If I am correct on my predictions, the NL pennant race will be a fun one.  I see three teams with playoff potential, and a fourth that is just shy of it.  Sorry San Diego fans, this isn’t your year. [Ed. Note -- JERK!]  Good news though, the Chinese calendar says it is going to be the year of the Tony Gwynn soon. [Ed. Note -- I take it back. Sorta.] (You can check out the AL West Spring Training Preview here, the AL Central Spring Training Preview here and the NL East Spring Training Preview here.)

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The Cardinals are sick of Edward Mujica not playing way over his head like the rest of their entire team. “You see Joe Kelly? He sucks and he’s pitching well. You see Seacrest?” “You mean Siegrist?” “Yeah, him. He’s dynamite! Pitch better than you’ve ever pitched in your life or you’re out.” Mujica couldn’t find the intestinal fortitude (maybe he didn’t eat enough Thai food) and was replaced from the closing role for a few days. The Cards bullpen is solid behind him, which makes it difficult to pinpoint who exactly is his replacement. It could be John Axford, Trevor Rosenthal or Kevin Siegrist. I’d own any of them, but more because of how solid they’ve been. For saves, I’d rank them Rosenthal, Axford then Siegrist. Then there’s Mark Melancon. Like a guy who never flushes his toilet, the crap has caught up to him and the Pirates are now going ‘one day at a time’ for who their closer is, which I believe was Clint Hurdle’s nod to the late-great Bonnie Franklin. Bonnie, we miss you every day and we love your son, Nick, for the man you made him. I’d absolutely own Jason Grilli if I were chasing saves, but I wouldn’t drop Melancon either. Unless you don’t need saves and no one can catch you because you’re more bomb dot com and less bomb dot org. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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Gerrit Cole has filthy stuff. He can hit 100 MPH with his fastball and make all four of our girl readers go, “Ooh…” Which reminds me of my Walk on the Wild Side remixed chorus, “And the four girl readers go doo do doo do doo do do doo.” There was a whole lot of nonsense, or whole lotta if we stick with the rock theme, when he was first called up that Cole didn’t want to strike people out. Does Alf not want to get back to Melmac?! Does macaroni not mean awesome when Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni!? Does everyone with glasses not look goofy on a 1980′s baseball card?! Ron Kittle? I rest my case! Of course, Cole wants to strike out guys. You can’t stop that! Yesterday, he struck out 12 of them. In 111 1/3 IP this year, he has a 7.60 K-rate and if you throw out June, when he was saying that nonsense about throwing to contact, his K-rate would be near 9. Oh, bee tee dubya, everything else is purdy, too. His FIP is 2.98, his walk rate is barely over 2, he gets ground balls. For 2014 fantasy baseball, Cole could easily be a top 20 starter for all of baseball and will be someone I’ll get plenty googly about this offseason. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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This post comes to you by the power of Greyskull! I have the power! The power of Greyskull dropped Justin Masterson earlier in the year after one bad start. I have a power outage! Then the power of Greyskull watched as the power of Rudyskull picked him up and has been reaping the rewards ever since, but the power of Rudyskull benched Masterson yesterday, so the power of Greyskull let out a small, fleeting smile. Yesterday, Masterson threw a complete game shutout. He’s been great all year with a 9+ K-rate. Yadda, yadda eff me. Just above him on the K-rate chart is a who’s who of the pitchers you want: F-Her, Sale, Samardzija, Miller, Harvey, Yu, Scherzer, etc. etc. etc. He also has one of the worst walk rates in that group (not bad overall, just in that group), which will hold Masterson out of the top tier of pitchers this year, but will make him ownable in all leagues and why the power of Greyskull failed me. I wonder if Skeletor is hiring. Anyway, here’s what else I saw this weekend in fantasy baseball:

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You ask and you shall receive! I had numerous requests for a Jeff Samardzija Pitcher Profile, and since I’d only seen the fire-baller throw maybe once or twice against my Brewers, I thought it would be a great idea to break him down for Razzball Nation.

I know the big righty features a huge fastball that flirts with the upper 90′s, but off the top of my head I couldn’t remember any specific secondary pitches so I was excited to really analyze one of his starts. Remember when he was the top WR target for Brady Quinn? Seems like ages ago! Remember when he was an erratic fixture in that Cubs bullpen along with Carlos Marmol? I bet some of those innings made even Steve Bartman cringe. But it’s much further down the road with Samardzija a fixture in that rotation (along with your fantasy squad’s staff) and a piece of the Cubs’ rebuilding future. Let’s go through how he hurled against the Diamondbacks on Saturday:

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How quickly things change. Last week, it was looking like Adam Eaton was close to returning from an elbow injury and A.J. Pollock would be the odd man out in the Arizona outfield. Well, one setback later, Pollock looks good to go as a part of the four-man Arizona outfield and he’s worth watching in deeper formats. He’ll get starts against lefties and maybe more, so he’s a guy that you’ll have to play the matchups with unless he really catches fire. Meanwhile, Adam Eaton is probably not going to do much in the way of baseball for about three weeks and probably won’t be fantasy relevant until the end of June at the earliest. He was so close to returning too. Kind of like crashing your car with one payment left. We’ll take a look at matchups for all the members of the stolen base leaderboard for Week 9. As always, all players listed are owned in less than 50% of ESPN leagues and Sunday’s stats are not included.

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Curtis Granderson left last night’s game in the fifth inning after being hit by a pitch on the hand and fracturing his knuckle. The Yankees expect Grandy to miss at least four weeks so obviously this is a big blow to fantasy owners who just got him back a little over a week ago. Some luck, if you remember correctly it was a HBP in the forearm that sent him to the DL back in March. Someone has to invest in some new armor for Granderson, I recommended Barry Bonds’ metal-plated sleeve, but chainmail is always nice as well. Anyway, these are the breaks. Curtis Blow said that, and Curtis Granderson is living it. He was batting .269 through eight games but already had a home run, a stolen base and a couple of three hit games so the outlook was promising. Thems the breaks, right Curtis!? In the interim, I guess we can expect Ichiro or Vernon Wells to continue to see plenty of playing time, and Brennan Boesch should see plenty of burn as well, but I don’t see much value with Boesch outside AL-Only. Don’t be too sad, Yankee fans, you were doing just fine without him. Maybe Curtis Mayfield said it even better, “you’re gonna make your fortune by and by, but if you lose don’t ask no questions why.” Superfly! In other words, I’m sure there’s a deal-with-it gif on the googles or the tumblrs out there for you to look at (here, here and here), but the three Curtis’ have already moved on so hopefully you can, too.

Here’s what else happened in fantasy baseball last night:

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Josh Rutledge did not play for the third time since last Friday because Walt Weiss is crummy with crackers, then thinking he was a real Weiss guy, Rutledge was sent down to Triple-A. This is the same Rutledge that went into yesterday’s game hitting .259 with a homer, 3 runs and 3 RBIs in the last week. He’d be leading the entire Marlins team with those numbers! On our Fantasy Baseball Player Rater, he was above Starlin Castro, Alcides, Alexei, Rollins, Asdrubal for the year… Seriously. He was doing better than all but 8 shortstops. Yes, I’m on the River Denial and my boat is called, “Dubya Tee Eff?!” and I’m stopping at the Sphinx to riddle him with, “What are the Rockies doing?” Are you seriously going with DJ LeMahieu because he had hits the last two days?! Why not just go with David Guetta? At least he’s had hits I’ve heard of! The problem seems to be that the Rockies are holding Rutledge’s fielding against him. Luckily, Weiss wasn’t managing the Yankees in 1996 or Jeter would’ve been sent down for Luis Sojo. I know, The Art of Fielding, I know Dan Fielding, I do not know of sending Rutledge down for fielding. Stop the madness and bring back Rutledge! I’ll admit when I’m wrong with drafting guys, but Rutledge was not a mistake. It’s stupid teams, playing for stupid things that don’t matter in 5×5 roto. STUPID! Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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This is not a drill. Eric Young Jr. should actually see steady starts in right field with Michael Cuddyer hitting the disabled list. After Helton went down we were teased by the occasional EY2 start. I may or may not have seen Grey with a Cuddyer voodoo doll in his hand and next thing I know, EY2 is the Rockies leadoff hitter and starting right fielder. He and a few others who are on page one of the steals’ leaderboards may still be available in your league. Juan Pierre, Michael Saunders, and Kelly Johnson all graduated from this list with over 50% ownership now. Hopefully they are able to contribute to their new fantasy owners instead of doing what I did when I graduated, which was sitting in my parents’ basement eating pizza rolls and hoping that today would be “PLINKO” day on The Price Is Right.

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I’ve read a few pieces recently about how stolen bases are down across MLB. As long as steals are a category they will have value, and if steals are indeed down compared to previous years, then they just become that much more valuable. The guy who is currently second in all of baseball in steals, Juan Pierre, is still owned in less than half of the leagues out there. This is kind of confusing to me. If we hit the wire to grab a guy who is in line for saves, or we’ll stream a pitcher hoping for a win, shouldn’t we grab Juan Pierre?

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