strange thing happened during the final moments of the 1972 Olympic men’s gold
medal game, which pitted Cold War rivals USA and USSR against one another.
USA began celebrating a 50-49 victory upon hearing the final buzzer. But the
game wasn’t over. The horn sounded prematurely, the referees claimed, adding
two more seconds to the clock and replaying the final possession. The Soviets wound
up scoring an uncontested layup to win the gold.
has to go down as one of the most memorable premature celebrations in sports
the past few days, we’ve seen some of the most premature celebrations in
fantasy sports history. Across America, countless owners could be seen dancing
around their computers singing sweet victory.
most neglected to realize was this:
regular season wasn’t over.
until the American League Central tiebreaker between the Tigers and Twins is finished
Tuesday, fantasy owners, whose fortunes seemed doomed on Sunday, still have a
chance to pull off another 1972 Summer Olympics moment.
you, this doesn’t apply to leagues where the first-place team sits miles ahead of
the second-place team.
is solely for races that went down to the wire, where one win, one save, a
couple of homers and a few RBIs and/or stolen bases can be the difference
between winning and losing.
Schwartz, co-host of MLB.com’s Fantasy 411, recounted how the 2007 tiebreaker
between the Rockies and Padres left him heartbroken.
was leading the 411 listener league at the end of the regular season, but my
prescient opponent picked up every Rockies and Padres scrubeenie as soon as
Sunday’s games started; he got an RBI triple from Seth Smith to catch me in
that category, a run from some other benchie, and we ended up in a flat-footed
tie for the league championship.”
Twins and Tigers players will turn the tides this time around?
have to start with Rick Porcello of Detroit and Scott Baker of Minnesota, each
of whom take the mound in the highest-pressure outings of their careers.
especially true for Porcello. I don’t know about you, but when I was 20 years
old, the idea of starting a one-game playoff, in front of a combined audience
that figures to top one-million people, would be enough to put me on the first
plane to Mexico.
Porcello isn’t your average 20-year-old. He’s coming off a Rookie of the
Year-caliber campaign in which he notched 14 wins and a 4.04 ERA, including six
strong innings against the Twins last time out. Throw in the fact that he leaped
from Single-A to Detroit, and it’s tough to rule him out altogether.
the odds favor Baker for a number of reasons. He has the luxury of pitching in
front of a raucous home crowd after a smooth second half that included an 8-2
record and a 3.21 ERA. It can’t hurt that he’s pitching for a Twins club that
staged in an improbable comeback without 2006 MVP Justin Morneau, winning 16 of
their last 20 games to force a do-or-die matchup. Porcello lost his only two
starts at the Metrodome, getting shelled for seven earned runs over 10 innings
if the Twins ride their momentum to victory, count on Joe Nathan contributing
in some fashion, possibly even picking up his 48th save, which would tie him
with Brian Fuentes for the Major League lead. The same goes for Tigers fireman
Fernando Rodney, who showed a knack for bringing his “A” game during save
usual suspects include MVP candidates Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera. It might be tempting to sit Cabrera amid an
0-for-14 funk and off-the-field troubles, but you don’t sit a .323 hitter who’s
finishing his third straight 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign.
even bigger mistake would be sitting Jason Kubel, who went 8-for-11 against
Porcello (.727 AVG) and owned Tigers pitchers this season with a .383 average
against them collectively. Oh, and Kubel is also in the midst of a career year
and coming off a scorching stretch that earned him AL Co-Player of the Week honors
no shortage of Twins players riding a wave of momentum.
Delmon Young, who shared AL Player of the Week with Kubel and went 4-for-9
(.444) vs. Porcello.
outfielder Denard Span struggled in limited time against Porcello (3-for-11),
but he brings a ******** .432 average against Tigers pitchers into Tuesday’s
game, after quietly establishing himself as one of the more valuable
how could anyone bench Michael Cuddyer after effectively channeling Morneau’s power
with 10 homers and 29 RBIs since the start of September, single-handedly
ruining my chances of winning an office fantasy league?
Nick Punto contributed to the comeback run, posting seven stolen bases from
would be foolish to talk about the Tigers lineup without mentioning Magglio
Ordonez, who has regained credibility in the average department after nearly
being released/traded in July. The sweet-swinging righty heads into Tuesday
sporting a .441 average since the start of September.
riding his hottest stretch into Tuesday is Placido Polanco, who found his
rhythm in September with a .361 average.
far as sleepers go, Ryan Raburn stands out after hammering two homers on Sunday
and putting up a .321 average and four homers as a part-timer in September. Tigers
outfielder (also qualifies at third base) Carlos Guillen and Twins shortstop Orlando
Cabrera could also emerge as unlikely heroes, given their years of seasoning
and big-game know-how.
only players truly worth benching are Gerald Laird, among the least valuable
fantasy catchers around, and Brandon Inge, who has seemingly vanished after
appearing in his first All-Star game (.216 AVG).
Tuesday is the day that every Twins and Tigers player merits starting status.
can’t be choosers when opportunity knocks this loudly with game No. 163.
What’s most memorable — the last impression or the first impression?
took Matt Wieters months before he truly arrived in September, clawing his way
to the third spot in Baltimore’s lineup thanks to a .362 average. After 95 games
and 350 at-bats in the bigs, he’s batting .291 with nine homers and 93 RBIs —
a fairly strong showing for a June callup. Still, it’s hard to erase that
disappointing memory, those first several weeks of coming up short, of, well,
as one heroic moment can overshadow every other meaningful moment of a game — a poised Derek Jeter lacing a walk-off hit
into left-center field, Jonathan Papelbon jumping for joy after a game-ending
strikeout — the first few months often skew the perception of one player’s season-long performance. If, say, a blue-chip prospect, franchise bat or any player coming off his career year doesn’t produce by Labor Day, they’re disappointments.
Carlos Quentin. On Saturday, the guy homered for the fourth time in his last
five games while producing 10 RBIs. It’s his hottest stretch of the season, but
will it matter six months from now? No — the verdict has already been cast. Quentin’s
2009 season will be looked back on as a vanishing act, a huge disappointment after
taking the American League by storm one year earlier. Why? Because of an injury-riddled
first half that ended with him hitting just .229 and eight homers.
teammate, Jake Peavy, will be remembered more for the early rough patch and
injuries struggled with San Diego than for persevering through trade rumors, a
midseason move to the White Sox and several setbacks en route to a dominant
finish that included three straight wins and 15 scoreless innings.
Still, just because the first couple of months are easier to remember than the last few weeks hardly makes it right.
In fact, there’s plenty of good value to
be had among this group of late awakenings. Even if Wieters and Quentin are
dubbed as 2010 sleepers, chances are strong that you’ll still be able to draft
them considerably later than they’ll fall in 2011.
could also say the same for outfielders Jay Bruce and Cameron Maybin, corner
infielders Chris Davis and Andy LaRoche and lefty Brett Anderson.
one way or another, all these players showed they could get back up again after getting knocked down. .
most, this time of year is seen as the end of the road.
players can finally take a load off, either in preparation for the postseason
or simply to get a head start on offseason vacation.
for those lesser-known characters filling their shoes, these final few games are rife
with new beginnings.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who wasted no time carving out regular playing
time when he arrived from Triple-A Syracuse some three weeks ago. After making
headlines with a homer in his four-RBI big league debut, Desmond added to it by
going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles one day later. Before you knew it, the
Nationals were holding meetings with Cristian Guzman, with the idea of politely
nudging the veteran shortstop over to second base permanently next year,
clearing the way for the new guy. Never mind what happens next year. What’s
important now is that Desmond is in audition mode after turning in his best
professional season to date.
it comes to late auditions, Desmond is hardly alone. There’s Randy Ruiz, who is
hoping to ride his Jack Cust impersonation into the 2010 season while holding
onto a full-time spot, be it as designated hitter or first baseman. And when
you look closely at his 2009 production (32 HR, 120 RBIs between Minors, Majors),
chalking up his 31 years and big league freshness to lack of opportunity, it’s
not hard to imagine Ruiz following in the footsteps of Russell Branyan as the
next late-blooming basher.
potential late-bloomer worth targeting is 33-year-old lefty reliever Matt
Thornton, who fanned two Indians en route to a perfect inning and his fourth
save. It just so happens that three came in the past week, without much of a
peep. Injuries to Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel — the club’s most experienced
finishers — have left openings for Thornton to fill in as closer, and for good
reason. The veteran reliever has not only proven himself capable of filling in
the gap, he’s excelled against righty hitters this year by compiling a
career-high 86 strikeouts, 24 holds and 19 over 71 1/3 innings. If he continues
to thrive, Thornton could find himself on the hot chair before long.
–Alex Cushing, MLB.com
when every ballplayer stuck to one position, when first basemen played first base exclusively, and the
only time people mentioned the word, “utilityman,” was in reference to someone working at the local hardware store?
were the days.
the world’s gone mad with everyone playing everywhere. Even
the line between rotation and bullpen has been blurred.
of today’s most prominent relievers came up as starters, from Jonathan Papelbon
to Jonathan Broxton to Kerry Wood.
now, the opposite trend seems to be gaining steam, with teams growing increasingly
comfortable testing out relievers in the rotation.
Last season, Justin Duchscherer emerged as Oakland’s
unlikely ace and one of the top surprise starters.
This past July, Jonathan Sanchez earned acclaim for his no-hit bid against the Padres, years after trying to bust onto the Giants’ 25-man roster as a reliever.
will remember Adam Wainwright‘s promising run as fill-in closer during the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series run, before a rash of injuries and offseason losses forced
him back to the rotation for good. Now, he’s tied for the Major League lead in
wins with 18 (although much of his Minor League career was spent starting).
the same bright future await the most recent pair of converts, Robinson Tejeda
and Brandon Morrow?
thrived as Seattle’s part-time closer last season, but translating those skills to the rotation hasn’t been easy. Coming off an ’08 campaign in which he posted
sterling 3.34 ERA while snagging 10 saves, the power righty heads down the
final stretch looking for his second win, sitting at 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA.
meanwhile, has become impossible to ignore after winning his third straight
start Sunday, an outing in which he held the White Sox to three hits and one
earned run over six innings. The Royals righty carries a staggering 0.81 ERA over
four big league starts this season. What began as a move of necessity for
Kansas City is turning into the opportunity of a lifetime for the well-traveled
truth is that both Tejeda and Morrow served as Minor League starters at one
point or another, so their conversions could probably be best described as “re-conversions.”
Most relievers have started at one point or another in the Minors, including
Wainwright and Sanchez.
main difference is this: Morrow arrived in the Majors with far more expected of
him than Tejeda, and rightly so. While Morrow was selected fifth overall in the
2005 Draft, Tejeda first signed with the Phillies. Morrow has spent his entire
professional career with the Mariners, while Tejeda has been on three big league
clubs. Morrow starred as the California Golden Bears ace before zooming through
the Mariners farm system in three Minor League seasons, while it took Tejeda parts
of 11 Minor League seasons before making a name for himself.
doesn’t necessarily guarantee Morrow having a better Major League career than Tejeda.
it doesn’t hurt his chances.
already features four pitches, including a fastball that routinely hits the
mid-90s along with a sharp mid-80s slider.
also throws a mid-90s heater, and his tally of 79 strikeouts over 64 2/3
innings only adds to his appeal.
while his recent success renders him the flavor of the month, the bottom line
is that Tejeda only throws three pitches. It’s hard to see how he sustains this
run, much less secures a spot in the Royals rotation, without adding another.
the main hurdle preventing Morrow from taking off is time. Once he gets stretched
out as a starter, success is there waiting for him, flaws and all.
or no conversion, Morrow is bound for rebirth.
celebrities find themselves at the center of controversy, the standard move is
to take time off.
check in to rehab. Some spend time with family. Some escape to a tropical
island, sit back and listen to self-improvement audio books.
if you’re not one of those people who follows celebrity gossip, chances are you
can still name a few recent examples (I’ll refrain to avoid a controversy of my
the method, the fundamental goals are the same; to repair public image by
creating the impression of humility and — most of all — set the stage for
a future comeback.
Red Sox hope time off works the same magic for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who made his long-awaited return to the mound
Tuesday after taking an 87-day sabbatical to recover from arm fatigue.
on Tuesday’s outing later.
the full scope of the damage Dice-K incurred this season.
all went down downhill after the World Baseball Classic, for which he took home
Most Valuable Player.
added workload disrupted his Spring Training routine and may have caused the ineffectiveness
and two stints on the disabled list that followed.
forward several weeks into the season, and the guy who combined for 30 wins
over his first two big league seasons was no longer recognizable. On June 19, he was booed off the field after
surrendering six earned runs on eight hits over four innings against the Braves.
That appearance was his last, leaving
his fantasy owners scratching their heads wondering how Dice-K — one of the game’s
top starters — had unraveled and gone 1-5 with a 8.23 ERA.
long term, the Red Sox chose to sacrifice most of his 2009 season, both to
avoid any additional injuries and to reprise his rookie form.
decision gave Matsuzaka countless hours in near-solitude at the club’s facility
in Fort Myers, Fla. There, he not only had time to collect his thoughts, air a
few grievances and build back the confidence that had been shattered by
American League hitters, but he also underwent a physical makeover that vastly
improved his conditioning.
rehab starts for Triple-A Pawtucket yielded positive results, a 2.25 ERA and a
17/6 K/BB ratio.
the extra time off seemed to pay off Tuesday, as Dice-K held a scrappy Angels
lineup hitless over his first four frames. Matsuzaka would eventually let up
six hits over six scoreless innings, outdueling Halos ace John Lackey in the
too soon to say whether Dice-K is the ace of yesteryear, but things are heading
in the right direction.
the very least, aspiring fantasy champs can feel confident in Dice-K
contributing down the stretch, instead of occupying a celebrity spot on your
of Fame shortstop-turned-third baseman Cal Ripken is revered for his
consecutive games played streak.
on the other hand, could learn from Matsuzaka, who is back atop the Red Sox
rotation after taking the slow road back in recovery.
much of the northeast had its eyes peeled on the masterful debut of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez,
another young arm was busy making his presence felt on the diamond Sunday.
Buchholz kept a dangerous Rays offense to one earned run over seven innings —
his fourth straight quality start. Nailing down a spot in the Red Sox rotation
hasn’t been easy ever since his no-hit effort two years ago. A rocky rookie
season damaged expectations enough that the Red Sox kept him down at Triple-A
Pawtucket for half of 2009. And even when he was finally recalled on July 17, it
was déjà vu all over again, with his ERA ballooning to 6.05 after four outings.
then, however, Buchholz has rebounded convincingly. Holding opponents to two
earned runs or fewer in six of his last eight outings has dropped his overall
ERA to 3.66. Boston’s decision to cut ties with Brad Penny last month all but
guaranteed Buchholz a rotation, and the decision is paying off. With a 22/7 K/BB ratio over his last four
starts, the 25-year-old righty has not only rewarded Boston brass for sticking
by him through thick and thin, he also appears to be turning a corner.
surging their way onto mixed-league lineups include:
if landing a starting role at age 20 wasn’t enough, Rangers shortstop Elvis
Andrus is making a strong bid for AL Rookie of the Year consideration, thanks
to a 15-game hit streak.
torrid nine-game hit streak from Billy Butler gives owners another exciting
Royals player not named Zack Greinke or Joakim Soria. The 23-year-old first
baseman has matured into the club’s top hitter since the All-Star break and
sports a shimmering .400 average with eight extra-base hits this month.
ahead of Hanley Ramirez has given Nick Johnson plenty of pitches to hit in
Florida. In fact, the oft-injured yet talented first baseman hasn’t had this
kind of protection since his Yankees years, which ended in 2003. He’s hitting
.355 with nine doubles during September, a trend that figures to continue as
the season winds down.
surroundings also appear to be bringing out the best in Vicente Padilla, who’s
gone 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and a 17/7 K/BB
ratio over four starts since landing in the Dodgers rotation. After blanking
the Giants over the weekend, he faces them again on Friday, Sept. 18.
former teammate, Elijah Dukes, appears going through something of a rebirth. Having
reached base safely in his last 17 games, the bulky outfielder could wrap up an
otherwise disappointing season with a bang.
better or for worse, there are some who dismiss fantasy sports as a fringe game
played by pimple-faced, backward-hat-wearing, comic-book-reading, bazooka-chewing
that is totally offensive because I quit chewing bazooka years ago.
truth of the matter is that fantasy and reality often converge.
was reminded of this while watching Rockies highlights during Labor Day
Colorado emerges as the National League Wild Card favorite with four
consecutive wins to improve to 18 games above .500, more of its players have emerged
as viable fantasy options. Or maybe it’s vice versa.
years ago, Matt Holliday led the Rockies to their surprising postseason berth.
the team is flooded with options, starting with Holliday’s replacement in left
field, Seth Smith. Despite prolonged slumps from Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes,
the Rockies have soared thanks largely to a little-known surge from Smith, who
sports a scorching-hot .519 average with four homers and 10 RBIs in seven September
contests, leaving him with strong overall numbers (.318 AVG, 15 HR, .573
SLG). Yet he remains available for the taking in many leagues, probably
same can be said for utilityman turned starting third baseman Ian Stewart.
Remember when Garrett Atkins carried Colorado’s offense? Neither does Stewart,
who unseated Atkins at the hot corner earlier this season and has only gained
steam since, connecting for four homers in six September games. He’s also not
getting nearly enough attention as he should, taking his eligibility at second
base into consideration.
Rookie of the Year candidate Dexter Fowler goes on the 15-day disabled list? No
problem, just plug second-half surger Carlos Gonzalez into center field. The
reinvigorated Huston Street goes down? Don’t worry, go ahead and replace him
with former top prospect Franklin Morales, who’s converted four saves in as
many tries this month. Rotation anchor Aaron Cook needs time off? There still
might be room on the Jorge De La Rosa bandwagon.
Ubaldo Jimenez has established himself as one of the NL’s top starters, while
rotation mates Jason Marquis and Jason Hammel appear on their way to career
years. And that’s not even mentioning comeback campaigns from Troy Tulowitzki
and Todd Helton, the heart and soul of Colorado’s offense.
you asked savvy fantasy owners months ago about the Rockies, most would have
given you a dose of reality: There’s no shortage of young talent out in the Mile
September can be a tough time of year for
Those of you without TiVo are forced
to sit through 23 minutes of football coverage before catching any Major League
And if your favorite team has little hope of
playing deep into October, forget about it. You’re better off checking online
or reading the box scores.
It’s as if the only 10 contending teams
exist, and the rest are just for show.
But September offers another advantage to the
other 20 clubs: Callups.
Although every roster expands to 40 players,
only the teams with nothing left to lose have the liberty of sitting back and
letting the kids play.
A few Sept. 1 promotions worth watching:
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians: One of four prospects included in the Cliff Lee trade
last month, Carrasco got his first taste of big league hitting Tuesday, and the
results weren’t pretty. Some might even say ugly. The 22-year-old righty lost
his debut after lasting only three innings and surrendering six earned runs on
nine hits and three walks. Still, that’s no reason to give up on Carrasco,
who’s looked sharp since coming over from Philadelphia, ringing up a 3.19 ERA
and a 36/7 K/BB ratio for Triple-A Columbus. Growing pains lie ahead, but good
control and quality stuff could yield surprising results from Carrasco. The
Indians have every intention of leaving him in the rotation down the final
Neil Walker, 3B, Pirates: Once highly regarded, Walker’s stock has fallen in
recent years as it does for so many high schools Draft picks. But five years
after the Pirates selected him 11th overall, he’s up, without a starting job
and without much expected of him. Plate discipline has always prevented Walker
from taking the next step. Then again, good plate discipline hasn’t exactly
helped Andy LaRoche make a strong case as the Bucs third baseman of the future,
has it? The mere presence of Walker — an imposing switch-hitter in the
batters’ box with plenty of pop — gives LaRoche reason to worry about his job
Tyler Flowers, C/1B, White Sox: The centerpiece of the Javier Vazquez trade last
offseason, Flowers joins the White Sox after an impressive run across two Minor
League levels in which he combined for a .297 average and a .516 slugging
percentage. The major selling point is that his primary position is catcher.
Now, he’ll have a hard time unseating A.J. Pierzynski, who’s enjoying another
rock-solid campaign behind the dish, especially during a postseason run. That
said, the departure of Jim Thome freed up playing time on the South Side, and
Flowers could factor into the mix at DH as the end draws near.
Monday brought good news on
multiple fronts for Brad Penny.
Not only did his rocky
relationship with the Red Sox end, he also returned to the more pitcher-favorable
National League by signing with the Giants.
The NL West is nothing new to
Penny, who spent 4 1/2 seasons pitching for the Dodgers, including a career
year in 2007, when he went 16-4 with a career-best 3.03 ERA and 208 innings.
Oh, and there was that World Series championship he helped the Marlins win in
He also can’t be unhappy about
starting home games at the vast confines of AT&T Park, where he boasts a
respectable career ERA of 3.88 ERA.
Penny joins an already formidable rotation that includes Cy Young contenders Tim
Lincecum and Matt Cain, a resurgent Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.
While many owners will undoubtedly
be scared off by the 5.61 ERA Penny compiled with the Red Sox, or the 8.31 ERA
in August, a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered.
A closer look shows that his
strikeout rate actually rebounded from a woeful 4.80 K/9 to 6.08, thanks in no
small part to higher velocity. Look no further than his fastball, which
increased from an average of 92.4 mph last year to 94 mph this season,
according to fangraphs.com.
Given the mediocrity floating around on the waiver wire this time of year, why not give Penny a second chance?
San Francisco only figures to
improve his marketability heading into free agency.
–Alex Cushing, MLB.com
This is the time of year when owners
become acquainted with a slew of young callups making their entrances onto the
Major League stage.
With rosters expanding Sept. 1 and a slew
of non-contending teams looking to focus on developing their young pups, fantasy
owners will get a close look at the prospects they’ve been following throughout
Here’s a pair of recent callups who can
make an impact during the campaign’s final month:
Young, OF, Rockies
You might already be familiar with the
name although this isn’t the same EY who racked up 465 steals over 15 seasons
— this is his son. The younger E.Y., who spent the majority of his Minor
League career at second base, was called up Aug. 25 to replace fellow rookie
Dexter Fowler in center field.
With Fowler nursing a bruised knee, Young
gets a chance to show off the wheels that made him a constant irritant to
pitchers in the Minors. He averaged 66 swipes on four different levels from
2006-09, and he’s already shown an urge to run in the Majors by attempting a
stolen base in each of his first two contests.
Lest you think he’s a reincarnation of
Carlos Gomez — a world-class speedster whose undisciplined hitting style
results in precious few on-base opportunities — Young held a lifetime .293
batting average with a .385 on-base percentage on the farm. He’s already shown
the ability to hit big league pitching, cracking three base hits in his first
Owners who missed out on Julio Borbon
have been given a chance to redeem themselves in the form of E.Y., Jr.
Allen, 1B, D-backs
Between Conor Jackson’s valley fever and
Chad Tracy’s inability to hit for power, first base has been a sore spot for
the D-backs all season long.
However, Allen’s promotion from Triple-A
Reno on Aug. 22 signals that hope still exists – and it’s in the form of a
player who hit .324 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs in 38 games on the farm after
being acquired from the White Sox on July 7. Allen has a history of pasting the
ball in the Minor Leagues, as he’s slugged over .500 and topped the 20-homer
mark in each of the last two years.
Don’t be put off by his 2-for-12 start
with Arizona: Allen was fending for himself, without the protection of Justin Upton
and Mark Reynolds. With Upton activated from the DL on Wednesday and Reynolds
expected to return Thursday, Allen could follow a pair of fantasy All-Stars in
the D-backs lineup.
Don’t be surprised to see him become an
under-the-radar source of power the rest of the way.
–Kyle Stack, MLB.com