At this stage of the season, everyone expected a steep fall from the Baltimore Orioles, who still sit atop the AL East. Lee Mazzilli and company are getting RBIs in droves from Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez. Brian Roberts continues to shine as an all-around performer (tied for fourth in the AL with nine homers, third in SBs with 12 and fourth in BA with .365). Looking deeper into the lineup, all-time HR greats Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro have only five homers and 20 RBIs between them, and should see better days ahead. In short, this team is set on offense.
Where the Orioles have made the biggest strides are in the starting rotation. Erik Bedard and Bruce Chen have pitched tremendously, Sidney Ponson has been brilliant in stretches and young Daniel Cabrera has turned it on his past two starts. Add Rodrigo Lopez (four quality starts in seven outings) and you've got the makings of a rotation that should keep the Orioles in games and will allow the duo of Jorge Julio and B.J. Ryan to slam the door. All but Ryan were selected either very late in drafts or were subsequently acquired via the waiver wire.
The Orioles are here to stay, and active fantasy owners are reaping the rewards of their savvy waiver wire claims.
Moving on, here are the happenings in Fantasy Baseball This Week.
- Jason Schmidt owners finally can breathe a sigh of … well, relief doesn't quite cut it. But at least they can see a root cause of the dead arm that has plagued the normally unflappable righty during the first month of the season. He hits the 15-day DL with what has been deemed "shoulder strain."
- Jose Vidro hit the 15-day DL on Tuesday with an ankle injury and is expected to miss the minimum number of days. Henry Mateo was activated from the DL after missing the first month with shoulder tendonitis. Manager Frank Robinson summed up the potential fantasy impact of Mateo when speaking to the Associated Press. "He's not coming in to have an impact. He will certainly help our balance – another infielder, switch-hitter, he can pinch hit for you. He can pinch run for you, steal a base."
- Craig Wilson of the Pirates underwent surgery on his injured left hand and will miss the next two months of action. Daryle Ward has taken over full-time at 1B, hitting .310 with two homers and five RBIs in the past week.
- The management team of the Detroit Tigers got major props for their offseason acquisitions of Magglio Ordonez and Troy Percival. Ordonez is gone until mid-July, and now, so is Percival. With a tear in his right forearm, Percival is lost to the Tigers for the next 4-6 weeks.
- Gregg Zaun was finally released from the hospital after sustaining a concussion when breaking up a double play. Zaun, who ranks third among catchers with 19 RBIs, will miss two weeks of action. Ken Huckaby will see time in his absence. Huckaby owns a weak .227 average with minimal pop. He has fantasy value only in AL leagues.
- Jeff Bagwell continues to battle an injured shoulder and missed his sixth consecutive game on Monday. He took batting practice on Monday night with the hope of getting back on the field. The Astros ended two weeks of speculation by putting Bagwell on the DL Tuesday afternoon. Mike Lamb will likely see the bulk of the at-bats at the 1B position in his absence.
- Hot-hitting Chipper Jones remains afflicted by an injury to his left foot. He's already sat out seven games due to the ailment, but hasn't yet been forced to the DL. Since the injury isn't improving, owners should have a capable back-up at the ready in the event that he needs to take an extended break.
- Eric Gagne threw 11 strikes in 13 pitches during a rehab stint for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s on Sunday. He struck out the side and felt no ill effects in his elbow or knee. There's still no time-table on his return to the big club, but the time to downplay his return and fleece another owner in your league is rapidly running out.
- Manny Ramirez took a beating over the weekend. First, he got drilled in the thigh in the first game of Sunday's double-header. He then took one in the batting helmet from Oakland's Dan Haren. He didn't spend any time in the hospital and is slated to return to the lineup on Tuesday, but in the event that he needs to sit for a game or two, Jay Payton will spell him in the lineup.
- Jose Cruz Jr. returned to the Diamondbacks lineup on Monday night after missing a month with a back injury. He had four hits in a quick rehab assignment over the weekend before returning to the big club.
- Khalil Greene was activated by the Padres before Monday's game against Cincinnati and went 0-for-3. He returned earlier than expected and just might have been dropped by a disappointed owner upon the initial diagnosis of his injury. Check the waiver wire.
- Sammy Sosa has missed four consecutive games with an abscess on the bottom of his foot. He was scheduled to return on Monday night, but was a late scratch and was sent to a specialist. A trip to the DL is around the corner. Scour the waiver wire for a serviceable outfielder to replace him.
- Everyone's favorite part-time slugger, Wily Mo Pena, joined the injured ranks with a bruised thigh. He's launched 12 extra-base hits in his 48 at-bats. For Cincinnati, the timing is solid, as Ken Griffey Jr. is swinging a hot bat.
- Ryan Klesko, SD: The oft-injured Klesko was a late-round draft pick in most leagues after his 2004 season (nine homers in 127 games). This week, he hit .290 with five homers, eight RBIs and seven runs scored. He offers flexibility with both 1B and OF eligibility.
- Josh Towers, Tor: Save one miserable outing against Texas in mid-April, Towers has fit the bill for fantasy owners. He's rolled off three straight victories, allowing just two earned runs over 20.2 innings of work (0.90 ERA). The most exciting number for fantasy owners is that Towers has walked only three hitters in 43.1 innings pitched.
- Adam LaRoche, Atl: The Braves 1B started slowly, but piled up numbers this past week, hitting two home runs and knocking in 12 runs. LaRoche slammed a home run on Monday night that they're still looking for. If you haven't found a replacement for Jim Thome on the waiver wire just yet, look to see if LaRoche and his hot bat are still available.
- Jason Phillips, LAD: Phillips has been a great surprise for owners after a terrible 2004 season. He's on pace to reach or eclipse his career-highs reached in 2003 (11 homers, 58 RBIs, .298). OK, so he's only hit one home run, thus far, but his 21 RBIs stand second only to rejuvenated star Mike Piazza among catchers.
- LaTroy Hawkins, ChC: He blew three of seven save opportunities and seems to have a black cloud hanging over him (three losses in his past three outings). Hawkins has been relegated to middle relief for the Cubs and to the waiver wire in fantasy leagues far and wide.
- Jason Lane, Hou: With a feeble .107 average (3-for-28) and one extra-base hit in the month of May, fantasy owners are dropping Lane from their rosters by the boatload. His strong April has been quickly forgotten.
- Al Leiter, Fla: Leiter has been alternately solid or miserable for the Marlins. He's 1-3 on the season, and the Marlins are 1-5 in games he's started. For some reason, he enjoys pitching away from the spacious confines of Pro Player Stadium. In two road starts (Braves and Mets), he holds an ERA of 1.50 with a WHIP of 1.08. By contrast, he owns an ERA over 10 at home with a WHIP just shy of 2.00.
- Luis Matos, Bal: Matos was the hot pick-up about three weeks ago, when he was stealing bases and stringing together an eight-game hitting streak. In the month of May, he's hitting .160 (4-for-25) and has failed on just one stolen base attempt.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Chase Utley, Phi, 1B/2B
Utley was in a quasi-platoon situation with Placido Polanco for the first month of the season, but has established himself as a solid power option at 2B. He's hit safely in six of his past seven games with three home runs and two stolen bases. Utley has 12 RBIs on the season, good for a tie for third on the Phillies.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Bernie Williams , NYY, OF
Williams lost his center field job during the past week after over a decade at the position. His .238 average with one homer and nine RBIs just wasn't cutting it. Williams will become a pinch-hitter and may find himself on the DL before long. Even Yankee fans have to agree that it's time to send Williams to the waiver wire.
HOT AND COLD
Daniel Cabrera, Bal: Almost as if to mock me, Cabrera turned in two consecutive brilliant performances after I named him the "Drop of the Week" last week. After four horrific starts to begin the season, Cabrera has allowed one earned run in his last 16 innings of work, striking out 19 in that time.
Ryan Dempster, ChC: The rumor mill has the Cubs turning to Dempster to provide relief, literally, in the closer role. Jon Leicester will take his spot in the rotation, and long-term closer by default Joe Borowski is still a few weeks from returning.
Nick Johnson, Was: The normally injury-impaired 1B has settled into his regular role with the Nationals. He's already clubbed 13 extra-base hits and knocked in 19 runs. He's also hitting .333 (.458 with two homers and eight RBIs in the past seven days).
Tino Martinez, NYY: The veteran first baseman has re-claimed his role as the top 1B option for manager Joe Torre. During the past week, his bat came to life, as he smashed five home runs and knocked in nine runs.
Mike Cameron, NYM: Since returning from the DL, Cameron is hitting a robust .526, has scored nine runs and hit two homers. His average will quickly dip back toward his .249 career average, but he's always good for a quick boost to HR and SB totals.
Joe Crede, CWS: After a torrid stretch in April, Crede is scuffling through the beginning of May. He holds a .209 average in 13 games at U.S. Cellular Field this season.
Sean Burroughs, SD: Fantasy owners had learned to live without any power from Burroughs (one HR, eight RBIs), but his current 1-for-20 funk eliminates his only fantasy value.
Tom Glavine, NYM: Can someone just end his tortuous New York stay already? Glavine's ERA has reached Ponson-esque territory, sitting at a lofty 6.87 as of Tuesday afternoon. He's also sitting on a WHIP of 2.00 and has walked more hitters than he's struck out.
Dan Haren, Oak: He had a pretty good run to start the season, but didn't get any run support. Suddenly, the wheels have spun off for the youngster. Haren has failed to escape the fourth inning in either of his past two starts, allowing 13 runs (eight earned).
Dallas McPherson, LAA: McPherson's batting average remains under the Mendoza line, sitting at a weak .190. He strikes out at an alarming rate of one in every three at-bats and has knocked in just three runs since his activation from the DL. It's still an extended spring training stint for him, more or less, but the patience of fantasy owners has worn thin.
B.J. Ryan, Bal, RP
Why he's being dealt: Some are taking advantage of the rash of closer injuries, and others are packaging him for what they consider an upgrade at the position.
What you're getting: Ryan has been packaged with players such as Lyle Overbay and Johnny Estrada in exchange for top relievers Joe Nathan or Francisco Rodriguez. Straight up, owners are receiving deals for top starters such as Carlos Zambrano and Carl Pavano or hitters such as Chipper Jones and Garret Anderson.
Pedro Feliz, SF, 1B,3B,SS,OF
Why he's being dealt: The injury bug and slow starts has owners seeking an alternative at multiple positions. Those that own him are exploiting the latest negative news on Barry Bonds.
What you're getting: Straight up, recently consummated deals have Feliz being exchanged for top starters such as Ben Sheets and Roy Oswalt and several deals have included Rockies SS Clint Barmes. In package deals, Feliz is normally paired with closers such as Brandon Lyon or Chad Cordero in exchange for hitters such as Hank Blalock or Lance Berkman.
Jason Lane, Hou, OF
Why he's being dealt: The return of Berkman and speed of Willy Taveras, combined with Lane's recent funk, have owners exploring deals instead of releasing him. Some owners saw enough from his strong April or just don't trust Berkman's speedy recovery, and think he'll still have long-term value.
What you're getting: Lane has been involved primarily in deals straight up for other outfielders or underachieving performers at other positions. Recent deals have sent him packing for players such as Matt Lawton, Dave Roberts and even Victor Martinez.
Barry Zito, Oak, SP
Why he's being dealt: Some owners are throwing their hands up in defeat, banking on Oakland to continue its struggles at the plate. Others think that Zito has reached his low point and is on the rebound.
What you're getting: Perhaps more so than any other player examined in the trade columns, Zito is consistently dealt for help in relief pitching. In the past week, he's been dealt straight up for Shingo Takatsu, Miguel Batista, Danny Kolb and Keith Foulke. Believers in this enigmatic lefty are still out there.
Coors Field Factor:
- Tim Hudson failed to escape the fourth inning in Monday night's game, allowing seven earned runs. That marks two miserable outings in his last three trips to the mound (13 earned runs in 9.2 innings pitched). He's been brilliant in his other five outings, yielding only four earned runs in 36.1 innings.
- The Braves will send John Smoltz to the hill in Wednesday's series finale. Smoltz has been brilliant, allowing two or fewer earned runs in each of his past six starts.
- Marcus Giles might be one of the few players that doesn't look forward to boarding the charter for Coors. In 13 career games in Colorado, Giles possesses a batting average of .176 with two home runs, four RBIs and zero stolen bases.
Matchups to watch:
- Dontrelle Willis takes his perfect 6-0 mark to the hill on Wednesday against Houston and Roy Oswalt. Oswalt is 2-1 in four career starts against Florida with an ERA of 2.57. Willis looks to dominate a struggling Astros offense that has managed four or fewer runs in seven consecutive games.
- Jon Garland (6-0) and the White Sox face the surging Baltimore Orioles and lefty Bruce Chen, who has won four of his past five starts.
- On Friday night, Bartolo Colon and Jeremy Bonderman will meet in a rematch of Saturday's brilliant battle. Bonderman got the better of Colon in the first pairing, going eight strong innings and allowing just one earned run. Colon scattered eight hits over nine innings, allowing just two earned runs. With high-profile acquisitions Ordonez and Percival on the DL, it's exciting to see the young hurlers such as Bonderman and Mike Maroth getting the job done in Detroit.
- Jason Marquis will need his "A" game on Friday when he faces the Mets and Pedro Martinez. Marquis has pitched well enough to win five of his first seven starts. He's allowed one earned run in four of his outings.
IT'S A FACT
Marquis will need to stay away from Carlos Beltran, in particular. Beltran has driven in 17 of his 22 runs with Martinez on the mound. He's also hit .484 in those games, as opposed to .234 when any other Mets hurler takes to the hill.