A quick look at the latest news, injury updates and more to get you ready for this weekend's slate of games
Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.
Kemp Unable to Dodge DL
Back on May 5, Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Matt Kemp suffered a left hamstring strain during a game against the Cubs in Chicago. He missed the following game, pinch-hitting in the seventh, but was back in the starting line up a day later at home versus the Giants.
However, after going 3-for-3 against the Giants last Monday, which pushed his batting average to .406 at the time, Kemp went ice cold. He got one hit in his next 16 at-bats and then left Sunday’s game against Colorado in the fourth inning after apparently reinjuring his hamstring.
Kemp had an MRI on Monday and the Dodgers placed their slugger on the disabled list that night. Kemp, who finished second to Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting last season, was off to another sensational start in 2012 as he was in the top five of the NL in batting average (.359), home runs (12) and RBIs (28) as of when he went on the DL.
Not surprisingly, Kemp’s absence in the Dodgers’ line up is already evident. In the first three games without Kemp, the offense has generated a total of six runs, losing two of those games in the process. The Dodgers are still in first place in the NL West, holding a six-game lead over the Diamondbacks entering Thursday, but if the team continues to struggle to score, that gap will probably continue to narrow.
As far as the Dodgers go, with Kemp and fellow outfielder Juan Rivera (torn hamstring) both on the DL, recently acquired Bobby Abreu will probably get a lot more playing time. Abreu, who joined the Dodgers on May 4 after being released by the Angels, is off to decent start back in the NL. The 38-year-old is batting .296 with four doubles and four RBIs in his first 10 games. Clearly though his best days are well past him as he has yet to hit a home run in 2012 and can’t be relied on to produce consistently.
Short-term options on the waiver wire could include Boston’s Cody Ross (.252-6-23, 21 R), San Francisco’s Angel Pagan (.293-4-10, 7 SB), the Yankees’ Raul Ibanez (.263-7-22), Tampa’s Luke Scott (.233-7-27), Detroit’s Andy Dirks (.370-3-12, 17 R) or Arizona’s Gerardo Parra (.257-2-3, 18 R, 8 SB) or Jason Kubel (.295-3-15). All of these guys are currently owned in less than half of the Yahoo! leagues.
It’s the middle of May, but it appears that some guys who much more was expected from at this point are starting to turn things around. Let’s start with the big guy, “El Hombre,” also known as Albert Pujols.
Pujols didn’t hit his first home run of the 2012 season until May 6. He cranked his second one on Wednesday night, but it’s the overall body of work that has been encouraging. After managing a total of four RBIs in all of April (92 at-bats), Pujols has already driven in 13 in May (58 at-bats entering Thursday). He’s still nowhere close to being the hitting machine he’s been throughout his career, but he’s had at least one hit in his last five games and has five RBIs in the last two.
Better still, perhaps Pujols can call on some familiar foes to help get his bat going. Interleague play kicks off on Friday and the Angels will be headed south to San Diego to take on the Padres. Pujols holds a career .333 batting average, along with 20 home runs and 63 RBIs in 71 games against the Padres. What’s more, his numbers in pitcher-friendly Petco Park (.258-7-17 in 25 G) aren’t that bad, considering that they are better than his current season totals through 37 games.
Pujols isn’t the only slugger starting to get into the swing of things. Alfonso Soriano, who had 340 career home runs entering this season, finally hit his first on Tuesday against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Soriano then hit his second one the following night in Philadelphia.
The Cubs’ outfielder is well known for being a streaky hitter, so now may be an opportune time to take a flier on him if he’s available, possibly even as a fill-in for the aforementioned Kemp. Soriano is batting .292 with two home runs and six RBIs over the last seven days.
The Cubs and cross-town rival White Sox will get reacquainted with one another starting Friday. In his career, Soriano is a .258 hitter with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs in 63 career games against the Windy City team from the south side.
Others who finally connected for their first home run of the season this week included Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur (20 HR in 2011) and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins (16 in ’11). Then there’s Bryce Harper, Washington’s passionate 19-year-old outfielder who has already endeared himself to the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.
Harper hit his first career home run on Monday against San Diego and then victimized the Padres again the next night. Harper’s numbers may not stand out (.238-2-5) through his first 63 major-league at-bats, but remember he’s just 19 and to this point, he doesn’t appear to be overmatched either based on his acceptable 13:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While Harper may be getting the bulk of the attention and headlines, it’s fellow uber-prospect Mike Trout who’s putting up the better numbers. Trout, the Angels’ 20-year-old outfielder is off to a .333-3-8 start since being called up in late April. Trout, who has out-homered teammate Pujols in 90 fewer at-bats (150 to 60), has at least one hit in eight of his last 10 games, with six multiple-hit efforts in that same span.
On the mound, Florida’s Josh Johnson picked up not only his first win of the season, but also his first victory in more than a year on Tuesday. The Marlins’ ace was limited to just nine starts last season (3-1, 1.64 ERA, 56 K in 60 1/3 IP) due to shoulder issues. Johnson looked good during spring training, but the results to this point (1-3, 5.36 ERA, 57 H, 15 BB, 38 K in 45 1/3 IP) have done nothing to quell any suspicions regarding his health.
The good news for those Johnson owners who have been patient with him is there have been some encouraging signs in his recent starts. After giving up 11 runs on 16 hits in a combined nine innings in his last start in April and first one in May, Johnson has produced consecutive seven-inning starts in which he has given up just two runs in each. His next scheduled start is on Sunday afternoon against the Indians in Cleveland. It will be his first time facing them.
*Tampa Bay right-hander Jeff Niemann (2-3, 3.38 ERA) suffered a broken right leg when he was struck by an Adam Lind line drive in the second inning of Monday’s game in Toronto. Niemann is expected to be out at least two months as the team has already transferred him to the 60-day DL. Alex Cobb is expected to take Niemann’s place in the starting rotation. The 24-year-old righty went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in nine starts for the Rays last season.
*Philadelphia right-hander Vance Worley (3-2, 3.07 ERA) was scratched from his scheduled start on Wednesday night against the Cubs and was put on the DL with elbow inflammation. The team has since said he will be shut down for a week, but an MRI and other tests have not revealed any structural or extensive damage to his pitching elbow. Kyle Kendrick will take Worley’s place in the starting rotation for the time being and he went six innings against the Cubs last night, giving up just three hits and one earned run in six innings.
*David Robertson, who was pegged as the Yankees’ closer after Mariano Rivera was lost for the season, was placed on the DL on Tuesday with a strained left oblique. Rafael Soriano will assume the closer’s role for now and he picked up the save on Monday against Baltimore when Roberston was unavailable.
*Yankees’ starter Ivan Novoa (4-1, 5.44 ERA), left Monday’s game against the Orioles in the sixth inning after apparently injuring his ankle. Novoa picked up the win in that game despite giving up five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. He has said he will take the mound on Saturday, his next scheduled start, but Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi has yet to commit to that. Even if Novoa does pitch on Saturday, he may not be 100 percent.
Weekend Series to Watch
Boston at Philadelphia
Two teams that have struggled out of the gate will get together in this interleague series as Boston travels to Philadelphia in hopes that its recent string of strong starting pitching continues. Daniel Bard (3-4, 4.30 ERA) will take the mound in Friday’s opener against Cole Hamels (5-1, 2.28 ERA). Bard had one of his best outings of the year on Sunday when he surrendered just one run in six innings in a win over the Indians. Bard’s control (20 BB, 23 K) has been an issue all season and could lead to bigger problems down the road if he doesn’t start limiting his hits allowed (38 H in 37 2/3 innings).
Jon Lester (2-3, 3.71 ERA) and Joe Blanton (4-3, 2.96 ERA) will take the mound on Saturday. Lester put forth his best performance of the season on Monday against Seattle, going the distance against the Mariners and giving up just one run while striking out six. Blanton was equally solid in his last start on Monday in defeating the Astros (7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 7 K).
Carlos Ruiz (.343-7-24) has been a pleasant surprise for an otherwise plodding Phillies’ offense as the catcher leads the team in batting average and is second only to Hunter Pence in home runs and RBIs. Pence has hit two home runs over the last seven days, but he only has two other hits during this span (.174 average).
For the Red Sox, fill-in outfielder Daniel Nava (.474-1-7, 4 2B last seven days) and catchers Kelly Shoppach and Jarod Saltalamacchia (combined .393-2-6 last seven days) have been doing the bulk of the damage recently, while Adrian Gonzalez (.270-2-20 on the season) is still searching for his power stroke.
Baltimore at Washington
Raise your hand if you had predicted before the season started that this interleague match up would also be a battle between division leaders? The Orioles have been the surprise of the AL thanks to strong pitching and timely hitting. J.J. Hardy has been hitting the ball with authority recently, as he is hitting .381 with three home runs, eight RBIs and nine runs scored in his last 10 games. Teammate Adam Jones has four home runs and seven RBIs over the last seven days.
On the mound, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (4-0, 2.45 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles. He defeated the Yankees (7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER) on Tuesday and will be matched up against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg on Saturday. Strasburg had one of his rougher outings last time out against San Diego, giving up four runs in four innings in a loss to the Padres on Tuesday. On the season, however, he’s 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 56 strikeouts in just 48 innings.
Adam LaRoche (.339-7-29) has shown so far that his pitiful 2011 numbers (.172-3-15 in 43 G) were a direct result of him not being healthy. Health is an ongoing issue for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has yet to get it going at the plate, hitting just .222 with one home run and nine RBIs on the season.