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Baseball Daily Dose

To Whit: Merrifield, Royals Start Out Hot

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: April 5, 2021, 9:16 pm ET

As we all expected, the best offense in baseball over the weekend has been ... the Royals? 

In the first two games of the season, Kansas City has scored 25 runs, and one of the reasons for their early success has been Whit Merrifield. Merrifield homered and drove in four runs on Saturday in an 11-4 victory. It’s the second homer of the season for Merrifield, as he also homered in the 14-10 slugfest with Texas in the opener on Thursday. He also went 3-for-5 in that contest with a couple of RBI, so the 31-year-old has started the season with a .556 average and 1.422 slugging percentage.

Those numbers are obviously not sustainable because of course they aren’t, but it’s also a reminder of just how talented Merrifield is. Even playing for a lackluster - and lackluster might be putting it nicely - Kansas City club, he’s routinely been a Top 50 fantasy player, and from 2017-2020, he’s slashed .297/.345/.452 and averaged 14 homers and 28 steals in that time frame. With some talented - and powerful - hitters hitting behind him, Merrifield has a chance to pile up the runs in 2021, and even if he doesn’t run as much as he used to, he can certainly be helpful in that category as well. Simply put, Merrifield is an extremely underrated player in both fantasy and real life, and deserves more respect.

Berrios, Burnes impressive in pitching dual

You won’t see much better starting pitching than you did on Saturday in Milwaukee. In a matchup between two of the most talented right-handed starters in baseball, Jose Berrios and Corbin Burnes both dominated on the mound, and at one point, we had not just dueling shutouts, but dueling no-hitters.

Burnes ended up taking the loss, but it just tells you how meaningless that state is. He was absolutely sensational in his 6 1/3 innings with one hit and 11 strikeouts before leaving. Unfortunately for him, that one hit was an opposite-field homer by Byron Buxton. Still, this was a great reminder of how dominant Burnes was in 2020 when he was a Cy Young candidate up until the final week of the season.

Also unfortunate for Burnes and those who started him in fantasy: How good Berrios was. The right-hander didn’t allow a hit and struck out 12 batters before being pulled to start the seventh. The Twins would allow just one hit in the contest -- a single off Tyler Duffey by Omar Narvaez -- and struck out 17 in total.

Burnes is the better starting bet going forward if only because Berrios has had issues with consistency, but both have a chance to be strong this season, and exhibited why on Saturday evening.

Starting Pitchers with an EDGE

Zack Wheeler - 7 IP, 0 ER, 10 K, 1 BB against Atlanta 

If it wasn’t for Berrios and Burnes, we’d be leading off with Wheeler’s strong outing. He was outstanding against a quality Atlanta lineup; The right-hander has improved the spin on his fastball, and it showed on Saturday while also showing off his complete arsenal in one of the most dominating starts of the early year. 

Jake Arrieta - 6 IP, 1 ER, 5 K, 1 BB against. Pittsburgh

Yes it came against one of the worst teams in baseball, but Arrieta looked good in his first start since re-signing with the Cubs. He gave up a run in the first, but didn’t have much trouble over the next five innings. He’s no longer a fantasy stalwart like he was in his previous time with Chicago, but Saturday suggested there might still be something here. 

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Hitters with an EDGE

Corey Seager - 3-for-4, 2B, R, RBI against Colorado

It seems like it’s been an awfully long time since we’ve seen Seager struggle. He won the NLCS MVP, the World Series MVP, would have won the Cactus League MVP if that was a thing, and now is hitting .667/.750/.833 over these first three games of the year. Even without steals, he’s one of the best shortstops in fantasy baseball. 

Yordan Alvarez - 3-for-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R against Oakland

Alvarez connected on his first homer of the season with a three-run shot against Lou Trivino in the fifth inning. He’s already driven in six runs on the season, and while it’s just three games, the 2019 Rookie of the Year has looked the part with a .385/.400/.769 slash to begin the campaign for the Astros. 

Yermin Mercedes - 3-for-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI

Mercedes started the season -- and his career -- 8-for-8 before the Angels were finally able to get him out. While this isn't sustainable by any player at any level, it's worth pointing out that Mercedes has mashed in the minors, and anyone who watched either of his first two games (or both) saw that he has a swing capable of making hard contact. Keep an eye on him. 

Priority Pickup 

Ty France, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners - 43 percent rostered in Yahoo fantasy leagues. 

We’re making it back-to-back Mariners in this section, as Jorge Montanez picked Yusei Kikuchi after his effort against the Giants that saw him strike out 10. France drilled a homer -- his first of the season -- on Saturday, and it went an estimated 114 mph in exit velocity. The former San Diego infielder has put up monster numbers in the minors, and the 26-year-old somewhat quietly hit .305/.368/.468 in 155 plate appearances last year. France doesn’t have elite power, but he should be a 20-homer player and has a real chance to hit over .300 because of his ability to make hard contact. Add in eligibility at second and third, and he’s definitely a player that should be rostered in a higher percentage of eligible leagues. 

Closing Time 

In his first appearance of the year, Kenley Jansen was able to pick up a save against the Rockies. Not only was it a save, it was a five-out iteration, and Jansen threw 14-of-24 pitches for strikes in the contest. He should remain the Dodgers’ stopper even with some talented arms behind him for the foreseeable future.

It wasn’t a save situation, but Craig Kimbrel was outstanding in his inning against the Pirates. He struck out the side in the ninth, and he threw 12-of-16 pitches for strikes while not allowing a hit. This was vintage Kimbrel, and nice to see early on. 

The Tigers turned to Bryan Garcia to get the save on Saturday, and he was able to get the job done with 1 1/3 scoreless innings and throwing 10-of-14 pitches for strikes. This situation should be avoided if possible, but Garcia is the most talented reliever on the team -- with due respect to Joe Jimenez -- and is the name to keep an eye on here. Again, avoid if you can. 

Sunday’s Matchup of the Day 

Dylan Cease (CWS) vs Shohei Ohtani (LAA)

All due respect to Cease, but this is about Ohtani. Not only is he going to be on the mound, but Angels manager Joe Maddon confirmed that he’ll be in the lineup as well. This could be an awful lot of fun.

American League Quick Hits: Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said that Kyle Lewis (knee) has a chance to return in about a week … Michael Brantley left Saturday’s win over the Athletics after being hit in the wrist. X-rays came back negative and Brantley is day-to-day … Andrew Benintendi left Saturday's game against the Rangers with lower-body soreness … Marcus Semien slugged a solo homer and stole a pair of bases on Saturday in the Blue Jays’ loss to the Yankees … Ty Buttrey announced his retirement from baseball … Twins placed 3B Josh Donaldson on the 10-day injured list with a mild right hamstring strain … Mike Fiers is scheduled to throw three innings on Monday in a scrimmage at the Athletics' alternate training site … Athletics manager Bob Melvin said Saturday that Ramon Laureano is "day-to-day" with a left wrist injury … Mariners re-signed Roenis Elias and Matt Magill to minor league contracts … White Sox signed OF Zack Granite and Keyvius Sampson to minor league contracts.

National League Quick Hits: Christian Walker is day-to-day with a cut and contusion under his left eye … Jon Gray was removed from Saturday's start against the Dodgers with "full body cramping … Nationals signed C Jonathan Lucroy to a minor league contract … Nick Senzel (shoulder) came off the bench for the Reds on Saturday against the Phillies … Paul DeJong went 2-for-3 with two home runs, two walks, and three runs scored in Saturday's 9-6 loss to the Reds … Ke’Bryan Hayes exited Saturday’s game against the Cubs with a left wrist injury. X-rays came back negative … Elieser Hernandez left Saturday's game against the Rays with a right biceps inflammation … Braves signed Yolmer Sanchez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Biddle to minor league contracts … Zac Gallen (forearm) was able to throw 60-pitches in a simulated game on Saturday … Nick Castellanos was ejected from Saturday's game against the Cardinals … Trent Grisham (hamstring) was able to play in a simulated game on Friday in Peoria … Diamondbacks placed INF Nick Ahmed on the 10-day injured list retroactive to March 31 with knee inflammation … Seth Lugo has resumed throwing, according to Mets manager Luis Rojas.

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports EDGE and also appears on the Circling the Bases Podcast.