Changes 'against Paralympic values' - Hamilton top in second practice - Stastny leads Avs to 5-4 OT win over Wild (Yahoo Sports) - Paul Stastny scored 7:27 into overtime after tying the game with 13.4 seconds remaining in regulation, lifting the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild in the opener of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night. Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn also added goals for Colorado in Patrick Roy's postseason debut behind the bench. The Hall of Fame goaltender led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cup titles as a player. Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Kyle Brodziak scored for the Wild. Blues beat Blackhawks 4-3 in 3 OTs (Yahoo Sports) - Alexander Steen scored at 26 seconds of the third overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Thursday night. Steen beat Corey Crawford off a pair of short passes from Steve Ott and David Backes to cap the longest overtime game in franchise history. ''Especially at home in front of our fans.'' Ryan Miller blanked the Blackhawks after Patrick Kane scored on a breakaway to put Chicago up 3-2 late in the first period and Jaden Schwartz tied it with 1:45 to go in regulation. Alonso quickest in China practice - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso welcomes his new team principal to Formula 1 by setting the pace in first practice at the Chinese Grand Prix. Nationals make 4 errors in 8-0 loss to Cardinals (Yahoo Sports) - The Cardinals' first batter sent a seemingly routine grounder to Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who failed to field the ball cleanly for one of his two errors on the evening. The next hitter's swinging bunt was grabbed by pitcher Taylor Jordan, but he could not manage to get the ball out of his glove. And so began the latest disastrous defensive showing by Washington, whose rookie manager, Matt Williams, made better fielding a point of emphasis this spring. The Nationals finished with four errors - raising their total to 20 in 16 games - and that was the last thing they needed Thursday, because Adam Wainwright was dominant while throwing a two-hitter to lead St. Louis to a 7-0 victory. Dodgers' Puig focuses on baseball despite issues (Yahoo Sports) - Yasiel Puig believes he has the support from his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates and the club to help him keep his focus on baseball despite challenges off the field. Puig returned to the starting lineup in right field for Thursday's series finale against the Giants amid reports that smugglers who helped him defect from Cuba had threatened his life. ''I'm only concentrating on the season and being the best teammate and helping my teammates,'' Puig said, speaking in Spanish during an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday morning at his locker in AT&T Park. While Puig won't address the details specifically because of a pending legal case, he said he will focus on baseball and on helping the defending NL West champion Dodgers keep winning. Wainwright's 2-hitter leads Cards past Nats 8-0 (Yahoo Sports) - Adam Wainwright threw a two-hitter Thursday night for his seventh career shutout, chipped in at the plate with a double and single, and St. Louis benefited from four errors by Washington in the Cardinals' 8-0 victory. Wainwright (3-1) allowed Ian Desmond's infield single in the second inning and Adam LaRoche's single to right in the ninth. Desmond, Washington's shortstop, made a pair of errors, raising his season total to seven. The Nationals have 20 through 16 games, an average of 1.25. Rangers score 3 in 3rd, top Flyers in opener 4-1 (Yahoo Sports) - Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals 47 seconds apart in the third period, and the New York Rangers beat Philadelphia 4-1 in the playoff opener on Thursday night to stretch their home-winning streak over the rival Flyers to nine games. The teams were locked in a 1-1 tie when Jason Akeson - playing in just his third career NHL game - was given a double high-sticking penalty for clipping Rangers forward Carl Hagelin with 7:35 remaining. New York quickly took advantage. Richards gave the Rangers their first lead of the night when a rebound of Martin St. Louis' shot came to him, and he fired it in from the right circle, punctuating the moment with an emphatic fist pump at 8:22. Source: Haith front-runner for Tulsa job (Yahoo Sports) - OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Missouri coach Frank Haith is in position to replace Danny Manning at Tulsa.

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Closing Time: Wily Peralta would like your attention [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 6:03 am]
OK, so Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta didn't quite dominate the Cardinals lineup on Wednesday — he went 6.1 innings, allowing six hits and one run, recording three Ks — but he did manage to pick up his second win of the year. We're now three starts into Peralta's season, and his ERA sits at 1.96, his WHIP at 1.09. The kid has faced nothin' but playoff-caliber lineups, too: Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis. The schedule finally takes a friendly turn for Peralta next week, as he'll double-dip at home against the Pads and Cubs. He's unowned in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment, available to most of you. Without question, Peralta is worth a one-week test drive. He's a hard-throwing sinker/slider/groundball-type (95-96 mph), a 24-year-old righty with top-prospect credentials. This is a talented pitcher with K-potential on a quality team, perhaps making a leap. Make the move as needed, then hit the bullets... • George Springer's first major league hit was a tapper that traveled maybe 25 feet, but he still receives full credit in the box score. Springer went 1-for-5 in his debut, with one walk, two Ks and a caught-stealing. He hit second for the Astros, which is nice to see. There's plenty of swing-and-miss in Springer's game, but also loads of power/speed potential. He's an obvious pick-up in leagues of any size and shape. • Just in case you'd forgotten what a terrifying thrill ride Jose Valverde could be, well ... BWAHAHAHA. Valverde gave up a pair of homers in New York's 5-2 win over Arizona. When he enters a game in a non-save situation, it's basically a fantasy nightmare. • The news on Aroldis Chapman continues to be not-so-disastrous. Reds manager Bryan Price indicated on Wednesday that Chapman could be throwing live BP fairly soon, by the end of the team's upcoming 10-game road trip. We're still looking at a May return here, which should give Aroldis a chance to justify his draft price. • In other closer comeback news, David Robertson is still on tr

Rank Redux: How do you like Tanaka now? [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 4:25 pm]
In our preseason starting pitcher rankings, we — the Yahoo fantasy baseball experts aggregate — ranked Yankees Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka as the No. 29 starter overall. Of course, that was before he mowed down 28 batters and posted two wins and a 2.05 ERA in the first three starts of his MLB career. Since our initial rankings were based mostly on the merits of his impressive seven-year run in the Japanese Leagues, we figured it was prudent to re-assess where we see Tanaka fitting in among the fantasy baseball starting pitcher crowd now that he's actually faced MLB hitters. Here's the experts' take on Tanaka: Brandon Funston (Tanaka preseason SP rank No. 25) — There have been several Japanese starting pitchers over the past couple decades that have enjoyed at least a successful season or two in the majors (Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Hasashi Iwakuma chief among them). But none can claim a more impressive three-start split to open a major league career than Tanaka. The strikeouts are what stand out the most. A big question mark of his transition to the majors was whether his K rate from Japan would hold up and clock in above average among starters. I think we have a pretty good answer to that question now. He currently sits among the leaders in swinging strike rate and outside swinging percentage (the rate at which hitters swing at his offerings that are outside the strike zone). Those are encouraging marks and speaks directly to the deception of his arsenal. Three starts is woefully lacking in terms of a meaningful sample size, but because the results of those starts have been so good, I'd certainly be looking at Tanaka as a top 20 starter now. And if he was in the NL, free of the head wind that the AL (East) creates for pitchers, I'd definitely slot him inside the top 15. Andy Behrens (Preseason SP rank No. 28) — I'm not one to radically re-rank players based on 2-3 weeks of data. I don't do it with guys who start fast,

Closing Time: George Springer arrives in Houston [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 7:38 am]
It didn't take long for the 2014 Houston Astros to sink to the bottom of the pool, as expected. They're 5-9 through two weeks, tied for the worst record in the American League. The offense has been a joke thus far, with a pathetic .185/.258/.347 slash line. They're still light years from contention. Obviously it's going to take a lot more than one player to fix this mess. That said, it's time to get excited: the team's top prospect, George Springer, is on the way. The Astros made the call late Tuesday night. Springer is a 24-year-old outfielder and a name you probably know already, no matter your level of prospect interest and sophistication. The Astros took him with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft and he's rocketed through the minors. Check what Springer posted last year in 135 games, covering Double-A and Triple-A: .303/.411/.600 slash, 37 homers, 45 steals (in just 53 attempts). Absurd. Those are video game numbers. Springer probably would have started the year in Houston if not for the current rules of baseball; the Astros gained an extra year of team control by making him wait a couple of weeks. Springer was crushing in the Pacific Coast League, off to a .353 start with three homers and four steals through two weeks. It's a good time to bring him up and let him play, see if he's ready to swim. Like any touted rookie, there's a wide range of outcomes here. Mike Trout hit .220 with the Angels in 2011; a year later, he was arguably the best player in baseball. Some kids hit the ground running, some take a while to figure things out, and a bunch never really make it at all. Springer's Triple-A numbers have been cushioned by the offensively-friendly PCL, and he needs to work on making better contact (note the 161 strikeouts last year). The development curve is different for everyone. Nonetheless, plausible upside is here and that's why we have to consider Springer with our resources. The power/speed mix is the golden goose of fake baseball. Springer's alway

Mostly MLB Notes: Talking Andrew Cashner, Homer Bailey and a look around the league [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 15, 2014, 11:27 pm]
Despite averaging 94.5 mph with his fastball while posting a 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, Andrew Cashner recorded just 128 strikeouts over 175.0 innings last season after finally becoming a full-time starter. The K rate improved after the All-Star break, when he produced a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with a 61:19 K:BB ratio over 75.2 innings. The hope was that his impressive stuff would lead to more missed bats, and if Cashner’s first three starts are any indication, it’s going to come to fruition in 2014. He’s allowed just three runs over 21.0 innings, fanning 22 batters over that span. Cashner’s last outing was especially dominant, as he tossed a shutout against the Tigers, striking out 11 and yielding one lone hit (a single). Ironically, his SwStr% (7.1) is easily a career low, while his K% (27.5) is a career high. As any pitcher with a 1.29 ERA, Cashner has experienced some good fortune in the early going, as his .196 BABIP is especially crazy considering he also has a 2.50 GB/FB ratio. But all those groundballs should lead to few home runs allowed, and he also hasn’t given up many line drives (16.0%). PETCO Park has increased strikeouts by nine percent over the past three years, which is the most in baseball, so Cashner has that going for him as well. Part of the reason the Cubs traded him was because they didn’t think Cashner could ever be a 200-inning workhorse, but assuming he can stay healthy, he has all the makings of being a top-15 fantasy starter Here’s a pretty funny prank played on Jeff Francoeur. Jose Abreu literally destroyed a baseball. Here’s David Ortiz setting the record for the slowest home run trot of all time. Homer Bailey is off to a horrible start, sporting an ugly 8.16 ERA and 2.02 WHIP. His last outing was especially odd, as he posted a 9:0 K:BB ratio over 5.0 innings, but that was accompanied by him serving up four homers. Bailey has already given up six home runs this season, and while I’m not of the belief pitchers have no con

Closing Time: Who is Jesse Chavez? [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 15, 2014, 9:16 am]
My fantasy baseball experience dates back to the late 1980s, a much different time. The Internet wasn't around. No Extra Innings package, no smart phones. Heck, we hadn't bailed on MTV yet. Newspapers still mattered, and a lot of your fantasy commodities were anonymous collections of names and numbers. Sometimes you had no idea what these guys looked like, how they played, what they threw. Sometimes you didn't even know the first names. Often you'd phone a commissioner (rotary dial) with a pickup request along the lines of "let's grab Thompson of St. Louis." I'm feeling nostalgic today because of a story that's brewing in the Bay Area. Let's talk a little bit about Chavez of Oakland. Jesse Chavez is the full name, and he's seen more of the world than Robin Leach. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2006 and he's been traded four times. He's made major-league appearances for five different clubs, covering both leagues. He pitched 57.1 relief innings with the A's last year, and I doubt we talked about any of them. A 3.92 ERA and 1.221 WHIP were enough to stick in The Show, but that didn't equate to mixed-league relevance. Alas, maybe the journeyman picked up an idea of how to pitch over the years. The 30-year-old turned in a strong spring training with the A's (2.22 ERA, 25 strikeouts against six walks) and landed in the rotation for the start of the season, mostly because of injuries. Chavez had just two career starts before the year, so no one had a right to expect much. So, of course, he's been terrific in three straight turns, all quality starts. He's allowed one earned run in each appearance, and here's the sum of the work: 20 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 22 K. That's a 1.35 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP, and I hope you caught the 11 strikeouts for every walk. Here's some scouting video to further the story (isn't 2014 great?), a look at his seven terrific innings at the OC Rockpile. Chavez doesn't have a victory yet (the bullpen let him down twice; Monday night he got bailed out

Sunday Night Fantasy Chat, 9 pm ET [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 13, 2014, 6:48 pm]
Don Draper and the 60s return tonight? Swanky. The Red Sox and Yankees? Okay, that's a repeat. But let's renew our fake friendship, nonetheless. First chat is set for 9 pm ET. Join us, pour a cocktail, grab a donut in the meeting room.

Closing Time: With Koji Uehara dinged up, start the Boston scramble [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 12, 2014, 10:38 am]
As terrific as Koji Uehara has been during his time in America, he's generally been a high-maintenance player. He's only passed the 70-inning mark once (last year), and sometimes he's not best suited for work on consecutive days. I'm not picking on the guy – he's one of my favorite watches in the game, and Uehara was baseball's most dominant reliever last year (all through the championship run). But when a pitcher turns 39, there's only so much we can realistically expect. So when the Red Sox say Uehara has a "minor" shoulder stiffness, I'm not going to take it in stride. It's time for a Boston bullpen audit. Boston had a push-button save chance ready to go in Friday's 4-2 victory at New York, but Uehara wasn't the man selected. He felt stiffness during his long-toss session before the game and the club decided to keep him out for precautionary reasons. He'll miss Saturday's game as well. The best non-Uehara reliever in Boston's bullpen is probably Junichi Tazawa, another Japanese ace. He's worked 5.2 scoreless innings this year, with zero walks and eight strikeouts, and he was reliable all through 2013 (3.16 ERA, six strikeouts for every walk). He posted four outs (over the seventh and eighth innings) to support Friday's win. The Tokyo Police Club is awfully hard to beat. But it's not clear if Tazawa would get a shot to close in the event Uehara needed an extended break. Journeyman Edward Mujica got the handshake call Friday, setting down the Yanks with a cozy 1-2-3 inning (9-of-13 strikes, one punchout). Mujica was a mostly-reliable closer in St. Louis last year, though he collapsed late (enter Trevor Rosenthal). He's had one terrible outing this year (four runs against Milwaukee) and three effective ones. Most fantasy players are chasing the save more than anything else when it comes to relief pitchers, which is why Mujica currently trades at 37 percent and Tazawa is only at 10 percent. In this case, I'm going to side with the better skills (Tazawa); he's good

Closing Time: Mike Morse, back in our lives; Michael Pineda, filthy again [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 11, 2014, 8:27 am]
Michael Morse has crammed a lot of movement into his decade of major league baseball. He's been an infielder (even a middle infielder), an outfielder, a DH. He's been a National and an Oriole and a Mariner, twice. He's been a PED-suspended player. He's been in and out of fantasy relevance, too. Looks like 2014 could be an on year for this vagabond slugger. Morse opened the season as San Francisco's starting left fielder, and he's marked his territory nicely during the opening games. A pair of doubles Thursday raised Morse's slash line to .400/.455/.733 (here's some brickball video for you), and he's already collected a couple of homers and 10 RBIs. Given how difficult it is to find power in today's game, this is a welcome reemergence. Morse usually bats fifth or sixth for the Giants, a reasonable spot for run production (slotted behind Belt, Sandoval, Posey, and Pence). And you love seeing Moose production in April for once, as it's been his worst month over his career. Time to work on that ownership tag, gamers; Morse is still unclaimed in about 60 percent of Yahoo leagues. • You can't spell Michael Pineda without "pine" but no one seems to care, apparently. The Red Sox took Thursday's 4-1 loss (and Pineda's obvious pine tar usage) in stride, perhaps because Clay Buchholz is known for having a shopping cart of items with him on some nights. In any event, take a long look at the Pineda video, it leaps off the screen. His stuff is as filthy as his right hand. He's posted a sparkling 12 innings thus far (9 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 12 K) against the Jays and Red Sox; if you can make it in this jagged division, you can make it anywhere. He draws the cuddly, user-friendly Cubs next week, and then it's a trip to Fenway Park. • Travis Wood has become a pet player of mine, I make no attempt to hide this. My underground scout likes him, and my contrarian nature also pushes me to the case. While just about everyone understands last season's 3.11 ERA wasn't fully supported by the se

MLB Over/Under: Will slumping Bryce Harper meet high expectations? [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 11, 2014, 7:55 am]
Poster boy of hype Bryce Harper, who is 6-for-29 to start the season, combined rest of season homers/steals 34.5 Dalton – OVER. Sure, he’s looked bad so far, but unless there’s some injury I’m unaware of, there’s no reason to change how I felt about him entering the year, and I had Harper pegged to go well above a 34.5 homers/steals combo. Scott – OVER. I'm shocked there's been so much talk and angst here. I do worry about Harper crashing into a wall or what not with his crazy style of play, but I have no worries about his ability. Andy – WAY OVER. C'mon. We're a week into the season. We're not sure if he can go 18-18? Pffft. K machine Prince Fielder, who has stumbled out of the gates in his new Texas digs, rest of season RBIs 99.5 Scott – OVER. Fielder is fine, and Shin-Soo Choo is going to be on base all summer. Durability won't be a problem. Arlington's weather is your friend. Maybe you can buy low. Andy – At least this one is a respectable number. I'm still going OVER. We know Prince is gonna hit, plus he never misses games. Brandon – OVER. He's reached 100 in six of the past seven seasons, and his situation in Texas may be more ideal than any of his previous gigs. True or False. Perennial failure Mike Moustakas deserves to be owned in more than 37 percent (current ownership) of Yahoo leagues Andy – FALSE. Moose was terrible last year (and worse this season), so we're not talking about a guy with an encouraging track record. He's a name for the A.L.-only crowd. Scott – Everything about Mike Moustakas is FALSE. I'm not convinced that's even his real name. Dalton – FALSE. His strong spring training seems so long ago. Moustakas was a legit prospect at one point, but he’s a career .240/.293/.378 hitter over 1,399 at bats in the majors, so I’m not holding my breath for a breakout any time soon. Stephen Strasburg, who sports a wretched 6-plus ERA thus far, rest of season ERA 3.05 Brad – UNDER. Yeah, he's been slapped around to start th

Closing Time: Jim Johnson loses his way, yet again [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 10, 2014, 3:27 am]
For a couple of years in Baltimore, Jim Johnson was one of those Houdini closers, doing it with smoke and mirrors. He'd routinely pitch to contact and outperform his component stats, collecting a silly 101 saves along the way. Sure, we'd see an occasional rough patch now and then, but the Orioles stuck with him and the handshakes flowed. Ah, the salad days. Johnson's moved on to Oakland, but there isn't much handshaking going on. Get out the clipboard and the red pen, we have another closer on the brink. Although Johnson technically didn't earn a blown save in Wednesday's ninth-inning giveaway at Minnesota, his messy work was all over the page. He allowed two walks and two hits over five batters (only a botched bunt provided an out), and the Twins tied the score one batter after Johnson exited. The 2014 Johnson ledger shows nine hits and seven runs over 3.1 awful innings, along with five unintentional walks. He's been unable to command his fastball and it's getting him into all sorts of trouble. And when he is in the strike zone, opponents are lacing the ball all over the park. To be fair, one of Minnesota's hits against Johnson was a well-placed blooper down the left-field line, and the Athletics might have been robbed of an out in the ensuing sequence (a contested, bang-bang play at third base). But Johnson's ineffective work through the opening 11 days still presents a problem, especially when you consider the depth of the Oakland bullpen. The Athletics have quality alternatives if they want to make a change. Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle are two primary options to consider if you're hedging against Johnson (or betting against him completely). Both players are over 85-percent available in Yahoo leagues as we go to press, and both have been sharp in the early going (10 collective appearances, two earned runs allowed), to go along with credible resumes. Gregerson turns 31 next month, and he's a name you should know by now. He was a steady bridge reliever durin

Mostly MLB Notes: Talking Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Hamilton and a look around the league [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 9, 2014, 7:54 pm]
Giancarlo Stanton is coming off a down year in which he batted just .249 and has never reached 90 RBI or scored 80 runs in a season. A career .267 hitter who doesn’t steal bases and has missed 85 games over the past two years, it was easy to be skeptical about making Stanton an early fantasy pick in 2014, especially with him once again slated to hit in what projected to be one of the worst offenses in baseball (not to mention in a park that has suppressed homers by 31 percent since its inception two seasons ago, making it by far the stingiest in all of baseball). Of course, there’s also a lot to like about Stanton, who’s one season removed from hitting 37 homers over just 123 games as a 22 year old. He’s one of the 10 youngest players ever to reach 100 career home runs, and even during 2013’s disappointing season, the average true distance of his 24 homers (413.8 feet) was the third longest in baseball (Mike Trout finished first at 419.6 feet). Stanton also crushed this baseball 484 feet earlier this week, so he has the type of power that no stadium can hold back. Moreover, while the Marlins early hitting is likely to regress some, they are clearly going to be a much improved lineup compared to last year, when they finished scoring by far the fewest runs in MLB (they currently rank fourth). In fact, Stanton had more RBI through six games this season than he did all of April last year. It’s crazy to come to any conclusions this early, but Stanton’s K% is way down (16.7 compared to his career 28.4), and K rate stabilizes quickly (usually around just 60 plate appearances), so maybe there’s something to this. Stanton is 24 years old and a truly monstrous season could be in store. Here’s a college player hitting a walk-off home run while getting intentionally walked. Here’s an interesting column talking about Yasiel Puig. This fan’s catch using a popcorn bucket was pretty sick. Brutal news for Josh Hamilton, who will miss 6-8 weeks after suffering

Free Agent Frenzy: Ball, RGIII top list of most fantasy impacted [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 9, 2014, 11:18 am]
All it takes is a change of scenery. For some, a fresh start can awake the fantasy beast within, elevating a player into a different statistical realm while handsomely rewarding those who invest in his services. Take Reggie Bush for instance. Arguably the most sought after rusher in last year’s free agent class, Kim K’s former canoodler traded in the limitations of Miami for the fast-track of Ford Field, a move that paid a lucrative fantasy dividend. Underused in the pass game under Joe Philbin the year before – he absurdly caught just 35 balls in 16 games with the ‘Fins in 2012 – Bush thrived in Scott Linehan’s vertical offense, resembling the explosive, well-rounded back he once was in New Orleans and earlier in his career with the Dolphins. Working in tandem with bruiser Joique Bell in Detroit, Bush finished with 1,512 combined yards, 54 receptions and seven touchdowns in 14 games. Impressively, he landed inside the RB top-20 in all but three weeks. His resulting 17.7 fantasy points per game was the seventh-best mark among RBs in PPR-friendly formats. Money well spent. With the bulk of high-profiled free agents signed, it’s time to examine what players, similar to Bush last year, could excel in their new digs and what commodities on their old teams stand to benefit most. Whet your fantasy whistle, gamer. We’re only 22 Sundays away from meaningful NFL action. Here are my top Flames and Lames of this year’s free-agency period: FLAMES Montee Ball, Den, RB Early ADP: 19.5 (RB13) Fawned over by zealots in early drafts last year, Ball failed to measure up compared to fellow RB rookies Le'Veon Bell and Eddie Lacy. A persistent fumbling problem and pass-blocking issue stunted his statistical growth, leading veteran Knowhon Moreno to command the lion's share of touches in Denver's backfield. Though the latter can't be disproved, the former beliefs certainly can. Ball did struggle to secure the rock early in the season, coughing up the ball twice on 31

Closing Time: If you wanted a Ryan Braun selling window, you got it [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 9, 2014, 8:45 am]
It's been a depressing 24 hours for Bernie Brewer, don't you know. He watches Ryan Braun go deep three times in Tuesday's road game and thinks, "You couldn't do this at Miller Park?" Braun's collection of homers didn't come off the meat of the Philly staff - Kyle Kendrick served up the first two taters, Brad Lincoln the last one. But let's also give credit where due – Braun's first homer came off a decent 1-2 pitch from Kendrick, and the second one was an opposite-field shot. Only the third home run could be termed a true mistake, a fat Lincoln pitch that was screaming out "crush me" before Braun did just that. Generally we don't spend much time in this space discussing the big achievements of universally-owned players – there's nothing actionable there. But given Braun's much-discussed thumb problem, we have to view the Tuesday breakthrough in a different light. If you wanted a good time to consider an outgoing Braun deal, you now have a selling point, a window, an opportunity. This doesn't mean you holler from the rooftops "Braun must go." Be more subtle than that. Tell your opponents you want to move an outfielder, or a power hitter. See if they come to Braun, see how they value him after Tuesday's heroics. See where they draw the line. I don't own Braun anywhere, so this isn't a decision tied to any of my teams. Obviously it's not my thumb, either. But I suspect Braun will be battling this physical issue all year, and just because the thumb didn't hold him back Tuesday doesn't mean it won't be a problem again soon. If I did own Braun, I'd be trying to time the market now, seeing if I could cash in on a loud and visible breakthrough. Thumb injuries linger and at their worst, they sap power. Don't let one big afternoon cloud your full-season plan. Are you buying, selling, or holding Braun today? Share your game plan in the comments. • Welcome to the new season, Yordano Ventura. Maybe all that spring training helium was on the mark after all. Ventura missed

Closing Time: Shawn Kelley is saving games; Matt Moore exits with elbow issue [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 7, 2014, 10:15 pm]
While it was happening, Shawn Kelley's save opportunity on Monday did not actually seem like an actionable fantasy event. David Robertson had pitched in three of New York's previous four games (saving two), so a day of rest was perhaps in order. No big thing. But following the Yankees' 4-2 win over the O's, manager Joe Girardi announced that Robertson is dealing with a grade-one groin strain and likely headed to the DL. Kelley's save, it turns out, was something more than a one-time rogue event. We'll probably see him again in the days ahead. [Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!] Kelley's stint as an interim closer got off to an excellent start, as he threw a clean frame against Baltimore. His career ratios aren't exceptional for fantasy purposes (3.72 ERA, 1.26 WHIP), but he did strike out 71 batters in just 53.1 innings last year. As a placeholder, he seems just fine. Add as needed. Grade-one strains are the mild variety, so this isn't necessarily the worst possible news regarding Robertson. You've survived worse groins than this. • Matt Moore exited his start against KC after 78 pitches (4.1 IP), due to an elbow injury of as-yet-unknown severity. He was grimacing, which is never good. This injury had something worse than a grade-one vibe, but let's hope for the best. The team doesn't want you to panic, yet. (If the Rays do happen to find themselves in need of a respectable starter, I'd recommend dialing the Cubs — 773-404-CUBS — and asking for any member of the baseball operations staff. Representatives are standing by, waiting to fulfill your orders.) • Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun started slow in the season's opening week, but he was awfully productive on Monday. Calhoun reached base three times against the Astros, clearing 'em once via home run (his second of the year). This kid is batting lead-off for the Halos, immediately ahead of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. So that should pay dividends. He's currently available in almos

Closing Time: Charlie Blackmon would like your attention [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 5, 2014, 9:53 am]
There's been a give-and-take with the Colorado Rockies in recent years, a gift and a curse for fantasy owners. Coors Field is the biggest offensive giveaway in baseball history, but it hasn't been easy to get value from the Colorado support players. Managers Clint Hurdle and Jim Tracy were inveterate lineup jockeys – Colorado scribe Gene McCaffrey once said Tracy "couldn't wait to get his best lineup off the field" – and Walter Weiss followed in those footsteps last year. Keep juggling, jugglers. Preamble set, let's meet up in the outfield. Can anyone take this center field job and run with it? Charlie Blackmon threw his hat into the ring during Friday's Coors Field opener, cranking out six hits in a 12-2 romp over Arizona. These weren't a bunch of dead quails landing just past the infield - Blackmon cranked a homer (a no-doubter) and had three doubles for the day (okay, one of them a partial gift from Mark Trumbo). Blackmon scored four runs and drove in five, using the entire ballpark in the process. Here's some Blackmon video for your Saturday brunch. No manager is going to immediately sit a player after that sort of performance, but it will be interesting to see just how long Blackmon sticks in the lineup. Consider the center field pattern for the first five Colorado games: Blackmon started Games 1, 3 and 5; Drew Stubbs got the call in Game 2; Corey Dickerson went for Game 4. Don't get behind Weiss in the local donut shop. Blackmon was a trendy waiver add through the overnight, but fantasy owners aren't going crazy with the theme. He's still available in 94 percent of Yahoo leagues. Blackmon's not the best defender in the center field mix, and although he batted .309 in last year's 82-game trial, it came with a modest amount of category juice (six homers, seven steals). Blackmon was Hack Man during his MLB work last year (49 strikeouts, seven walks), though he had a much different profile in Triple-A (41:35 ratio with just 13 additional at-bats). He's an int

Uh-oh: Ryan Braun's thumb is not working properly [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 4, 2014, 11:42 am]
Ryan Braun is reportedly still dealing with the hand/thumb problem that troubled him last season. So that's a troubling piece of news. The primary issue is an inflamed nerve between Braun's right thumb and index finger. He's dealing with numbness, which has led to other woes. [Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!] Additional details here, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt: "It's the same thing [as in 2013]," said Braun, who was robbed of his power by the issue last year before finally being suspended for the final 65 games for PED use. "The nerve is messed up so my whole thumb is numb, so I can't feel gripping the ball or the bat. So I gripped it too hard and I have crazy bruises and blisters." Asked if there was any chance it would improve, Braun said, "It is what it is. I hope [it doesn't last all year]. I'm optimistic that eventually we'll figure something out." Surgery is apparently a possibility here, although the procedure isn't a guaranteed fix. Braun is expected to serve as Milwaukee's DH on Friday during interleague play at Boston. But that, obviously, is not a full-season solution for a National League slugger. So we have a problem. Braun suffered a pre-suspension power outage last season while dealing with this same injury, you might recall. He homered seven times last April, but he only cleared the fence twice over his final 141 at-bats. Braun had an excellent spring this year (15-for-36, 3 HR, 5 doubles), so we had reason to believe he was poised for another upper-tier fantasy campaign. And now this. Drat. If you're a Braun owner, you really can't sell now, today. You won't like the offers that hit your inbox — unless you're a huge fan of, say, Michael Cuddyer. You'll need to let this situation develop. As Braun himself says, the team may "figure something out," and that something may not be a surgical remedy. But if you're determined to deal Braun before more bad news breaks, at least wait for a multi-hi

Closing Time: The Tim Lincecum Problem [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 4, 2014, 9:35 am]
Not that long ago, Tim Lincecum was the unquestioned king of National League pitchers. He won a pair of Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, and strikeout crowns from 2008-2010. San Francisco was a Freak Scene every five days, the ultimate in appointment television. These days? Lincecum is just another pitcher trying to reinvent himself, and just another pitcher that fantasy players can't seem to figure out. Once again, a tricky theme comes through: name brands die hard. Lincecum's start Thursday at Arizona was a mixed bag: six innings, eight hits, four runs, no walks, seven strikeouts. All the scoring came on home runs: Paul Goldschmidt connected early, Mark Trumbo went deep late. Lincecum was in the zone for 71 of his 98 pitches. To a lot of observers, this is a pretty good turn. A bunch of strikeouts, no walks, just some bad luck on a couple of taters. But why should we give pitchers a golden pass for home runs allowed? Isn't it time we stopped looking at fly balls as some sort of giant lottery, where random hits are selected as four-baggers? Sometimes a home run is a meatball in the zone, screaming out "hit me" to the batter. Let's take a broader look at where Lincecum's profile has moved the last two years. His velocity has fallen significantly and his strikeout percentage (while still good) has also taken a notable dip. Batters have squared Lincecum offerings like never before: his line-drive rate was 23.8 percent in 2012 and 23.1 percent last year. And his HR/FB clip has become bloated: 14.6 percent in 2012, 12.1 percent in 2013. If you want to make excuses for Lincecum, be my guest. To me, he's a matchup play for 2014, nothing past that. He's clearly working with less stuff these days, and paying a bigger price when he doesn't hit his spots. He's made 66 starts since the beginning of 2012 and has a 4.78 ERA over that span; at some point, we have to accept the new reality, don't we? Our game isn't about the names, amigos. We're just in it for the numbers. • S

Closing Time: Scott Kazmir, James Paxton, Josh Fields and the usual closer madness [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 3, 2014, 9:16 am]
Scott Kazmir authored a terrific comeback story last year in Cleveland. He struck out 162 batters in 158 innings while posting the best walk-rate of his career (2.68 BB/9). Kazmir finished the season with a not-terrible ERA of 4.04, and the underlying stats told an even better story (3.36 xFIP). His velocity returned and his command was, weirdly, better than ever — impressive stuff for a guy who was pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012. Kazmir, now with Oakland, faced his former employer on Wednesday afternoon, and the lefty brought his best stuff to the park. He tossed 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out five. Everything was humming. Kazmir even managed to work around a lead-off E5 in the seventh, facing the heart of Cleveland's order. [Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!] It's tough not to like the full-season setup for Kazmir this year, as he's a flyball pitcher in a spacious, friendly park. This is an excellent pairing of player and team. Fantasy-wise, I'm fully on board. Kazmir is still available in over one-third of all Yahoo leagues as of this writing, so we've got some adding to do. Wednesday's start was no fluke. All was not perfectly right in Oakland, however... • A's closer Jim Johnson blew the second game of a doubleheader, allowing three hits, two walks and three runs in the ninth. That's two losses in two appearances for Johnson so far. Not great. Oakland's 'pen is full of quality arms — Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, soon Ryan Cook — so it's not as if Johnson can't be replaced. But apparently manager Bob Melvin isn't panicking just yet. • Emilio Bonifacio had another many-hit night for the Cubs (5-for-7), in another loss. He swiped a pair of bags, too. Bonifacio has nine hits through two games, which is completely ridiculous. Obviously he won't continue to binge like this — he's a career .265/.324/.343 hitter — but he's a top-of-the-order guy wit

Mostly MLB Notes: Talking Clayton Kershaw, closers and a look around the league [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 2, 2014, 7:04 pm]
After staying up to watch the first game of the season played in Australia, I made this tweet, wondering why no one was talking about Clayton Kershaw topping out at 88 mph. He was making an earlier than usual first start of the year, so maybe he wasn’t quite ready thanks to a truncated spring, or it could just be that the radar gun was off. Sticking to my plan to draft starting pitchers early this year, I decided to brush it off (after all, he produced a silly 17.7 SwStr% during that outing despite the decreased FB velocity, as his slider and curve looked as filthy as ever) and once again took Kershaw in a big money NFBC league a few days later, only to have the news of his back injury break about an hour after I did so. At first, the issue seemed minor, but it’s become clear Kershaw is missing all of April in something of a best-case scenario, which isn’t ideal as someone who owns him in four of my five fantasy leagues. Considering this is the same teres muscle that will sideline Jurickson Profar 10-12 weeks, and Kershaw is a pitcher (although he hasn’t torn his like Profar did, supposedly), I’m not overly optimistic, but then again, I can’t really see getting equal value in a trade at this point either. Kershaw owners likely just have to keep their fingers crossed and hope for a healthy version for the final five months of the year. [Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!] As if the Kershaw injury wasn’t bad enough, I grabbed Stephen Strasburg with my next pick in the aforementioned NFBC league. I’m not too worried about his lackluster first outing from a results standpoint, but his lack of velocity sure is worth noting. As Dave Cameron states in this article, the radar gun seemed to be low for every starter in this game, but Strasburg isn’t exactly known for starting the season off with decreased velocity in the past either. It’s easy to panic over small samples at the beginning of the year, but K rates and velocity t

MLB Over/Under: Will the Grady train keep rolling? [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 2, 2014, 12:19 pm]
Grady Sizemore, a man who would probably break a nose wrestling a Jello-O mold, total 2014 at-bats 449.5. Andy – UNDER, but we're all just guessing. It's obviously a fun story, and I don't really want to trample on it. I'd expect the Red Sox to give Grady plenty of rest, plus he's always been a walker — when he draws a BB, no official at-bat. Dalton – UNDER. I'm rooting for Sizemore and love the story, but he hasn't topped this amount since 2008. I hope I'm wrong, but it's pretty safe to expect Sizemore to fall well short of this number. Scott – Fine, there's no Santa Claus. I have to go UNDER, too. There's too much injury history, and the Red Sox will rest him more liberally than the typical regular.  Emilio Bonifacio, who's an amazing 11-for-16 on the very young season, 74.5 total runs. Andy –UNDER, because this team is not going to be in the business of scoring runs. I do, however, think Bonifacio will be hitting lead-off a ton. He'll have value, no question. Dalton – UNDER. He's only scored 75 runs once, and that was when he set a career high of 78 back in 2011. I do think Bonifacio steals 35+ bases, but a lack of regular playing time (not to mention a career .324 OBP) ultimately means he fails to score 75 runs in 2014. He'll come close though. Brad – OVER. No doubt runs will be a premium for the Cubs, but 75 runs even on an underachieving team are quite attainable. He's a solid-contact (80.9 career CT%), multi-positional threat who should provide juice in two categories (runs, SBs). Scott – They didn't even ask me (ha ha), but I'm busting in and saying OVER. The 2011 season happened, amigos. And this silly run to start the year does one key thing: it marks Bonifacio's place in the lineup, at least for a while.   Justin Smoak, who’s already knocked in six guys this season, 74.5 total RBIs. Dalton – OVER. Smoak could totally break out at age 27 and approach 100 RBI, but even if he doesn't, he's currently batting cleanup behind Robinson Can





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