SQUEEZE PLAY

by Chris Bahr, The Sporting News, April 22, 2005



There still is plenty of time for improvement even if you're buried in last place behind the owner who thinks a hit-and-run is a violation punishable with jail time (although that might be true at some A.L. parks). Moving up the standings can be as simple as making better lineup decisions.

Some pointers:

* If you're in a daily transaction league, pay close attention to schedules. If the Orioles are off, be sure to swap in your backup shortstop for Miguel Tejada. Tejada is great but not great enough to produce on an off-day. If you have time, it also pays to check pregame lineups--especially on getaway days--to find out whether any regulars will be getting a rest.

* Matchups, matchups, matchups. Get to know which parks are favorable and unfavorable for hitters and pitchers, and check out head-to-head stats when deciding when to sit or start a guy. For example, Coors Field is a hitters heaven--and fantasy hell for your pitching staff.

* Two-start starters are gold in weekly leagues. A fringe starting pitcher instantly gets a boost in value when he pitches twice as many times as a reliable No. 3 starter. This can make a big difference in head-to-head leagues.

* Use your pitchers judiciously. Chances are, you have an innings limit, and you don't want to use every starter on your roster at every opportunity. Just because Bruce Chen is facing the Royals doesn't mean you need to treat him as if he's Randy Johnson.

* Use versatility to your advantage. Guys who qualify at more than one position give you roster flexibility. Move them around as much as possible to create playing time for everyone on your roster.

* Check out SPORTING NEWS Fantasy Source's weekly rankings. Each weekend, we rank the hitters and pitchers based on the coming week's matchups and overall trends. Trying to decide between Pat Burrell and Shannon Stewart for your final outfield spot? Find out what we have to say.

M@IL BONDING

CHRIS BAHR ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

I look at an injury as a chance to get a stud at a discount price. I've acquired Barry Bonds for next to nothing and have my sights on a few other banged-up stars. What do you think of this strategy?

Tyler Fenwick, Philadelphia

Tyler: Being an ambulance chaser is risky. But as long as you research the injured players carefully, it often pays to help out a rival owner by taking an injured player off his hands. Owners tend to overreact when a player gets hurt, and that is a great time to do some bargain shopping. Just remember to use this strategy in moderation.

To submit a question to our fantasy experts, click on Daily Mail at fantasygames.sportingnews.com/baseball.

SPLITSVILLE

* Cubs SP Greg Maddux took some time to get on track last year (5.65 ERA in April), but once he did (3.54 ERA in May), he was on his way to his 17th straight season of at least 15 victories. His 2005 debut (5 IP, 5 ER) did nothing to reverse this pattern, so use him sparingly early.

* Indians SP Jake Westbrook was 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA at Jacobs Field last season, 7-7 with a 4.13 ERA on the road. That he bucked this trend on the road on opening day against the White Sox (8 IP, 1 ER) could mean you'll get to use Westbrook more often when he's on the road.

* White Sox SP Mark Buehrle posted a 5.93 ERA in April last year, his worst of any month, before being untouchable in May (1.58 ERA). After his brilliant opener (8 IP, 0 ER) against Cleveland, could a huge first half be on the way? We're betting it is.

* Angels SP Bartolo Colon, who struggled in the first half of last season (6-8, 6.38 ERA), appears to have carried over his hot finish (12-4, 3.63). His 61/3 innings of 1-run ball against the Rangers was a good sign.--George Winkler

TSN Games TIP OF THE WEEK

Don't waste your time with questionable closers in TSN's Ultimate Salary Cap Baseball. Pitchers such as the Pirates' Jose Mesa and the Indians' Bob Wickman have value in 5x5 leagues simply because of the number of saves they'll get; they shouldn't fill a closer role in this game. The scoring system in Ultimate Salary Cap Baseball doesn't put a huge emphasis on saves. Two perfect innings are the equivalent of one save, and shaky outings hurt more in this game than elsewhere. Losses also are penalized. It's better to pick a top closer and stick with him. Save your trades and bargain buys for starting pitchers and position players.--Rob Hurtt

It's not too late to play. Sign up for Ultimate Salary Cap Baseball at fantasygames.sportingnews.com/baseball.

STOCK WATCH

BULL: Willy Taveras, OF, Astros. Looking for steals? Taveras stole 55 bases in 103 games in Class AA last season and 10 this spring. He's starting for Houston, at least until Lance Berkman returns.

BEAR: Javier Vazquez, SP, Diamondbacks. Vazquez had nine wins and a 3.42 ERA entering July with the Yankees last season. He has tanked since. Now might be your best chance to get him cheap.

PENNY STOCKS: New closers. Several names among the saves leaders change year to year. Dan Kolb. Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan are examples from last year. Early possibilities this season: Miguel Batista (Blue Jays), Chad Cordero (Nationals) and BJ. Ryan (Orioles).--Brendan Roberts

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