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MLB Skinny: Post-Hype Breakouts

1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Chad Qualls
Injured: Brad Lidge
Skinny: Just as Lidge had pitched himself back into the closer picture, he landed on the DL with an oblique injury – seems to be the vogue injury this year. He's expected to be out until sometime shortly after the All-Star break. Wheeler was expected to resume the stopper role, but he blew his third save this month on Sunday, allowing four runs in two innings at Texas. Qualls came on to pick up the save in the 10th inning as Houston came back with three runs in the extra frame after the Rangers tied the score in the ninth. For June, Wheeler has a 14.34 ERA in 11 outings – let's just say I added Qualls this morning in my Blog League.
1st Chair: Antonio Alfonseca
Injured: Tom Gordon, Brett Myers

Skinny: The Phillies haven't picked up a save since Alfonseca closed the door on the White Sox on June 11. Alfonseca owners were hoping for steady work from the six-fingered man to close the month of June as Gordon and Myers near returns from injuries. It's likely that Alfonseca will be moved back into a middle relief role once either one of the two injured arms return. Gordon will likely make his first rehab appearance this week and the hope is he can return by early July. Myers (shoulder) is on a similar timetable, and he will stay in the bullpen upon his return. Clearly, Alfonseca is not for long as the closer, but give him credit for being far more effective than most expected him to be.
1st Chair: Brad Hennessey
2nd Chair: Tim Lincecum? Brian Wilson?
Skinny: Hennessey blew a save on Saturday, but cut him some slack – he allowed just one hit and one run in two innings of work against the Yankees, surrendering a solo shot to Alex Rodriguez. A home run allowed the league's home run leader isn't cause for alarm. Hennessey hasn't allowed a walk in his past 10 IP and there doesn't seem to be much to worry about here just yet.
1st Chair: Bob Howry
2nd Chair: Carlos Marmol
Injured: Ryan Dempster
Skinny: The ever-popular oblique injury claimed Dempster as a victim on Friday. Howry filled in and picked up a save against the White Sox on Saturday – he's expected to remain the stop-gap closer while Dempster is out. It's unclear at the moment whether Dempster will land on the DL. Marmol has been a hot topic of late as a potential closer of the future. Both Dempster and Howry have claimed recently that Marmol would be a good fit in the role eventually. But, for now, Howry will get first rights on end-game duty while Dempster is nursed back to health.
1st Chair: Chris Ray
2nd Chair: Scott Williamson, Danys Baez
Skinny: June continues to be ugly for Ray, who has a 9.39 ERA this month – he's allowed at least one run in five of seven outings. The Orioles hoped that fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery would take care of his problems, but no such luck so far. There hasn't been much talk about Ray's job being in jeopardy, but keep an eye on this situation nonetheless.
1st Chair: Kevin Gregg
2nd Chair: Armando Benitez

Skinny: Benitez has pitched well since joining the Marlins (1.80 ERA), but despite a couple hiccups this month, Gregg has yet to blow a save chance this season (14-for-14). With an NL-high eight saves in June, Gregg has all but put this "Hot Seat" on ice.
Rod Beck, the 38-year-old former closer who finished his career with 286 saves, was found dead at his Phoenix home on Saturday. I'll admit, during his 13-year Major League career, I mostly despised him. I hated his slovenly demeanor – big paunch, massive mullet and all. But then I read the story about how, in 2003, while trying to work his way back to the Majors with Triple-A Iowa he set up his Winnebago behind the outfield fence and would welcome all comers to his mobile home after his team's games. There he would share beers, cigarettes and conversation about baseball, country music or what have you. He did the same sort of thing with fellow teammates in the clubhouse after games when he was playing at the Major League level. As Kerry Wood said, "You don't see that anymore. Really haven't seen a whole lot of it since he left. That's part of the old-school mentality." Who couldn't like a guy like that? As we take a look at what went down on the diamond these past few days, clink your glasses together for an old-school soul who was more than just the prolific closer that no doubt helped many of you on the roto field of play through the years.

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

Toronto hurler Dustin McGowan recorded his sixth quality start in his past seven outings on Sunday – a masterful one-hit complete game shutout in which Colorado's Jeff Baker laced a single up the middle to lead-off the ninth to break up the no-hit bid. McGowan was available in 98 percent of Yahoo! leagues entering Monday morning. He's a former Baseball America "buzz baby." To quote from BA's 2004 Prospect Handbook, "McGowan has better stuff than Roy Halladay, the Cy Young Award winner whom he could join in Toronto's rotation soon." Baseball America jinx? After that comparison to Halladay, McGowan's '04 season was derailed by Tommy John surgery. He returned in '05 and made his Major League debut in late July. From that point up until late May of this season, McGowan had mostly been knocked around in Toronto with a combined upper-6 ERA.

The biggest change for McGowan this year seems to be confidence. In spring training veteran slugger Frank Thomas had this to say: "I told him you are not an average starter, you are way above average, you are going to dominate with the stuff you have." And you could tell in his comments after his near no-no that he's starting to believe in his electric stuff. "From about the fourth or fifth inning on, I was getting people out with a fastball and a slider," McGowan said. "I was getting ground balls … I started thinking about (a no-hitter) in the seventh; the energy from the crowd, I was feeding off it." I'm slightly jaded in regards to McGowan because I chose his one dud outing of late (1.2 IP, 6 ER v. Dodgers on June 19) to spot start him, but when you put together his talent and his recent production – he's the No. 21 starter in the Yahoo! game for the past month despite his June 19 blow-up – it's a combination that fantasy owners can no longer ignore.

  • As good as McGowan has been, he can't claim honors as the top post-hype breakout. That title would have to go to Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie. Like McGowan, Guthrie was a former top organizational pitching prospect (Cleveland). Another hard thrower, he struggled with his command during four mostly unsuccessful years with the Tribe before being claimed off waivers by Baltimore in January. Guthrie scuffled in relief to open the season, but has exploded onto the fantasy scene since being moved into the rotation. In 10 starts, Guthrie has posted a 1.64 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, and .179 BAA – and you wonder why Leo Mazzone has the reputation of a pitching guru. Guthrie is still available in a quarter of Yahoo! leagues. His second-best BABIP (.237, behind only Dan Haren) suggests he's benefited from some luck, but he also owns the ninth-best K:BB ratio (4.00) and 13th-best HR/9 rate (0.55) which also means he's doing an outstanding job of limiting the amount of damage that might be done by balls batted in to play. So, while it's fair to say that Guthrie will come back to Earth some, I wouldn't bet on it being a hard fall. Like McGowan, the talent is there, the confidence is building and he's got a wizard to help him continue to hone his skills.
  • Notable Notes: Assuming he checks out fine in a throwing session on Monday, Arizona's Randy Johnson (herniated disc) could return from the DL to face the Dodgers on Thursday … Seattle's Raul Ibanez tweaked his hamstring over the weekend and, while he isn't likely to land on the DL, he may not return to the lineup until the end of the week … Washington's Jason Bergmann was activated from the DL list and will start Monday night. Elbow inflammation derailed him in mid-May as he was sitting on a 2.76 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He looked strong in his rehab stint, so put him back on the fantasy radar … Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy sat out the weekend series with Kansas City because of a sore lower back. He's expected back for Monday's game with Houston … Contract talks between Mark Buehrle and the White Sox have reached an impasse, and it appears he's going to be dangled prominently in trade talks. Boston has established itself as the early front-runner for his services … Baltimore's Miguel Tejada landed on the DL over the weekend (wrist), ending his consecutive games played streak at 1,152 games. Chris Gomez will fill in for Tejada while he's out.

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

  • Ryan Braun, Mil, 3B
    While teammate Corey Hart, the No. 2 ranked player in the Yahoo! game for the past month, is finally starting to see some love in the Yahoo! game (up to 68 percent ownership), Braun remains oft-available (39 percent owned). All Braun has done since being called up on May 25 is hit .321 with 5 HR, 18 RBI, 24 R and 4 SB in 27 games – good for top 20 placement in the Yahoo! game over that span. He entered the year as the No. 2 Brewers prospect according to Baseball America. Like Hart, he's a legit five-tool talent, and he's deserving of some more love in Yahoo! leagues.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Adam Jones, Sea, OF (ETA – this week?)
    I had Jones here a couple weeks ago, but a follow-up nomination is warranted given that Seattle outfielders Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen are banged up, increasing the likelihood that Jones will get called up this week. Jones is hitting .316 for Triple-A Tacoma and is among the top six in the Pacific Coast League in HR (17), RBI (58) and R (52). He also has the speed to steal 20-30 bases, although he's swiped just five bases for Tacoma in '07. Ibanez is nursing a sore hamstring which he hopes he can return from on Friday. However, there is a possibility that he could be forced to the DL, which would open the door for Jones. Jones is already in the Yahoo! game, so owners in AL-only leagues that have some roster flexibility may want to make a speculative move and see how things play out. Jones is not ready for shallower mixed league attention, however.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Matt Stairs, Tor, 1/O – Stairs hit .500 this past week with 2 HR and 8 R (fifth-best in the league).

Ian Kinsler, Tex, 2B – After hitting 9 HR in his first 81 at bats this season, Kinsler followed it up with just 1 HR in his next 116 at bats. He's emerged from his power drought finally, collecting 3 HR this past week to go with a .364 BA and a league-high 11 R.

CoCo Crisp, Bos, OF – Getting play again atop the Boston order, Crisp hit .423 this past week with 3 HR and 1 SB.

Khalil Greene, SD, SS – In his past seven games, Greene has hit .414 with 4 HR and 9 RBI.

Sean Marshall, ChC, SP – Marshall is tied for the league-lead in June wins (4) and has a 2.32 ERA for the month.

Joe Blanton – Blanton has 3 W, a 1.14 ERA and has walked just five hitters in 39.1 June innings.

Bobby Abreu, NYY, OF – After breaking out of a May slump in early June, Abreu is back to his ice-cold ways. This past week he hit .125 with 0 HR, 1 RBI and 2 R

Adrian Gonzalez, SG, 1B – Battling through a sore foot, Gonzalez went 4-for-24 (.167) this past week with 0 HR, 1 RBI and 1 R

Adam LaRoche, Pit, 1B – The notorious April slug is also having problems in June. He's hitting just .205 this month, and he hit .087 with 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R and a league-high 9 K this past week.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
Things continue to look better for me in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League than the Blog League, where I'm stuck in 10th place. I'm getting more and more interested in making a deal, but not of the type I keep getting sent to me – deals where I trade Jose Reyes or Ichiro for starters. While my pitching numbers are down, I'm running well behind the maximum innings pitched pace, and I feel between Josh Beckett, Randy Johnson, Felix Hernandez, James Shields and the free agency pool, I'll be able to make up plenty of ground there on my own. Power is my true weakness, and dealing Reyes or Ichiro for some help in HR and RBI is becoming more and more likely. The league's latest additions include Chad Qualls, Dustin McGowan, Brendan Harris, Julian Tavarez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Gregg Zaun.

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

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