Former Red Sox Shortstop Alex Gonzalez Tearing Up AL Pitching

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Former Red Sox Shortstop Alex Gonzalez Tearing Up AL Pitching Injuries are everyone’s least favorite part about sports, but in fantasy baseball — and in real baseball — they can make or break your team.

If you drafted Jacoby Ellsbury in the top 12 picks of your draft, the speedy center fielder’s four broken ribs surely have you sweating. Likewise, owners of the Mariners’ Cliff Lee have had to overcome his absence for the first few weeks of the season.

There are two ways to exploit the effects of the injury bug in fantasy baseball — jump on players who stand to gain value because of an injury to a teammate immediately, and protect your own squad by ensuring that you have depth at as many positions as possible. This week’s “Pickups” list focuses on three players who offer you an opportunity to do just that.

As always, in the "Three Up, Three Down" segment, you’ll find the players who have the best and worst chances of success during the coming week. And you’ll find my recommendations for owners who are streaming pitchers in "Down the Stream."

Three Up

Ryan Ludwick, outfielder, Cardinals
There aren’t many cushier spots in baseball than the two hole in the St. Louis lineup — ahead of Albert Pujols — and that’s exactly where Ludwick has been slotted by manager Tony La Russa. The late bloomer certainly has made the most of the hittable pitches tossed his way, raking to the tune of a .360 average and three homers in the past week.

Roy Halladay, starting pitcher, Phillies
Four starts into his National League career, Halladay is thrilled to have been freed of the treachery of pitching in the AL East. The Phillies’ new ace is 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA. He has allowed just 26 hits and one home run in 33 innings of work. He has gone the distance in two of the four starts, including one shutout. And he has thus far managed the incredible feat of amassing more wins (4) than walks (3). Let’s just say that Halladay is well on his way to becoming only the fifth pitcher — along with Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Gaylord Perry — in MLB history to win the Cy Young award in both leagues.

Alex Gonzalez, shortstop, Blue Jays
Pop quiz: Can you name the current MLB leader in extra-base hits? That, folks, is Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Known in Boston for his slick fielding, Gonzo has smacked eight doubles and five homers in his first 67 at-bats for Toronto. The 33-year-old probably went undrafted in most leagues, but if your shortstop is slumping and he’s sitting on the waiver wire, it’s not a bad idea to ride Gonzalez while he’s hot.

Three Down

Aramis Ramirez, third baseman, Cubs
Ramirez has only eight hits so far this season, and if three of them weren’t homers, his owners would be beside themselves. As it stands, the veteran third baseman can’t be dropped, despite his .127 average and 22 strikeouts in 63 at-bats. Don’t forget that Ramirez has slugged at least 26 homers and driven in at least 101 runs in each of his past three full seasons. There’s no reason to believe that talent is gone, so Ramirez is an excellent buy-low candidate if he’s on your league’s trading block, and someone to hold on to if he’s on your roster.

Homer Bailey, starting pitcher, Reds
The 23-year-old Bailey was a popular sleeper for 2010, after he seemed to take a step forward by going 3-1 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts last September. But those who slept on him on draft day are happy with their decision at this point, because Bailey has logged an atrocious 7.47 ERA and 2.04 WHIP over his first three starts. A 13-to-9 K/BB ratio and 23 hits allowed in 15 2/3 innings don’t portend much better things in the future, so you might want to cut your losses on Bailey in favor of a fellow sleeper such as Toronto’s Ricky Romero or Oakland’s Dallas Braden.

Frank Francisco, relief pitcher, Rangers
It’s not easy to lose your job during the first week of the season, given the leeway managers usually give to closers, but Francisco pulled off the feat by coughing up seven runs on 10 hits in five innings of work. His 2.08 WHIP is higher than new closer Neftali Feliz’s ERA (1.35), so there’s no reason to expect that Francisco will get the job back anytime soon. Feel free to drop him — just make sure you don’t throw a chair over the agony of losing one of your ninth-inning men.

Pickups

Jeremy Hermida, outfielder, Red Sox
With Ellsbury and Mike Cameron on the disabled list, the Red Sox will lean heavily on fourth outfielder Jeremy Hermida, and the 26-year-old is among the most talented bench players in the league. Through 36 at-bats so far this season, Hermida has three doubles and three homers, though his average has been depressed to .250 thanks to 11 strikeouts in 36 at-bats. Hermida has shown the ability to hit for power and make decent contact in the past, though, so he’s a decent stopgap with upside while Ellsbury is shelved.

Cameron Maybin, outfielder, Marlins
Maybin has been a top prospect since the Tigers drafted him in the first round in 2005, and he’s finally putting things together at the big league level. The 23-year-old had a nine-game hitting streak snapped on Thursday, and following a promotion to the top of the Marlins’ batting order, he’s in an excellent position to rack up loads of steals and runs. Those are the categories Ellsbury was previously counted on to dominate, and Maybin should do the trick in the meantime.

Juan Uribe, second baseman, shortstop and third baseman, Giants
Uribe is an extremely streaky hitter who hacks at just about everything thrown his way, but when he gets hot, just about nothing can stand in his way. The Giants’ utility man has started the 2010 season on a tear, batting .321 with two homers and 11 RBIs, and as long as he’s hot, he should be owned — and possibly started — in all leagues. Uribe is eligible at the three shallowest infield positions, making him an invaluable fantasy reserve, especially if one of your infielders is slumping or banged up.

Down the Stream

If you are playing in a head-to-head league, a potentially useful — if controversial — strategy is streaming pitchers. The key is to get as many wins and strikeouts as possible during the week, without entirely conceding the ERA and WHIP categories. Below are pitchers you’re likely to find on your league’s waiver wire who have optimal matchups for streaming on each day of the coming week.

Saturday, April 24: Jonathon Niese, Mets — vs. Braves
Sunday, April 25: Brett Myers, Astros — vs. Pirates
Monday, April 26: Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers — at Mets
Tuesday, April 27: Bud Norris, Astros — vs. Reds
Wednesday, April 28: Doug Fister, Mariners — at Royals
Thursday, April 29: Carl Pavano, Twins — at Tigers
Friday, April 30: Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays — vs. Athletics

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