Fantasy baseball category killers: Saves

Fantasy baseball category killers: Saves

By Rob Steingall
CSNChicago.com

Frank Francisco, Mets: After a few hiccups in the early stages of May, Francisco has been rock solid, converting his last five save chances without giving up a run. On the season, he's 14-for-16, which is certainly effective. The Mets aren't an offensive juggernautand will be in their share of close games, which should allow Francisco to have a plenty of opportunities to pick up saves for the remainder of the year.

Addison Reed, White Sox: There are always growing pains from rookies who are thrust into ninth inning duty, but Reed has handled his first few weeks as the White Sox closer exceptionally well. He's a perfect 7-for-7 in save chances, and he's striking out overa batter per inning. While he doesn't have name value just yet, that doesn't mean he can't net you a hefty profit the remainder of the season.

Ernesto Frieri, Angels: Outside of the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, I don't think there has been a more dominant reliever in the majors than Frieri. His numbers are extraordinary (26 IP, 1.04 ERA, 4815 KBB), and now he's picking up saves. He's good enough to lockdown this job and be one of the most dominant closers in the American League.

Alfredo Aceves, Red Sox: The nice thing about Aceves is that manager Bobby Valentine has no problem calling on him for multiple inning saves, allowing him to collect more strikeouts and help your ratios. He picked up two saves last week, and has a secure holdon the ninth inning gig.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: With the saves landscape constantly changing, you need to chase every last handshake, which brings us to Iwakuma. He closed out two games last week, and while the Mariners bullpen situation is in a state of flux, you have to go withthe hot hand.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."