Monday, August 27, 2007

Playoffs? You talkin' about playoffs? Playoffs?

Jason Bay and the Pirates still have a shot at the playoffs the way the NL Central is shaping up. What about teams in a league that actually matter?

Three weeks are left and only one thing has been decided: Joel is an idiot. That and three of the four playoff spots are locked up.

Yet somehow, out of nowhere, the idiot did the impossible and beat the team with the best record in the league by a massive margin.

As a result, the standings and remaining schedule look as such:

Kansas City
Smurfs 14-7: Zou, 300, Inoc.
Zou 13-8: Smurfs, Inoc., 300
Inoculators 13-8: 300, Zou, Smurfs
300 - no one cares

Gay Louis
PM’s 11-10: KC, Alba, Tones
Tones 11-10: Alba, KC, PM
KC - no one cares
Alba - no one cares

As you can see, there is a lot to be determined before the playoffs start. Therefore, I am obligated to break down scenarios. SWEET!

It should be noted that the division winners and the top two teams make the playoffs.

It should also be noted that it is statistically impossible for the Smurfs, Zou and Inoculators not to make the playoffs.

Additionally, the winner of the Gay Louis division receives the two seed.


The only way the Smurfs cannot make the playoffs is if I alter their record or if ESPN randomly adds 300 points to a previous opponent.

The only thing still up for grabs is the division and, subsequently, the number one seed. The Smurfs have the following records against their division:

3-0 vs. Zou
2-1 vs. Inoc.
3-0 vs. 300

The tie breaking scenarios look good for the Smurfs, so all he needs to do is stay ahead. It should be noted that no one has played a divisional matchup since the trade deadline. So the teams the Smurfs will be playing are not the same ones he has been playing all season.

If the Smurfs win two matchups, they win the division and the number one seed. If they lose two, then the division and the number one seed will be wide open.

The Smurfs are in.

The Smurfs win the division if: They win two or more matchups…other scenarios are possible as well.

The Smurfs win the One Seed if: See division.

The Smurfs are the three seed if: Inoculators or Zou win three, the opposite team lose at least two and Smurfs lose two.

The Smurfs are the four seed if: Smurfs lose three and Inoculators and Zou win at least two matchups each.


The Zou have a chance to win the division, but all hopes can be dashed if they do not win this week’s matchup with the Smurfs. If Zou wins, the Zou must win out and have the Smurfs lose one more time or Zou must win one of two and have the Smurfs lose both matchups. If Zou wins the division, he will also be the one seed.

Here is the Zou’s record vs. the contenders.

2-1 vs. Inoculators
2-1 vs. Tones
2-1 vs. PM
0-3 vs. Smurfs

The Zou is in.

The Zou wins the division if: Well, beat the Smurfs first and we’ll start talking.

The Zou wins the One Seed if: Win division.


First let’s look at the Inoculators record vs. the contenders:

2-1 vs. Tones
3-0 vs. PM
1-2 vs. Smurfs
1-2 vs. Zou

The Inoculators are in the playoffs because of tiebreakers over PM and Tones.

The Inoculators can win the division but they need a TON of help. Currently owning zero tie breakers doesn’t help. Here is one scenario that would have to happen if the Inoculators want to win the division:

Inoculators over 300 and Zou over Smurfs
Inoculators over Zou and Smurfs over 300
Inoculators over Smurfs

In other words, losing really isn’t an option.

What the Inoculators may want to focus on is the three seed. The three seed means not having to play either Zou or Smurfs in the first round and draw either the Tones or PM whom the Inoculators are 5-1 against this season.

The three seed may be the only way the Inoculators can clinch a league title.

Inoculators are in.

Inoculators win division if: Inoculators win three and Smurfs lose two. Other possibilities as well.

Inoculators three seed if: Inoculators beat Zou and 300, Zou loses to Smurfs. Other possibilities as well.

Inoculators four seed if: Inoculators lose two or more. Other possibilities as well.

Phantom Menaces and Tones

HERE is the battle to watch. What you need to know is the following:

PM vs. Division
1-2 vs. Tones
2-1 vs. Alba
2-1 vs. KC

Tones vs. Division
2-1 vs. PM
2-1 vs. KC
3-0 vs. Alba

Here are the scenarios:

First, of course, if one team wins two and the other loses two prior to the last week, then the last week doesn’t matter.

If the Tones and PM enter the final week of the season tied, the winner, obviously, wins the division and goes to the playoffs. The other sits at home.

If the Tones enter the final week one game back of PM and wins the final week, the Tones win the division based off their superior record over Alba.

Who would have thought that Joel could actually matter at the end of the season? The odds…

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ankiel and Braun

NEWSFLASH: Ben Nielsen hates the Cardinals.

Yes, I know, this is news to everyone, but it is true.

Actually, I don’t hate the Cardinals… I think I loath the Cardinals. No, no, no, I despise the Cardinals. Here are a list of words I associate with the Cardinals:

Spleen: ill-tempered, spitefulness (basically not the organ)

Basically, I hate the Cardinals so much I actually got a thesaurus and a dictionary out just to help find words that best describe my feelings towards St. Louis. I still have not found the correct word(s).

I say all of this just to set up this one point: Watching Rick Ankiel has been amazing. (And what is sad is that the two professed Cardinals fans in this league probably have ZERO idea how big of a deal this is. Well, maybe Tony does, but we certainly know Joel doesn’t. By the way, I just heard about this Francisco Liriano kid the other day while listening to a podcast. Apparently he was really good last season… who knew?)

I remember watching the meltdown on Ankiel in the 2000 playoffs. I remember laughing uncontrollably about how bad he had suddenly become and how totally out of nowhere this situation had come from. I mean the kid almost won the freaking Rookie of the Year Award (finished second to Rafael Furcal) and had a 3.50 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. Oh yeah, and he was only 20-years-old! (Well, 21 after July 19...but still!) Then all of a sudden, he looks like he just forgot how to pitch. Take a look at his last three outings in the 2000 season and then look at his three playoff appearances:

2000 Regular Season
6.2 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 11 K, Win
7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K, Win
6 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 8 K, Win

2000 Playoffs
NLDS: GS, 0-0, 2.3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 13.50 ERA
NLCS: 2 G, GS, 1.1 IP, 1 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 2 K, 20.25 ERA

Keep in mind that his last start of the season was September 27 and his first start in the playoffs was October 3. Five days off was all he needed to lose everything. It was shocking.

It takes some time before one begins to realize that Ankiel is a real person (even if he was a Cardinal). And, I think, just as everyone was coming to that realization, they noticed Ankiel was not getting his stuff back. His mind was gone. This cheesy YouTube clip was the best visual evidence I could find of his collapse:

Keep in mind that same guy you saw throwing the ball to the screen is the same guy who had a 194 strikeouts in 175 innings at the age of 20. The same guy who, with a 9.98 K/IP ratio, is number one in the history of baseball of a 20-year-old. Better than Bert Blyleven, Bob Feller, C.C. Sabathia and Dwight Gooden. Take a look at this:

Most Strikeouts at the Age of 20:

Name - Ks, IP
Dwight Gooden - 268, 276.2
Bob Feller - 246, 296.2
Bert Blyleven - 224, 278.1
Christy Mathewson - 221, 336
Rick Ankiel - 194, 175

So all of this stuff happens, he has to go back through the minor league system, learn a new position, learn how to hit, deal with the fact he was dangerously close to being too old to be in baseball (being 28 and in the minors is typically not a good thing. See: Angel Berroa). Basically, he had to re-do the minor leagues process (and it is HARD to do it once, let alone twice).

And then, Thursday, his first day back in the big leagues, this happens:

And then Saturday, this happens:

Roy Hobbs anyone?

(Quick Cardinal Bashing: The Home Run Call By the Cardinals Announcers. What an absolutely terrible job of calling the August 9 home run by the Gay Louis Cardinals announcing crew. I mean, honestly, silence would have been better than what clunked out of their mouths. A message to the color commentator guy: Shut up. Denny Mathews or Ryan Lefebvre would have nailed that. Bob Davis , whom I despise, would have nailed that call. Put it this way, the call is supposed to enhance the moment, to bring the situation to life. The call given by the GayL crew dampened the moment. Watching this video on mute gives me more chills than watching it with the call - and that is sad.)


Ryan Braun has been a fascination of sorts for me this week on Here is some fun stuff I found about how amazing his first 69 games in the bigs has been.

Since 1901, only 22 men have produced a season in which they hit 20 or more home runs, had 55 RBI or more, batted .345 or higher and have stolen 10 or more bases. These men include:

Babe Ruth - 5 times, HOF
Larry Walker - 4 times, Played in Coors Field, Future HOF???
Rogers Hornsby - 2 times, HOF
Ken Williams - 2 times, Career .319 BA, 137 OPS+
Lou Gehrig - 2 times, HOF
Chuck Klein - 2 times, HOF
Mickey Mantle - 2 times, HOF
Jack Fournier - Career .313 BA, 142 OPS+
Babe Herman - .324 career BA, 140 OPS+
Freddie Lindstrom - HOF
Carl Reynolds - Career .302 BA
Lefty O’Doul - All-Star, .349 career BA, 143 OPS+
Tommy Holmes - All-Star, .302 career BA, 122 OPS+
Willie Mays - HOF
Tommy Davis - All-Star, injuries killed his career
George Brett - HOF
Cecil Cooper - All-Star, finished in top 5 of MVP voting three times
Jeff Bagwell - Future HOF
Alex Rodriguez - Future HOF
Nomar Garciaparra - Career .315 BA despite injuries
Derek Jeter - Future HOF
Darin Erstad - All-Star
Ryan Braun - Contingent on him finishing the season with a .345 batting average.

By my count, that is nine Hall of Famers, three future Hall of Famers, six guys who would be in the Hall of Fame if Major League Baseball had the same standards as the National Football League and two guys who we will never know about due to injury.

Now if you take those same standards, but then put in the requirement that one must have those numbers and be at or under the age of 25, this is what one would get:

Name (age)
Mantle - 2 times (24 and 25)
Ruth (25)
Hornsby (25)
Gehrig (24)
Lindstrom (24)
Davis (23)
Rodriguez (20!)
Garciaparra (25)
Jeter (25)
Braun (23) - If he finishes with a .345 BA

Here is another fun one - .340 BA, 20+ HR season at the age of 23:

Name - BA, HR
Al Simmons - .387, 24
Albert Pools - .359, 43
Ted Williams - .356, 36
Joe Medwick - .353, 23
Tommy Davis - .346, 27
Ryan Braun - .345, 21 (If he hits .340... Stats as of 8/10)
Willie Mays - .345, 41
Don Mattingly - .343, 23
Jeff Heath - .343, 21
Hal Trotsky - .343, 42
Hanley Ramirez - .342, 20

Another thing to consider is that the Brewers have two players on their roster who could be the 16th and 17th players EVER to hit 40+ home runs in a season at the age of 23:

Name - Current HR, Rank
Prince Fielder - 36, T18 (Stats as of 8/11)
Ryan Braun - 22, T108 (Stats as of 8/11)

Braun is a bit of a reach for 40 homers, but it is possible.

ANYWAY, let’s say Braun does hit 40 home runs and drives in 100-plus and hits .335. Look at the company he would be in for that kind of a season:


Albert Pools - .359, 43 HR, 124 RBI
Hal Trotsky - .343, 42 HR, 162
Willie Mays - .345, 41 HR, 110

Here is the point: Braun is good.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I tried really hard attempting to find a good intro for this blog… but I couldn’t. So, first, I will give you this video:

Now, I will tell you that this blog will be about the Ten Best Free Agent Pickups So Far This Season.


It should be noted that an acquisition does not count if the player was drafted. Magglio Ordonez and David Wright are the two examples of this.

Before we begin, here is a…

Lifer: Picked up by and stayed with the same team
Originally Picked Up By: Self explanatory
Found a Home With: Team the player has been the most successful with so far
Currently With: Self explanatory
Multiple Lovers: Player was successful with more than one team
Flirted With: Spent minimal time with team

Now, we start…

10) Kelvim Escobar
Originally Pickup Up By: Jessica Alba
Multiple Lovers: Jessica Alba, Inoculators and 300
Currently With: Inoculators

Escobar is the head of a series of pitchers who have come out of nowhere to be huge players in our league. Guys like James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Oliver Perez are examples of this. Escobar gets the nod over all of them because he has produced more points than any of them. I also believe he is the most likely to continue his current success.

To be honest, this was the toughest decision I had to make regarding the whole list. This spot has fluctuated between several players who will be mention later once the list is done.

9) Justin Upton
Lifer: Inoculators

Many of you are going to be mad about this placement of Justin Upton. You will point to the people who have been left off this list who have produced FAR more than Upton has this year. Many of you will also state that the only reason why Upton is in this particular spot is because I currently own him.

Well, this list was made before Upton cleared waivers. Upton was already on it (except he was one spot higher). I made this list and decision full heartedly believing Upton would be picked up by either Kimball or Erik (for sure I thought Erik would pick him up, he always picks up prospects). But he didn’t and now I am the most excited owner in the league.

I’m telling you, this guy is going to be good.

At the very least, Upton, who was the first pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, is already ahead of Alex Gordon, the second pick in the 2005 MLB Draft.

Games to get to four career hits:

Upton: 4
Gordon: 10

Yeah, that was a low blow… oh well.

8) Placido Polanco
Lifer: Jessica Alba

Alba has made few good decisions the year, but Polanco was a great one. Polanco is currently rated as the third best fantasy second baseman and is rated as the 23rd best position player in fantasy.

Honestly, as this list will show, Alba made some decent pickups of players. But he was never able to get great return value from them because of either poor trades or because he dropped them. But Polanco is a definite bright spot in what has been a dreadful season for Schilb.

7) Tim Lincecum
Lifer: The Zou

Lincecum is now the cornerstone (with Ryan Braun) of the Zou’s future. The combination of Braun and Lincecum will haunt most of us forever.

What may kill Lincecum, however, is that he plays for the only team in the NL West that sucks. Consider the rising talent of Arizona and Colorado and then think of the beast that is the Los Angeles Dodgers Farm System and their wallet, it may be difficult for the Giants and Lincecum to get the wins his talent deserves.

6) Fausto Carmona
Originally Picked Up By: Inoculators
Flirted With: Tones
Found a Home With: 300
Currently With: The Zou

Carmona is here over Lincecum for two reasons: One, he’s in the American League Central, and, two, the Indians have the talent to support Carmona more effectively.

Carmona has the luxury of not being the guy. Lincecum is the guy, especially since the Giants are paying $18 million a year to a guy who has been relegated to the bullpen for a while. Carmon has C.C. Sabathia and an explosive offense to take pressure off of him. Plus, he does not carry the burden of a guy who was picked in the first round of the draft or was top overseas signing.

The only question with Carmona is can he consistently repeat the season he is having over and over again. Right now, I don’t know the answer to that question.

5) JJ Putz
Lifer: Inoculators

Did you know that Putz is currently the number one fantasy closer and ranks 19 amongst ALL fantasy pitchers in our league?

Don’t have much more to add to that other than he has been the most consistent dominating closer of the season so far.

4) Ryan Braun
Lifer: The Zou

Braun is Jesus.

3) Ken Griffey Jr.
Originally Picked Up By: The Zou
Found a Home With: KC

I had to go through the draft four or five time to confirm that Ken Griffey Jr. was not drafted. Who would have thought six years ago that there would be a fantasy draft where Griffey was not drafted?

Additionally, Griffey is going to be first person to hit 600 home runs and everybody will feel disappointed. Not because of the reasons that people are disappointed with Bonds about, but because everyone just assumed Griffey would be the one chasing this record.

At the end of 2000, Griffey had 438 career home runs. He had hit 40 or more home runs 7 of the last 8 seasons. He had continued that pace, he would have been at about 700 home runs going into this season. And he is only 37 years old…

Granted, the idea of Griffey averaging 40-plus bombs a season between the ages of 31-36 seems like a stretch. But when you consider the softball field that is the Great American Ball Park, Griffey’s swing – a natural, upper-cut, home run swing – and he would have had to additional motivation and pressure from the surging Bonds help propel his game, who knows what could have happened.

I still think it would be neat if Griffey went to an American League team, DHed, and tried to sluggout another 200 bombs. Given the nature of the DH position and the way athletes stay in shape, I think Griffey would have a legitimist chance of doing it, given the right setting. I mean, he does have 26 homers in 103 games this season. Griffey will have at least 600 home runs by the end of this year. Bonds had 613 home runs at the end of the season in which he was 37 years old. He then followed it with two 45 home run seasons, a five home run season, a 26 home run season and the 21 home runs he currently has this season.

I don’t know, but I think, if Griffey really wanted to, he could, at least, break Hank Aaron’s record.

2) Prince Fielder
Lifer: Inoculators

If you want to know how deep last seasons pool of National League rookies was last season, note that Prince Fielder’s .271, 28, 81 season was enough to earn him two points in the rookie of the year voting. Two out of 160 for a 28 home run rookie season. Here was the final tally last year:

Hanley Ramirez (14) 105
Ryan Zimmerman (10) 101
Dan Uggla (6) 55
Josh Johnson (2) 11
Matt Cain 4
Andre Either 4
Prince Fielder 2
Takashi Saito 2
Russell Martin 1
Scott Olsen 1
Anibal Sanchez 1
Josh Willingham 1


Fielder leads all undrafted position players in points, is the second rated first baseman (behind Albert Pujols…go figure) and rates 21st overall amongst all players, including pitchers.

I feel that he will be a steal at the 28th round pick next March.

1) C.C. Sabathia
Originally Picked Up By: Inoculators
Found a Home With: The Zou
Currently With: 300

Like we didn’t see this one coming…

Sabathia has had an excellent fantasy season (rating fourth amongst all fantasy players) and is entering a contract season next year.

I assume that, if Sabathia is kept by 300, he will be reaping the benefits of his decision in the playoffs next year.


These Guys Were “Buck O’Neiled”

John Maine
Originally Picked Up By: Inoculators
Found a Home With: The Zou
Flirted With: 300
Currently With: Inoculators

Oliver Perez
Lifer: The Zou

James Shields
Lifer: The Zou

Kevin Youkilis
Lifer: 300

Not “Buck O’Neiled” but Better than Honorable Mention

Mike Lowell
Lifer: 300

Jeremy Guthrie
Originally Picked Up By: Tones
Found a Home With: Inoculators

Honorable Mentions (no particular order)

Aaron Rowand – 300
Shane Victorino - Inoculators
Brad Hawpe – Inoculators and Jessica Alba
Jose Valverde - Smurfs
Al Reyes – Tones
Hunter Pence – Zou
Yovani Gallardo – Zou
Kelly Johnson – Inoculators
Mark Buehrle – Jessica Alba
JJ Hardy – Phantom Menaces
Rich Hill – KC
Brandon Phillips - Inoculators

For fun, here is the list of the Five Plus One worst Free Agent Pickups of the Season:

5) A.J Pierzynski by Jessica Alba
4) Homer Bailey by The Zou
3) Anthony Reyes by Jessica Alba
2) Jason Kendall by Jessica Alba
1) Kip Wells by Jessica Alba

Bonus: John Buck by Jessica Alba

Friday, August 3, 2007

From 4 to 1

Is Ryan Braun the next Albert Pujols?

My brain has many thoughts. Here are some examples:

I have this creepy feeling like the Cardinals are going to win their division again.
I have to pee.

(Hold on, I’ll be back…)

The Royals must sign pitching before hitting this season, even if it means they don’t get a “masher.”
I have a feeling a BIG trade involving either Teahen or DeJesus will happen this offseason.
If my understanding of the fantasy playoff system is correct, the Phantom Menaces will not make the playoffs.
It’s almost football season…
Electricity, at times, can be gay.

See, I have thoughts. Now that we have proven that I have them, here are my thoughts on the four teams I think will make the playoffs and the team I feel will eventually win it all. I will start at “4” and work my way down…or up…or whatever way it is.

4) Tones

I do not think the Tones are all that good. What the Tones do have going for them is an insane infield lineup and the best pitcher in the game. The problem is, at least for this year, is that hitting cannot lead your team to victory in this league. You need pitching. Outside of Johan Santana, the Tones do not have anyone consistent enough to get them far in the playoffs.

What will get the Tones into the playoffs is that the Phantom Menaces will get in too big of a hole in the month of August. Injuries have killed that team. KC is 1-4 the last five weeks (and is losing 117.5 to -23.5 this week) and Jessica Alba is, well, Jessica Alba.

I think the Tones will be strong enough to take that division, but I do not think he will fair well in the playoffs.

One thing is for sure, however: If the Tones decided to keep any combination of Pujols, Reyes, Wright and Santana and has a solid draft, he will be very tough to beat next season.

3) Smurfs

It’s not that I don’t like this team, because I do. How could you not like a team with AROD, Alex Rios, Gary Sheffield, Eric Bedard and Aaron Harang?

The problem is that he made no moves to get better over the deadline. My understanding is that he is operating under the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” rule. And right now, to his credit, nothing is broken. He has the best record in the league at 11-6, has an offense that has produced more runs, home runs and triples than any other team in the league and he has a pitching staff that includes the highest point producing pitcher (Bedard).

But here are some things he may not have considered:

Eric Bedard is 13-19 with a 4.20 ERA in the second half of the season for his career. He also has a significantly higher BB/9 ratio in the second half. He is also 2-8 with at 5.30 ERA in his career for the month of August.

Aaron Harang fairs better than Bedard in the second half with a career 26-23 record. But Harang sees a sharp increase in walks in the second half of the season and a significant increase in his ERA. Since the Reds will not be playing for anything, one has to wonder if Harang will get the run support he needs to continue winning games at his current rate.

Carlos Lee, the slugging left fielder, generally struggles in the month of August. His .287/.335./.465 clip is by far his worst month of the season for his career. Lee also strikes out far more in August than he does in any other month. September is not much better for Lee as he is a .288 hitter and slugs .473 – this is down from his .500+ slugging months of May through July.

Surprisingly, even Alex Rodriguez has his weaknesses. His September numbers are by far and away his worst numbers of the year. He is a career .278 hitter in September (compared to .300+ in every month but July where he hits .296) with less power and more strikeouts.

The point is that it is a huge risk staying pat as other teams around you get better. Consider that the Boston Red Sox, despite having the best record in the majors, made a trade at the deadline to improve their team. Same with the Braves, Mets, Padres, Dodgers and Phillies. I think not doing anyting to his roster will end up hurting the Smurfs in the end.

2) Inoculators

The Inoculators have several great and important pieces to help in a run for the league title.

First is Jake Peavy. Peavy is a healthy, strikeout pitcher, in the best pitchers park in baseball, who is at his best in the second half of the season and is in a playoff race. One cannot ask for more than that for their stud pitcher.

Peavy is backed, as he is in real life, by Chris Young who has this thing about not allowing hits or runs. He also strikes out his fair share of batters. The two concerns with Young would be his health and his tendency to give up more runs in the second half than he does in the first. Young is currently on the DL with a minor Oblique strain. It is said he could have pitched on his regularly scheduled start, but they opted to put him on the DL to protect him for the stretch run. Young’s second half ERA, which is 4.09 is partially inflated because of his time in Texas, but it is something to keep an eye on. Young’s second half record is 11-5 for his career.

The Inoculators also has pitchers who are generally hot and are in some kind of playoff chase. Carlos Zambrano (7-1, 1.53 ERA in his last 8 starts), Kelvim Escobar (5-2, 2.75 ERA in last 10 starts) and John Maine (6-1, 2.73 ERA in last 8 starts) are all pitching extremely well as they head into the final two months of tight races for their respective divisions.

Everyday Jeremy Guthrie continues to pitch well is an added bonus. Same with Javier Vazquez, who could still get traded to a contending team via a waiver deal.

The Inoculators have the number one ranked closer in fantasy in J.J. Putz who is also playing on a contending team. Brett Meyers’ ability to close games and fill a start position on the fantasy roster allows the Inoculators to start three closers everyday. The addition of Kerry Wood, who may end up closing games for the Cubs, could boost that number to four closers active all at once.

Needless to say, the Inoculators have a good enough pitching staff to win it for them. The offense is a different subject.

Prince Fielder has hit only two homers since the All-Star break. Hanley Ramirez has separated his shoulder and is a concern for the rest of the season, even though he is still playing. Billy Butler is the DH for the Inoculators, which is asking a lot of a guy who has shown average power thus far.

There are bright spots. Manny Ramirez and Bobby Abreu are warming up from their first half disasters. Brian Roberts, with the injury to Chase Utley, is the top second baseman in fantasy and Eric Byrnes should be slugging his way through the second half to increase his stock on the free agent market for the offseason.

Alex Gordon and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are two guys who could provide surprise points to this squad.

But if the Inoculators want to win the league, their pitching is what is going to have to do it for them.

1) Zou

The Zou is not number one because of their deadline deal with 300 or because they have a superior roster. To be honest, the 300 trade may have hurt the Zou for this season and they do not have a better roster than the Smurfs or the Inoculators.

What the Zou does have is luck.

This is not to say the Zou is a bad squad and is not meant to be an insult. To be honest, if someone wants to win a fantasy title, luck is needed to get it done. The Zou appears to have the most luck so far.

Consider the free agent pick ups of C.C. Sabathia, John Maine, James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, Oliver Perez, Hunter Pence and Ryan Braun and you’ll get the point.

Granted there is skill involved in picking those guys up (except for maybe C.C. Sabathia, the guy who dropped him is an idiot), but at the same time no one expected Ryan Braun to hit home runs at the same pace Lindsay Lohan is picking up DUI’s.

The strength of the Zou’s roster is its pitching. Veterans Tim Hudson (5-0, 2.31 ERA in last 7 starts), John Smoltz (5-3, 2.54 ERA in last 11 starts) and Ben Sheets (currently on the DL) – all of whom are in playoff chases ­– anchor a slew of young, talented arms. Here is a (long) list of them:

Dan Haren 7-1, 3.46 ERA in last 10 starts
Tim Lincecum – 4-0, 1.34 ERA in last 6 starts
Oliver Perez – 10-7, 3.00 ERA this season
James Shields – 8-7, 128 K this season
Yovani Gallardo – 3-0, 2.68 ERA, 37 IP, 32 K in 6 starts this season
Fausto Carmona – 5-1, 1.74 ERA, 34 K in his last 6 starts
Cole Hamels – 4-3, 3.43 ERA, 52 K in last 10 starts
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 5-5, 2.65 ERA, 74 K in last 11 starts
Phil Hughes – 6.1, 6 Ks in his last start before getting hurt

An issue with young pitching is expirence and the chance for a burn out. Here are the career highs in innings pitchers for all of them: high (year) [this season IP]

Dan Haren – 223 (2006) [155]
Tim Lincecum – 98.1 (2007)
Oliver Perez – 196 (2004 – last two years: 103, 112.1) [120]
James Shields – 151 (2007)
Yovani Gallardo – 46.1 (2007)
Fausto Carmona – 137.2 (2007)
Cole Hamels – 146.2 (2007)
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 144 IP (2007, does not include time in Japan)
Phil Hughes – 10.2 (2007)

Ignoring Dice-K, 6 of the 8 pitchers on this list have already reached career highs, many of whom have blasted their career highs, in innings pitched this season. At what point do these guys wear down?

But most of these pitchers will hold up. Why? Because Erik has the luck flowing for him this season. Ryan Braun anyone? Not to say it doesn’t take skill to know Braun is going to be good and to pick him up (it should be noted I picked him up for a week or two) but for Braun to hit 18 home runs and bat .343 is rather ridiculous. Want to know how ridiculous that is? Look at this:

In year of debut, at least 15 HR, 50 RBI, BA .325 or higher:

Albert Pujols - .329, 37, 130 (161 games, 2001) Future Hall of Famer
Ted Williams - .327, 31, 145 (149 games, 1939) HOF
Dale Alexander - .343, 25, 137 (155 games, 1929) 2 batting titles in five MLB seasons, but career ended by leg injuries
Johnny Frederick - .328, 24, 75 (148 games, 1929) Career shortened by injuries after 6 seasons
Johnny Mize - .329, 19, 93 (126 games, 1936) HOF
Ryan Braun - .343, 18, 50 (61 games, 2007) Erik’s hero
Earl Averill - .332, 18, 96 (151 games, 1929) HOF
George Watkins - .373, 17, 87 (119 games, 1930) Was 30-years-old in year of debut


The luck is on Erik’s side, that is why he gets the nod at number one.

One other thing:

Albert Pujols (first 61 games): .352, 18, 58
Ryan Braun (first 61 games): .343, 18, 50

Just saying...