Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: Axford vs. K-Rod

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In the hours following the Francisco Rodriguez-to-Milwaukee deal, the scenarios seemed pretty clear: John Axford would remain the Brewers' closer, while Bobby Parnell would take over for the Mets. What's happened since has left both pictures anything but clear.

With Francisco Rodriguez waiving the games-finished clause that would have triggered a 2012 option, the Brewers no longer have any financial disincentive for allowing K-Rod to close. Manager Ron Roenicke initially said Rodriguez and Axford would split save chances, though that hardly makes much sense given their similarities. The two had essentially the same numbers in the first half, and while Axford has been a whole lot stronger against lefties than Rodriguez this season, there isn't much in either's history to suggest the trend will continue.

Despite Roenicke's words, which likely were largely meant to sooth Rodriguez, Axford appears set to keep closing until he gives the Brewers a reason to strip him of the job. He has been shaky of late, giving up four runs and 10 hits over his last six innings of work. The last run came Saturday, when he barely held on for a save after Rodriguez pitched a perfect eighth against the Rockies.

Axford hasn't been walking anyone during his recent struggles, so it's probably just a temporary blip. Maybe Rodriguez shouldn't be dropped just yet in mixed leagues -- things could change in a hurry if Axford suddenly blows two saves in a row -- but he has minimal value right now.

As for the Mets, Parnell still has to be considered the favorite for saves over the rest of the season, even if manager Terry Collins indicated that Jason Isringhausen would close Friday night. Pedro Beato is also supposed to be in the mix.

Parnell is deserving of the first crack at the job. He possesses the best stuff of any Mets reliever, and he has a 1.47 ERA and a 21/4 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings since coming off the DL on May 30. Isringhausen has been a great surprise in his return to the majors, but his 21/13 K/BB ratio and four homers allowed in 28 2/3 innings suggest that he's very lucky to have a 3.14 ERA. Beato has a 3.38 ERA, but that comes with six unearned runs. He's actually given up 21 runs in 40 innings for the season, and he's pitched in lower leverage situations than Parnell.

So, while both Parnell and Izzy are both worth owning in all formats right now, expect Parnell to win out in the end. Beato is fine to use in NL-only leagues.

National League notes

- Carlos Marmol should get this ironed out and then go right back into the closer's role for the Cubs. Before Thursday's hijinks, his walk rate was down significantly this year, and while his velocity has been down a bit all season long, he's still getting plenty of swings and misses. Things should be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

- I expect one of the NL teams in need of help at third base to take a flier on Kevin Kouzmanoff. He's hitting .313/.350/.600 with six homers and 32 RBI in 27 games for Triple-A Sacramento since being outrighted by the A's. Florida is the likeliest destination for him. The Brewers could go get Wilson Betemit to pair with Casey McGehee.

- The Marlins are going to give Mike Cameron a look as their starting center fielder, so expect them to option Chris Coghlan to Triple-A this week. Coghlan, who had his previous option voided because of a knee injury, is 5-for-21 with no RBI through five games on his rehab assignment.

- After a year and a third in the Florida bullpen, Clay Hensley (shoulder) will get another shot at making it as a starting pitcher when he comes off the DL on Monday. He's been a four-pitch pitcher even as a reliever, so he won't have to expand his arsenal to make it through lineups three times per night. If his velocity comes back a bit -- it was down before he got hurt -- he might resemble a solid No. 4 for Florida. NL-only leaguers in need of a starter should consider giving him a try.

- The Phillies activated Ryan Madson (finger) from the disabled list last week, and while he wasn't put right back into the closer's role, he should get save chances this week. The club is also likely to activate Shane Victorino (thumb) and Placido Polanco (back) on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

- That was quite an impression John Mayberry Jr. made in the last game of the first half and the first of the second. He drove in nine runs between them, and he's up to 12 RBI for the month. I still think Domonic Brown is going to be the Phillies' primary right fielder throughout the second half, but if he goes into another slump, then Mayberry will be in position to win the job. Prorating Mayberry's numbers in 131 at-bats out to 550 would give him 21 homers, 101 RBI and 21 steals.

- The Mets will be taking a chance if they wait until the deadline to deal Carlos Beltran. He's been injury-free all season long, but he's still quite a risk there, and it'd be very disappointing if the Mets couldn't get something back for him now and then lost him in free agency. A trade could come this week. Once it does, Lucas Duda may have the most to gain on the Mets. He'd seem to be the favorite to get the majority of the starts in right field initially. A Fernando Martinez callup probably isn't in the cards, not unless he can get hot in a hurry at Triple-A Buffalo. He's hitting .223/.318/.320 in 103 at-bats since the beginning of June.

- Barring a setback, the Mets will activate David Wright (back) from the DL on Friday. Jose Reyes (hamstring) should return by then, too, though mixed leaguers will want to wait for any last-minute news before making a decision on him.

- Milwaukee shook up its lineup by shifting Rickie Weeks into the fifth spot behind Prince Fielder and making Corey Hart the leadoff man. It worked out great Saturday, as Weeks hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth in an 8-7 win, but let's hope it's not a long-term arrangement. Taking an at-bat away from Weeks every other day is hardly the right way to improve the offense, and it was particularly ridiculous to see Weeks batting fifth again Sunday with Ryan Braun (calf, hamstring) out of the lineup and Mark Kotsay hitting third.

- If the Cardinals trade for a starter, then Kyle McClellan will return to the bullpen. Lance Lynn has been very impressive since getting a look as a reliever and is now likely second in line for saves in case something happens with Fernando Salas. Still, the Cardinals need at least one more pitcher.

- An Ubaldo Jimenez trade remains a big long shot. The Rockies would have to be overwhelmed to move him, and I don't see who would do the overwhelming. The Yankees and Rangers wouldn't go overboard for a pitcher who has been well short of great this season, and the Tigers probably don't have the artillery anyway. The Cardinals have the ability to offer Colby Rasmus and one of their outstanding pitching prospects, but I don't imagine that they will.

- A strong week and a half in Triple-A was enough to get Dexter Fowler back to the majors. The Rockies are better defensively with Fowler in center and Carlos Gonzalez in left, and it's not as though any of the alternative outfields figured to be much better offensively. Since Fowler has regressed as a basestealer, he probably won't be of any use in mixed leagues anytime soon.

- Things are looking up for Ian Stewart. He's hitting .290/.371/.452 in 31 at-bats this month, while Ty Wigginton has cooled off in a big way. A straight platoon, with Stewart playing against righties and Wigginton starting against lefties, appears to be in the cards.

- The Pirates want an outfielder and a catcher as they look to remain in contention in the NL Central. They declined to trade Garrett Jones for Jeff Mathis, which was for the best. I don't think much of Jones, but Mathis wouldn't even qualify as a good backup catcher. If the Pirates can get an outfielder, then Jones would likely battle Lyle Overbay for starts at first base. Oakland's Josh Willingham looks like their preferred target.

- After weeks of speculation, the Diamondbacks decided to have Brandon Allen replace Juan Miranda at first base. I thought they'd go to minor league home run leader Paul Goldschmidt instead, but Allen is the right call in my opinion. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and the Diamondbacks need to figure out whether he should be in the plans for 2012. Ideally, he'd smack 8-10 homers while starting against right-handers the rest of the way. Xavier Nady likely will continue to the get the call versus southpaws.

- The Diamondbacks are calling up Barry Enright and having him replace Zach Duke at the back of the rotation. That's a move with no fantasy ramifications.

- J.J. Putz (elbow) might rejoin the bullpen next weekend, but since it's not a sure thing, it's probably best to hold off on activating him. David Hernandez could pick up a couple of more saves this week.

- It didn't stop Dusty Baker from playing Edgar Renteria on Saturday, but Zack Cozart is 8-for-21 since his callup. While the Reds could yet trade for shortstop help, the job appears to be Cozart's to lose. Renteria certainly doesn't look like a threat. His presence has left the Reds with a 24-man roster all season long.

- The Giants have to be regretting passing on Mark Ellis before the Rockies acquired him from the A's. With Freddy Sanchez's rehab seemingly have stalled a bit and season-ending shoulder surgery looming as a possibility, the Giants will go looking for a middle infielder prior to the deadline. Jeff Keppinger would be an obvious choice, but I wouldn't be surprised if they ask about Toronto's Aaron Hill.

- San Francisco called up 21-year-old catcher Hector Sanchez, but it was to back up Eli Whiteside, not to start over him. Sanchez, who skipped Double-A when he jumped from high-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno a month ago, hit .302/.337/.465 with eight homers in 258 minor league at-bats. The Giants like that he's mature beyond his years, but there's little to suggest that he's ready to contribute in the majors now. Only NL-only leaguers in need of a second catcher should pick him up.

- Everyone is waiting to see who is going to be left after what could be known as the Padres' Great Bullpen Exodus of 2011. Heath Bell looks like a goner, and Mike Adams and Chad Qualls may well join him, leaving Luke Gregerson as the Padres' closer by default. Gregerson has struggled of late or he'd be a trade candidate, too. My guess is that Bell and Qualls go and Adams stays as the closer for the final two months. The Padres, though, might be able to get more in return for Adams than Bell. Adams, after all, has been the superior reliever, and, unlike Bell, he's under control for next year.

- Anthony Rizzo is down to .154/.294/.286 in 91 at-bats and could be sent back to Triple-A if Brad Hawpe is able to return within the next week or two. Hawpe's finger injury that put him on the DL is apparently all better, but he's also dealing with soreness in his throwing elbow. The Padres could put Hawpe back at first base when he does return and given Rizzo a little more seasoning in the PCL.

- Javy Guerra is now 5-for-5 saving games for the Dodgers after getting one out in relief of Hong-Chih Kuo on Friday. It's pretty incredible how much his command has improved in the span of one season, and while I doubt he's going to be a long-term closer, he does have a nice one-two punch in his 92-95 mph fastball and plus slider. My hope that Kenley Jansen would win the job seems dashed for now.

- It will be interesting to see what the Dodgers do for a fifth starter if they trade Hiroki Kuroda. No one in Triple-A is very deserving. John Ely has struggled to a 5.18 ERA at Albuquerque. The top choice there is journeyman Dana Eveland, who is 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA this season. They would have the option of stretching out either Blake Hawksworth or Scott Elbert. I'm guessing they wouldn't take the chance with Elbert, but Hawksworth is older and he did make eight starts for the Cardinals last season. I'd like to see if Hawksworth's velocity spike would carry over to the rotation. He's been a nice surprise with a 3.00 ERA out of the pen.

- There's no spot for Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder) in the Washington rotation right now, but a Jason Marquis or Tom Gorzelanny trade could change that. Wang has allowed just two runs over 18 innings in his rehab assignment, and he could join the Nationals after two more minor league starts. He doesn't have much fantasy upside, but NL-only leaguers desperate for a starter could stick him on reserve.

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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