A few bad investments grow into a season gone haywire

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

July 06, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

Every so often in this world of consensual illusion, you draft a team that you end up just hating.

I'm having that precise experience with Childs Play, the squad I crowed about in this very space during the run-up to the season. I thought I had a contender but instead, just about every major decision I've made has gone awry. My biggest draft-day buys have ranked among the game's bigger busts. My bedrock starting pitchers have cracked like so much peanut brittle. My putative closer may never regain his form.

It's a mess, I tell you, and I have trouble summoning the will to even deal with it. Every day, my fingers dread typing the URL address for the standings page. I've found myself going a week at a time without looking.

But this here is my stab at catharsis - an anatomy of a wrecked season and a search for hope.

On draft day, I wanted to buy a major bat at first base or in the outfield and two all-around stars at second base and shortstop. So I laid down $122 of my $260 fantasy budget on Todd Helton, Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles. I felt I overpaid for Helton, but the three guys basically fit my blueprint. All three would boost my batting average, all three would score bundles of runs, Giles and Furcal would steal bases and Helton would be my chief run producer.

No.

Giles is batting .245, which would be his career low for a full season by 46 points. Because he's not getting on base, he's not scoring at a great rate. And nagging injuries may keep him from the 20 steals I'd projected. He's still a decent second baseman but at $34, ranks as a terrible buy. Furcal is stealing bases and scoring runs, but his .258 average is also a drag, and Dodger Stadium suppresses his power. Again, he's a good fantasy player but not a $31 one.

Helton has been the biggest disappointment. I spent $57 thinking he'd challenge for the batting title, show a revitalized power stroke and ring up Coors Field-inflated run and RBI totals. Instead, he caught a terrible flu that erased all his preseason conditioning. And the vaunted Colorado humidors seem to be working in earnest, making Coors Field a semi-reasonable venue for pitchers. Helton is on pace to hit .301 with 21 homers and 88 RBIs. He's been roughly the same hitter as Jose Castillo, Juan Encarnacion or Preston Wilson. In other words, not a guy worthy of the league's highest salary behind Albert Pujols.

The end-game bats I purchased (and I usually do this pretty well) have also been terrible. Jeromy Burnitz is giving me some power but his .231 average is a drag, and Jose Cruz Jr. seems incapable of the multi-category contribution I had sought. Kaz Matsui can't even hold a major league job.

Despite all that, my offense has been decent thanks to guys like Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins, Hanley Ramirez and the resurgent Carlos Beltran. And I thought that if my offense were passable, my lights-out pitching would be enough to propel Childs Play to a pennant.

Again, no.

The trouble started when the nerves in Eric Gagne's elbow acted up. Gagne's injury not only robbed me of a closer, but it also rendered my move to get him for Adam Dunn and Pedro Feliz an instant disaster. But Andy Pettitte, Jake Peavy and John Patterson would see me through. Right? Wrong.

Patterson soon joined Gagne on the disabled list, Peavy's ERA is 4.50 and Pettitte has been worst of all with a 5.37 ERA and 1.623 WHIP. Those three carried me last season. Greg Maddux has thrown in a 5.00 ERA for good measure. I swear that Clay Hensley has been my best starter at times this season.

It all goes to show that any faith placed in pitchers is misplaced.

I thought my staff would be good for 45 points or so (I figured I'd need 80 to contend). Right now, it's worth 17 and I've essentially punted the saves category (without the attendant benefits of doing so on purpose).

So why am I not hurling myself off a fantasy cliff?

Well, I'm only seven points out of third place. I have room to climb quickly in average, RBIs and maybe home runs. Roger Clemens is onboard to help with the pitching and I refuse to believe Pettitte, Peavy, Patterson and Maddux will let me down so thoroughly in the second half. I wish I had built up cushions in the pitching categories so I could trade one of those starters for a power hitter, but well, we've covered why that's not possible.

I'm not daft enough to think I could win a title with this pile of junk. But another money finish seems possible. And as much as I hate this team, I have to say I feel better now. Thanks for listening and feel free to rant right back at me.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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