One thing which helped the Chicago Cubs realize their dreams last season was a lack of controversy, consistency and avoiding a rash of injuries. So far in the follow-up to their championship, they have been touched by all three of those issues in a negative way.
The biggest news to come out of Wednesday's game in Washington was not another torching of John Lackey, who cannot seem to keep the ball within the confines of the park, but it was an injury to Kris Bryant. The third baseman suffered what is being termed as a mild-to-moderate sprain to his right ankle, rolling his ankle while tumbling over third base in an attempt to flag down a pop fly. The good news is that initial X-rays did not reveal any type of break, fracture, etc. However, he will be re-evaluated Thursday and the team will then make a determination whether Bryant needs a stay on the 10-day disabled list.
If Bryant is forced to the shelf it might be Tommy La Stella is forced into a regular role at the hot corner, with Jeimer Candelario also helping out and seeing an increase in at-bats. Neither would be a terribly attractive fantasy option, even in deeper NL-only formats, although if they were plugged into the starting lineup they might be decent throwaway plays in DFS, as it wouldn't take very much production to live up to their low salary expectations.
Speaking of guys to avoid in fantasy, Lackey was mentioned above. He was drummed for eight earned runs, nine hits and two walks while striking out just two batters over 5 1/3 innings to take his ninth loss of the season. He also served up three more homers, as he now sits alone atop the league with 24 homers allowed over 92 2/3 innings. The funny thing is Lackey has a respectable 1.35 WHIP and his .263 opponent average isn't close to being the worst in the league. But oh those homers. He allowed just 23 homers over 188 1/3 innings over 29 starts last season, and he has never served up more than 31 homers in a single season. He is on pace to smash his previous career worst set in 2003 as a member of the Angels.
Jake Arrieta was a Cy Young award winner in 2015, and he won 40 games over the past two seasons heading into 2017. But this season he has been very mediocre, posting a 7-6 record, 4.67 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 88 2/3 innings across 16 starts. Like Lackey, homers have been his undoing, serving up 13 long balls after giving up just 16 last season. His career high is 21 long balls allowed, set back in 2011 with the Orioles. He is on pace to smash that number, and that's not a good thing. And he is also allowing plenty of stolen bases, too. Just ask Miguel Montero, as he'll be happy to tell you about it.
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Washington was involved in an arms race during the cold war with the Soviet Union back in the 1980's. But those arms paled in comparison to the arsenal the Nationals are rolling out these days on the baseball diamond.
Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg each find themselves in the Top 20 in ERA in the majors this season, and that's a scary trio for clubs to face when the postseason comes around. Strasburg was the latest to shine in Wednesday's game against the Nationals, allowing three runs - two earned - with four hits and just one walk while striking out 13 batters over seven innings in a win against the Cubs. He bumped his record to 9-2 while lowering his ERA to 3.51, throwing 70 of his 96 pitches for strikes in the quality start.
Strasburg has a .221 opponent batting average with a 1.10 WHIP across 16 starts this season, and he has 122 strikeouts with just 28 walks over 102 2/3 innings. Those numbers are impressive, but he is statistically the third-best pitcher on the staff these days. Gio Gonzalez is tied with Arizona's Robbie Ray for seventh in the majors with a 2.87 ERA, whiffing 95 over 100 1/3 innings with a sparkling .223 opponent average and 1.26 WHIP over 16 starts. That's nothing compared to Max Scherzer, who might be just 9-5 overall, but he leads the majors with a 2.06 ERA and a ridiculous .164 opponent batting average. He also has a minuscule 0.78 WHIP. A lack of run support is the only reason he is yet to reach double-digit win totals so far.
Pitching is great, but the team is also getting career contributions from some unlikely sources. Jose Ramirez looked like he might simply be a role player a few years back, but he is emerging as a star in Cleveland. He leads the team with a .322 average while rolling up 23 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 34 RBI with a .322/.376/.557 slash line and healthy .933 OPS. In Wednesday's game at Baltimore he posted his ninth consecutive multi-hit game, and he has 10 doubles and three homers during the amazing tear.
The Arizona Diamondbacks haven't quite cornered the market on players named Zack, but they do have the two best pitchers in the majors bearing that name. It was Zack Godley's time to shine on Wednesday against the Cardinals. While yes, he suffered a loss against St. Louis, he allowed three earned runs, just two hits and three walks while showing an impressive array of pitches and outstanding command. He also struck out seven batters in the 109-pitch quality start, throwing 65 pitches for strikes.
Godley has recorded quality starts in three of his four outings in June, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.08 ERA, walking just eight batters with 27 strikeouts across 26 1/3 innings over four starts. He has lasted six or more innings while yielding three or fewer runs in eight of his past nine outings to emerge not only as a useful starter for Arizona, but a must-start fantasy option. In fact, his 3-2 record might not match up, but his 2.67 ERA and 0.97 WHIP is actually better than the team's more recognizable Zack Greinke, who checks in with a 9-4 record, 3.08 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
National League Quick Hits: Tommy Joseph served as the designated hitter in the American League park, and he certainly looked the part. He cracked a solo home run, his 13th of the season, while tying Maikel Franco for second on the team with 38 RBI. … Ty Blach evened his record at 5-5, allowing three runs - one earned - and seven hits over 6 1/3 innings in a win against the sliding Rockies. … Jae-gyun Hwang had his contract purchased from Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday, and he paid instant dividends. He cracked his first major league homer, a solo clout off of Colorado's Kyle Freeland. … Anthony Rendon was one of three batters to victimize Lackey with the long ball, his 15th of the season. He is hitting .342 with seven homers and 17 RBI in June, with the homer total his best of any month this season. … Ivan Nova won for the third time in four outings, improving to 3-1 with a 3.48 ERA over five June starts. … Chase Anderson was forced to leave his start in Cincinnati due to a strained left oblique, which is bad news for a pitcher who was sailing along. He is 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a .224 opponent batting average. His ERA is 10th-best in the majors, so if he is forced to miss time it would be a huge loss for the first-place Brewers. … Raisel Iglesias worked a tidy eight-pitch ninth inning, working around two singles allowed in a scoreless frame for his 14th save. … Steven Matz baffled the Marlins over seven scoreless innings in Miami, scattering six singles with one walk in the 110-pitch quality start. … Yadier Molina went 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBI in Arizona, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. That's the longest active run in the majors. … Ender Inciarte had a single with a run scored across four at-bats, pushing his hit streak to 10 games.
American League Quick Hits: Trevor Bauer allowed just one earned run, four hits and a walk over 6 1/3 innings in a win against the Rangers. He is enjoying his best month of the season with a 3.82 ERA, just three homers allowed and 23 strikeouts over 30 2/3 innings in six outings. … Marcus Stroman allowed five singles with a walk over 7 2/3 scoreless frames in a win against the Orioles, whiffing eight to move to 8-4. … Jose Bautista had just two homers through his first 33 games, but he is starting to make up for lost time. He launched homer No. 14 against the O's. He has two homers with six RBI over the past three games, and he has hit safely in a season-high six-game hitting streak. … Adalberto Mejia surprised the Red Sox in Beantown with 5 2/3 scoreless innings to even up at 3-3 while lowering his ERA to a respectable 4.38. … The flip side of respectable is Rick Porcello, the 2016 American League Cy Young award winner. He became the first pitcher to 10 losses, as he has a .312 opponent batting average and a dismal 1.51 WHIP. … Ian Kennedy surprised in Detroit, allowing just two runs, five hits and a walk with five strikeouts over seven innings for just his second win of the season. … It has been a struggle for Alex Gordon, still hitting just .193, but he finished 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI in a rare highlight on Wednesday. … Miguel Andujar had his contract purchased from Triple-A on Wednesday, and he immediately made his presence felt. He finished 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and four RBI while also swiping a base. He might see some playing time while Matt Holliday (virus) is on the mend. If he hits this well, Andujar could cut into the unproductive Chase Headley's playing time. … The first five Astros in the batting order, George Springer, Josh Reddick, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann each had two or more hits in their 11-8 win over the A's. Springer posted two doubles and a homer, while Reddick and Altuve each scooped up two steals apiece.