Fantasy owners are shoring up their middle infield positions for the stretch run and some former fantasy heroes are falling to the wayside. There are a number of all-time home run champs on the injury report this week, and two Bay Area aces facing extended absences from their respective rotations for the playoff push.
These stories, and a bevy of solid matchups on the diamond, are on my radar in Fantasy Baseball This Week .
- "As Barry's World Turns" played out another act when Barry Bonds announced Wednesday that he'll "definitely" play this season. He's indicated that he wants to make his return in front of the home fans in San Francisco, and the Giants begin an 11-game homestand against Chicago Thursday night. While Bonds can't appear in the playoffs should he return, he certainly could be a key acquisition for the stretch run for your fantasy playoffs.
- Another home run slugger battling the injury bug is Ken Griffey Jr. In this comeback year (.301, 35 HR, 92 RBIs), Griffey had finally been a regular fixture in the Reds lineup. Unfortunately, he's now saddled with a strained foot and has been inactive since Sunday. There are conflicting reports as to the severity of the injury, but Junior is expected back in the lineup before season's end.
- The Orioles are clearing the clubhouse of any and all lingering personnel issues. Sammy Sosa was sent home to Florida to attend to his hurt right toe. He's eligible to come off of the DL on Saturday, but likely won't return to the club until Baltimore visits Tampa on the 16th.
- Chris Young left Wednesday's game against the Twins with arm fatigue. He pitched only one inning before shutting it down for the night. It's quite likely that the 11-game winner will be shut down for the season.
- The news on A's hurler Rich Harden is not encouraging. He hasn't appeared in a game since August 19th, after which he experienced tremendous pain in his right shoulder. Harden reported no pain or stiffness after throwing on Wednesday, but A's trainers are approaching this one cautiously.
- Staying in the Bay Area, Jason Schmidt left Wednesday's game in the fifth inning with a strained right groin. Schmidt had one five straight decisions over seven starts before Wednesday's injury-shortened outing.
- Gary Sheffield pulled up with a hamstring injury while chasing a Jonny Gomes triple in the first inning of Wednesday's game. He indicated after the game that he doesn't believe the injury to be too serious and considers himself day-to-day.
- Dustin Hermanson continues to battle pain in his lower back. He says that he won't fully recover until a full offseason of rest. The White Sox are limiting his workload, allowing youngster Bobby Jenks to pick up some work and keeping Hermanson fresh for the postseason.
- The Pirates got a double dose of good news when they announced the return of both Oliver Perez and Zach Duke to the rotation. Duke will take the hill on Friday, while Perez will toe it up (no pun intended) on Sunday. Perez is 3-0 for his career with a 2.62 ERA at Cincinnati.
- Jake Peavy is scheduled for an examination of his injured shoulder on Thursday afternoon to determine whether he'll be able to start over the weekend.
- Chien-Ming Wang returns to the Yankees rotation on Thursday night against the Devil Rays. He last pitched, and won, for the Yankees in a July 8th start against Cleveland.
- Those looking for a potential power boost in NL-only leagues welcome Larry Bigbie back to the radar. The Rockies activated the outfielder on Tuesday after he missed three weeks with a strained Achilles'. Colorado welcomes Arizona (5.07 team ERA) to Coors for a three-game set this weekend.
- Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi: Howard has hit safely in eight of his past 10 games with six home runs and eight RBIs. Teams looking for a power surge in the final weeks of the season are calling on the big Philly 1B. Howard and the Phils play 10 more games at Citizens Bank Park during the final run.
- Ryan Freel, 2B/SS/3B, Cin: Owners are fired up to have the speedy infielder back at their disposal, and he has been a hot commodity on the waiver wire over the past 48 hours. Freel went 3-for-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a rare home run in his return from the DL on Wednesday. While there is a question as to whether he'll run down the stretch (he's got 30 stolen bases on the year), he's worth adding to your bench until it's proven that he can't.
- Aaron Small, SP, NYY: Who would have thought that 33-year old hurler Aaron Small would play a vital role to the Yankees' pennant hopes? He's won six games since joining the squad in mid-July and was positively dominant in his last start against Oakland on September 3rd. He'll next face the Red Sox over the weekend.
- Juan Uribe, 2B/SS/3B: This versatile performer is off to a strong start in September, and owners are responding in droves. He's hit three home runs and driven in eight runs over the past six games and currently owns a seven-game hitting streak.
- Esteban Loaiza, SP, Was: Loaiza has won three of his past four outings, including eight strong innings against the Phillies on September 4th. Loaiza has also been padding his strikeout total of late, fanning seven or more hitters in three of those four starts.
- Johnny Peralta, SS, Cle: The 23-year old shortstop was one of the hottest properties going in July and August, but as evidenced by the middle infielders on the upswing (see the earlier Buzz Index entries), Peralta is on the outs with owners to start September. In five September starts, Peralta went 1-for-19 before being benched for Wednesday's game. He has also failed to homer since August 22nd.
- Dan Haren, SP, Oak: Haren had put together two strong outings in a row (two earned runs in 13 innings pitched) before struggling against the Mariners on Wednesday. He allowed eight hits and five earned runs in just 2.2 innings of work, prompting owners to jettison him to the waiver wire.
- Nick Johnson, 1B, Was: Johnson re-aggravated his heel injury running out a ground ball on Saturday. He took batting practice before Tuesday's game, but no timetable has been set for his return. Owners are seeking other options for their 1B and Utility roles.
- Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Col: Fantasy owners waited all summer for Barmes to return from his injury, but wasted no time bouncing him to the waiver wire after a slow start in five games back. He has just three hits in his first 24 at-bats with zero RBI.
- Chad Tracy, 1B/3B/OF, Ari: Tracy is hitting just .216 (8-for-37) in his past 10 games with only one extra-base hit (a double on August 27th). He's only hit two home runs since August 11th.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Carlos Pena, Det, 1B
Pena's not going to light up the batting average column for an entire season, but he certainly finds himself in grooves. Over the past month, Pena has hit .378 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs. The six games on the docket against Kansas City and three against Seattle (except for Felix, of course) make for a power-laden stretch run.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Larry Walker, OF, StL
Walker has been bothered by recurring neck pain due to a herniated disc. He's hit .263 (10-for-38) since coming off of the DL with one home run and two RBIs. It's awfully tough to put your championship run in the hands of an outfielder requiring every second or third day off with the injury history Walker possesses.
HOT AND COLD
John Olerud, 1B, Bos: He doesn't see a ton of at-bats, but Olerud has made the most of his chances in Boston. He's hit three home runs with nine RBIs in just 13 at-bats over the past seven days. With the potency of the Red Sox lineup, Olerud is worth a look-see in AL-only leagues.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Mil: Hardy capped a productive week with a huge game against Cincinnati on Wednesday. He hit his first career grand slam and rapped four hits in that contest. For the week, he hit three home runs and knocked in 12 base runners. He also hit safely in six of seven games.
Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col: For much of the season, Atkins was unable to get anything going on the road. He's come alive of late, and with a well-timed trip home last weekend (2 HR, 6 RBIs), has found himself on the fantasy radar. Atkins has hit safely in 18 of his past 20 games. Remarkably, he's had only four multi-hit games in that span.
Jon Lieber, SP, Phi: It's better late than never for Phillies fans and fantasy owners as Lieber looks to finish the season strong. He has allowed only two earned runs in his past 14 innings pitched, and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his past 10 starts.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Bos: Arroyo put up back-to-back wins for the first time since June with his victory over the Angels on Wednesday. He allowed three earned runs over eight innings pitched and scattered eight hits. With the pennant drive in full force both in the Major Leagues and in the fantasy realm, Arroyo is hitting his stride just in time.
Chase Utley, 1B/2B, Phi: Utley's had a tremendous season, but the bat has been slow of late. Utley has just two hits in his last 29 at-bats with a single RBI.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atl: LaRoche has struggled at the plate over the past three weeks. He's driven in only one run since August 19th and has hit .087 (4-for-46) during that stretch.
Victor Zambrano, SP, NYM: Zambrano has officially been demoted to the bullpen after a dismal second half. He finished the first half of the season with a record of 4-7 despite a solid 3.58 ERA. Since the break, he's gone 3-4 with an ERA of 5.26 and WHIP of 1.51, making him waiver wire fodder even in NL-only leagues.
Nick Swisher, OF, Oak: Swisher has seen his productivity taper off as the A's prepare for the pennant run. He's hit .129 (4-for-31) over his past 10 games, with a single homer and three RBIs.
Erik Bedard, SP, Bal: Bedard has truly fallen back to earth in his past 10 appearances. He has won once in his past 10 starts (1-5 with four no-decisions) and watched his ERA rise by nearly two full runs.
The Rangers return home on Friday night to begin a ten-game homestand. The A's enter Ameriquest on Friday, followed by Baltimore and Seattle. This week, we'll take a quick glimpse at the first two series of the homestand and save the Mariners for next time.
- Mark Ellis is excited to return to Texas. In five games this season, he's hit .429 (9-for-21) with five RBIs. For his career, Ellis possesses a robust .418 average (33-for-79) with one homer and 13 RBIs.
- Eric Chavez has struggled this season at Ameriquest, hitting a weak .160 (4-for-25) with two homers and four RBIs. For his career, Chavez has hit only .237 at Ameriquest (52-for-219), but does have 13 homers and 16 doubles at the venue.
- Barry Zito had a chiropractic procedure done to pop a rib back into place and steady his breathing. He's expected to take the hill against the Rangers on Saturday. In 11 career starts at Ameriquest, he has compiled a record of 8-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.
- The wheels fell off for the Orioles' offense in the second half, and no player fell further than 2B Brian Roberts. His first-half heroics have given way to a mediocre second half (.263, 3 HR, 17 RBIs, 9 SB). He went 5-for-14 with one homer and two RBIs in the Orioles' only visit to Ameriquest earlier this season.
- Melvin Mora has posted solid numbers in previous visits to Texas. In 19 career games, Mora has hit .313 with one homer and 16 RBIs.
- Jay Gibbons enters the weekend series in a fine groove, hitting safely in nine of his last 10 games. Though he's only a .250 hitter at Ameriquest (16-for-64 lifetime), the losses of Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro put him in the heart of the order to aid Miguel Tejada.
Coors Field Factor
The Rockies return home for a brief three-game homestand this week when they welcome the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- Shawn Green holds a lifetime .296 mark (29-for-98) at Coors with four home runs and 13 RBIs. He's failed to homer in six games at the venue this season, tallying only two RBIs.
- Tony Clark has made the most of limited plate appearances this season, racking up 23 home runs and 69 RBIs in only 289 at-bats. He went 3-for-9 with a homer and four RBIs in four games at Coors earlier this season.
- Craig Counsell makes for a solid play this weekend if you're looking to pick up small percentage points in the batting average race in your league. In 39 career games at Coors, he's hit a scalding .342 (38-for-111) with four stolen bases and 11 RBIs.
- Troy Glaus hasn't been able to load up batting average points like most hitters at Coors, but he can still put up the power numbers. In 11 career games spanning 42 at-bats, Glaus has five home runs and seven RBIs.
Matchups to watch:
- Horacio Ramirez squares off against Esteban Loaiza in the opener of an important weekend series in Washington. Ramirez has allowed three or fewer earned runs in seven of his past nine starts. He notched a season-high seven strikeouts against Cincinnati in his last start.
- The Twins and Indians square off in a series that may have implications to the AL Wild Card race. Fourteen-game winner Jake Westbrook goes up against Johan Santana on Friday night. Westbrook has won seven of his past 10 starts, while Santana has won six games with two brutal no-decisions in a row (two earned runs in 15 innings pitched).
- As always, the Red Sox-Yankees weekend series has playoff implications, but Saturday's matchup may signal the end of the fantasy season for Curt Schilling as he takes on Shawn Chacon. Schilling has allowed 15 earned runs in 17.1 innings pitched since returning to the Red Sox rotation.
- Kameron Loe, winner of his first three starts in '05, looks to make it four straight when he takes on Kirk Saarloos of the A's on Saturday night. Loe has allowed only two earned runs in 19 innings pitched as a starter. Saarloos seeks his 10th win of the year and to help the A's keep pace with the Yankees.
- On Sunday, whiz kid Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners will take on Bruce Chen and the Baltimore Orioles. All eyes are on the 19-year old rookie as he seeks his fourth win of the year and to keep his amazing run going. He's struck out a hitter per inning while compiling a diminutive 1.59 ERA.
IT'S A FACT
Though his ERA still stands at a sizable 4.35, C.C. Sabathia's WHIP is the lowest it's been in his five-year career. The crooked-billed lefty has won seven straight starts to propel the Indians into the AL Wild Card race. The seven-game winning streak comes on the heels of a five-game losing skid in July.