We're back for 2013, and my only hope is that this is the year we finally have a quadruple play. It's been so long. And with that wish in our hearts, here are the top 10 stories/players/matchups heading into the weekend.
10. The Weird Constant Interleague Series (LAD-BAL)
Now that the Astros have betrayed and abandoned the National League and joined the AL Central (that's how it went down, right?), there are 15 teams in each league instead of the previous 16-14 split. That means on any given Friday, there will be seven NL games, seven AL games, and one crazy, weird, fun interleague series. This weekend, it's Dodgers-Orioles in what I'm calling "The Battle Between Yankees Envy Past and Yankees Envy Present." Kind of a long name, but you get the point. Both teams are off to mediocre starts and looking to string a few wins together.
Fantasy baseball ain't what it used to be. Back in the day, you would have maybe one or two people in your league who did any research beyond glancing at last year's Triple Crown stats and buying a couple of magazines. Any knowledge above and beyond that level and you were a virtual lock to finish in the money and maybe get labeled a witch for your prognostication skills.
That's history now. Even the biggest Luddite in your league can fake his way through a conversation about new-age stats. The key is to wield those advanced numbers, then combine them with other factors — age, health, team, competition, park effects, and dozens of other considerations — to produce usable intel you can take to the draft table.
One of the easiest ways to find a gap between last year's fantasy stats and this year's expected results is to scrutinize a pitcher's Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP seeks to strip out events over which a pitcher has little to no control, and focus on his core skills, especially strikeout and walk rate. (You can read a longer-form primer on defense-independent stats here.)
Jonah Keri talks to ESPN's Buster Olney about the ticking time bomb that is the MLB trade deadline. Could Cole Hamels stay a Phillie? Why aren't more teams interested in Zack Greinke? Where might Justin Upton land? What do the Tigers, Red Sox, and Dodgers have in common? And what do the many teams stuck in the vast middle do, with the siren song of a second wild card calling? Jonah then checks in with NFL.com's Dave Dameshek on his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, and the fantasy league to end all fantasy leagues.
Honestly, as far as Phillies Champagne vintages go, 2011 was a pretty decent year. The grapes aren't as good as the ones they used in 1998, which were far and away the best of the last 20 years. Most experts say that the best non-dry is the Padres 1988, if you're talking since the turn of the century, anything Mariners 2003 to 2007 is probably your best bet. Most likely, the best value play is, surprisingly, a Rockies 2008, so if you can find one of those, pick it up. It's a brut extra, but you definitely won't regret it.
Chris Ryan: So after Chase Utley got thrown out at third base by God's bouncer, Albert Pujols, in the sixth, I pretty much knew Wednesday was not going to be our night. I feel OK about this for two reasons:
Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify the time of T.I.'s release.
Late Wednesday night — Freddie Freeman grounds into a double play. Out no. 3. Phillies win. Braves blow an 8½-game wild-card lead and fail to make the playoffs. Season over.
The early hours of Thursday: Clifford "T.I." Harris is released from a halfway house. A free man. Again.
These events are oddly connected, but neither should surprise, and neither should make one overly emotional. We should, unfortunately, be used to this by now.
The Braves get our hopes up over the course of a few months, the comical thought of us sweeping the World Series and having a parade down every "Peach"-themed street begins to seep into our subconscious, and then they blow it and don't even make the playoffs.
T.I.'s freedom gets our hopes up because we think this is the time he stays out for good, but deep down we know that a free T.I. unfortunately starts the countdown clock for a jailed T.I.
We want to be sad about the Braves demise, but deep down, we knew it would happen. We also want to be excited about a free T.I., but (less) deep down (shallower, if you will) we know it probably won't last.