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Reality Check: Time to stockpile starters

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I became emotional this weekend.

The emotion was anger. The reason was stupidity.

Or at least short-sightedness. Look, I don't claim to know much about building a baseball team -- I'm just a fan living a Fantasy, after all -- but if, in the process of transitioning a reliever to the starting rotation, I stumbled upon what looked like a frontline starting pitcher, I wouldn't suddenly move him back to the bullpen.

But that's exactly what the White Sox did with Chris Sale. And he wasn't happy about it.

In their defense, they didn't do it as an act of self-sabotage, somehow reasoning that Sale was more valuable to them as a one-inning man than a seven-inning man. They did it to protect his elbow, which was apparently sore after his last start.

"We're doing it because we feel it's best for him, his career and his health," pitching coach Don Cooper told the Chicago Tribune on Friday. "It's the best way to keep him healthy and strong."

Yeah, because Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are practically invincible right now.

Maybe the decision wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't come to depend on Sale in so many of my Fantasy leagues. Yeah, I'll admit some sour grapes here, and I'll even recognize that in some leagues -- ones deep enough that nobody with even a glimmer of hope for saves is available on the waiver wire -- Sale might actually gain value with this move. He's not just going to the bullpen, after all, but the closer role, where he's had some success for short stints in the past. His owners now get a boost in a category where they may not have had any hope, especially with injuries to Mariano Rivera, Huston Street, Sergio Santos, Drew Storen, Kyle Farnsworth and Andrew Bailey.

Practically invincible, like I said.

But it's still discouraging to think that in a world where we already have to contend with innings limits for Stephen Strasburg and skipped starts for Neftali Feliz and Drew Smyly, teams are actually getting more cautious with their most talented arms. I mean, banning a guy from doing what would make him most valuable for fear of him getting hurt is like ... well, what's the line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

"He never drives it, Ferris. He just rubs it with a diaper."

And it only figures to get worse. With Cory Luebke -- another talented left-hander who at times has caused his team to question where he fits best -- likely headed for Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed damage to his UCL, you can bet some teams will stop to reassess whether they're doing everything they can to protect their young arms, more concerned about breaking eggs than making an omelet.

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With that mindset, no one is safe, which only reinforces the age-old adage that you can never have enough starting pitching. Remember what happened to Alexi Ogando in the second half last year? Or Bartolo Colon? Or Michael Pineda? Your steady and stable starting rotation may have a shorter shelf life than you think.

So even if you're not a Sale or Luebke owner looking to fill a specific need, you can learn from others' misfortunes and use this opportunity to clear a bench spot for yet another starting pitcher.

Plenty of good ones are available still. Among those owned in less than 60 percent of leagues, these are some of my favorites, provided they actually stay in the rotation:

R.A. Dickey. Though he lacks sizzle as a 37-year-old on the cellar-dwelling Mets, he consistently pitches into the seventh or eighth inning, which not only earns him points in Head-to-Head leagues but also improves his chances of winning each time out. His ERA since the start of 2010 is only 3.18.

Jake Arrieta. He hasn't been especially consistent so far this year, but he throws hard enough that I expect his strikeout rate to remain relatively high and his hit rate relatively low. His early success isn't completely unprecedented either: He went 5-1 with a 4.03 ERA in his first nine starts last year before developing elbow problems.

Jarrod Parker. Most top prospects get hyped to the hills, but Parker has remained under the radar, for whatever reason, even though he's 2 for 2 in quality starts so far. His supporting cast may be lacking, but his stuff clearly isn't. He deserves a flier even if he's relatively unproven.

Henderson Alvarez. His strikeout rate of 2.6 per nine innings is downright depressing, but he has a 2.83 ERA in six starts and just threw a shutout last time out. With a fastball in the mid-90s, he can't be all smoke and mirrors.

Jeff Niemann. Though a Fantasy mainstay for various stretches over the last three years, Niemann has yet to go six innings in a start this season, keeping him buried in the rankings. I'm not sure why the Rays are handling him with kid gloves so far, but given his track record, I have a feeling it won't last.

James McDonald. He was a popular sleeper entering last year, but now that he's actually commanding the strike zone and pitching into the seventh inning, McDonald can't find any takers in Fantasy. His pedigree suggests the stuff is legit, even if it was slow to develop.

Jerome Williams. Four years out of the game helped Williams refine his once highly touted arsenal. He's the biggest Hail Mary of this group, but as impressive as four of his first five starts have been, he deserves to be owned in more than 18 percent of leagues.

I'm not ready to predict a best-case scenario for any of these seven, but of the pitchers available in nearly half of all leagues, they're the ones who intrigue me the most. If I had to rank them in terms of how secure I'd feel with them, I'd go Dickey, Arrieta, Niemann, Parker, Alvarez, McDonald and Williams.

So if you can justify the roster spot, take a flier on one of them. At least then when the baseball world throws you a curveball, you'll have a full arsenal of replacements.

None of them as good as Sale, though.

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In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles: Hammel's hot start seems a little too good to be true, given his career track record, and understandably, Fantasy owners have been hesitant to buy into him. He's a top-10 pitcher, for crying out loud. It won't last. It can't. Maybe not, but one thing his track record doesn't show is the change he's made to his repertoire this year, adding a sinker that has become his bread-and-butter pitch. As we've seen with Brandon Webb in the past, a good sinker can take a pitcher a long way. I'm not necessarily predicting Cy Young votes for Hammel, but I expect him to remain a mixed-league force all season long.

Daniel Murphy, 1B/2B/3B, Mets: Murphy had four hits on Saturday, bringing his batting average up over .300. Now, maybe that's why you drafted him -- he did hit .320 during an injury-shortened 2011 -- but me? I expected a little pop along with it. With the fences coming in at Citi Field, double-digit homers didn't seem like too much to ask. He hit a dozen back in 2009. Needless to say, I'm feeling a little shortchanged by his zero so far. His versatility no doubt helps his cause in deeper leagues, but given his injury history, if you drafted him as your starting second baseman in a standard mixed league, perhaps you're better off making a move than waiting around for something that might never happen.

Jed Lowrie, 3B/SS, Astros: It's finally happening. With a .429 batting average, four homers and 1.286 OPS over his last 11 games, Lowrie is finally making good on all that potential he showed in the second half of 2010. Or at least it looks like it's happening. Of course, it did last April, too, which is no doubt some cause for skepticism among Fantasy owners, but Lowrie's shortcoming then was that he couldn't hit righties, batting .210 with a .582 OPS against them. This spring, the Astros adjusted his stance from the left side of the plate to correct that problem, and so far, so good: He's batting .396 with a 1.046 OPS against righties. Now, the only thing stopping him from becoming one of the top OPS guys at the shortstop position is health, which admittedly has been an issue throughout his career. But while he is healthy, you might as well be starting him.

Clay Buchholz, SP, Red Sox: We're six starts into the season, and Buchholz has allowed five earned runs or more in all of them. What makes him so worth the wait? He couldn't stay healthy last year, and even his breakthrough 2010 wasn't all it appeared to be. His strikeout rate remained below the seven-per-nine-inning threshold, and his 2.33 ERA was completely out whack with his 1.20 WHIP. Most statheads considered him a regression candidate even if he had managed to stay healthy. So what else does he have to hang his hat on? His steady 180 innings? Nope, hasn't gotten there yet. The Red Sox's supporting cast? Yeah, we'll see about that. At this point, you're better off gambling on a Jake Arrieta or R.A. Dickey than sticking with Buchholz.

David Robertson, RP, Yankees: I don't know what's more surprising: that Robertson's ownership percentage has risen 57 percentage points without him even recording a save or that he's still unowned in 21 percent of leagues. I'll go with the latter. When the dust settles, he might actually end up being the better Fantasy option than the man he's replacing, which sounds like blasphemy, sure, but when you compare the numbers side-by-side, Robertson's strikeouts -- he had an even 100 last year -- set him apart. Mariano Rivera's strength is his consistency, which is unmatched in baseball history, but Craig Kimbrel ranked ahead of him coming into the season for a reason. Perhaps the presence of Rafael Soriano prevents Fantasy owners from going all-in on Robertson, but his stuff should make this call an easy one. As long as he doesn't wilt under the pressure, he'll be one of the best three or four closers in Fantasy.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Royals: Giavotella may not technically be a prospect after losing rookie eligibility during his stint in the majors last year, but at age 24, he's the team's future at second base regardless. Why that future hasn't begun yet, with Yuniesky Betancourt on the DL with a sprained ankle, is anybody's guess, but it certainly isn't Giavotella's fault. He's batting .315 with five homers and more walks (15) than strikeouts (10) at Triple-A Omaha. If you play in an AL-only league, you'll want him rostered for when the Royals finally decide Chris Getz isn't the answer.

Christian Friedrich, SP, Rockies: Though Alex White is the favorite to fill the recently demoted Jhoulys Chacin's rotation spot on Tuesday, Friedrich's candidacy is arguably the bigger storyline in Fantasy. Once considered a top prospect because of his performance in the lower levels of the minors, the 24-year-old became a lost cause at Double-A, posting a 5.02 ERA in two seasons. But with his promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs this year came a return to form. Through five starts, he has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Granted, five starts aren't enough to declare him over the hump, but his hot start combined with his pedigree should renew interest in long-term keeper leagues.

Jake Odorizzi, SP, Royals: After exceeding expectations in the lower levels of the minors, Odorizzi continues to turn heads in his first full year of Double-A Northwest Arkansas, recording 11 strikeouts for the second time this season Saturday to give him 40 strikeouts (compared to only nine walks) in 31 innings. Mike Montgomery was considered the better prospect coming into the season, but his continued command issues at Triple-A might allow the 22-year-old Odorizzi to leapfrog him if a need develops in the majors. Now that Odorizzi is proving he can succeed in the upper levels of the minors, his stock is on the rise.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Cubs SP Jake Arrieta tosses no-hitter against Dodgers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was simply dominant during his start against the Dodgers on Sunday, as he recorded baseball's sixth no-hitter this season.

Arrieta struck out 12 batters, and his only base runners came on an error and a single walk. Other than that, he was as close to perfect as they come.

With the stellar performance, Arrieta improved to 17-6 on the season with an impressive 2.11 ERA.


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by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood became a footnote in history Sunday night. He was the losing pitcher in a no-hitter.

Wood allowed two runs on six hits in six innings to the Cubs, but simply couldn't keep up with counterpart Jake Arrieta. Wood walked one and struck out seven. It marked the first time he walked fewer than two betters since July 9.

His only major mistake wound up over the fence, courtesy of Kris Bryant, who slugged a two-run homer in the first inning. Wood threw 72 pitches in the first three innings before settling down and making it through the next three.

His ERA now sits at 3.67.


Dodgers INF Enrique Hernandez out with apparent ankle issue
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Dodgers infielder Enrique Hernandez appeared to roll his ankle trying to beat out a ground ball in the eighth inning of the game Sunday night against the Cubs. He was replaced by Justin Turner.

The team has yet to determine the severity of the potential injury.


Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler pounded by Athletics
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler was due for a dud. And duds often occur in non-save situations.

Ziegler arrived in a tie game Sunday against Oakland and left with a 7-4 deficit. He gave up three runs on six hits in just one inning.

He loaded the bases in the 10th, but slithered out of the jam with a double play and groundout. He had no such fortune in the 11th, when three two-out singles and a hit-by-pitch resulted in his second loss of the season.

His ERA still sits at a fine 1.88.


Athletics SP Jesse Chavez rebounds Sunday from poor effort
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) The Jekyll-Hyde run of Athletics starter Jesse Chavez continued Sunday when he followed a terrible performance with a strong one in a no-decision against host Arizona.

Chavez yielded just one earned run on eight hits in five innings with one walk and six strikeouts.

One problem is that it took him 95 pitches to get through five. Another is that he couldn't recover from a two-out error in the second, giving up singles to Ender Inciarte and Chris Owings that resulted in two unearned runs.

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Diamondbacks SP Allen Webster surprises in Sunday start
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Diamondbacks starter Allen Webster provided more evidence Sunday that baseball is unpredictable.

Webster arrived in Arizona after compiling an 8.37 ERA with 109 hits allowed in 71 innings in the minors. But he held Oakland to just one earned run on six hits in five innings with one walk and two strikeouts.

The right-hander, who was saddled with an almost-as-bad 6.86 ERA in the majors this season, yielded two unearned runs on an error and Josh Reddick triple in the third. A Stephen Vogt solo homer in the fourth provided the only earned tally.


Cardinals RP Kevin Siegrist bounces back for save
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) After taking the loss Friday, Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist bounced back to finish off Sunday's victory over the Giants to earn his sixth save of the year. 

With normal closer Trevor Rosenthal on paternity leave, Siegrist came in during a two-run game in the ninth inning and didn't allow a hit, striking out two batters. He allowed two hits and one run in 1/3 inning in Friday's loss. 

Siegrist has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Cards this season, with a 5-1 record and 24 holds to go along with the six saves. 


Giants OF Marlon Byrd has big day on 38th birthday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) Giants outfielder Marlon Byrd knows how to celebrate, as the veteran went 3-for-4 with four RBIs on Sunday, his 38th birthday. 

Byrd racked up two doubles and a triple as he single-handedly tried to keep the Giants in a game they would lose 7-5. Byrd now has 56 RBIs on the season, 14 of which have been tallied since he was acquired from the Reds on Aug. 20. 


Giants SP Chris Heston continues August stumbles
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(8/30/2015) Chris Heston has been a pleasant surprise for the Giants this season, but in the dog days of August, he's experienced a rough patch that continued Sunday when he couldn't get out of the fourth inning in a loss against the Cardinals. 

Heston managed to go just 3 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on nine hits, two of them home runs. And while he managed not to walk anyone after combining for nine free passes in his last two starts, he only struck out one batter. 

In five August starts, Heston (11-8) went longer than 4 2/3 innings only once, and finished the month 0-3 with two no-decisions. 


Cardinals SP Jaime Garcia continues hot streak
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(8/30/2015) While Jaime Garcia wasn't as great as he's been recently, he was good enough Sunday to pick up his fourth straight victory as the Cardinals edged the Giants. 

Garcia came into the game allowing just four earned runs in his last four starts. He would give up four runs Sunday, on 10 hits, but got plenty of offensive support to pick up the win. 

Garcia (7-4) went 4-0 with two no-decisions in August and the Cardinals won all six of his starts. Sunday's somewhat "off" outing raised his miniscule ERA to 2.03 on the season. 


 
 
 
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