Bastardo can help you pick up some saves

Mike Harmon shares his advice on where to steal some saves and some bases.

It’s that time of year that frustrates Fantasy Baseball owners. No, I’m not speaking to the seemingly unending parade of players traveling to the disabled list.

Rather, it’s that point in the season where the impact made by players acquired on the waiver wire is more subtle. In April, owners watch as point totals fluctuate wildly. By June, each win, stolen base, save or three-run home run may not immediately translate to a rise in the standings. Stay the course. Progress may be slow, but you’ll be in striking distance for the stretch run.

Let’s dive back between the white lines to examine the two specialist categories, starting with the latest pitcher to claim the closer role in Philadelphia.

Shifting Bullpens

Antonio Bastardo, PHI

Analysis: Take a ticket. If Bastardo follows the trend, he’ll join the rest of the Philadelphia bullpen on the disabled list. Your chance to close out a game for the Phillies might be just around the corner.

Seriously, Bastardo has excelled in the setup role and has converted each of his three save opportunities to date. He’s produced a 0.93 ERA and has demonstrated closer stuff with his high strikeout rate of 10.24 batters per nine innings. Bastardo has allowed 11 hits in 29 innings of work.

The Phillies will give him ample opportunity to close out games while the bullpen mends, but don’t count on Cliff Lee giving the ball up in the ninth inning. Don’t be surprised if Philadelphia makes a move to bolster this banged-up bullpen at the deadline and push Bastardo back into the setup role.

Frank Francisco, TOR

Analysis: It took a while, but Francisco is finally firmly entrenched in the closer role for the Blue Jays. The 31-year old righty has converted saves in four of his past five appearances. During this period, Francisco allowed a single unearned run and lowered his ERA by nearly one full run to 4.30. He’s finding his stride following a slow start and time on the disabled list.

Mark Melancon, HOU

Analysis: Fantasy owners have been reticent to make a claim on Melancon since his return to the closer role. Granted his implosion against the Rays in his latest outing didn’t help. Melancon entered the game with a fantastic 1.98 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Melancon’s disastrous outing raised his ERA to 3.11 and his WHIP to 1.35.

Melancon has registered a solid, albeit unspectacular, strikeout rate of 7.9 per nine innings pitched with 2.5 strikeouts per walk issued. He won’t receive a ton of save opportunities in Houston (he’s converted 6-of-9 save opportunities), but Melancon holds the title.

Javy Guerra, LAD

Analysis: Guerra owns the closer role in Los Angeles following the team’s decision to shut down former All-Star and top-5 closer option Jonathan Broxton. He’s pitched to a strong 2.35 ERA in 15 appearances, though his 1.37 WHIP and .276 batting average against leaves you wanting.

Guerra owned a 1.06 ERA in 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga with 15 strikeouts against five walks prior to his promotion.

Mike Adams, SD

Analysis: In the coming weeks, you’ll hear closer Heath Bell’s name associated with various contenders. Depending on whether editors get bored, they’ll Photoshop some caps to give you an idea of how he’ll look in his new garb inside the story. The Padres are languishing near the back of the pack (only the dysfunctional Dodgers trail them in the NFL West) and most of the leader’s bullpens have been obliterated by injuries.

Adams is a candidate to step into the role should Bell get dealt. He’s been positively dominant in the setup role, posting a 1.24 ERA, a mind-bending 0.66 WHIP and eight strikeouts per walk.

Luke Gregerson performed brilliantly for the Padres in 2010. He was far more hittable in 30 appearances in 2011 before going on the disabled list with a strained left oblique.

Work the Basepaths

Tony Gwynn, OF, LAD

Analysis: Gwynn does not have the batting eye to rival that of his father, but he’s certainly been active on the basepaths. He brings a .239 batting average into the weekend with eight stolen eight bases in 10 attempts.

Despite the low batting average, Gwynn figures to see ample at-bats for Don Mattingly’s struggling Dodgers. He’s a huge asset defensively, having already contributed seven outfield assists in support of his pitching staff.

Jason Repko, OF, MIN

Analysis: As with Gwynn, Repko isn’t exactly torching big league pitching by any stretch of the imagination. However, he has hit safely in six of his past seven games to raise his batting average 44 points. Repko was batting .170 at the start of this run, so there was nowhere to go but up.

More importantly, Repko has been given the green light when he’s reached base. He’s stolen four bases in the past four games (six overall). He’ll continue to see playing time while Delmon Young recovers from the ankle injury sustained when crashing into the outfield wall last week.

Will Venable, OF, SD

Analysis: Venable returned from the disabled list on June 9th and has been reinstalled as the team’s leadoff hitter. In 18 games since returning to the lineup, Venable has batted .333 (11-for-33) with two stolen bases. Venable has recorded 13 stolen bases overall. He stole 29 bases in 36 attempts for the Padres in 2010.

Dustin Ackley, 2B, SEA

Analysis: I trumpeted the prospect of Ackley’s breakthrough prior to the season, and he finally got the call in the middle of June. The sweet-swinging second baseman has hit safely in 10 of his first 12 major league games. He’s batting .300 with five extra-base hits and stole his first base on Wednesday night. Ackley had stolen seven bases for Triple-A Tacoma prior to his call-up.

Ian Desmond, SS, WAS

Analysis: Desmond’s strikeout rate has soared and his batting has plummeted markedly in 2011. He’s still producing decent gap power (17 extra-base hits) with great output on the basepaths. Desmond has stolen 20 bases in 23 attempts despite batting an abysmal .224. He’s already surpassed last season’s production in less than one-half of the games played (he stole 17 in 154 games in 2010).

You’ll need to grit your teeth and accept Desmond’s low batting average, just as you would for most of these options, but one-category support is on the wire.