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MLB Skinny: Maine Man

CLOSER HOT SEAT
PITTSBURGH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Salomon Torres
2nd Chair: Matt Capps, Jonah Bayliss
Skinny: With Capps and Bayliss – both have closing experience in the minors – pitching effectively in set-up roles, Torres is on a short leash as the closer given his season-long struggles – three blown saves and at least an earned run allowed in six of his past ten outings. Capps, who is most likely first in line to replace Torres if it comes to that, has allowed just one run in 14 appearances. Said Capps, "Most guys in the bullpen, that's the role (closer) they eventually want. I feel like Salomon's done a good job. But, if that opportunity comes up, it's something I'll embrace." Fantasy owners should be ready to embrace Capps if Torres struggles his next time out, and those who are really hurting for saves may want to make a speculative add now.
ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Wickman has blown saves in two of his past three outings and allowed three runs in 0.2 IP in the other outing. Before this recent spell of trouble, Wickman had allowed an earned run in just two of his previous 42 outings (0.68 ERA in that span). Said Wickman, "I think there has to be something wrong, obviously, that I can't throw a strike. I can't even get the ball to home plate." After those comments, it was learned on Monday that Wickman had tendinitis in his upper back and he subsequently went on the 15-day DL. Soriano is likely the biggest beneficiary in Wickman's absence, but manager Bobby Cox has left things open for Gonzalez to get some end-game work, too.
FLORIDA MARLINS HOT
1st Chair: Henry Owens
2nd Chair: Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom
Skinny: Still waiting for a definitive answer to the closing situation in Florida. The nod continues to go to Owens, who continues to be used in the most closer-like manner. He picked up a win last Wednesday, pitching a scoreless ninth against Atlanta and then watching as Braves closer Bob Wickman came on to allow the game-winning run. He was also brought into a save situation last Monday against Atlanta, but allowed a home run and two doubles after retiring the first two hitters and had to give way to lefty Renyel Pinto, who picked up the emergency one-out save. Lidstrom and Tankersley continue to pitch well, but both have imploded in tight situations recently, so Owens remains the slight leader of the pack.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES WARM
1st Chair: Tom Gordon
2nd Chair: Brett Myers
Skinny: Myers seems to be taking to his new relief role – he picked up two key strikeouts in 0.2 IP of relief of a Jamie Moyer masterpiece on Sunday. And with Gordon having blown three of seven save chances this season, the logical thought process is to wonder if/when Myers might be called upon to close. But manager Charlie Manuel remains adamant that Gordon is the closer. And his faith seems believable at the moment, so don't expect any movement here unless Gordon has a full-blown collapse.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS WARM
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome, Saul Rivera, Ryan Wagner, Micah Bowie
Skinny: Cordero blew his third save on Saturday, and he did it in dramatic fashion against the Mets, allowing the game-tying run after opening the ninth by getting outs against the first two batters he faced. While Cordero has struggled of late, there isn't a clear-cut successor to the closer thrown and he's still got some wiggle room before a change is considered.
The first month of the season is in the books and, frankly, I plan to write it off as a bad experience. Most of my teams wallow in the low-rent district of the league standings as I wait for my proven stars to get untracked and my sleepers to wake up. But with April in the rear-view mirror, fantasy owners now have a legitimate sample size to work with for making critical assessments of your team(s). If you are dragging in power and you haven't seen a trend towards improvement in those categories, it's time to start thinking about steps to fix the problem. Same goes for speed, pitching ratios, etc. While patience is still a virtue for the proven starters slow out of the gate, or the high-upside talent that you thought was primed for a breakout season, you can't let your bull-headed beliefs in those players stop you from taking the steps to patch the hole(s) in your ship. Perhaps now is not the time for drastic measures, but you'd best start doing something. As we look at the weekend that was, know that I'm also preaching to the man in my mirror …

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

  • Fellow Yahoo! Sports fantasy columnist Brad Evans and I can debate each other until the cows come home on many fantasy topics but one thing we are like-minded about is our desire to see Mark Teixeira hit the ball out of the park. So, as heavily-invested Teixeira owners, it was cause for celebration when Evans pinged me on Friday with an exclamation point-riddled message announcing that Big Tex had finally just gone yard. And, low and behold, he hit another home run on Saturday, too. By now, most of us know that Teixeira saves his best power for last – in his previous four seasons, he hit 53 home runs combined in the first three months of the season and 86 combined home runs in the final three months of the season – but a 21-game home run drought to open the season was much more of a limp start than could even be expected. Teixeira truly is one of those guys that heats up with the weather. His career OPS climbs with each passing month (.792 in April; .842 in May; .873 in June; .906 in July; .928 in August; .962 in Sept.). So, if he stays true to his past, we can take solace in the fact that his worst is behind us.
  • A couple weeks ago, I posted a comment on my baseball Big Board from a guy who said that John Maine would end up winning 24 games and be a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young. And, while I liked Maine as a sleeper coming into this season, I posted that comment because I knew it would be inflammatory, the kind likely to get vehement rebuttals calling the guy crazy – in other words, I was pandering to sensationalism. Well, after moving to 4-0 on Sunday with seven shutout innings against the Nationals, Maine is on pace for 26 wins. And, while I still think 24 wins is out of the question, I think you have to start thinking that 18-20 is not so far-fetched. His tenure with the Mets has produced 123.1 IP with an ERA at 2.99, a 1.11 WHIP, 101 K and a BAA below the Mendoza Line. A former top prospect with Baltimore, Maine turns 26 on May 8th, a logical time for him to be coming into his own. Armed with the league's 10th-best run support (7.56), it's easy to believe that Maine's early-season magic can continue.
  • Notable Notes: The Houston Astros top hitting prospect, Hunter Pence, was called up over the weekend and went 3-for-7 combined on Saturday and Sunday. He'll show up in waivers in Yahoo! leagues on Tuesday … Still no call-up in sight for Triple-A phenom Tim Lincecum, who owns a 0.29 ERA and 46 Ks in 31 IP at Fresno. Although he has yet to throw his first Major League pitch, Lincecum is owned in over 7 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He's worth adding now if you have an extra bench spot. It's hard to imagine he can keep on like this and not get the call within a 2-3 weeks … Orlando Hernandez has landed on the 15-day DL with shoulder bursitis. He was scheduled to start on Monday, but Chan-Ho "Out of the" Park was recalled from Triple-A to take his spot in the rotation. Park has allowed six home runs in 21 IP at New Orleans … Lost in Fausto Carmona's gem of an outing on Sunday – he beat Baltimore with 8.1 innings of one-run ball – was that Travis Hafner made his first start of the season at first base. His error-free outing leaves him four starts away from 1B-eligibility in Yahoo! leagues. Other notables on the eligibility watch: Ryan Theriot needs two more starts to qualify at 3B and/or SS; Mark Loretta needs two more starts to regain SS eligibility.

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

  • James Shields, TB, SP
    After five starts, the 35 percent-owned Shields owns a .194 BAA, seventh-best in the league. And at 37:7, he also sits fourth in the league in K-to-BB ratio. Shields, while not overpowering, is deceptive and commands a very nice changeup. He's been particularly impressive in his past two outings, combining for a 1-0 record, 1.69 ERA, 0.50 WHIP and 21 Ks to just 2 BBs in 16 IP. With a career 3.13:1 K-to-BB ratio, Shields has the kind of peripheral numbers worth taking a leap of faith on. The offenses he faces within his division are certainly cause for concern, but at least he won't face the Yankees or Red Sox again until July.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Billy Butler, KC, OF (ETA – June)
    With a team batting average of .241, you have to start wondering when Butler will get the call from the parent club. After hitting .419 in 31 spring training at bats (.774 SLG%), Butler has continued to lace the ball at Triple-A Omaha (.337, 6 HR, 23 RBI. 17 BB, 12 K). With Royals first baseman Ryan Shealy hitting .096 and outfielder Emil Brown hitting .194, surely there is a place for Butler's bat (.343 minor-league BA in over 1,300 career at bats) with the big club. He's a defensive liability, sure, but his full-service bat will win more games than his defense loses – especially if they can find a way to utilize him at DH, not an easy task with Mike Sweeney in tow. Either way, expect Butler to force the issue by at least June.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Sammy Sosa, Tex, OF – Sosa has 6 HRs in his past 14 games, including three this past week when he hit .348. I've had such a power need in a couple of my leagues, that I've had to eat some crow and pick this guy up.

Aaron Rowand, Phi, OF – It was also a 3 HR week for Rowand, who hit .407 along the way. In his past 17 games, he's hitting .415.

B.J. Upton, TB, 2B/3B – Upton looks like he's finally cashing in on his upper echelon skills. After stealing three bases and hitting three home runs this past week, he's now hitting .365 and is on pace for 36 HR, 145 RBI, 116 R and 36 SB.

Todd Helton, Col, 1B – His power remains a thing of the past (1 HR), but after walking five times on Sunday, Helton is sitting on a .523 OBP and .390 BA.

Gary Sheffield, Det, O/1 – He's still stuck below the Mendoza Line (.193), but it's worth noting that Shef is showing signs of life, scoring 11 Runs in his past eight games and hitting .375 this past week.

Tomo Ohka, Tor, SP – Ohka went 2-0 this past week, finishing with a 2.25 ERA combined in wins over Boston and Texas.

Bill Hall, Mil, 3/S – Hall failed to collect an RBI, R, SB, or XBH in going 2-for-22 this past week, which included 10 strikeouts.

Richie Sexson, Sea, 1B – Sexson also went 2-for-22 this past week, dropping his season average to .145.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, SD, 3B – Yet another member of this past week's 2-for-22 club, Kouz's swoon has him on the verge of a demotion to Triple-A.

Trevor Hoffman, SD, RP – Hoffman endured a rare rough patch, blowing two saves this past week – his line for the week: 0-2, 6 ER in 2.2 IP (20.25 ERA).

Mariano Rivera, NYY, RP – In his past 3.2 IP covering five appearances, Rivera has allowed nine earned runs and blew two saves.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, I'm wallowing in the low-rent district in several leagues, the Blog league included – currently in 10th. There's not much I care to say about this league at the moment, so let's just move on to the latest pickups. Mike Gonzalez, Zack Greinke (I'm spot-starting him), Gerald Laird, Josh Barfield and Jon Lester are the most recent waiver wire additions.

You can follow along with my equally frustrating Yahoo! Friends and Family experts league here.

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