Closer by committee. It’s difficult to find a three-word combination in the modern baseball lexicon that has resulted more frustration for fantasy owners this season. The gradual elimination of traditional reliever roles in favor of increased matchup specialization and more flexible usage patterns, is exactly the type of forward-thinking approach that makes sense for big-league franchises. However, it makes chasing saves exponentially more difficult in all fantasy formats. The Cubs became the latest team to transition (at least temporarily) away from a predetermined ninth-inning option when manager Joe Maddon told reporters on Wednesday, after incumbent stopper Pedro Strop was placed on the 10-day injured list with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain, that he will take a committee approach to the closer's role moving forward.
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Just a few hours later, his newly-minted committee coughed up a one-run lead against the bottom-feeding Marlins, spoiling a dominant eight-inning performance by right-hander Kyle Hendricks. The ninth inning immediately got off to a rocky start when Maddon summoned lefty Kyle Ryan to face Neil Walker, who promptly singled to right field to begin the frame. He then elected to hand the ball to veteran righty Steve Cishek, who owns 126 career major-league saves. The 32-year-old sidewinder retired the first batter he faced before running into some trouble of his own. He surrendered a single to Starlin Castro and uncorking a costly wild pitch, which put the tying run 90 feet away with only one out, before Miguel Rojas plated the tying run with an RBI ground out. The Cubs still managed to pick up the victory in extra-innings on a walk-off homer by Jason Heyward, but it’s safe to say that their first attempt at mixing and matching failed spectacularly.
With Strop likely out for the next three-to-four weeks, Cishek appears to be the logical successor. He’s the clear-cut favorite to garner the next save chance in Chicago and is a viable pickup in deeper fantasy formats. However, it’s worth noting that Carl Edwards Jr. has turned in back-to-back scoreless appearances since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa earlier this week. The 27-year-old righty is a bit of a dark horse saves candidate, but he’s overcome his early-season control issues and proven he can be trusted in high-leverage situations moving forward. There’s a legitimate case to be made that he possesses the best raw stuff of anyone in that Cubs’ bullpen.
Fantasy owners in shallow mixed leagues should take a wait-and-see approach before investing in any of the alternatives here. However, it’s a situation worth monitoring because there’s a real opportunity for someone to grab the reins and run with this job for a while. Prior to landing on the injured list, it appeared that Strop may have been in danger of losing his grip on the closer role. He failed to record an out, allowing three runs on three walks and a hit, in an ugly blown save against the Marlins on Monday. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him permanently supplanted by an in-house option or someone from outside the organization entirely. Of course, there’s always a chance that veteran righty Brandon Morrow overcomes the persistent injury issues that have sidelined him since last July, but that seems like a total longshot. The Cubs’ bullpen has devolved into a complete quagmire, but there is a ton of fantasy value to be extracted if a clear-cut closer emerges from this crop over the next few weeks.
As Cersei Lannister famously reminded us all, “Power is power.” After posting back-to-back 40-homer campaigns, there was no question Rangers’ outfielder Joey Gallo possessed more of it than any other hitter in the game heading into the 2019 campaign. Yet, it remained an open question whether his subterranean batting average would torpedo his fantasy value in traditional fantasy formats. It’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but the 25-year-old slugger appears to be on the verge of putting it together at the plate this season. He turned in another impressive performance, reaching base safely in four of his five plate appearances in the Rangers’ comeback win over the Pirates on Wednesday. He launched a towering 443-foot, two-run homer -- his 12th round-tripper of the season -- off Pirates’ starter Nick Kingham in the third inning and also swiped his second base of the year. Not only does he own an eight-game hitting streak, but he’s hitting .274/.426/.679 across 136 plate appearances. Fewer fly balls and a noticeable uptick in line-drives have been the underlying catalysts driving his gains in the batting average department. If he can sustain that newfound batted ball profile, it gives him a realistic chance to evolve into a four-category fantasy superstar.
The meteoric rise of Twins’ shortstop Jorge Polanco remains one of the most compelling storylines in fantasy this season. He turned in another monster performance, going 5-for-5 with a two-run homer to propel the Twins to a blowout victory over the - on Wednesday. The 25-year-old switch-hitting shortstop owns a surreal .344/.412/.649 triple-slash line with 22 runs scored, seven homers and 14 RBI across 148 plate appearances. This level of performance isn’t entirely out of left field. He’s always shown flashes of immense upside in the past, most notably during the final two months of the 2017 campaign, and was solid upon his return from an 80-game suspension last year. The juxtaposition of his elite plate skills and contact-oriented approach give him a chance to sustain this run. It may be too late to scoop him up off the waiver wire in shallow formats, but he’s a worthy trade target in all formats. Simply put, there isn’t anything inherently fluky about his early-season production. This looks completely legitimate.
AL Quick Hits: Khris Davis left Wednesday's contest against the Reds with lingering effects from the left hip contusion he suffered on Sunday against Pittsburgh. … David Price (elbow) played catch again on Wednesday on flat ground. … Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters that Aaron Hicks (back) could return this weekend against the Orioles. … Andrew Heaney (elbow) will throw three innings and 45 pitches on Friday in Arizona. … Hunter Strickland (lat) has been cleared to start throwing again on Monday. … Giancarlo Stanton (biceps, shoulder) remains limited to tee and soft-toss work. … Rays optioned first baseman Nate Lowe to Triple-A Durham. … Chris Sale punched out 14 batters and allowed only one run over eight innings in a no-decision against the Orioles. … Mookie Betts went 1-for-4 with a solo home run and a stolen base in that contest. … Jose Ramirez cracked a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to propel the Indians to a win over the White Sox. … Tommy Pham reached base five times in the Rays’ 13-inning loss to the Diamondbacks. … Hunter Pence belted a game-tying, pinch-hit grand slam to propel the Rangers to a comeback victory over the Pirates. … Michael Brantley homered twice in the Astros’ rout of the Twins. … Brad Peacock fanned 12 over seven shutout innings in that contest. … Ryon Healy went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and teammate Mitch Haniger went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and a stolen base in the Mariners’ lopsided win over the Yankees. … Kyle Gibson struck out 11 batters over six innings of one-run ball in the Twins’ blowout win over the Blue Jays. … C.J. Cron went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and Eddie Rosario also went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in that one. … Matthew Boyd yielded one run over six innings in the Tigers’ win over the Angels. … X-rays came back negative on Yankees’ infielder Gio Urshela's left knee after he exited Wednesday's contest against the Mariners. … Ronald Guzman (hamstring) is expected to be activated off the injured list on Friday. … Rangers optioned Delino DeShields to Triple-A Nashville.
NL Quick Hits: Wednesday's game between the Rockies and Giants was postponed due to rain and snow. It will be made up as a doubleheader on July 15. … Fernando Tatis Jr. (hamstring) is headed to the Padres' complex in Arizona to continue his rehabilitation. … Chris Archer (thumb) is scheduled to throw a simulated game Friday in St. Louis. … Christian Yelich went 3-for-4 with a solo homer, his 16th round-tripper of the season, in the Brewers’ win over the Nationals. … Brandon Woodruff fanned nine batters over six frames to pick up his fifth win of the year and Josh Hader recorded the final two outs to notch his 10th save of the season. … Jerad Eickhoff fired eight scoreless innings to lead the Phillies to a win over the Cardinals. … Cesar Hernandez went 3-for-5 with a solo homer in that one. … Robbie Ray whiffed 11 batters over 5 2/3 shutout frames in a no-decision against the Rays. … Kirby Yates struck out three over a scoreless frame against the Mets to record his 15th save of the season. … Melky Cabrera extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a pair of singles in the Pirates’ loss to the Rangers. … Max Muncy went 3-for-5 with a solo homer in the Dodgers’ win over the Braves. … Ronald Acuna clobbered a two-run homer in the losing effort. … Cubs recalled Addison Russell from Triple-A Iowa. … Giants activated Derek Holland off the 10-day injured list. … Marlins placed Drew Steckenrider on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. … Braves prospect Austin Riley will work in the outfield a couple times a week for Triple-A Gwinnett. … Alex Wood (back) will take another two-week break from throwing after experiencing renewed discomfort after throwing a bullpen last week. … Alex Reyes (finger) threw 60-70 pitches to live hitters Tuesday at the Cardinals' spring training complex. … Braves recalled RHP Kyle Wright from Triple-A Gwinnett. … Padres optioned Cal Quantrill to Triple-A El Paso. … Nationals signed outfielder Gerardo Parra to a one-year contract.