Fantasy manager's spirits go way of slumping teams

The Kickoff

May 17, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

Imagine a slide guitar twanging in the background.

My ace has appendicitis.

My rookies can't hit the curve.

My closer's on the DL and my speed guys seem stuck at first.

I've got the blues, yes those fantasy blues.

OK, so Muddy Waters I'm not. But in all seriousness, folks, a fantasy malaise has overtaken me. I suppose it's inevitable.

I get so pumped in March, poring over preview guides, Web sites and preseason box scores. I develop an exact picture of each player for the approaching season and come draft day, I try to blend those pictures into a beautiful collage. But no matter how educated we become about predicting player performance, we never get all that good at it. And that means that six weeks into the typical season, some of my collages look like finger paintings smeared together by second graders.

Take my National League team, Childs Play. I loved my keeper list - Brian McCann at catcher, Hanley Ramirez and Rafael Furcal in the middle infield, Garrett Atkins at third and Matt Holliday in the outfield. Then, I avoided overpaying for big names at auction and filled every spot on the team with a solid player. Or so I thought.

My sixth-place standing says otherwise.

I counted on two rookies, Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta and San Diego third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. So far, they've hit a combined .157 with two home runs in 153 at-bats. That's worse than a void; these guys have actively hurt my team. Worse still, their real-life managers have lost faith in them so they're not being given sufficient chances to fight through their slumps.

It's a good reminder that depending on rookies can be perilous for reasons beyond performance analysis.

Anyway, my problems don't stop there. Furcal sprained his ankle in the preseason and has run the bases less aggressively than usual. Atkins has followed his breakout 2006 by hitting .237 with little pop. Outfielder Matt Kemp jumped to a hot start for the Dodgers, then got hurt. He's healthy now, but the Dodgers won't call him back up because they, too, seem to lack faith in rookies.

On the pitching side, I lost my closer, Tom Gordon, to shoulder problems, and he may have lost his job to deposed starter Brett Myers. Despite good strikeout and walk numbers, Anthony Reyes is 0-6 with a 5.08 ERA in St. Louis. Jeff Francis has convinced me that I really can't trust a Colorado starter.

This team presents an interesting philosophical crucible. Throughout my fantasy career, I've built teams around superstars. They cost a lot, sure, but you know you're buying quality. I tacked away from that approach with this unit, figuring I already had some star keepers and could diminish my overall risk by paying midrange prices for a lot of midrange talent.

But the problem with midrange players is that when they perform below expectations, they become downright bad. And because they're not stars, they're prone to losing playing time.

I'm not ready to give up on this edition of Childs Play. Guys like Furcal, Atkins and Reyes should come around and give me a shot at contention. But if the whole season goes badly, I may go back to chasing the big-ticket stars in 2008.

Business had seemed much better for my new American League team. Second basemen Aaron Hill and Ian Kinsler opened the season on unexpected power surges. B.J. Upton was a revelation once the Devil Rays handed him a full-time job. Felix Hernandez looked like the best pitcher in the league after two starts and even after he hit the disabled list, Roy Halladay picked up his slack.

Every little move seemed to work. I bought Tampa Bay reliever Al Reyes for $1 late in the auction and he transformed into one of the better closers in the AL. I spent $1 on another Devil Ray, Elijah Dukes, and he's hit six home runs. I picked Oakland starter Chad Gaudin off the waiver wire, and he's posted a 2.93 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 46 innings.

About two weeks ago, my fellow owners started praising me as a great fantasy sage on our league message board. That meant trouble.

My hot starters - Kinsler, Hill, J.D. Drew - cooled. Troy Glaus is battling a foot injury that will probably haunt him all season. Gregg Zaun hit the disabled list, too, leaving me without a reliable catcher. And to complete the Toronto trifecta of doom, Halladay went out with appendicitis.

Hernandez looked horrible in his return start Tuesday, Nick Markakis can't seem to get untracked, and even the mighty Travis Hafner isn't helping much.

So my NL team has spent most of the season in trouble and my AL squad is about to relinquish a lead that seemed massive just 10 days ago.

Experience tells me this will all even out and that my good auctions will lead to good results in the end. But every season seems to contain one of these patches where nothing goes right. It's so bad that I don't even flip to ESPNews to check box scores at night, because I know the tidings won't be good.

Yes, I've got those fantasy blues.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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