Saturday, May 7, 2011

Closing Time: Gallardo, Buchholz back in winner’s circle in spectacular fashion

Every Saturday, information heavyweights the Weekly Rundown and Closing Time join forces, a pairing equivalent to ice-cold beer and any tubed meat, to keep you covered on the present while providing a glimpse into the future. Batter up!

In fantasy, the old racing saying "You never want your horse to get out of the gate too early" is applicable. The long, seemingly interminable season usually rewards the steady pacer, not the sprinter.

However, there comes a date on the calendar when it becomes essential for an owner's prized pony to produce. Underachievement, in those instances, should no longer be tolerated.

For pricey pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Clay Buchholz their day of reckoning had officially arrived.

Prior to Saturday, the 2010 stallions had yet to cash a winning ticket. Whipped repeatedly by the competition, the pair's ERA/WHIP numbers have taken a beating. For their virtual supporters, no amount of mint juleps has numbed the pain. With an opportunity to put investors back in the saddle Saturday, the Blunder Twins regained their Wonder, a positive outcome that temporarily calmed the fears of anxious owners.

In The Lou, El Chupacabra feasted on Cardinals flesh. Gallardo's fastball-slider combo, one of baseball's nastiest a season ago, finally woke up from a long siesta. Mixing his pitches seamlessly, the Brewers ace carried a no-no into the seventh, finishing with six Ks (four walks) over eight shutout innings. It was his first career win against the rival Redbirds. More importantly, his velocity, up from the 91.2 average in his previous turns, consistently sat in the mid-90s, even late into the contest. Post-game he credited a "back to the basics approach" for the sudden resurgence.

Despite several disturbing signs visible in his peripheral profile (e.g. K/9 slide, HR/9 rise), Gallardo remained a quality buy low option. His unlucky .358 BABIP, likely due to an increase in groundballs, and 3.95 xFIP implied a turnaround was imminent. Walks have always been a bugaboo for Yovani, but if he can induce more swinging strikes like he did on Saturday, he should again become a quality start, and strikeouts, machine.

The discount on Gallardo no longer applies.

Meanwhile, on a soggy day in Beantown, Buchholz was a source of shelter for the Red Sox. Clearly benefiting form the Big Noise Bump, the lanky righty blanked the Twins over five innings, striking out six with one walk, an especially gritty performance when taking into consideration he retook the mound after a two-hour rain delay. He also coaxed three groundball and zero fly-ball outs. Pulled after a mere 61 pitches ? during the weather-induced break he threw simulated innings every 12 minutes beneath the stands which Terry Francona added to his pitch count ? his day was very encouraging.

Because of Buchholz's near 1.00 K:BB, GB percentage decline, home run vulnerability and 5-plus xFIP, owners should remain skeptical. Those frightened by the peripherals may want to contemplate pawning him off on the upswing.

? The recovery process for Kendrys Morales continues to move at a snail's pace. According to an LA Times report, the slow-healing first baseman just started jogging lightly on a treadmill Friday after being shut down from baseball activities last week. It's hard to project exactly when he'll return to the lineup, but mid-June might be the best case scenario. And, once activated, it could take an additional 2-3 weeks for his swing to re-acclimate to big league pitching, meaning he might not operate at full-strength until the All-Star break. For owners hoping to make a surge in the second half, pitching a low-ball offer now would be a savvy move. This week in one-for-one industry deals Morales was swapped for Chone Figgins, Freddie Freeman, Matt Capps and Chad Billingsley.

? Only 20 perfect games have been recorded in MLB history. Justin Verlander almost joined the ultra-exclusive group. The elite fantasy starter tossed the second no-no in less than a week, silencing the Jays in Toronto. Still scorching the gun with triple-digit heat late, the untouched Tiger didn't allow a base runner until walking J.P. Arrencibia, who fought off several offerings, with one out in the seventh. Despite losing the perfecto, he remained composed, polishing off the "no" milestone by getting Rajai Davis to chase a slider off the plate. He celebrated the triumph with a humble fist-pump. It was the second of his career. Though a terrific achievement, Verlander's historic day is only important to his investors in Fantasyland. After watching Francisco Liriano's puke-inducing no-no earlier this week, the righty's efficient performance Saturday was quite gratifying.

? At the same time North Side patrons have finally packed away their winter gear, Carlos Pena appears to have buried his 0-fer alter-ego. Against Dusty Baker's Reds, the powerful cornerman cranked a game-tying solo shot off Francisco Cordero in the bottom of the ninth. He also chipped in two singles. Since May 3, Pena has reached the bleachers three times and raised his average by nearly 40 points. Similar to Mark Reynolds, Mike Stanton or Adam Dunn, the former Ray is a player who typically experiences violent scoring swings. Because of his sky-high 35.9 K rate, stat binges along with prolonged droughts will continue. As the Piano Man crooned Thursday, Pena's recent efforts have been so encouraging, the sale price has likely expired. Expect the Dave Kingman stunt-double to finish in range of .230-30-90-80.

Quick Hitters: Nelson Cruz was placed on the 15-day DL with quad tightness. Upon hearing the news, dejection and woe quickly enveloped the Evans compound in north Phoenix. Human wind-machine, Chris Davis, should see a spike in at-bats in Cruz's absence. He's a fair power grab in deeper leagues. … Home run king Jose Bautista could return to the lineup Sunday after running the bases and taking batting practice prior to Saturday's tilt against the Tigers. Plan accordingly. … Chase Utley took a major step forward in his knee rehab going 5-for-7 with two homers in his first extended spring training game. He's still a few weeks away from manning the four again in Philly, but the results from his first organized action are very promising. …


For stream conscious owners who want to push the innings-pitched envelope this is the list for you. Run support, ballpark factors, historical and recent trends, opposing offenses, opposing SPs, managerial tendencies and meteorological influences are painstakingly taken into account to give you the top double dippers of each week.

Other AL Double Dippers: None

Other NL Double Dippers: Chris Capuano, NYM (at Col, at Hou), Aneury Rodriguez, Hou (Cin, NYM), Jeff Karstens, Pit (LAD, at Mil), Josh Collmenter, Ari (at SF, at LAD)

Maggie Grace Luján Fernández Charli Baltimore Denise Richards Jennifer Sky

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