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Closing Time: Take care of those bears

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

You're barbecuing, you're moving into the dorms, you're drafting a slew of football teams, you're spending a holiday weekend with the family. Ah, but there's still a bunch of fantasy baseball happenings to keep tabs on, and that's where I come in. Here's your weekend briefing:

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The Cubs have a solid 4.5-game lead in the NL Central (and 10 games clear of the next NL club), and that enables them to play it safe with the precious arms in their rotation. A "dead arm" got Carlos Zambrano pushed back from Sunday to Tuesday, and the team is going to skip a turn with Rich Harden (his next start won't come until Sept. 9). Zambrano had a 7.43 ERA in August, and keep in mind he was on the DL back in June due to shoulder soreness.

Jeff Kent is headed for a knee scope and will miss most of September, though a return late in the pennant race is possible in a pinch-hitting role. In a redraft league, this is drop-city. Blake DeWitt played second base the last two days and presumably will stick there.

Frank Francisco is settling in nicely as the new Texas closer, scoring his second save of the week Sunday with a four-outer at Anaheim (1 H, 2 K). He's passed the eye test as well, mixing his heat and off-speed stuff nicely and pounding the strike zone with more regularity. "He spent a couple of months around Eddie Guardado, learning about throwing strikes, and now he's the Frank Francisco this team thought they had a couple of years ago," teammate Marlon Byrd told the Dallas Morning News.

J.J. Putz has a little arm tenderness and suggested a break Sunday, so the Mariners went to other options with their late-inning lead at Cleveland (Roy Corcoran finished up with a shaky save). Putz has yet to work three straight days all season, and the Mariners are going to be careful with him down the stretch.

It's been a lost year for catchers, so let's not look past Pablo Sandoval, who's been on every pitch for the Giants in August (393 average, .554 slugging). He's getting plenty of time at first, third and behind the plate, and while it's easy to be skeptical of a player who jumps three times in a season, he did have a .350 average and 20 homers in the minors this year (between High-A and Double-A ball).

Mike Aviles took a pitch off his right hand Sunday, causing the entire Yahoo! Blog community to hold its breath. The Royals are calling it a right finger contusion, X-rays came back negative, and Aviles is day-to-day.

Armando Galarraga just doesn't miss these days. He had to settle for a no-decision against the Royals Sunday, but there's no quibbling with his excellent line (7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K). He's ticked his strikeout rate up in the second half and cut down significantly on his walks, validating the run we're seeing. It's been a lost summer in Detroit for so many different reasons, but here's one thing the Tigers can feel good about.

My current NL Cy Young ballot reads this way: 1. Tim Lincecum. 2. CC Sabathia. 3. Everyone else. Brandon Webb's rough patch takes him out of it. I have nothing to gain from Sabathia winning the trophy, but I'm a journalist, we pull for the story - and oh what a story Sabathia is right now.

Victor Martinez went 2-for-9 in his first weekend back, playing first base (and pinch-hitting once). Kelly Shoppach started all three games behind the plate, so don't worry about Eric Wedge forgetting about him

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Speed Round: Keep Scott Olsen away from the Mets, they absolutely own him. He allowed six more runs (and three homers) against the New Yorkers Sunday, and he's beaten them just once in 12 starts over his career (along with a 4.89 ERA and 1.47 WHIP) . . . Nomar Garciaparra is in the lineup for his bat, not his glove, but lately he hasn't done much hitting for the Dodgers (3-for-28 funk, and 13 games without an extra-base hit) . . . Jason Bartlett got his batting stroke back in late August, but he hasn't swiped a base since July 2 and that's what fantasy owners need from him . . . The Ty Wigginton show is never as much fun on the road, but at least his stops this week are hitter-friendly (Chicago, Colorado) . . . Jayson Werth had himself a week (12-for-24, four homers, one steal), and he'll face two lefties in the upcoming Washington, so keep riding the train . . . Jonathan Broxton didn't get a save chance this week but he did collect six strikeouts over two scoreless innings, so it looks like his head is clear again . . . Kosuke Fukudome ended August with a .193 average and three extra-base hits . . . Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero got routine days off Sunday, something the Angels can do liberally as they're running away with the AL West.

Take a good look at that Atlanta lineup, appreciate what's happened to this club. Guys like Martin Prado and Omar Infante are actually producing, but it's hard to maintain a competitive club when you've lost the manpower this team has. And to think, the over/under on the Braves was in the mid-80s back in March. I wouldn't be surprised if the upstart Nationals get close to or sneak past Atlanta over the final four weeks.

Injury Lap: Troy Percival is set to come off the disabled list Tuesday . . . Josh Hamilton is expected to get his root canal finished up Monday . . . Joba Chamberlain (rotator cuff) might be activated as soon as Tuesday, slated for the New York bullpen . . . The Dodgers still hope to see Rafael Furcal (back) in September but they haven't specified a time frame . . . Chris Young (forearm) gets two starts for the Friars this week, but it's hard to imagine him working deep in either game given how little he's pitched the last few months . . . Chipper Jones is still battling a laundry list of nicks, so don't expect him to play a lot this month . . . Justin Duchscherer is penciled in for a Saturday start at Baltimore; I'd like to see one make-good turn before I turn back to him . . . B.J. Upton took a pitch off the ankle Sunday and left the game, but the Rays were comfortably ahead at the time. He should be fine. As for Dioner Navarro (hamstring), don't look for him to return until mid-week . . . Billy Wagner (elbow) will throw in the bullpen Monday, and if all goes well, he might pitch in a Single-A game to follow . . . Hamstring, neck and shoulder soreness pushed Vicente Padilla on the DL, but he might be ready to return next week . . . Adam Jones (foot) should be good to play Monday.

Jacoby Ellsbury's batting eye didn't return in August, but everything else came around (.287, two homers, eight steals). Maybe it was a case of getting healthy, perhaps regaining confidence, or some mechanical adjustments at the dish. In any event, I see him as a Top 25 outfielder down the stretch, and a $20 player next year.

I don't know what happened to The Sundays, but their first album is fantastic, A to Z.

Handshakes: It hasn't always been pretty but Fernando Rodney (7) has six straight conversions in a row . . . Jose Valverde (37) was unhittable again and has given up just one run since July 21 . . . Bobby Jenks (27) needed 27 pitches to escape at Boston, with the tying runs in scoring position . . . Brad Lidge (33) worked a perfect ninth and still hasn't blown a chance all year . . . Florida's Matt Lindstrom picked up a win Saturday, in case you missed it, and he's definitely the add to make if you're gambling on saves while Kevin Gregg (knee) rehabs.

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