MLB Skinny: Ming Dynasty

Brandon Funston
Yahoo! SportsJune 18, 2007
CLOSER HOT SEAT
HOUSTON ASTROS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brad Lidge
2nd Chair: Dan Wheeler
Skinny: This situation is boiling hot. Lidge, who has reclaimed his closer role (in theory), blew his third save chance in as many opportunities on Tuesday. Wheeler blew a save chance the next night, allowing four runs in 0.2 IP, so Lidge remains the current favorite here. But he needs to get a few successful saves under his belt before we lower the heat level here.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES HOT
1st Chair: Antonio Alfonseca
Injured: Tom Gordon, Brett Myers

Skinny: A sore ankle kept Alfonseca out on Sunday, but he's closed out five of six games since taking over for the injured Gordon (rotator cuff) and Myers (shoulder). Both injured relievers have a shot at returning by the All-Star break, if not the end of this month.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Hennessey
2nd Chair: Tim Lincecum? Brian Wilson?
Skinny: Hennessey notched the team's first post-Armando Benitez save on Tuesday, securing a 3-2 win over Toronto. There hasn't been many save chances for the Giants of late, but Hennessey is clearly the man that is going to get those shots when they arise. He still has a lot to prove, but so far so good.
FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Kevin Gregg
2nd Chair: Armando Benitez, Henry Owens

Skinny: Gregg has yet to blow a save in 11 chances, but he's been hit around a bit in June, posting a 6.14 ERA this month. With Benitez and Owens lying in wait, Gregg's latest struggles bare watching.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Chris Ray
Injured: Scott Williamson, Danys Baez
Skinny: Ray sports a 9.53 ERA and has two losses (one a blown save) in the month of June. The team has picked up on a delivery flaw when he goes into the stretch. The hope is that a correction will fix his issues.

A 95-year old baseball record fell over the weekend. It wasn't a Major League record, mind you, but an International League mark for consecutive games with a hit – the record now belongs to Washington farm hand Brandon Watson, who hit in his 43rd consecutive game on Sunday. It has to be a bittersweet moment for the International League batting leader considering that his parent club, the Nats, have the worst offense in the National League. If a hit in 43 straight games doesn't prompt a call-up to the most inept offense in the NL, what hope is there for his Major League aspirations? (Perhaps they're simply waiting for him to close out his historical run). As we look at what went down this past weekend on the fields of Watson's dreams, let's first tip our caps to the Columbus outfielder for a pretty sweet feat, no matter where it took place.

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

  • Perhaps the biggest fantasy development of the past weekend was what didn't happen. Milwaukee's prize pitching prospect Yovanni Gallardo was at the ready in the bullpen for the Brewers in case he was needed. He wasn't. So that sets the stage for his Major League debut as the starter Monday against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. Hyped rookies Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum, Kevin Slowey and Homer Bailey preceded him to the Majors over the past couple months but, although he's the last to arrive, Gallardo's talent is on their level (or higher). Still available in 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Gallardo was 8-3 with a 2.90 ERA and an even more ridiculous 4:1 K-to-BB rate (110:28) in 77.2 IP at Triple-A Nashville. So what makes him so special? Well, his repertoire features a moving low-to-mid 90s fastball, a sharply-biting curve and a plus changeup. He gets movement and has control on all his pitches, and he has a feel for pitching that belies his age (21). Given his upside, at the very least, owners should sign this guy to the equivalent of a fantasy "10-day contract." It's likely that he'll impress enough in his first couple starts to warrant a full-time offer. You can bet I'll be glued to his debut. My only regret is that he's not squaring off against Lincecum – that would truly be must-see TV.
  • In his past seven starts, Chien-Ming Wang is 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA. And on Sunday he did something that he's never done before in his career – he struck out 10 batters. By now fantasy owners should be very aware of Wang's inability to punch out hitters. In fact, prior to striking out 10 Mets on Sunday, he had topped 5 Ks just twice in 50 starts – his previous high being eight strikeouts against the Twins in April of '06. Of course, fantasy owners shouldn't expect Wang to now suddenly become a prolific K master. But, clearly he's dialed in, as is the Yankees offense. During the team's current streak of 11 wins in 12 games, the bats have provided an average of 7.2 runs of support. A 19-game winner last season, Wang looks poised to make another run at the 20-Win plateau. While I've seen several recommendations of late (some on this site) claiming he's a perfect sell-high candidate, I'm of the mind to recommend that owners sit tight and ride this Wins gravy train. Backed by a strong offense, we saw strikeout deficient White Sox hurler Jon Garland post back-to-back 18-Win campaigns the previous two seasons. You can put Wang in the same class – he's a Win specialist. Trade him, and you've likely traded away at least 10 wins the rest of the way. And, who knows, the K well might not be as shallow as expected. His current 4.71 K/9 rate is a big improvement over last year's rate (3.14). Take the wins and hope the positive K trend continues.
  • Notable Notes: An ugly season just got uglier for Dodgers hurler Jason Schmidt. After just a three-start run following a DL stint for a sore shoulder that sidelined him for nearly two months, Schmidt is headed back to the DL. As his fastball languishes in the mid-80s (this from a guy who typically threw 10 mph harder in healthier times), Schmidt stated the obvious in saying, " I just haven't felt like myself." It's only conjecture at this point, but don't be surprised if he gets shut down again for well beyond the 15-day designation … A sore shoulder has also plagued Toronto's A.J. Burnett of late. He's been ruled out for his next scheduled start (Saturday) and it's likely he'll be placed on the DL … St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter threw 30 pitches on Sunday, his first throwing session since undergoing elbow (bone spurs) surgery on May 9. If the elbow is willing, he'll throw again on Wednesday. His initial timetable for return was set at three months, but it sounds like he has a chance to beat that return estimate. Said Carpenter, "Compared to what I've dealt with before, this is nothing. There is no structural damage. Everything is good. I just need to get back in throwing shape … This is nothing." While his fantasy owners surely won't agree that this is "nothing," at least there's a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.

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

  • Reggie Willits, LAA, OF
    Meet the most underappreciated speed commodity in fantasy baseball this season. His 66 percent availability in Yahoo! leagues speaks to his lack of respect. It's true that his playing time had started to get spotty with the return of Garrett Anderson from the DL, but Anderson's gimpy hip has landed him back on the DL, so Willits' playing time should be steady once again. All he's done is hit .318 or better in each month – the batting average coupled with an excellent ability to draw walks has aided him in stealing 16 bases in 57 games. Willy Taveras is owned in over 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Compare the numbers and try to explain the ownership discrepancy. Speed junkies should ride Willits, if only until Anderson returns.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Rick Ankiel, StL, OF (ETA – All-Star break)
    The Cardinals offense ranks 27th in the league in Runs and 21st in HRs so, after slugging three home runs on Saturday for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, will the Cardinals be so bold as to consider Ankiel for promotion soon? A once dynamic pitching prospect that was never able to overcome a mental implosion in the 2000 postseason, Ankiel has transformed himself into a power-hitting outfielder. He is tied for the Pacific Coast League lead in HRs (19) and is also sitting on a .282 BA and 52 RBI in 57 games. At 27 years old, it seems that, if the Cardinals are serious about him as a hitter, his shot as a big league hitter has to come soon. In a year when Josh Hamilton has made major league waves, an Ankiel call-up would be just another slice of feel-good pie.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Jose Bautista, Pit, 3B – In his past six games, Bautista is hitting .417 with 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 R and 1 SB. He's now leading the Pirates with 39 Runs.

Alex Gordon, KC, 3B – Gordon is starting to put his early-season struggles behind him. His current seven-game hitting streak includes a .444 BA, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 5 R and 1 SB.

Jack Cust, Oak, OF – Cust is at it again, going 9-for-12 over the weekend with 3 Doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBI and 7 R. Cust's hot bat has prompted reports that Mike Piazza will take up some backup catcher duties when he returns from the DL in an attempt to find ways to keep Cust's bat in the lineup.

Garrett Atkins, Col, 3B – Atkins is showing signs of shaking a season-long slump, hitting .350 with 3 HR and 10 RBI in his past five games.

Shaun Marcum, Tor, P – Marcum has taken to his move to the starting rotation. His ERA was above 6.00 as a reliever, but in 41.2 IP as a starter, he's 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA and 39 Ks.

Carlos Beltran, NYM, OF – Beltran's numbers continue to tank as he's dealing with a sore quad. He hit .356 in April, followed by .234 in May and is currently .151 for June, including 3-for-26 this past week. To make matters worse, he has just 1 HR in his past 31 games.

Brian Roberts, Bal, 2B – Like Beltran, Roberts also endured a 3-for-26 (.115) week.

Andruw Jones, Atl, OF – Jones continues to squander millions of potential free agent dollars. He's hitting just .147 in June. Other June swooners include Julio Lugo (.125), Jason Bay (.155), Dan Johnson (.133), Beltran (.151), Chris B. Young (.170), Mark Reynolds (.151), Felipe Lopez (.120), Ryan Shealey (.173) and Jermaine Dye (.196)

Felix Hernandez, Sea, SP – Since returning from the DL on May 15, Hernandez is 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA in seven starts.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
After moving out of the cellar and into the middle (7th) of the Yahoo! Friends and Family League standings this past week, I'm questioning my decision to highlight my Blog League developments in this space. Sitting 10th in the standings, the Blog League remains the bane of my current existence. While the quest for upward mobility continues, here are the players added recently in the Blog League: Dustin McGowan (I'm spot starting him), Mark Loretta, J.P. Howell, Jonny Gomes and Chris Duncan.

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