Six The Hard Way: Samardzija, Freese, & Jackson Impress Early On

Apr 8, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

If you're a dice player, you know exactly what six the hard way is, a 3/3. This weekly column will identify three players who provide notable production as well as three players who fail to meet expectations. The first week of play provided many eye opening performances, some good, some bad, and some down right ugly!

Jeff Samardzija - The reliever turned rotation member made a significant impact in his first game as the Chicago Cubs #3 starter. Samardzija struck out 8 batters, walked none, and scattered 4 hits through out his 8 2/3 innings. He allowed 1 run on his way to his first major league win as a starter, a fine debut to say the least. Even more impressive though was his ability to maintain his velocity deep into the game. Per Buster Olney, Samardzija averaged 96.3 mph on his fastball during the ninth inning which coincidentally was his highest average for any inning. I have questions surrounding almost ever facet of the Cubs this year, bullpen, offensive potential, and defensive make up but as it stands now the former Notre Dame pitcher could be a bright spot for fantasy owners this season. If he's still unowned in your league, per CBS he has the 6th highest add rate at an increase of 22%, then I suggest you move quickly. He's sure to have an innings cap this year so he is a mid-season trade candidate, however if his performance over the next several weeks is anywhere close to his first game, you'll be able to receive a substantial return for your playoff push.

David Freese - The 2011 World Series hero is doing a fine job helping the city of St. Louis forget about Albert Pujols. He's driven in runs in five of the six games he's started for the Cardinals and currently leads the majors with 10 RBI. Freese has the power stroke going early, belting three home runs through the first seven games. Last season Freese didn't hit his third home run until the 38th game of the year so needless to say the early extra base power is unexpected.

Austin Jackson - The Detroit Tigers lead off man is showing signs that he finally may be taking to that role. Jackson is known for being prone to strikeouts but so far over his 24 plate appearances he's managed to reach base 14 times. While the sample size may be small, it's encouraging to see Jackson reach base early on and not just by way of a hit. Jackson has four walks through five games

Josh Beckett - I don't know if there's a worse way to start a season, giving up 5 home runs in your first appearance, albeit to a stacked Detroit Tigers lineup, is unacceptable to put it in a not so explicit form. Boston Red Sox fans are as superstitious as any, and his performance or lack there of, conjured up whispers of even years. While it's a little early to write off the 2012 season just because of the end number there are reasons to be concerned. Beckett's fastball topped 92 mph once during his start and it lacked the usual movement. His performance while horrendous, but maybe not as alarming as....

Tim Lincecum - The buzz around Lincecum entering this season primarily revolved around his decision to ditch his slider in an effort to preserve his arm. Some pitch f/x tools had Lincecum throwing multiple sliders in his first game but he denied that he threw any and stated he was sticking to his plan. A more concerning matter may be his decline in velocity. The pitcher affectionately referred to as "Big Time Timmy Jim" sat mostly in the 90-91 mph range in his first start. The San Fran Giants pitcher let up five runs over as many innings though he did manage to strike out seven batters. He'll be one of the most watched players going forward. If he doesn't bring back the slider and his velocity continues to be in the low 90's there could be a significant dip in his performance this season.

Kevin Youkilis - The Red Sox third baseman has gotten off to a very slow start going hit-less in the season's first series. After last season's down performance, owners have reason to worry. Youkilis has battled injuries the past couple years and the 33 year old is starting to look like a shell of his former self. Third base is a shallow position as is and I'd advise owners to find a quality back if they currently do not have one on the roster. For those playing in leagues with a deep bench or available minor league slots I suggest you pick up 3b prospect Will Middlebrooks who is waiting in the wings at Triple-A Pawtucket.

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