DFS is a way of life here at Rotoworld. Friday we had a couple hours to kill before the NFL Draft, so naturally the conversation shifted to MLB DFS. At one point, I contemplated starting Carlos Rodon against the Orioles. Nick Mensio and a few others convinced me this was a suicide mission (they were right: Rodon got tagged for eight hits and six runs), so I changed course and went with Pirates starter Juan Nicasio (57 points on FanDuel!).
Rodon struggled for all the reasons you’d expect him to: he was playing a road game against an Orioles squad that leads the American League in home runs. That’s two strikes right there.
But if anyone can go into Camden Yards and silence Baltimore’s bats, it’s perennial All-Star Chris Sale. The 6’6” left-hander turned the tables on the Orioles Sunday with 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball for his sixth victory. You heard me right—that’s six wins in six starts for the Florida Gulf Coast alum.
Maybe it wasn’t Sale’s best work. He allowed a season-high four walks and failed to go seven innings for the first time this year. But if giving up one run is considered a bad start, the O’s sure don’t want to be around for one of his good starts. On top of his perfect record, Sale ranks second in the American League in WHIP (0.81) and fifth in ERA (1.66). Last year it took Sale nearly twice as long to notch his sixth win. It didn’t come until his 11th start against the Astros on June 8.
Two months ago, the White Sox were at the center of one of baseball’s silliest controversies. In a bizarre turn of events, DH Adam LaRoche retired because executive VP Kenny Williams told him his son Drake was no longer allowed in the clubhouse. This didn’t sit well with a numbers of players including Sale, who confronted Williams and called him a liar.
Tensions were high in March but those negative vibes seem to have blown over as the White Sox are sitting in first place in the American League with a stunning 18-8 record. Only the Nationals and the cross-town Cubs are ahead of the Chi Sox right now.
The White Sox have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team this season—they rank 17th in average (.239) and 15th in runs scored (95). But the pitching staff has been ruthless on opposing hitters, holding teams to a .225 average with 191 strikeouts in 813 at-bats. The starting rotation features three pitchers with sub-2.00 ERAs—Sale, Jose Quintana (1.47) and Mat Latos (1.84). That’s not going to last, but their winning ways might. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier are both legitimately fearsome power hitters while journeyman Brett Lawrie has found his stroke by homering in each of his last three games. If those three can carry the offense, closer David Robertson (eight saves, 0.79 ERA) will do the rest.
Sale is always on the short list of Cy Young contenders but his success this year has taken on greater significance because of how he ended last season. Sale melted down in September, losing four of five starts while logging a dismal 5.04 ERA. His final ERA of 3.41 was his highest in six major league seasons.
If the first six starts are any indication, Sale seems to be taking a different approach this year. Last season he led the American League in strikeouts (274) but it came at the expense of his overall efficiency as Sale worked long innings trying to avoid contact. This year his strikeout numbers are down (7.89 K/9 compared to 11.82 last season) but he’s been able to go deeper into games (except Sunday) by pitching to contact. He’s thrown 14.7 pitches per inning, well below the 15.9 he averaged last season. Maybe that’s just a coincidence but whatever Sale is doing right now seems to be working.
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What’s the opposite of buyer’s remorse—seller’s remorse? Whatever the term, Houston must be feeling it after watching Vincent Velasquez spin another gem Sunday for Philadelphia. The former Astros top prospect was shipped to Philly this offseason as part of a trade for stud closer Ken Giles. But so far Giles hasn’t been a stud or a closer. He lost the ninth-inning gig to Luke Gregerson in spring training and has struggled in a setup role with two losses and a 9.00 ERA in 11 appearances.
Oh but the future is bright in Philadelphia. In a way, the Phillies are doing what the Astros did last season. Facing no expectations whatsoever (they lost 99 games in 2015, their most since 1969), Philadelphia rattled off 14 wins in the opening month and improved to 15-10 with another win Sunday. That’s only good for third place in the NL East—the Mets and Nationals both have World Series aspirations—but 15-10 is a good place to start for the rebuilding Phils. They’ve gotten as far as they have by riding the success of Velasquez, who is now 4-1 with a magnificent 1.44 ERA. Two months ago it was a coin flip whether Velasquez would begin the year in the major leagues. Now he’s the Phillies’ ace.
While maybe not as remarkable as his 16-strikeout game earlier this year, Sunday’s win over Cleveland was more of what fantasy owners have come to expect from Velasquez. He scattered two hits over six scoreless frames, finishing with six strikeouts. His control wavered at times—he gave up a season-high four walks—but all in all, there wasn’t much the Indians could do to stop him. The 23-year-old retired the last nine batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit after the second inning. Sunday’s 2-1 triumph marked the Phillies’ sixth straight win. That matches their longest winning streak from last season.
Similar to what the White Sox are doing on Chicago’s south side, Philadelphia has used dominant starting pitching to steer the ship. The Phillies lead the league in strikeouts (245) and rank sixth in batting average against (.229). Four of the Phillies’ five starters (Velasquez, Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff) are inside the National League’s top 12 in K/9. The Phillies were 8-17 at this point last season. Reality could strike at any moment but right now, the Phillies’ arrow is pointing way up.
The same can’t be said of Houston. After earning a surprise playoff berth last season, the Astros were expected to compete for a pennant this year. They still might, but right now they own the American League’s second-worst record at 8-17. Carlos Correa has fallen off after a hot start (three for his last 20) while Dallas Keuchel has struggled to regain his Cy Young form (4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP).
We can all agree the Giles trade has backfired spectacularly, but he’s just one player on a 25-man roster. The Astros need to play better from top to bottom and it has to happen quickly. Otherwise they’ll be left behind in what should be a competitive AL West.
Quick Hits: Bryce Harper will probably win another MVP award this year but Sunday wasn’t his finest hour. He struck out four times in a win against the Cardinals. That’s called a Golden Sombrero … The Dodgers were able to snap a six-game losing streak on Sunday. They celebrated by throwing popcorn everywhere. Some unlucky janitor will have to vacuum that later … Clayton Kershaw ran the show on Sunday. He fanned 14 Padres in a shutout victory. He also delivered an RBI single in the third inning. That game finished in a tight two hours and seven minutes … The good news: Miguel Sano doubled in the ninth inning Sunday. The bad news: he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out at third to end the game … Chris Carter blasted a pair of home runs Sunday in a 14-5 rout of Miami. His .278 average this year is well above his previous career-high of .239 … Madison Bumgarner tossed six shutout frames Sunday in a win over the Mets. The loss ended New York’s eight-game winning streak … Tim Lincecum’s long-awaited showcase is finally happening. He’ll throw for teams Friday in Scottsdale, Arizona. Lincecum spent most of the offseason rehabbing from hip surgery … Avisail Garcia missed his second game in a row Sunday after hurting his hamstring in Friday’s loss to Baltimore. He’s a long shot to play Tuesday against the Red Sox … J.J. Hardy exited Sunday’s game after fouling a ball off his left foot. He went for X-rays and will have a CT scan on Monday … Zach Britton will head for an MRI on Monday. The left-hander sprained his left ankle on Saturday. Fortunately his X-rays came back negative … Mike Napoli missed another game on Sunday. He’s battling a stiff neck. Carlos Santana has been filling in at first base … Brad Boxberger will advance to throwing live batting practice this week. He’s been sidelined since undergoing core muscle surgery in March … Raisel Iglesias was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder surgery. Tim Adleman started in his place Sunday against Pittsburgh, allowing two runs over six innings in his major league debut … More bad news for the Reds. Homer Bailey suffered a slight setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He logged four innings in his last outing April 26 for Double-A Pensacola … Pirates GM Neal Huntington said Andrew McCutchen’s knee was “a little cranky” on Saturday. He returned to the lineup Sunday, going 1-for-4 with a walk … MLB is expected to hand out a punishment for Jose Reyes sometime this week. Reyes is facing a suspension for his domestic abuse arrest six months ago. The charges have since been dropped … Jhonny Peralta (thumb surgery) took grounders on Sunday. He’s hoping to begin a rehab assignment by May 21. Aledmys Diaz, owner of MLB’s second-highest batting average (.405), has been filling in at shortstop … Another day, another Josh Hamilton injury. The former MVP was pulled from his rehab assignment after feeling renewed soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee. Hamilton has appeared in 139 of a possible 349 games since the start of 2014.