AP Photo/Mike Carlson
It's the stat line fantasy owners dream of: Four at-bats. Four hits. Two runs scored. One RBI. And six -- count 'em, six -- stolen bases.
You read that right. Carl Crawford tied a modern major-league record by stealing six bases in a game, joining a select group that includes Eddie Collins (twice in 1912), Otis Nixon (1991) and Eric Young (1996). He also leapfrogged Jacoby Ellsbury, one of his opponents Sunday, to snatch the major league lead in the category with 17.
Crawford's -- and the Rays' -- success is actually demonstrative of a changing in the tide across the major leagues. With a hair more than 15 percent of 2009's scheduled games now in the books, Major League Baseball is on pace for 3,136 stolen bases, the most it has seen in 10 seasons. Steals production is actually up 12.0 percent from 2008, and 12.9 percent from the 2000-2008 average. Take that, "Moneyball"!
The Rays are most responsible for that change, at least in the past year and a month. With their major-league-leading 40 steals this season, 10 ahead of the second-place Angels, they have 182 steals since Opening Day 2008. Some of that has been a product of a favorable schedule; 20 of the Rays' 26 games have come against the Orioles, Red Sox, Twins (sans Mauer), White Sox and Yankees, five teams with weak-armed starting catchers, and in those games they have 35 of their 40 steals. But they have five steals in their other six games -- this is a team that has proved it's willing to take chances on the base paths.
Also take note, matchup seekers, that Jason Varitek was the victim of the Rays' six steals, meaning he has surrendered a major-league-leading 24 on the season. Tampa Bay exposed Varitek's inadequacies in that area, and other teams are sure to follow. Taking into account the two categories I use in the Forecaster to measure catchers' ability to gun down opposing base-stealers -- caught-stealing percentage (CS%) and what I call "steals rate," which, like ERA, is the number of steals attempted against the catcher per nine innings -- here are the eight (current) starting catchers who, so far, have been most Varitek-esque:
Nick Hundley, Padres: 0.0 CS% (21 SB allowed), 1.25 rate
Gregg Zaun, Orioles: 18.2 CS%, 1.31 rate
Varitek: 21.2 CS%, 1.83 rate
A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox: 5.6 CS%, 0.98 rate
Rod Barajas, Blue Jays: 28.6 CS%, 1.10 rate
Geovany Soto, Cubs: 23.5 CS%, 1.05 rate
Jorge Posada, Yankees: 34.5 CS%, 1.96 rate
Dioner Navarro, Rays: 21.1 CS%, 0.99 rate
• Weather presented some real problems around the league Sunday, as rain forced the postponements of games in New York (Yankees), Philadelphia and Washington. Unfortunately, the forecasts don't improve much in those cities in the next several days, so expect more rotation shuffling as more games get washed out. Before Sunday's postponement, in fact, the Cardinals had announced they'd use reliever Kyle McClellan to start in place of Kyle Lohse. Lohse and fellow Sunday starters Joe Blanton, Phil Hughes, John Lannan, John Maine and Joe Saunders will all now start Monday. The Mets also might be rooting for midweek rain; they've made it pretty clear they have no intention of starting Oliver Perez when his turn in the rotation arrives Friday.
• Matt LaPorta's major-league debut couldn't have been more forgettable; he went 0-for-4, struck out twice and left four men on base, including two in scoring position. As good as Justin Verlander looked in the game, though, we'll forgive him. Besides, that Verlander was his opponent means LaPorta isn't a candidate to sit against tough right-handers, at least not unless he strings together a few of these outings. I'm very much in line with Jason Grey's take on LaPorta: Take a shot on him, even in mixed formats.
• Scott Baker's outing was a tale of two pitchers, but for as much as his six no-hit innings offer encouragement, I'm still bothered by the fact that with the home run he served up to Jose Guillen, he has allowed eight homers in 20 2/3 regular-season frames after giving up nine in 23 2/3 innings in the spring. That's the kind of performance that derailed his 2006, and that he already has made a trip to the disabled list this season doesn't bode well, either. Baker has been inching closer toward his old self, but it's the setbacks and his homer-happy ways that do have me somewhat concerned.
• Bad news, Asdrubal Cabrera owners: A scoring change made almost 24 hours after Saturday's game robbed the second baseman of his double and three RBIs, instead charging Ryan Raburn with an error. Zach Miner benefits, as all five runs he allowed in the inning are now unearned, but chances are it's Cabrera's owners who were most affected; he's owned in 56.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, compared to 0.5 percent for Miner.
• In helping his Dodgers set a franchise record with their 10th consecutive home victory to begin a season, Chad Billingsley picked up his fifth win in six starts, all six of those quality-start efforts. Beating the Padres shouldn't be taken as any great feat, but including his previous five turns, Billingsley's season numbers are now a 2.21 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .188 batting average allowed, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.6 strikeouts per walk. It's unlikely he'll be able to reach the 31 wins and 262 strikeouts he's on pace for, but if he can stay healthy, Billingsley has a good chance at top-five starter status.
• Because of his poor performance, Manny Corpas had already lost his grip on the closer's job, and now comes word from the Denver Post that his roster spot is in jeopardy. "Everything that can be said to Manny has been said. Everything," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's well aware of what he needs to do. We have laid it out in black and white. He's had a month and a half of good pitching in the last seven months in the big leagues. We need better than that for him to stay here. He's well aware of that." Even if Corpas can somehow avoid demotion, Huston Street's hold on the closer job appears stronger than ever. Street had a save and three scoreless innings while pitching each of the past four days; Corpas has been scored on in five of his past eight outings.
John Baker, Marlins
The Marlins are really using Baker nicely, having started him only twice in 10 games against a left-handed starter and sitting him only once in favor of Ronny Paulino versus a right-hander. Baker went 3-for-4 with a home run against the Cubs and righty Carlos Zambrano; he's now batting .327 with an .888 OPS against that side.
Justin Verlander, Tigers
For a second consecutive start, Verlander dominated, striking out 11 Indians en route to seven innings of one-run, two-hit baseball. It's his improvement in the strikeout category that bodes well for his future; he has 45 whiffs in 35 frames after never having managed a strikeout per inning in four previous big-league seasons. Even better: His next start will come against these same Indians on Friday.
That's how many starts Barry Zito made between streaks of three consecutive quality starts. With his seven shutout innings Sunday, he has three in a row; his most recent streak of three or more before that came between Aug. 12 and Sept. 14, 2007. That streak was seven. Out of those 37 starts, care to guess how many were quality starts? Sixteen, or 43.2 percent.
• Speaking of recently ineffective ex-closers, the Yankees placed Damaso Marte on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. He has been an unqualified disaster since coming over from Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady trade; since then, Marte has a 7.61 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 32 appearances. The Yankees' bullpen continues to suffer, having recently lost Brian Bruney to the DL. Anthony Claggett, whom you might remember as "that guy I never heard of who gave up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in the 22-4 nightmare," was promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to "help out."
• Hey, at least someone is getting legitimate bullpen help: The Twins activated Jesse Crain from the DL following Sunday's game, returning catcher Jose Morales to Triple-A Rochester now that Joe Mauer is healthy. Though Crain has had a lot of injury issues in his big-league career, he nevertheless has a 3.35 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 256 career appearances. He can help your ratios in deep AL-only formats.
Jerry Crasnick: Steve, the Rays are monitoring David Price's pitch counts, and he's pitched a grand total of 17 innings in 4 games. I think he'll be in Durham for at least a few more starts. Wade Davis has great stuff, but his control hasn't been very good. They need to get Kazmir and Sonnanstine going. Five starts each is a little quick to panic for a team that made the World Series.
-- Full chat transcript
Buster Olney: He could be the best pitcher in the majors over the next 5-8 years. There is really nothing that he can't do as a pitcher -- he throws hard, commands all of his pitches, can throw any pitch in any part of the count. Given his history, I hope he continues to draw joy out of pitching; that way, we can all enjoy his work.
-- Full chat transcript
Monday's fantasy chat schedule:
Tristan H. Cockcroft, 11 a.m.
Matthew Berry, 3 p.m.
• Gaby Sanchez registered his third consecutive multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a home run, two walks and three runs scored for Triple-A New Orleans. He's batting .345 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 22 games for the season, and has to be pleased that at the big-league level, Emilio Bonifacio is batting .152 with 19 strikeouts and only one extra-base hit in his past 16 contests. The Marlins might need to consider shifting Jorge Cantu back to third base and promoting Sanchez if those streaks hold up.
• Hefty slugger Kyle Blanks belted his fifth home run of the season for Triple-A Portland, and now comes word from the San Diego Union-Tribune that the 6-foot-6, 285-pound first baseman is practicing in left field before some games. If he can adapt to that new position, it would speed his ascent to the majors, as the Padres' best hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, mans first base at the big-league level. Hand it to the Padres -- they're creative in shuffling players defensively; they also bumped third-base prospect Chase Headley to the outfield last season in order to get him to San Diego faster.• For more on fantasy baseball's future stars, check out the minor league report Mondays through Fridays.
• Yovani Gallardo faces the Pirates, against whom he has a 1.95 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine in five career games (four starts).
• Continuing with the theme of Brewers domination, Mike Cameron is a lifetime .524 hitter (11-for-21) with three home runs versus Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm. He's also a .395 hitter (17-for-43) with three homers in 11 games at PNC Park since 2006.
• Matt Garza is 5-0 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in six career starts against the Orioles. He's also coming off a 10-strikeout, 7 2/3-inning near no-hitter.