Daily Dose: Second-half sleepers

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While the baseball world pauses for the All-Star break, here are a
dozen players with more second-half upside than their under-the-radar
status suggests …

John Bowker – Getting a much-deserved second chance in San Francisco
after hitting .322/.416/.550 at Triple-A and .307/.363/.523 at
Double-A. He’s not going to smack 30 homers and at 25 years old Bowker
is never going to be a star, but he should be able to hit .275 or so
with 20-homer power and solid on-base skills. Playing time will be an
issue, but he started three of the Giants’ last four games.

Alexi Casilla – Casilla flunked his way to the minors by hitting
.180, but earned a trip back to Minnesota by batting .340 at Triple-A
and Ron Gardenhire’s fetish for speedy, light-hitting middle infielders
all but guarantees that he’ll be in the No. 2 spot again before long.
Casilla has hit just .248/.299/.318 in 197 career games, but swiping 20
bases and being caught just three times gives him fantasy value.

Brett Cecil – Had five Quality Starts mixed in with three brutal
outings in his first eight turns in the Blue Jays’ rotation, but the
22-year-old rookie could show more consistency in the second half.
Cecil had a 3.15 ERA and 217/71 K/BB ratio in 217 innings as a minor
leaguer and should settle in as a good mid-rotation guy if he can do a
decent job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Matt Diaz – Probably won’t get the playing time that he deserves
even with Jeff Francoeur now out of the picture, but will at least see
starts against left-handers and could work his way into the lineup
against right-handers too if Ryan Church or Garret Anderson go down.
Diaz hit .301/.375/.462 in the first half to give him a .315/.354/.457
line in four seasons with the Braves.

Edwin Encarnacion – After batting just .127 in April he spent all of
May and June on the sidelines with a fractured wrist, but Encarnacion
has posted an .840 OPS while starting nine straight games since
returning two weeks ago and faces little competition for playing time
at third base. He hit .272/.351/.458 from 2006-2008 and still has some
room to grow at the age of 26.

Jake Fox – Fox has hit .313/.356/.550 through 90 trips to the plate
with the Cubs while finally getting his first extended shot at the age
of 26. He hit .318/.384/.650 at Triple-A, so he’ll keep producing if
the Cubs keep playing him and Lou Piniella has found different ways to
get him into the lineup. Fox may even see some time behind the plate
with Geovany Soto on the disabled list.

Chad Gaudin – Has gone just 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA since signing with
the Padres, but just four of his 14 starts have come at
pitcher-friendly Petco Park and with 85 strikeouts in 82.1 innings
Gaudin has the potential to slice his ERA by quite a bit if his control
improves. He has a 3.31 ERA and 39/13 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings spread
over his last five starts.

Jonny Gomes – He hit .311/.400/.556 in the first half while playing
almost strictly against left-handers, but could be pushed into extended
duty with Jay Bruce lost for the next two months. Gomes has shown a big
platoon split during his career, so that may not be such a great thing,
but he’s still managed 20 homers and 10 steals per 500 plate
appearances against righties along with mashing lefties.

Scott Hairston – Started in center field for the last five games of
the first half and has big-time offensive potential after hitting
.270/.330/.520 in pitcher-friendly San Diego. Oakland isn’t a whole lot
friendlier for batters, but Hairston has 25-homer power with 10-steal
speed and could get a chance to play nearly every day in the second
half.

Matt LaPorta – Made his major-league debut in May, but played
sporadically for three weeks and has been stuck at Triple-A ever since
despite batting .309 with 11 homers, 29 total extra-base hits, and a
.925 OPS in 63 games there. I’m not sure what the Indians are waiting
for at this point, because LaPorta is already 24 years old and has hit
at every level, so expect to see him in the second half.

Carl Pavano – A brutal first start skews his overall numbers,
because Pavano is 8-6 with a 4.42 ERA and 76/17 K/BB ratio in 106
innings since his Indians debut. That stretch includes seven Quality
Starts in his last 10 outings and his fastball is back in the low-90s
after often residing in the high-80s with the Yankees. He’ll never live
down his time in New York, but Pavano is once again a solid starter.

Chris Tillman – As if Adam Jones and George Sherrill aren’t enough
the Orioles’ haul for Erik Bedard also included Tillman, who’s on the
verge of the majors after posting a 2.50 ERA and 88/22 K/BB ratio in
86.1 innings at Triple-A. Tillman has always racked up tons of
strikeouts with 426 in 388 innings, but he’s also made major strides
with his control recently and at 21 years old looks like a future ace.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.