- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Fantasy owners, just like pretty much all of baseball, are starting to take the Washington Nationals a bit more seriously. The 20-15 Nationals scored 14 runs Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies, and it will be interesting to see how things go this weekend. After the Nationals face Ubaldo Jimenez on Friday, they get to hit against Greg Smith and Aaron Cook. That's enticing.
While Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues, virtually all of the other Nationals hitters seeing regular duty have seen their ownership numbers rise recently, from underrated power hitter Josh Willingham to catcher Ivan Rodriguez to all three of the team's main middle infield options, Cristian Guzman, Ian Desmond and Adam Kennedy. Each member of that trio is playing enough and hitting .333 or better in the past week, plus they're scoring runs. Even Roger Bernadina, fresh off his multihomer game, is being added in leagues! Hey, they are at Coors Field this weekend.
On the pitching side, four Nationals aren't just being added in a small percentage of leagues, but a whole lot of them. Starters Livan Hernandez and Scott Olsen, each slated to pitch in Denver, are among them, as well as minor leaguer Stephen Strasburg, expected to make his big league debut within a month. The other very popular Nationals pitcher of late is reliever Tyler Clippard, who has gone from 25.3 percent owned to nearly double that in a week. Clippard seems to win just about every night, so I guess that makes sense. Of course, when his luck of blowing saves/winning games ends, he'll quickly be forgotten.
The Nationals are the current National League wild card entry, so fantasy owners are naturally picking up on this success and adding their players. Coors Field isn't the same offensive dream it used to be, although runs are clearly being scored there. Let's see how much more popular the Nationals can get this weekend.
Here are five other pitchers I'll be watching closely this weekend.
Dallas Braden, SP, Oakland Athletics: He starts Friday against Joe Saunders. Just remember, after Mark Buehrle spun his perfect game last season, he got lit for three straight starts. Let's be optimistic on Braden and hope no hitter ever touches his mound again.
Justin Duchscherer, SP, Oakland Athletics: He's slated to come off the DL Saturday, after missing a few weeks with a hip problem. Few can doubt Duchscherer's success, as his ERA is 2.89. His durability is another matter.
Jose Contreras, RP, Philadelphia Phillies: One of fantasy's most added pitchers still does not have a major league save in his career. Look for that to change this weekend. I would, however, try to avoid cutting Brad Lidge. He certainly remains in the picture.
Barry Zito, SP, San Francisco Giants: Walked 12 in his first six starts, then issued seven free passes against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. No team has fewer walks than Zito's weekend foe, the Houston Astros, with 64. Next worst is the Baltimore Orioles with 90!
Andy Pettitte, SP, New York Yankees: I'm torn on whether I, as a Pettitte owner in a few leagues, would prefer a DL stint so the 37-year-old lefty has more time to heal his balky elbow. He's scheduled to face Scott Baker and the Minnesota Twins on Saturday. If he pitches poorly, or not enough, then I'll be concerned.
Here are five other hitters I'll be watching closely this weekend.
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners: Three multihit games in four this week doesn't quite prove he can hit major league pitching, but he does get to face a trio of Tampa Bay Rays right-handers this weekend.
Gordon Beckham, 2B/3B, Chicago White Sox: I admit I have no answers here. He shouldn't be this bad. He can't be. Facing a Royals rotation without Zach Greinke has to get things going in the proper direction, right? Right?!?
Mike Aviles, SS, Kansas City Royals: Then again, the right-handed hitting Aviles, now an everyday player, shouldn't have major problems with Buehrle, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, who have a cumulative ERA of 5.76. By early next week Aviles could be one of the most added players in fantasy, and be worth it.
Eric Karabell has some players to watch this weekend, leading with a number of Washington Nationals, who are suddenly the toast of the fantasy world.