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Painting the Black: Ride 'Em or Reel 'Em In?

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis is a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. Drafted 102nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, he played 9 professional seasons altogether with the Tribe, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. Lewis amassed a career of 7-11 in 161 games, good for a 3.68 career ERA in 198 innings. He helped the Indians win the AL Central in 2007, becoming a key cog in their bullpen, on a postseason run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Lewis went a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with the Indians in 2008 as their closer and was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2010. The award recognizes the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field as well as representing the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs. A Vanderbilt University graduate with a BS in Communications, Lewis now works as a broadcast personality with Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio in Cleveland. He continues to be involved in Cleveland Indians Charities providing support to the Cleveland community, making visits to local hospitals and participating in the annual Tyson Food Distribution event held before Thanksgiving. A diehard Cleveland fan his entire life, he still holds out hope that the Tribe & Browns championship droughts will come to an end during his lifetime.


PAINTING THE BLACK: RIDE 'EM? OR REEL 'EM IN?

The Major League season is over a third of the way completed and we've learned a few things:

- The Bay Area is making it look more and more like teams will have to go through Alcatraz to advance deep in the postseason with Oakland & San Francisco leading their respective leagues.
- Nelson Cruz is going to get PAID this offseason, leading MLB with 21 HR & 55 RBI as of June 10.
- NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, could predict a 35-year-old lefty (Mark Buerhle) pitching north of the border, would be the first to 10 wins.

Fantasy GMs certainly reaped the benefits of many Athletics & Giants on their rosters thus far. But as the MLB trade deadline nears, players will undoubtedly be changing uniforms to bolster pennant chases throughout the league. The common theme this far into the season is assessing who's for real and who isn't. That goes for fast-starters offensively and on the mound as well.

Whose stock is overinflated? Who can you "sell" on your fantasy roster to get the most back and continue to boost your chances of winning your respective league? More importantly, who do you target in trade talks to make a huge second half splash?

I've got 3 suggestions of players (1 starter, 1 position player, 1 closer) that you shouldn't trade if your life depended on it!  I've also got 3 players you should make every effort to acquire for the stretch run. A small disclaimer: you've got to be wary of the specific categories you're behind in when thinking of dealing these players. You're looking for second-half monsters in return, and there are plenty out there.

PLAYERS TO KEEP (stats are of June 10th)

MARK BUERHLE, LHP, TORONTO BLUE JAYS (10-2, 2.04 ERA, 88.1 IP, 25 BB, 52 K, 1.21 WHIP)

There are ridiculous stats for consistency, and then there's this one: since 2001, Buerhle has achieved 10+ wins, 12 of 13 seasons with an ERA of 4.28 or less, 11 of 13 years with at least 100+ K's, and a WHIP of 1.35 or lower in all but 2 full seasons. He's also made 30+ starts EVERY YEAR of his Major League career as a full-time starter. As safe a bet as you can make down the stretch in the fantasy season for any starting pitcher available. Not to mention he'll probably be starting the All-Star game for the AL in Minneapolis.

VICTOR MARTINEZ, DH, DETROIT TIGERS (.332 AVG, 15 HR, 40 RBI, .985 OPS)

Never mind the fact that, as of June 10th, VMart has as many strikeouts (15) as homers (15). As a former teammate, the guy is an absolute video game in the batter's box. Trust me, I've played enough RBI baseball against him to know that he hits pretty much identically in the digital world as he does in real life. Since 2004, he's only finished a season hitting under .300 twice ('04, '08), driven in 90+ runs 5 times, and hit 15+ HR's 6 times. In a Tigers lineup sporting Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera batting in front of him, you've got the best of both worlds in VMart, from both sides of the plate.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, RHP, MILWAUKEE BREWERS (19-21 Saves, 2.08 ERA, 8 BB, 34 K, 0.89 WHIP)

With all due respect to Sergio Romo leading the Majors in saves at this moment in time, "K-Rod" is my odds on favorite to continue the current pace he's on for save chances down the stretch. The résumé is quite impressive when you consider the career consistency he's shown in the closer's role: 5 seasons of 35+ Saves, 7 years of 70+ Ks, and a career 1.17 WHIP. The only knock you could put on KRod is he tends to have a few more fly ball outs than ground outs, but his K% more than makes up for it. With the Brewers set to battle it out with the Cardinals in the NL Central in August & September, you can bet KRod gets to the top of the NL save category by year's end.

PLAYERS TO TARGET:

Wade Miley, LHP, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (3-6, 4.57 ERA, 88.2 IP, 26 BB, 77 K, 1.26 WHIP)

The D-Backs started about as dreadful as possible for the 2014 season. Dead last in the National League for much of the year, they've caught a bit of fire and are starting to play with a purpose. Enter Wade Miley. The fill-in ace of the staff, with Patrick Corbin falling to season ending TJ surgery, Miley fell "snake-bitten" to the struggles every other D-Backs player went through early on. But the signs, as well as a good track record, are there for a monster second half. Miley finished his first two full seasons at .500 or better record-wise (10-10 in '13, 16-11 in '12) as well as logging 190+ IP. His walks were a bit high in 2013 at 66, but he maintained a steady K rate, punching out 140+ in the past two years. With a career 3.71 ERA and a favorable second half schedule for left-handed pitching in the National League, I like "Wiley Wade" to make a swift scamper back up many fantasy pitching categories.

Carlos Santana, 3B, CLEVELAND INDIANS (.169 AVG, 7 HR, 19 RBI, .655 OPS)

Marinate on this: Santana has struck out 48 times, yet walked 47 times in 2014. Typical star-power hitters don't have near that kind of plate discipline. Many fantasy GMs are sitting at the end of May scratching their heads, wondering about Santana and the "power-outage" he's experienced early on this season. I'm here to tell you that you're in for quite the second half run. In his young major league career, CSan reached 20 HR's 2 of his first 3 full seasons, while driving in 74+ RBI's each year. His K/BB ratio is ridiculously good for a middle-of-the-order bat (110/93 in '13, 101/91 in '12). His career OPS is .798 and all of these numbers lead me to warn you all in advance: if you can get your hands on him, GET HIM. The Tribe will be in the thick of the division and wild card races all the way to the end of the season. Carlos Santana will be a central figure in their success.

ERNESTO FRIERI, RHP, LOS ANGELES ANGELS (11-13 Saves, 4.18 ERA, 7 BB, 36 K, 1.07 WHIP)

The light finally went on for the fireballing Frieri. After an early season demotion out of the closer's role, "Everyday Ernesto" is back to his old self. The ERA is going to look real high for a little bit, but the Angels are for real this year - and that means multiple save opportunities in the second half of the season for Frieri. His peripherals are nearly identical in 2012 & 2013 (30 BB, 98 K, .216 AAG in '12, .219 AAG in '13). He's regained the feel for his breaking ball behind in the count. And the velocity is returning with the late jump in the strike zone. The return of Josh Hamilton to the Angels lineup also bodes well for some late-game lead changes, providing the likelihood that Frieri will be in many more games during the stretch run. Get him now for what I'd expect is a cheap price before it's too late.