Don’t look now, but the National League Central Division is turning into a three-team powerhouse. St. Louis has been good for what seems like forever; the Pirates have sailed through the first half in recent years, only to walk the plank in the second half with lackluster pitching; and the Cincinnati Reds have been a contender since 2010, losing in the League Division Series in 2010 and 2012 with 90+ wins in each of those years. All three teams currently have nearly identical home records of 32-17 (the Pirates are 32-18 at home) and they're all within two-and-a-half games of each other as of Thursday. St. Louis has the experience, sure, but this season I think we see the Reds come out on top. Winning fantasy teams have players from winning baseball teams-- there needs to be a study done on this. Someone get on that.
Jay Bruce leads the Reds in home runs (21) and slugging (.509), only trailing Brandon Phillips (81) in RBI with 71 on the year thus far. Bruce’s approach versus left-handed pitching has improved to the point where it is no longer an issue. His splits versus LHP are on pace with his numbers against RHP. His homers are split-- seven against lefties and fourteen against righties. The interesting part about that is that Bruce has exactly half as many at bats versus lefties as he does facing right-handed pitching-- food for thought in keeper leagues, as Bruce’s full potential may yet to be fully tapped.
Brandon Phillips is a showman, a charismatic, smiling twitter-aholic who the fans love. Fantasy owners love DatDudeBP too! Phillips not only is a magician with the leather, but he can drive in runs in boatloads. June was the first month of the season in which Phillips failed to reach 20 RBI, as he struggled to the tune of a .209 batting average while dealing with a deep forearm contusion. With a week left in July, Phillips has hit .263 with 20 RBI and looks to be back on track offensively. He’s on pace to drive in 125+ this year which would smash his previous season high of 98 set in 2009
Joey Votto has been somewhat a disappointment for fantasy purposes, much the same as he was in 2012. Votto is still hitting for his normal high average at .321, but the power and run-production just aren't there. Votto has already walked 76 times in 380 at-bats which could indicate that he’s being pitched around or that he’s being overly patient. Either way, Votto could break off a 15-RBI week at any point which makes this team even scarier.
Mat Latos may be one of the most underrated aces in the game. Latos pitched a gem on Thursday to quiet the red-hot Dodgers in Los Angeles. Latos improved to 10-3 on the year while allowing two runs (one earned) over 7.2 innings with four strikeouts and eight hits. Walks have been his Achilles heel in July, but he seemed to banish the demons, only walking one. His 3.39 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 136:41 K:BB may not be up there with the Kershaws and Harveys of the NL but he is still one of the League’s best at the tender age of 25.
Soriano back in the Bronx
Alfonso Soriano said his goodbyes to his Cubs teammates on Thursday night as he jumped on a red-eye to meet up with his new-old team. Soriano agreed to go back to New York to help the club who so desperately needs a right-handed power bat. The move seems desperate and foolish for the Yankees, as Soriano’s diminished skillset may be worthless beyond 2013. That said, he has had a productive season thus far, hitting .254 with 17 HR and 51 RBI through 362 at-bats with the Cubs. The Cubs will be on the hook for more than half of Soriano’s remaining salary and will pay approximately $17.7 M to the veteran. Yikes. Don’t take the Cubs to the casino with you. As for his value for the remainder of the fantasy season, who knows at this point? Soriano is 37 and will have little protection in the Yankee lineup unless they put him ahead of Robinson Cano in the lineup.
AL Hot Shots:
- Jake Peavy made what will probably be his final start for the White Sox on Thursday. There were plenty of scouts on hand to watch Peavy toss seven solid innings. He allowed three earned runs, a homer and struck out seven while facing a Miguel Cabrera-less Tigers lineup.
- C.J. Wilson bent but did not break as he held the A’s to three runs over seven innings. He got into some deep water in the fourth but escaped with limited damage to improve to 10-6 on the season.
- Derek Norris had a semi-breakout game on Thursday as he went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a solo home run off of C.J. Wilson. With John Jaso on the seven-day concussion list Norris will receive a boost in value this week into next. He has some pop but is better left for deep two-catcher formats.
- Nick Franklin uncorked a three-run homer off of Twins' starter Kevin Correia in a six-run second inning for the M’s. Franklin now has eight homers in just 49 games. I like what I see from the young infielder, but he needs a new helmet. The dual flapper is so un-ballerish, Nick.
- Jeremy Guthrie held his former team in check as he allowed one run over six innings to defeat the Orioles for the second time in 2013.
- Chris Davis has yet to homer since the All-Star Break and is 6-for-28 with 13 whiffs since then. I don’t think it will last too much longer but owners are probably sweating this one out pretty hard, wondering if it was sell-high time pre-ASG.
- Lance Berkman may not play another game this season and is pondering retirement. Berkman’s balky knee is giving him fits and he may have to call it quits. The loss of Berkman could send the Rangers searching for another offensive piece before the deadline and mutterings of Michael Young’s name are circulating.
- Torii Hunter left Thursday’s game with a sore Achilles tendon but is expected to play on Friday.
NL Hot Shots:
- Aaron Hill was 2-for-4 with a solo bomb on Thursday. He also doubled to knock in a run in the win over the Cubs.
- Lance Lynn looked great as he downed the Phillies allowing one run over seven innings. Lynn has been steadily declining so the start was a good sign as he moved to 12-5 on the season with a 3.98 ERA.
- Juan Nicasio was filthy as he fanned nine over seven scoreless innings but was tabbed with a no-decision as the Marlins rallied to win after a rain delay. He will match up with Atlanta on the road next week.
- Donovan Solano belted a two-run bomb in the Marlins win over the Rockies. The second base job is all his now that Dietrich has been demoted.
- Rob Wooten has been promoted and will join the Brewers bullpen on Friday. Wooten closed out 20 games from Triple-A Nashville with a 2.94 ERA and a 45/12 K/BB ratio. He could be a dark horse for saves come September.
- Carlos Quentin went 2-for-3 with a two-run jack, three RBI, a walk and a run scored in a 10-8 win over the Brewers on Thursday.
- Bryce Harper played the hero for the Nats on Thursday as he ripped a walk-off two-run homer to push the Nationals over the Pirates 9-7. The Phenom now has 14 homers and was his first ever walk off jack.
- Carlos Gonzalez was removed after aggravating his finger injury from earlier this month while sliding into second. He’s day-to-day but this could spell a DL trip if it lingers. Do you have to? Do you have to let it linger? Hopefully not-- but I just got the Cranberries stuck in your head and that’s clutch.
- Domonic Brown was officially placed on the seven-day DL for concussion symptoms. The good news is that this could prompt the Phillies and their idiotic, Chase Utley loving, GM Ruben Amaro Jr to become sellers.
- Bobby Parnell saved his 20th game of the season on Thursday with a strong ninth inning against the Braves allowing just a single. He’s now sporting a nifty 2.30 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 41 K thru 47 IP.
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Follow Shawn Caswell on Twitter, or don’t: @CasKnowsRoto