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MLB Skinny: Clay Nation

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
CHICAGO CUBS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Carlos Marmol, Bob Howry
Skinny: Dempster has struggled since returning from a DL stint because of a rib-cage strain. He picked up a loss on August 3 when he allowed four runs to the Mets in one inning of work. And despite three scoreless innings over his past three outings, manager Lou Piniella has opened the bullpen up to a committee with Howry and Marmol included. Said Piniella, "You can call it anything you want. But the fact is that we can close with any of those three, and probably with Howry over Marmol because of the experience and because of the fact he's throwing the ball exceedingly well." Piniella definitely has a fondness for Howry. Marmol has been the ninth-toughest pitcher to hit (among those with at least 40 IP) in all of baseball (.176 BAA). And despite Marmol's 1.83 ERA and nearly 3:1 K-to-BB rate, Howry gets the shout-out from his manager. Oh, well, Howry has indeed been very good of late (0 ER in past 8 IP). And, fact of the matter is, in competitive leagues of 12-plus teams or more, all three of these guys should probably be owned, at least until we see where the dust settles.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nt Chair: Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford
Injured: Chris Ray
Skinny: Baez has taken over closing duties in Baltimore, but there hasn't been much action to come his way since his appointment – He has the team's last save of record, closing the door on Tampa Bay on August 3. He was touched up by Seattle on August 9, allowing two runs in 0.2 IP. Other than that hiccup, he's been solid since the All-Star break. His role seems safe for now.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Al Reyes
2nd Chair: Dan Wheeler
Skinny: It's an oxymoron to tag this situation with a "Hot" label because, frankly, there is nothing hot about the Tampa Bay closer role – The team hasn't recorded a save since July 13. The D-Rays haven't won often lately, but when they have, they've done it in convincing fashion. Since their last save, the team has 10 wins, with an average margin of victory of 5.1 runs. For what it's worth, Reyes has been decent of late (1 ER in past 6 IP) while Wheeler has struggled (5 ER in past 2.1 IP).
OAKLAND A'S HOT
1st Chair: Alan Embree
2nd Chair: Huston Street
Skinny: Manager Bob Geren is dragging his feet on a decision to return Street to the closer role. The problem is likely due to the fact that Embree has been so good in that role – he's allowed just one run in his past 13 IP. However, Embree is a 37-year-old lefty – not exactly closer-of-the-future characteristics (unless your name is John Franco). Street has allowed just one run in his past six outings (6 IP) with a 7:1 K-to-BB ratio. He says he's ready to close. And, at the risk of alienating one of the most talented young arms on his staff, Geren will likely have to bite the bullet and make a switch very soon.
TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: C.J. Wilson
2nd Chair: Joaquin Benoit
Injured: Akinori Otsuka
Skinny: In a somewhat surprising development, Wilson has taken the closer role and run with it since the Rangers traded Eric Gagne just before the July 31 deadline. In fact, in Yahoo! leagues, he's the top-rated relief pitcher for the past month (2 Wins, 4 Saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 13.2 IP) – he's also gone 31 straight outings without allowing a home run. At this point, there's little intrigue to this situation – Wilson has nailed down the gig.
HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Lidge
2nd Chair: Chad Qualls, Trever Miller
Skinny: It's been a rocky road of late, but Lidge still has a hold of the closer role – despite two blown saves in his past four chances and a cartilage tear in his knee that will require postseason surgery. Lidge pitched one-third of an inning on Sunday to pick up his eighth save. Keep a close eye on this situation. It's conceivable that Lidge's knee could force the issue before the season concludes – that is, if the mental circus doesn't get to him first.
ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Things have cooled off considerably in regards to the Braves closer role. Wickman has settled down (1 ER in his past 10.1 IP), Octavio Dotel has landed on the DL with a strained shoulder, and Soriano has an August ERA of 7.94. Wickman's job is currently as safe as it has been at any time this season.
In mid-June, I posted here in the "Prospect Watch" that Rick Ankiel should get a call-up by the All-Star break because of how he was raking at Triple A and how anemic the St. Louis offense had been to that point. Well, my prediction turned out to be a month premature, but after the way Ankiel has swung the bat since getting the call on August 9, I'm betting Tony LaRussa and company wish they made the move a month ago. Ankiel has a hit in each of his first four games as a Cardinals outfielder, tagging three home runs in the process. He's the real story of the weekend, but everyone is talking about him, so I'll save you the obligatory following paragraph. Besides, in case you missed it, Ankiel is no Brian Giles

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • Brian Giles better be careful or he's going to find his name slipping off the tongue of Jose Canseco one of these days soon. Giles went off over the weekend, smacking five home runs at Cincinnati. To put that in perspective, he had just two home runs in 286 at bats coming into the weekend. He had just five extra-base hits in his previous 21 games before the Cincy series. Somewhere the former perennial 30-HR slugger found a glass of retro juice. Perhaps that, or he just really enjoys teeing it up in Cincinnati – his career .344 batting average and 17 HR in Cincy bares this out. He doesn't get nearly the love at home in Petco Park, but he is hitting .337 with a .991 OPS post All-Star break. He's only owned in 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so intrigued owners may want to take him for a test drive and see where this ride ends up.
  • Moises Alou carried on the "I love the 90s" weekend theme. The 41-year-old slugger pounded two home runs against the Marlins on Sunday, his second two-HR effort in his past eight games – he sandwiched a solo shot in the middle of that stretch, as well. Out for more than two months earlier this season with a strained quad, Alou has his legs and quick bat back in August, where he has hit .350 while manning mostly the No. 5 and No. 6 spots in the Mets lineup. At 45 percent owned, I'd look to Alou before Giles if I needed OF help. Unlike Giles, Alou's power hasn't gone AWOL in recent years, just his health. In his past 140 regular-season games, Alou has delivered 31 home runs. He can make an impact in fantasy for as long as he can stay healthy.
  • Notable Notes: The Antonio Gates of fantasy baseball, Chase Utley had his broken hand placed in a splint on Monday, which will allow for light exercise. Expect that he's still 2-3 weeks away from returning to the Philly lineup … Detroit flame-thrower Joel Zumaya starts a rehab (finger) assignment this week with Triple-A Toledo. If all goes well, he could be quickly bumped back to Detroit … Because he still feels pain in his oblique when he swings from the right side, Carlos Beltran may start sitting against left-handed starters. He admits to some soreness from the left side, but not as bad as the right side.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Kazuo Matsui, Col, 2B
    Hideki isn't the only Matsui on a tear of late. Kaz has set the base paths on fire in August, leading the league in Runs (17) and placing second in SB (6) since the calendar flipped. He's also sporting a .462 BA this month and an even more enticing 27-percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues. Matsui has put a horrible July (.219, 2 SB) behind him. He's also put the rest of the Rockies lineup behind him of late, moving into the leadoff spot while Willy Taveras nurses a sore quad. In four games atop the Rockies lineup, Matsui is hitting .353 with 4 SB and 7 R. Whether in the leadoff spot or batting No. 2, Matsui is a no-brainer for those with a speed need.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Clay Buchholz (ETA – this weekend)
    Buccholz looks likely to be called up from Triple-A Pawtucket when the Red Sox face the Angels in a doubleheader on Friday. The No. 3 Sox prospect, according to Baseball America, has four plus pitches. Although he can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s, it's his 12-to-6 curve and his changeup that draw the biggest raves. He's been particularly dominating for Pawtucket in August, striking out 27 and walking just two hitters in 18.2 IP. For the year, he's 8-3 with a 2.15 ERA and 164:30 K-to-BB ratio between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket. A future ace, Buchholz offers all kinds of intrigue if he sticks in the Boston rotation.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Rajai Davis, SF, OF – The former Pirate is hitting .400 and has stolen six bases in 12 games with his new team. Against his former team, Davis went 5-for-11 with four runs and two stolen bases over the weekend.

Matt Diaz, Atl, OF – Diaz has played nearly every day in August, hitting .355 with 4 HR, 7 RBI and 9 R.

Yuniesky Betancourt, Sea, SS – Like seemingly every other Mariner of late, Betancourt's bat has burst into flames. He's been the seventh-best fantasy SS in the Yahoo! game for the past month and is hitting .375 with 14 RBI (tied for second in MLB) in August.

Ryan Spilborghs, Col, OF – Spilborghs has hit .345 with 3 HR in August. He's now hit 8 HR in his past 31 games.

Eric Gagne, Bos, RP – Over 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues still employ this former closer. Since donning the red socks, he's allowed 7 ER in 4 IP. He's not taking Jonathan Papelbon's job, folks. Cut him loose.

Chris B. Young, Ari, OF – Ugh, I think I actually put this guy in the "Bargain Bin" not so long ago. Young is hitting .111 with 1 RBI and 2 R in August. He's also struck out 15 times in 45 August ABs.

Chris Duncan, StL, OF – The way he's hit in August (.148, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R), perhaps he is the one that should be called Shelley, not his brother.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
I just can't stop the bleeding. By my unofficial count, I've probably spot-started a pitcher 15-20 times, of which I've derived maybe 3-4 wins (definitely no more than 4) and an unspeakable ERA. It's been ugly on that front. On the bright side, my trade with Team bleach168 (I dealt Jose Reyes and Tom Gordon, he dealt Michael Young, Francisco Cordero and Jose Guillen) has worked out just fine so far, despite an overwhelming amount of feedback questioning my intelligence. Cordero has been 4-for-5 in save opportunities in my employ, while Young and Guillen have hit .333 with solid run production as members of my 11th-placed albatross – Reyes has been .325 with 5 SBs for bleach168, so it's working out for both sides. Obviously, I have a fork squarely stuck to my rear end in this league, but I'll continue to do what I can to improve my standing. This week, I dealt Mark Teixeira and David Weathers for Aaron Harang and Francisco Rodriguez. I'm punting HR and RBI at this point – yes, I know, never has a statement like that been uttered by a contending team. The league's trade deadline expired on Sunday, with the following deals sneaking in under the wire: Jake Peavy for Carl Crawford; Kelvim Escobar for Reggie Willits; Adam Dunn for John Lackey. There are lots of points to be had in the SB category, and the contenders continue to pine for it. With at least four teams in the running for the title, it should make for an exciting stretch run.

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