Sunday, May 8, 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 adage "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, is no longer 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. To 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 a 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 awakening.

Despite several disturbing signs in his secondary profile (e.g. K/9 slide, HR/9 rise), Gallardo was 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.

After his headline day, 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. Arencibia, who fought off several offerings, with one out in the eighth. 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. He's a heavily owned rotation cornerstone who will continue to churn out terrific numbers. No frantic "SELL! SELL! SELL!" declarations will be made. 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.

? Hot potato Jason Bourgeois started only his fourth career game at second base, an intriguing turn of events. If the hitting catalyst sticks, he will be an invaluable middle infield contributor possibly even in shallow leagues. Since April 30, a span of just six games, the wheel-churner has collected 13 hits with five RBIs and seven steals. With regular at-bats and enough starts to qualify at the pivot, he could become a surprise, top-10 commodity at the position. In terms of speed, he would be in a class by himself at 2B. Keep in mind his minor league high in SBs was 36 in 2009. Chone Figgins was the only two-bagger to swipe 25 or more bases in 2010. Based on his dynamite 90-plus contact rate, he should also chip in an average well north of .280 along with 70-plus runs. Lasso the 17-percent owned burner pronto in 12-team and deeper mixers. (UPDATE: Bourgeois was pulled for a pinch runner late after straining his oblique. Hopefully the pull was minor, but a DL stint isn't out of the question. He'll be reevaluated Sunday. Awful timing. )

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. …Bravos top prospect Julio Teheran wasn't welcomed warmly by the Phills, yielding three earned over just 4.2 innings. The 20-year-old struck out only one. The future remains very bright for the Colombia import, but he clearly needs to milk a few more cows on the farm. …Anyone notice/care what Tom Gorzelanny (four-percent owned) has stringed together lately? In his fifth-straight start he allowed two runs or fewer, striking out six Marlins. Underlying data says he's been somewhat fortunate (4.26 xFIP, 54.1 FB%), but he's at least stream worthy. He'll face Florida again Friday. …


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)


Images courtesy of the AP

Patricia Velásquez Jennifer Morrison Adrianne Palicki Amanda Righetti Michelle Branch

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