FANTASY FARE: Veteran Giants bats breaking out in Oracle's cozier confines

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Few noticed during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that the pitchers haven known as Oracle Park — home of the San Francisco Giants — had months earlier moved in its outfield fences an average of six feet while lowering the centre-field wall from eight feet to seven. Least of all the players themselves.

“Honestly, I forgot that that even happened,” said first baseman Brandon Belt last summer. “Eyeballing, it kind of seems the same out there. I didn’t really notice a difference, but I definitely don’t hate it.” We should think not. Belt, without a 20-homer season in his underwhelming 11-year career, has been one of several beneficiaries of the new dimensions, slugging seven long balls already in 2021.

The change has, in fact, impacted the entire team. The Giants, who ranked 26th in HRs in 2019, improved to 12th last year and currently sit fourth. Brandon Crawford, another veteran lefty with a career-best 21 homers back in 2015, also has seven, while catcher Buster Posey, a righty who hasn’t hit more than a dozen since 2016, is already up to eight.

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But Oracle is only part of the reason for the power surge among Giants. Belt, who tweaked his swing after a rough 2019, has watched his barrel rate soar from 7.9% that year to 16.8 in 2020 to 21.0% so far this season. Same with Crawford whose barrel rate has followed a trajectory of 4.4% to 9.4% to 13.0% over the same time span. Posey, who sat out the pandemic season, has watched his barrel rate explode from 3.6% in 2019 to 12.1%.

All three have to rank among the most pleasant fantasy surprises early on, with the two Brandons still among the most egregiously under-owned infielders.

INJURY ITEMS

Ronald Acuna Jr. owners are exhaling after their roster cornerstone collapsed with an ankle injury on Thursday night but appears to have avoid serious injury. X-rays were negative but a stay on the 10-day IL isn’t out of the question … Wonder why the Red Sox were tied for the MLB lead in wins heading into Saturday? One reason is that their position players have lost only 26 games to injury all season. The Brewers have lost 145 … Byron Buxton’s strained hip will keep the Twins star out “weeks, not days.” … D-Backs’ Ketel Marte (hamstring) is close to a rehab assignment … Twins rookie Alex Kirilloff (wrist) is progressing with his strengthening exercises, which means surgery looks like it can be ruled out. Wrists, though, like backs, are tricky. Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes has been agonizingly slow coming back from his wrist issue and was recently transfered to the 60-day IL … Following his aborted one-game return from a mysterious back ailment, Brewers’ Christian Yelich began what should be a drawn-out triple-A rehab assignment on Friday. He could be there a couple of weeks as the club methodically increases his workload to avoid another relapse … The Mets hoped to avoid the 10-day IL for Jacob deGrom (lat) but that wasn’t to be. They’ll be extra careful with the best pitcher on the planet … Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (elbow) is expected to make a first rehab start this coming week after TJ surgery in March 2020. He is likely looking at a mid-June start to his season … Another notable TJ recovery from March 2020, Boston’s Chris Sale, is behind schedule because of a series of setbacks that included a stiff neck, a sore back and a bout of COVID-19. His return is now more likely to come in August … COVID-19 will keep Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. sidelined for another week or so.

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LINEUP NOTES

Nick Senzel has moved up to the leadoff slot in the Reds batting order after spending much of the early season in the 6-7-8 positions. That will help his runs scored but eat into his RBI potential. Jesse Winker now hits second so look for more ribbies … Cristian Pache switched places on Friday with Ender Inciarte — Pache going back on the IL, Inciarte starting in CF. No surprise. Pache, the opening-day starter, while terrific defensively, was no match for major-league pitching, hitting just .111 with a 36.8 K%. Unless he tears it up at the plate, Inciarte’s stay as the everyday CF could be in jeopardy with Guillermo Heredia’s eventual return from a hamstring injury.

BY THE NUMBERS

In his past two starts, which included a no-hitter on May 5, Orioles’ John Means has not allowed an earned run in 15 IPs and posted a 15-0 K-BB. After a strong finish to 2020, we tabbed the lefty as a breakout candidate and he’s delivered, and then some. In a dozen starts since Sept. 9 of last season, he is 6-1 with a 1.31 ERA and has allowed one or zero runs in 10 of them. That’s elite, folks … Dodgers’ Max Muncy’s MLB-leading 23.2% walk rate is more than four clicks better than runner-up Carlos Santana of the Royals. The MLB average is 8.9%. We went back to the turn of the century to see if anyone could match that 23.8 and no one was even close … Angels 1B Jared Walsh’s boxscore line on Monday night was a thing of beauty: 4-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and a steal … With seven SBs already, Tigers’ Robbie Grossman is only two behind his career-high total of nine from two years ago.

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WEIRD SPLIT

Randall Grichuk, Blue Jays
Balls hit to centre-field:
2020: 24.9%
Career: 30.8%
2021: 46.3%

WAIVER WATCH (with fantasy rating out of 5)

Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners * * * *
That’s more like it. The 21-year-old prospect, who went 0-4 in his highly anticipated major-league debut on Thursday night, followed that up on Friday by going 3-for-4 with a HR, two doubles and two RBIs. Still, short sample size aside, the fact that the talented lefty was immediately installed as the M’s leadoff man tells you all you need to know about his five-category upside. There will be bumps in the road, no doubt, but he’s as good a bet to make an instant impact as any hitting prospect in the past few years.

Logan Gilbert, SP, Mariners * * *
Another top-shelf Seattle (and MLB) prospect, his first taste of the majors on Thursday didn’t go all that well either, allowing four earned runs in four innings, including a pair of homers. At 24, the righty was seen as one of the most MLB-ready arms in the minors thanks to his excellent command of the strike zone, which he did flash in his debut by not walking a batter.

Tucker Barnhart, C, Reds * * *
The catching position is again a wasteland, even more so with productive names such as Travis d’Arnaud and Omar Narvaez on the IL. Barnhart is owned in only 33% of Yahoo! leagues and not only is he one of those rare backstops hitting for AVG — .286 — he has also chipped in with three HRs, 17 runs scored and 14 RBIs. Yes, you could do a lot worse.

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Niko Goodrum, 2B/SS, Tigers * *
He’s been a handy guy to have stashed at the end of your fantasy roster because of his ability to chip in just about everywhere on the stats sheet. Though he’s not an everyday player, lately he’s been producing like one, batting .333 in May (13-for-39), with eight runs, five RBIs and five steals. He also has four HRs for the season. And the fact he qualifies at every position except C and 3B gives him added value when juggling your daily lineup.

Miguel Yajure, SP, Pirates * *
After giving up four ERs in 4.1 IPs in his first spot start last month, the 23-year-old righty, who had three strong relief appearances with the Yankees last summer, gave a much better account of himself on Friday by holding the Giants scoreless over five innings, allowing only one hit and one walk in a no-decision. He’s likely earned himself another turn through the rotation but should just be on the wait-and-see list.

HOT AND NOT: Batters the past two weeks

Adolis Garcia TEX
.375, 5 HRs, 13 RBIs, 2 SBs
Yordan Alvarez HOU
.389, 5 HRs, 14 runs, 8 RBIs
Isiah Kiner-Falefa TEX
.396, 2 HRs, 12 runs, 3 SBs
Raimel Tapia COL
.340, 1 HR, 10 runs, 4 SBs
Teoscar Hernandez TOR
.327, 3 HRs, 13 RBIs, 1 SB
Hunter Renfroe BOS
.327, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs
Andrew McCutchen PHIL
.333, 4 HRs, 10 runs, 1 SB
Miguel Rojas MIA
.378, 2 HRs, 14 runs
– – – – – – –
Jackie Bradley Jr. MIL
2-for-34, 1 HR, 2 RBIs
Eduardo Escobar ARZ
4-for-46, 0 HRs, 4 RBIs
Carlos Correa HOU
.133, 1 HR, 3 RBIs
Andres Gimenez CLE
2-for-21, 1 RBI, 1 SB
Maikel Franco BAL
4-for-43, 0 HRs, 1 RBI

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