Fantasy baseball: If pitching tanks, don't panic

05/30/2008 2:52 AM

05/30/2008 9:46 AM

This sure feels and smells familiar.

A year ago, the hands-down most talented pitching staff this columnist assembled in two decades of fantasy competition treated me the same way the new puppies treat the carpet (and shoes ... and pretty much all paper products ... and you get the idea) by collectively posting the worst numbers in our league's eight-year existence.

It was about this time last season I found myself -- despite owning a staff featuring Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson and Fausto Carmona -- last in WHIP, ERA and wins, and dropping like a rock in the standings.

And at that point, you would have seen a picture of me smiling and waving right beside the word "panic" in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

One by one, I foolishly dealt them all, only to realize too late that the core of my staff should have been left alone and I would have been better served punting (or allowing the pups to chew) on Barry Zito, Jeremy Sowers, Ervin Santana and Kevin Millwood.

This season, I was determined not to let history repeat itself. I again built my staff around perennial Cy Young candidate Webb, grabbed ace closers Jonathan Papelbon and Jose Valverde early, then added who I thought were solid starters in Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers. I decided to become a player in the saves category by making Manny Corpas my third closer, picking up Hideki Okajima as Papelbon insurance and completing my eight-man staff with Jeremy Guthrie, my cousin Shanen's former high school classmate.

On paper, I looked good. And I started good, too. Even with Corpas pitching his way out of the closer's job in record time and Valverde getting raked early, I maintained solid ratios and stood near the top in every pitching category.

Yet, I'm in the midst of another late-May free-fall in which I tumbled from first to fifth in three days.

But as stubborn and impetuous as I can be, I learned my lesson: Any seismic roster shifts weren't going to include Webb or Papelbon. Myers and Oswalt, however, were another story.

Zoo monkeys have better command of their "stuff" and are more capable of hitting their targets right now than Myers and Oswalt, who entered play Thursday with a combined record of 6-10, ERAs of 5.79 and 5.61 and WHIPs of 1.64 and 1.49.

Myers' velocity is down, and his struggles have made him a villain in the eyes of impatient Philly fans. Oswalt is pitching with a sore hip and apparently without a fastball. They ceased to be my problem last Sunday night, when I traded them for Matt Cain, whom I've long coveted, and Kerry Wood, with whom I've enjoyed tremendous success.

Sometimes as an owner, you have to shake up things, and for me that time came. Even if Myers and Oswalt reverse their fortunes, it was a chance I had to take. The deal rid me of my two biggest headaches and gave me a starter in Cain, who is capable of 200-plus strikeouts and solid ratios, and a closer in Wood, whose injury history makes him a risky choice but who gives me the strikeout-friendly third closer I lost when Corpas jumped the ninth-inning shark.

I added a fourth closer over the weekend in the Nationals' Jon Rauch (a consolation prize for losing out in the Clayton Kershaw sweepstakes). So far, my new acquisitions have been great with Wood nailing down two saves and Rauch one through Wednesday. If one is able to continue at his current pace, I should be able to rule supreme in the saves race and stabilize my WHIP and ERA while picking up a few strikeouts along the way.

I'm just glad I not only was able to move Oswalt and Myers, but that I actually received quality in return.

My lineup for the week ahead:

C: Ryan Doumit and Carlos Ruiz; 1B: Kevin Youkilis; 2B: Ian Kinsler, 3B: David Wright; SS: Bobby Crosby; OF: Manny Ramirez, Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, Mike Cameron and Jack Cust; CI: Alex Gordon; MI: Kelly Johnson; U: Jim Thome; P: Brandon Webb, Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Valverde, Matt "Together We Will Rule the Galaxy" Cain, Greg Smith, Kerry Wood, Randy Wolf and Jon Rauch; DL: OF Josh Willingham.

Bee staff writer Stu Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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