Sunday afternoon’s affair between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels proved to be a good old fashioned pitching duel with the AL West-leading Angels coming out on top, 2-0. With the win, the Halos avoided a three-game sweep at home. It’s been almost a year since the last time such an event happened at Angel Stadium to the home squad.
Joe Saunders continued his surprising breakthrough season for the Angels by tossing 7 1/3 innings, scattering six hits while striking out three for his tenth win. Jorge Campillo was almost as impressive in his seventh start of the season for the Braves, hurling a complete game seven-hitter, fanning seven and walking none.
The Braves threatened in the first inning after a Yunel Escobar lead-off single was followed by a Kelly Johnson single, putting runners on first and second with no outs. But early season NL MVP favourite Chipper Jones struck out in the next at bat followed by a Mark Teixeira double play grounder that ended the threat. Unfortunately, this was likely the best chance Atlanta had all day to get on the board.
The teams continued to toss goose eggs at one another be scoreless until the fifth inning when the Halos tallied the only two runs of the game. Vladimir Guerrero (who’s heating up, having hit safely in a season-best seven straight games) led off with a double, but after a Torii Hunter strike out, Casey Kotchman , one of the season’s most pleasant surprises, stepped up to the plate and whacked his seventh home run of the season (but first since late-April), putting the Angels up 2-0 and starting and ending the scoring on the day with one swing of the bat.
The Braves threatened one more time in the sixth with another single by Escobar as well as a single by Teixeira. A Saunders wild pitch by Saunders advanced the runners to second and third with two outs, but Jeff Francoeur harmlessly flied out to end the inning, effectively ending the threat for the Compton South Dakota Angels of California.
Francisco Rodriguez relieved Saunders in the ninth and mowed down the side for his major league leading 28th save, pushing the Angels record to 42-28, while the Braves slid to 34-36, dropping into a tie with the Mets for third place in the NL East.
Escobar, a Cuban defector, has quickly become a major fantasy factor among other emerging young shortstops around the majors. He is making the Braves’ front office look smart after dealing away Edgar Renteria this past offseason. Escobar has already topped his rookie totals with six dingers and 30 RBI, while batting a very solid .303. In keeper leagues, it’s worth your while to try to acquire him him in the long run as he is only 25 years old (well that’s his listed age, anyways; maybe he’s 38 a la Miguel Tejada) and is producing in only his second year in the majors. While finding him on waivers in any league would be next to impossible, make sure this guy is in your starting lineup constantly as he is getting on base at an impressive .379 clip and will only continue to improve with each game.
Francoeur has been struggling mightily this season. For the second straight year, he looks headed for under 20 home runs, as he has only bashed eight this season, and with a .253 BA, the progress he made in his hitting last season has been lose. After a horrid May, he’s been slightly better in June, but at .264 with only two round trippers, I’d hardly term it a recovery. With his OPS sitting at only 722, it might be time to sideline the young the outfielder until he starts performing at the level you drafted for. This is especially an issue if your fantasy league factors in OBP, where his currently sits at a putrid .303. July is historically Francoeur’s best month, so try to be patient.
Johnson, the Braves’ keystone corner man, has been putting up respectable numbers that could definitely help out your fantasy team. While he only went 1-for-4 on Sunday, and is in a mini slump the past few days, he’s batting .283 for the year, with a respectable seven home runs, putting him on pace for a new career high in dingers. Johnson will steal you a handful of bases, accumulating six so far on the season, also well on pace for a new career best in that department. He is just 26, so if you are in a keeper league it’s definitely worth your while to hold on to him as the middle infield tandem of Escobar and Johnson has plenty of room for growth.
Saunders is having a monster season, moving into a tie for the league lead in wins on Sunday. A 10-3 record with an ERA of just 3.06 will likely land him a spot on the All-Star roster as well as a potential big contract down the road. He won’t strike out many (only 46 on the season, and a declining K/9 for the second straight year), but thanks to the Ws and his control (leading to a nice WHIP), Saunders has been a major fantasy find this year, so kudos to those of you who had the foresight to jump on his early in the season. Prior to this season, Saunders, who turns 27 today (Happy Birthday Joe!) had a career high of just eight wins, set in 2007. Well, not only has he already surpassed that this season, but he’s headed for a ridiculous 23 wins. If you have the pieces, take a look at trading for this stud as he might be reaching the peak of his pitching in the next couple of years. Given his weak K totals, Saunders is a true stud in 4 x 4 leagues.
If you didn’t already know that K-Rod is a stud, then you’ve been in hibernation for the greater part of this decade. This season, even though his K rate is uncharacteristically low, he is really dominating, leading the majors with 28 saves while chalking up a miniscule ERA of 2.03. I’m not even going to give you advice about him fantasy wise because if you need it, you shouldn’t be playing fantasy baseball. Unless it’s involving a trade. Then, I’ll help you.
Gary Matthews, Jr. is showing that his career season two seasons ago might have indeed been a little PED-induced (at least if just looking at his BA). In the Angels’ logjam of an outfield, he is batting only .243 which is by far the worst among the underperforming star outfielders. Matthews’ seven home runs and 31 RBI put him just a bit off the pace of his career year with the Rangers in which he belted 19 home runs and knocked in 79 while batting .313, the season that earned him a huge contract from the Angels. Fortunately, Matthews is headed in the right direction, batting .348 in June with a couple of stolen bases already. Given how hot he’s been, he’s worth another look on the waiver wire and if you already own him, Matthews should be a regular in your lineup as he could give you a power boost as well as offer some help in the always-hard-to-find stolen base category.
It’s conceivable (but highly unlikely) that depending how big your league is, Kotchman could be out there, as he’s cooled off considerably this month. Take a peek; you don’t want to miss an opportunity if some bonehead dumped him.
Scot Shields tossed his ninth straight scoreless outing, trimming his ERA to a sparkling 2.81 through 25 2/3 IP. After enduring a rough May, Shields is rolling, making him a superb target in AL-only leagues, especially those tracking holds.
Atlanta youngster Brandon Jones smacked a single to give him a 6-for-11 series against the Halos. Time to invest in this kid in NL-only leagues, and definitely in any keeper league.
Erick Aybar is making progress in his rehab, so it won’t be long until Maicer Izturis’ fantasy use could wane. Stay on top of this situation as Aybar was enjoying somewhat of a breakout before busting a digit last month. Izturis, by the way, has been heating up big time, but his 13-game hitting streak came to an end Sunday.
Since coming back from his quad injury, Chipper is just 2-for-15, dropping him to a mere .402. What a stiff, eh?