Sunday, April 25, 2004

Time to ride out April hot streaks


Fantasy baseball

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What, you mean Henry Blanco isn't going to finish with 41 home runs and 135 RBI this season? Or that Barry Bonds won't stay on his current pace to finish with 100 homers and 200 RBI? Well, surely Roger Clemens will finish 37-0 with a 0.87 ERA. Right?

Ah, April. Nothing like drooling over those stat projections. But now's as good a time as any to look at who's hot, and whether or not we can expect this to last.

We'll start with Blanco, who has morphed into Carlton Fisk while filling in for the injured Joe Mauer and Matthew LeCroy in Minnesota. Blanco, a career .222 hitter, managed to blast three home runs (his career high is seven) and piled up 10 RBI in just 32 at-bats.

The 33-year-old has reportedly shortened his swing and isn't trying to hit three doubles in each at-bat now that he knows he's going to be playing every day. With the Twins averaging around six or seven runs every time out, it's a decent bet Blanco's hot bat will sizzle for a few more weeks, though he'll be back on the bench sometime in May when the Twins' top two catchers come off the DL.

Bonds is out of control right now, and was named NL Player of the Week after batting .733 with six homers and 13 RBI. He came into this week hitting .500 for the season and having homered in six straight games where he registered at least one at bat.

And to think I actually hesitated for a split second in taking him with the third pick in my fantasy draft. Right now my arm is in a sling from continually patting myself on the back.

Speaking of old superstars who can still bring it, how about Clemens? He's 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA and looks as dominant as ever. Why in the heck did he think he was ready to retire anyway? He might be 41, but he went 17-9 last year, didn't he? Let's face it - Roger is a freak of nature, the Cy Young of his time, and it looks as though owners can count on another solid season, though surely a few speed bumps await - most notably his start this weekend at Coors Field. Stay tuned.

When they aren't playing slow-pitch softball with the Reds or Pirates at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are producing a stable of sizzling fantasy performers.

Right now nobody is hotter than Moises Alou (.340-6-12 through the first dozen games) or Aramis Ramirez (on a 14-for-26 tear with 15 RBI coming into this week).

Even infielders like Todd Walker, Alex Gonzalez and Derek Lee (a notoriously slow starter) are getting into the act. It helps when every Chicago game not started by Kerry Wood seems to end up an 11-10 slugfest. For now, you need to be riding as many of the Cubs as you can, and there's no reason not to think guys like Alou, Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (remember him?) will keep pounding the balls out of Wrigley all year long.

Chances are good that if you have a Pittsburgh player with the last name of Wilson you're a happy camper. Jack Wilson (.391-2-6 with three steals) has been a waiver wire wonder at shortstop, while the versatile Craig Wilson (.396-4-8) has been red hot as well.

Pirates closer Jose Mesa has five saves and hadn't given up an earned run coming into this week. Like many owners, I'm joyfully riding Jack Wilson as long as I can, knowing this guy has never been close to this kind of production in his short career. While I find it hard to believe he'll be hitting over .300 in August, I'm willing to ride him until he peters out.

As for Craig Wilson, his playing time figures to dwindle a bit with Jason Bay getting healthy and the Pirates already overloaded with left-handed hitters.

Mesa is Mesa, which means at any time he could completely implode and blow three or four saves in a row.

But this is April, and anything seems possible. One hundred home runs? Two hundred RBI? Forty wins? Why not? Heady days like these put the "fantasy" in fantasy baseball, don't they? Enjoy it while it lasts.

Hot box

Pick him up: Sean Casey, 1B, Reds. He bumped up his average to .396 earlier this week with a three-hit game against Atlanta, and while the home runs haven't shown up yet, Casey is a safe bet to finish with 15-20 by season's end.

Sit him down: Joe Borowski, RP, Cubs. What kind of dirt does he have on Dusty Baker anyway? Despite Borowski's 9.00 ERA and an obvious loss of velocity Baker insisted recently that dumping him as the team's closer would be "premature." All we know is that not only has prized free agent LaTroy Hawkins been essentially unhittable so far in 2004, he also has plenty of closing experience from his days in Minnesota.

Keep an eye on: Erubiel Durazo, 1B, Oakland. We all his remember his tantalizing 1999 debut in Arizona (.329-11-30 in just 52 games) but we keep waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... yet Durazo still underachieves. In the first 13 games of 2004 he was hitting .267 with no RBI. How long can you afford to take this kind of production from your first baseman?

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John Nemo can be reached at johnmnemo@yahoo.com




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