe pressure is on. Ten games left. Your manager has been fired. You've mortgaged the future for 2008. Everything's riding on this final stretch.

Great atmosphere to play loose, right?

Look for the Brewers to fold, not that I want them to. I always like to see small market teams make it. The Rays story is one of the best in years, even if they can't sell out still.

But the expectations are just too great in a must-win now environment and baseball is a funny game.

Maybe baseball's cheeseheads will prove me wrong.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Big Z's no-hitter tainted?

Not since 1972, has a Cubs pitcher thrown a no-hitter.

Until last night, in the most unlikely place.

Carlos Zambrano, a hot pistol to say the least, dealt the Houston Astros a 10-strikeout no-hitter in Milwaukee.


Well, of course. Actually, it makes little sense, as Miller Park, designed to be a neutral fall-back venue after Hurricane Ike slammed Houston Saturday morning, is clearly home-field advantage for the Cubs.

But that's what happens when you have a commisioner (Bud Selig) with obvious ties to Milwaukee, this is what you get.

Surely, a game in Cincinnati or Atlanta or Tampa would've been more legit.

But, still a no-hitter is a no-hitter and the Astros were completely demoralized on this night. Is it tainted? Absolutely not.

So, what about Zambrano's 110 pitches after coming off shoulder tendinitis? Manager Lou Piniella said pitching coach Larry Rothschild was going to have to go get him. He didn't dare try to pull Big Z.

And knowing Zambrano's temperament, Piniella did the right thing. 

Nothing beats a confidence boost and no better confidence boost than a no-no.

Here's the call on TV:

Here it is on the radio. Gotta love Pat Hughes and Ron Santo.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

K-Rod breaks saves record, 2 weeks to spare

While most of you were fast asleep, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez broke the 18-year-old saves record Saturday night.

K-Rod's 58th save had a little adventure: a double and walk before getting Wladimir Balentien and Ichiro Suzuki to strike out swinging.

It was K-Rod's third save in four days, as the Angels closer tries to increase his free agency stock.

It also came 10 days before I predicted the record would fall in this June 24 post.

The old record was held by Chicago White Sox RP Bobby Thigpen (57) in 1990.

Here's a complete list.

And in the meantime, be thankful you passed on J.J. Putz and grabbed K-Rod two rounds later. Just goes to show how unpredictable saves really are.

58 — x-Francisco Rodriguez, L.A. Angels, 2008

57 — Bobby Thigpen, Chicago White Sox, 1990

55 — John Smoltz, Atlanta, 2002

55 — Eric Gagne, L.A. Dodgers, 2003

53 — Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, 2004

53 — Trevor Hoffman, San Diego, 1998

53 — Randy Myers, Chicago Cubs, 1993

52 — Eric Gagne, L.A. Dodgers, 2002

51 — Dennis Eckersley, Oakland, 1992

51 — Rod Beck, Chicago Cubs, 1998

50 — Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, 2001

49 — Francisco Cordero, Texas, 2004

48 — Dennis Eckersley, Oakland, 1990

48 — Rod Beck, San Francisco, 1993

48 — Jeff Shaw, Cincinnati-L.A. Dodgers, 1998

47 — Chad Cordero, Washington, 2005

47 — Jose Valverde, Arizona, 2007

47 — Armando Benitez, Florida, 2004

47 — Francisco Rodriguez, L.A. Angels, 2006

47 — Jason Isringhausen, St. Louis, 2004

47 — Lee Smith, St. Louis, 1991

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Price is right; Phillips screwed; Ike dicey

Just a few random fantasy notes as you spend your Saturday watching the devestation of Ike on Texas:

David Price: The Rays finally, and yes, I mean finally, called up Price, the last of the high-praised pitching phenoms this year. We've been tracking Price since, oh, seemingly the Reagan Administration, and now he's finally here. Price went 12-1 in three levels of minor league ball, posting 1.82, 1.89 and 4.50 ERAs in A, AA and AAA ball. For good measure, he went 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 2 playoff appearances.

Here's Price throwing in spring training. A little rigid with his motion, but you can tell he throws gas.

Now what? Price will undoubtedly be stuck in the Rays bullpen for the stretch run and he probably won't be used in a closer role, although you never know, as Troy Percival is bothered by a bad back. Still, his main value lies in keeper leagues, as he projects to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for years to come, probably as soon as 2010.

Brandon Phillips: Trying to put down a bunt this week, Phillips was hit in the finger, breaking it to the point it required two screws. And yes, if you're in the playoffs with Phillips at 2B, you're also screwed. Phillips has been decent (.261, 21 HR, 23 SB, 78 RBI), but even at a full season, he would've fell short of most owners expectations. Could be a nice 7th round sleeper next year, so keep him in mind.

Hurricane Ike: The Cubs wisely stayed in Chicago, letting Ike make his way through Texas and boy is it a big one. Friday and Saturday games between the Cubs and Astros have been postponed, not to mention the Rays-Yankees and Brewers-Phillies games (also weather-related, but not Ike). If you're like me, you had about a third of your team ppd'd tonight, leaving you with a line like 1 run, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .174. OK, maybe that's about right every night. Anyway, look for the Rays-Yanks to play two today and the Brewers-Phillies and Cubs-Astros to play a doubleheader on Sunday, weather-permitting. This is of particular interest to all you streamers out there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Switch gears: Football pickups

Yeah, yeah, I know, this is supposed to be a baseball blog.

But the NFL is here and must not be ignored.

So, switch gears, for a moment, let's look at the pickups for Week 2 and hopefully, you're not digging out of an 0-1 hole like someone I know. Ahem.

WAIVER WIRE PICKUPS (5 star scale)

Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos (4 stars):

Myth buster time. Rookie wideouts have little to no fantasy value. (Buzz!). Not true. Well, not always.

Sure, wideouts have a much harder time adjusting to the NFL, but let's not forget Anquan Boldin, who racked up 1377 yards and 8 TDs in 2003, making him a top 10 WR surprise, despite going undrafted in virtually every league.

So, is Royal this year's Boldin? Well, it's doubtful. But he could be this year's Dwayne Bowe, the K.C. rookie who racked up 995 yards and 5 TDs last year. 

Royal hauled in all 11 laser passes thrown his way from QB Jay Cutler on Monday night for 146 yards, including a 29-yard score. 

And there's a lot to like about the second round pick from Virginia Tech. His size (5-10) and quickness makes him almost unguardable off the line, ensuring him probably a half dozen quick looks each game. The only question marks are a) what will his output be with Brandon Marshall back in the fold this week and b) what will happen when a real NFL team (not the Raiders) plays defense. 

My guess is Royal will be an upper-eschelon No. 3 WR going forward, netting 70-80 yards a week, but not finding the end zone more than 5 more times this year.

He's probably gone, but worth a look anyway.

Matt Cassel, QB, Patriots (3 stars)

Let's be honest here. What can we really expect from a career backup, who hasn't started a game since high school? 

With Randy Moss and Wes Welker as your wide recievers, well, you could do a lot worse. 

Cassel backed up Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, then held the clipboard for three seasons before the shocking Tom Brady injury Sunday.  

If you've been living in a cave, here's a dramatic version of how it happened, set to music:

There's no word who he handed off the clipboard to, but you may be seeing the Patriots handing off to Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris (more on him later).

But there's a reason New England sent Phil Simms and Tim Rattay back to the airport on Monday after initially inviting them to a tryout. Cassel knows the complex Patriots system and has a cannon for an arm. 

Barring a meltdown, look for the Pats to stick with Cassel this year and if they do, the playoff weeks of 14, 15 and 16 feature Seattle, Oakland and Arizona. The question is, will you still be alive.

Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots (2.5 stars)

Really? Sammy Morris? Considering how New England has buried Laurence Maroney in its Red Zone Doghouse, you could do a lot worse as a No. 2 back in deeper leagues or a spot play in shallow ones.

Morris and Maroney split 20 carries last week with Morris running for 53 yards and Maroney 51. But Morris got the golden carry from five yards out.

How will this play out as the season goes along? Hard to say, but for now, stash Morris and cross your fingers.

David Patten, WR, Saints (2 stars)

News of Marques Colston's thumb injury (out 4-6 weeks) opens the door for someone in New Orleans, the question is who? My bet is Patten is the primary beneficiary, but there are a host of WR in the Big Easy that could benefit.

Patten caught 54 balls for 792 yards and three scores last year so, there is track record of chemistry with Brees

Devery Henderson, WR, Saints (1.5 stars)

The other beneficiary of Colston's injury could be New Orleans' long ball threat, Henderson. Just two years ago, Henderson came out of nowhere with regular 2-catch, 100-yard games, but if you rode him to a Super Bowl title in your league, you may never forget.

Wildly inconsistent, Henderson has the raw tools to be a legit deep threat in the way Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards is, but don't confuse him with those two elite wideouts. As they say, you can put lipstick on a pig....ahhh, forget it.

If you have two spots, grab Henderson and Patten and see what happens.   

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cubs, Brewers can't buy a win

While I was gone to my baby sister's wedding, something strange happened.

Well, stranger than seeing my baby sister getting married.

Since that ring was placed on her left finger on Saturday, the Cubs have stopped winning.

For only the second time this year, Chicago's northsiders have lost four games in a row. The only other time was on June 29, when the White Sox swept them at the Cell.

Of course, this isn't an 0-14 panic like the Cubs started the 1997 season. And the Brewers have now lost three straight to the Mets after today's 9-2 whipping, leaving the Cubs with a comfy 5-game cushion.

But after witnessing Monday's 3-0 Labor Day stinker at Wrigley with 18 of my relatives, a few random thoughts came to mind:

* Roy Oswalt is still an elite pitcher. He threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up just 4 singles (two in the 9th) and is now the top pitcher in Yahoo! over the past month, despite ranked 136th among all players for the season. His past six starts have all been quality and if he keeps this up, he moves back into the keeper category.

* Derrek Lee is killing my team. Warning track power is exactly what we saw with Lee's near-miss of a HR in the bottom of the ninth with two out and two on. To be fair, the wind was blowing steadily in and on most days, he's the hero and Wrigley is going crazy, singing feverishly "Go Cubs Go" afterward. On this day, it was like a funeral visitation.

* Jose Valverde is nuts. You may not know about all his rituals, running in from the outfield, then walking as soon as he hits the infield; tossing the first ball he gets back to the umpire for a new one; circling the mound and studying the rosin bag; the unorthodox wind up, as if he's playing a game of charades. He's fun to watch, that's for sure, but he makes Carlos Zambrano look like a librarian.

* After caravanning three vehicles and 19 mostly Cubs fans on a spectacular September day, we managed to still have a good time at the ol' ballpark, despite the Cubs delivering roughly one hit for every five of us. Wrigley is still spectacular even when the Cubs lose. And the new Ernie Banks statue is a long-overdue addition outside.