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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Final week -- playing hard or hardly playing?

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Fantasy gamers have been trained to fear Week 17 in the NFL, but Week 26 on the sandlot scares me nearly as much. And in 2009, hardball's final scene is cloudier than ever.

There isn't much left to decide with respect to the MLB playoff picture and as a result we can't be sure how several teams will approach the final seven days of the season. We know the Tigers and Twins will at least start the week going all out (just two games separate them for the AL Central title) and in the NL the Rockies and Braves are in a similar spot (2.5 games between them for the wild card). Everyone else, we're guessing and we're hoping.

Heads up on your primary Yankee hitters for Monday's game with Kansas City; New York clinched the AL East title Sunday and that usually turns the following match into Senior Skip Day. I'll be flabbergasted if the 30-somethings on this roster get into the opener of the series. Be ready to maneuver if you're in a daily league.

The Red Sox have their magic number down to two for the AL wild card; they'll be able to rest their primary guys by the middle of the week. And while the Rangers in theory should be trying to catch Boston, Ron Washington seems resigned to the fact that it's not going to happen. I doubt we'll see Michael Young(notes) again this season. Julio Borbon(notes) looks intriguing though; the Rangers face six righties in seven days and Washington wants to give Borbon a look in center field.

The Pirates get eight games for the finishing week, courtesy of Wednesday's twin bill with the Cubs. Heads up on the Padres, who only have five matches (and all of them in their run-blunting ballpark). Everyone else is looking at six or seven games.

Teams I'm willing to invest in for fantasy purposes: Atlanta (the Braves really think they can catch Colorado, full week, four games with Washington waiting); Oakland (the best September offense by far); Minnesota (the Tigers look so catchable); Houston (seven games and Dave Clark isn't going to send out a B-team as he's trying to impress).

The Indians basically slapped the bust tag on Michael Aubrey(notes) when they dealt him to Baltimore earlier this summer; the 11th overall pick back in 2003 had trouble staying healthy in the minors and was slow to develop the power you'd expect from a corner infielder. Maybe the change of scenery has done Aubrey some good; he's been given a regular spot with the Orioles in the last couple of weeks and although we're talking about a tiny sample (42 at-bats), he's shown some pop and justified the time (.333/.378/.571, four doubles, two homers).

I need every homer I can get in the Friends & Family stretch run and Aubrey made sense as a final-week rental (seven games doesn't hurt the cause, either). And in a touch of irony, one of my competitors, Paul Singman of The Hardball Times, tabbed Aubrey Huff(notes) of Detroit (the former Oriole) as his final-week look-see.

Streambles for Tuesday: Brian Duensing(notes) at Detroit (unfortunately he draws Verlander); Wade Davis(notes) against Baltimore; Trevor Cahill(notes) at Seattle (great of late, though King Felix is on the other side); Jonathan Sanchez(notes) versus Arizona (big park, outstanding record against the Snakes).

Huston Street(notes) (34) got six outs in Colorado as the Rockies still need to salt their playoff spot away. Better be careful, Jim Tracy; you'll need a healthy Street for the post-season and your closer has worked in four of the last five games.

All hands were on deck for Tampa's win at Texas; Dan Wheeler(notes) worked a scoreless seventh, Randy Choate(notes) got the eighth (and allowed a run), Grant Balfour(notes) recorded two outs in the ninth and then Lance Cormier(notes) retired the last batter for the rogue save. In other words, good luck Maddon speculating for the final week; there isn't one clear guy to get invested in, it's going to be matchup-driven all the way.

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Other Sunday Handshakes: Juan Gutierrez is pitching like he wants to be Arizona's closer next season; he's got six straight conversions and a win over the last few weeks. And just to look the part, he allowed three runs in a non-save situation this week, like so many relief aces are wont to do. The key for him will be cutting down on the walks without losing the bite on his stuff. … Mariano Rivera(notes) turns 40 in November but there's no sign of slippage: he's 43-for-45 on saves, with a 1.85 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .197 BAA. I've generally considered Dennis Eckersley the gold standard for closers but I can't deny Mo's rightful place at the top of the list. … Shawn Camp(notes) got a save in Toronto? That's just Cito Gaston showing off. … Brian Fuentes(notes) (43) hasn't allowed a run since that Wednesday night squeeze fest in Boston. … Joakim Soria(notes) got six outs in support of Zack Greinke's(notes) 16th win, working around four hits.

Mike Gonzalez(notes) worked a scoreless ninth and Rafael Soriano(notes) (27) took the tenth as the surging Braves finally put away Washington. Mike MacDougal's(notes) Faustian Pact is expiring on the other side (9.72 ERA in September). … Ryan Madson(notes) (9) was reasonably smooth getting four outs at Milwaukee, allowing just one baserunner. Brad Lidge(notes) was mercifully kept out of the one-run game. … Jonathan Broxton's(notes) blown save has an ugly line to it, but the tape should ease your mind a bit; the Pirates rally was built on a few cheap hits and several fielding lapses (two errors, plus one muffed double play). … Matt Thornton(notes) (3) was knocked around by the Tigers but he was working with a lead so it didn't keep him from the stat-grab. … Fill in your own family-friendly comment limerick for Jose Valverde(notes) (25) and Brian Wilson(notes) (37), just so they don't feel left out.

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