Blackhawks

Fantasy Baseball Pitchers Stock Watch

Fantasy Baseball Pitchers Stock Watch

By David Ferris
CSNChicago.com

Buy
R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets: We've all been trained to view the knuckleball as an unpredictable pitch, but the way Dickey is going, toss conventional wisdom out the window. His only bad start this year can be explained away by a cold and rainy afternoon in Atlanta; the knuckler works best in warm weather, and we're hitting the warmest stretch of the year. Otherwise, we're looking at nine fantasy-useful starts, and a Top 20 spot on any pitcher ranking formula thus far in 2012. Dickey's improved his walk and strikeout rates significantly this year, and he throws a harder knuckler than anyone we can remember. He's not only fun to own, he's fun to watch.

Homer Bailey, SP, Reds: He's been more teaser than pleaser during his career, but Bailey's last four turns have been sharp and he's up against the Pirates again next week. That's good news for two reasons: Pittsburgh has the worst offense in the game this year, and Bailey is 6-0 against them over eight career starts, with a 1.79 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Plan ahead for this streamable play.

Carlos Marmol, SP, Cubs: In a perfect world, you stash him on your bench and wait things out. But just keep in mind the Cubs have every incentive to get Marmol fixed and back in the ninth inning, and no one has run away with the closing job in the last two weeks. The Cubs might be the worst team in the NL, but they can still support a 20-25 save man the rest of the way, like every team can.

Sell

Roy Oswalt, SP, Rangers: He might have landed in the worst possible spot, signing up for a summer in Arlington, where right-handed pitchers are chewed up and spit out. Oswalt turns 35 in August, he wasn't all that hot in Philly last year (3.69 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and his velocity and strikeout rate have been tumbling in his mid-30s. You need to do better in a standard mixer. The only reason to grab him right now is with the intention of flipping him before he ever pitches in a game. And he's probably a month away from his Texas debut, so you'll be wasting valuable roster space in the meantime.
Jarrod Parker, SP, Athletics: A lot of good things here: big park, 2.88 ERA, buzzy prospect pedigree. And everyone can see that Parker's mere one win over seven starts is a fluke - his bullpen has coughed up two ninth-inning saves. That said, when you note the crazy HRFB rate (around two percent) and just 29 strikeouts against 21 walks, we can see the storm clouds moving in. Parker is still a viable arm, but his ERA will likely be in the middle 3s, perhaps as high as 4, the rest of the way. The market might overprice him, so ask around.

Hold

Chris Sale, SP, White Sox: A lot of otherwise-smart people are dug in against Sale, and it's getting silly to this point. Oh no, he throws a slider. Good golly, he had elbow soreness and an MRI earlier this year. Look, just about any pitcher in this game is an injury risk; it's an unnatural act that puts heavy strain on your body. In the meantime, let's chase the stats and the indicators we see in front of us and worry about the physical problems later. Sale has a 2.34 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and more strikeouts than innings pitched. His KBB rate is almost 41. This is an elite arm, period, end of story.

Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants: The regression police had a good laugh at Vogelsong's surprise 2011 season, but the laugh is at the skeptics: Vogelsong's ratio stats are lower this year. So long as you steer him away from the extreme parks (hiya, Colorado), this is a very safe place to park your innings, even in a mixer. Vogelsong's ERA at AT&T Park over the last year and a half? A tidy 1.95.
Frank Francisco, RP, Mets: He's come through on six straight save attempts, along with nine strikeouts (against three walks) and no runs allowed. Terry Collins was patient here and he's been rewarded. And the Mets will keep the opportunities coming; this is not a bad ballclub.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.