• Closer controversy brewing in Minnesota? Well, maybe not a true controversy, but Matt Capps is clearly not as healthy as the Twins would like you believe. We know because it was Glen Perkins, not Capps, who was called in to dust of a 5-4 win in Cincinnati tonight — giving up a couple hits, but also whiffing two. It’s now been over a week since Capps last appeared, and while the fact that he hasn’t been placed on the disabled list shows that Minnesota doesn’t think his shoulder issue is a huge one, it has clearly nagged him longer than originally expected. Perkins has the peripherals of a closer (11.7 K/9, 2.98 xFIP) and seems likely to eventually force Minnesota’s hand in the ninth, whether it be through a Capps trade or a potential Wally Pipp-type situation. One thing is clear: buy Perkins, sell Capps. Even if the latter regains his job in the next week or so, it’s becoming increasingly hard to imagine him lasting the season at the back end of the bullpen. Also, while the Twins threw up a smokescreen about Jared Burton getting save chances, it’s been pretty obvious that Perkins is the guy who is the heir apparent in the Twin Cities. Burton might be worth a glance in super-deep leagues, but probably shouldn’t be on the radar in anything else.
• I touched on John Axford a couple weeks ago, and since then the going has been pretty rough, although he did look good locking down a 1-0, tenth inning victory tonight — giving up a free base, but otherwise whiffing Adam Dunn and forcing Paul Konerko to hit into a game-ending double play. There has been a lot of pushback against the Ax Face Killa, primarily because his ERA has been an obscene 10.13 in June (8.0 IP) — well, that and the three blown saves in eight appearances probably didn’t help. Hark, however, there is hope for his owners! Axford’s xFIP is 3.38, lower than his ERA thanks to a (somewhat bloated) 0.324 BABIP and an abnormally low 61.3% LOB% (career 75.8%). While he is walking a few more batters than you (or Ron Roenicke) would prefer (5.7 BB/9), his strikeout rate is a career high 12.4 K/9 and his velocity has climbed to even higher heights in 2012 (up 0.7 mph to 96.2). Buy low if you can — speed bumps aside, Axford has the peripherals and job security to be a key contributor to fantasy squads in the second half of the season.
• Jim Johnson notched his 21st (is it really that many!?) save of the season tonight, finishing up a 2-1 victory for the Orioles in the battle between Peter Angelos’ team and… well… the team that wouldn’t even exist if Peter Angelos had his way. Johnson’s 0.66 WHIP and 1.14 ERA sparkle about as much as the Hope Diamond and likely are a reason many of his owners are reaping rewards in some of the major pitching categories (they certainly aren’t hurting). That said, there are red flags. Johnson’s 5.4 K/9 is his lowest since 2008. His BABIP is a tremendously unsustainable 0.140 and he has a 100% LOB% (100% because his four earned runs have come via the longball). Couple all of this with a fastball down 0.8 mph (95 to 94.2) and you have a guy with a 3.38 xFIP. Certainly not bad, but if you can find some other fellow who goes “oh, shiny!” when you show him Johnson’s 2012 ERA, might be time to see if you can sell high while he’s the beneficiary of some good luck and the Orioles are still in the American League East hunt.
• One last note for those in deep or dynasty/keeper leagues. Word got out to the Boston media this afternoon that Daniel Bard conceded what most Red Sox fans have hypothesized since his demotion to AAA — he’s no longer a starter. Owners salivating at the prospect of Bard’s high-90’s heater at the back end of the Boston bullpen in the immediate future should temper expectations, however. Combine Alfredo Aceves‘ jump in velocity and K/9 in a one-inning role, Andrew Miller‘s revival, Mark Melancon‘s reemergence, and Andrew Bailey‘s rehab and you see a tall ladder for Bard to climb to get back to meaningful appearances. Also, while his 10:2 K:BB looks good in 7.1 Triple-A innings, he has still struggled with control (hitting two batters and blowing a save this week on back-to-back wild pitches) and his velocity is still in the low-to-mid 90’s. There is still work that needs to be done.
For those of you who play daily fantasy games like FanGraphs: The Game, or just like to stream players, here is a matchup you may be able to exploit.
A Pitcher for Tomorrow: Jonathan Papelbon (PHI) at TB
This one may seem like cheating, but, given Friday’s rainout, you know Papelbon will be fresh for Saturday. Even though Cliff Lee has zero wins, you have to figure he’ll keep his team in it to the end — and if he does, it should be enough to get the Phillies closer and his 2.72 xFIP his 18th save of the season.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]