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MLB Skinny: Split Adam

CLOSER HOT SEAT
COLORADO ROCKIES RED HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins, Manny Corpas, Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Fuentes is again suffering the pre-All-Star break blues. It would be hard to produce a line uglier than he has in his past five outings: 3.1 IP, 0-4, 10 ER, 4 Blown Saves. He's been removed from end-game duties for the time being, with Corpras, Hawkins and Julio expected to vie for upcoming save opportunities. Corpras has been getting the most love from fantasy owners now that Fuentes has been demoted, but Julio has produced an ERA under 2.00 in his past two months. Owners should be prepared to act on the volatile veteran, too. And, as Andy Behrens pointed out in Monday's Roto Arcade, don't be surprised if Fuentes rights his wrongs and is back in the ninth-inning mix before too long.
HOUSTON ASTROS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls
Skinny: Lidge is near a return from the oblique injury that has sidelined him the past couple weeks. However, he won't return to closer action until he's had a chance to prove his readiness in some non-threatening situations first. Wheeler is the closer by default at the moment, but it's been a mostly hollow title as he hasn't picked up a save since June 8. Qualls has the only other team save since June 8, closing the door on Texas on June 24. Both Qualls (5.65 ERA) and Wheeler (10.43 ERA) struggled in June, so the opportunity remains wide open for Lidge should he get mentally and physically squared away soon.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES HOT
1st Chair: Chris Ray
2nd Chair: Paul Shuey, Danys Baez
Skinny: A 1-3 record and 9.31 ERA in June has left Ray vulnerable in the Orioles closer role. In fact, a resurrected Shuey picked up the team's latest save on Saturday, closing out the Angels in a seamless manner. And we may have not seen the last of Shuey in the ninth inning. Said interim manager Dave Trembley, "I think it would be in everybody's best interest if we could get Ray out of being the closer exclusively on this club." Baez's name was also mentioned as someone who might get save opportunities to take the pressure off Ray from time to time. He's expected to return from his forearm injury right around the All-Star break.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES HOT
1st Chair: Antonio Alfonseca
Injured: Tom Gordon, Brett Myers

Skinny: Gordon (rotator cuff) will begin a rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on July 4. Myers (shoulder), by his own admission, is not expected back until sometime after the All-Star break. Gordon is targeting a July 13 return, and Myers won't be far behind that. All of this is to say, "you have one more week, Alfonseca." Well, maybe he'll get two more weeks in as the closer, but his time is up soon. Again, give him credit for a fill-in job well done. In his past 15 outings, he's 1-0, with six saves in seven chances, and a 1.28 ERA in 14 IP.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Hennessey
2nd Chair: Vinnie Chulk? Kevin Correia? Randy Messenger?
Skinny: Hennessey helped his cause by picking up a fairly uneventful save on Saturday against Arizona. It was a positive way to end a tumultuous month – 0-2, 2-for-4 in save opportunities, 4.38 ERA. If Hennessey loses his grip on the closer role down the road, it's a crap-shoot as far as who would be next in line for end-game duties. Hennessey owners will continue to hope that they won't have to find out.
CHICAGO CUBS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol
Injured: Ryan Dempster
Skinny: Dempster, the incumbent closer, is expected back right after the All-Star break as he recovers from the vogue injury of the season, a strained oblique. Howry and Marmol have picked up the slack in his absence. Howry was originally seen as the biggest fantasy beneficiary, but Marmol's closer-of-the-future type stuff has created a lot of buzz of late. He picked up his first save on Thursday and in his past nine outings he's posted a 0.75 ERA and has an unfathomable 21:3 K-to-BB ratio in 12 IP. It wouldn't be surprising if he picked up all the remaining save chances before Dempster's return.
ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Wickman was Miguel Olivo's … well … let's just say he was the equivalent of his female dog this weekend. Olivo hit crucial home runs off of Wickman on Saturday and Sunday – Sunday's home run resulted in Wickman's fourth blown save of the season. Wickman has allowed 16 H and 8 ER in his past 10.2 IP. However, next-in-line candidate Soriano hasn't been particularly effective of late, allowing five runs in his past six outings. For now, Wickman should be safe, but keep close tabs on this one.
Imagine, as a fantasy owner, that you've spent all season struggling to be competitive in your league – this isn't a mentally tough exercise for many of you, myself included. Your pitchers have often failed you in sensational fashion, your big slugger just can't seem to get above the Mendoza Line and your premier speed guy produces just two steals through mid-May, at which time he's sitting about 50 points below his career batting average. Finally, everything starts to click, your guys are putting it all together on a nightly basis and you've rocketed up the standings to the point that the league-leader is in your crosshairs. You're excited, right? You feel like you have a second wind that can help keep your competitive juices flowing through the second half. This would be a logical reaction, unless, that is, you happen to be Mike Hargrove, who chose to walk away from the manager role for the Seattle Mariners amidst an eight-game winning streak.

Hargrove cited a depleted level of passion for the game as part of his reasoning for walking away. The grind of Major League Baseball finally had taken it's toll on him. And, in fantasy baseball, there's no doubt that, no matter where you are in the standings, burnout will hit you at times over the final three months of the season. The malaise is coming folks. As you search for your inner Lenny Dykstra, here's a look at what went down on the diamond this past weekend:

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

The Yahoo! Sports Fantasy baseball experts presented a united front in regards to Tim Lincecum's recent struggles. To a man, we love him, and have preached about his virtues ad naseum in articles on this site. His stuff is so very, very nasty, we said, citing Batting Average Against and K/9 rates as evidence. He just needs confidence, he just needs to fine tune his mechanics, we said. And so on … Many of you were of the same mind. You get it … But some of you were insulted by the damage Lincecum did to your team during a four-start stretch in early June. And you were annoyed with our message to stay patient – Andy Behrens, Brad Evans, Matt Buser and I could cull together a healthy-sized document of e-mail feedback from former Lincecum owners who felt we were foolishly perpetuating the Lincecum hype machine. After peaking with ownership in Yahoo! leagues north of 90 percent in late May, Lincecum fell below the 50 percent mark at the end of June, and as recently as Sunday he could be had in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues. All of this leads up to his outing on Sunday, obviously.

If you didn't see it, Lincecum was brilliant in mowing down Arizona on Sunday, pitching seven shutout innings, fanning 12 and walking none. He was at his filthiest. His teammates have nicknamed him "Franchise," and he offered a complete definition of why he's earned that moniker in beating the Diamondbacks. Lincecum now has 20 strikeouts and 14 shutout innings in his past two outings. Be sure, with each inning, he's gaining confidence, his mechanics are being ironed out. And you can bet, he'll be at the top of the Buzz Index this week until his ownership window closes again. As Behrens said in a recent Roto Arcade column, Lincecum is this year's Cole Hamels, who struggled a bit initially last season in his rookie campaign, but put it all together down the stretch. So, for those of you who jumped ship, go back and get Lincecum if you can. But this time, do yourself a favor and keep him around. If he struggles again, bench him. But for God's sake, don't cut talent like his.

  • I watched all of Shaun Marcum's 6.2 shutout-inning no-decision at Seattle on Sunday. The converted reliever now owns a 2.02 ERA and .188 BAA in 10 starts. He's the kind of pitcher that doesn't wow you with his stuff – he's got a decent fastball, a solid slider and mixes in a mediocre change and curve. But he is always around the plate and he mixes his pitches well. He got into a couple minor jams against the Mariners, but managed to get the key outs when he needed them. Let me say this about Marcum, however, he's not the kind of pitcher that is going to continue to hold batters to a .188 clip – that's Johan Santana, Jake Peavy territory. His BABIP is at .200, which is the lowest among starters with at least 60 IP. In other words, he's been fairly lucky, so far. His run as a starter has been impressive, but the law of averages will catch him. Don't be surprised if his ERA starts to head North (South?) soon. If you've added him, enjoy this run while it lasts, but don't hold on too long after the first signs of regression to the mean.
  • Notable Notes: On June 14, Boston's Julio Lugo singled in the 4th inning off Colorado starter Jeff Francis. Since then, Lugo has gone 31 at bats without a hit. Not surprisingly, he hasn't played much of late – Alex Cora has played in his place in the weekend series against Texas. Lugo did get to pinch run for Dustin Pedroia on Saturday, after Pedroia doubled with two outs in the eighth inning of a one-run game. With walk-machine Kevin Youkilis at the plate, Lugo was thrown out trying to steal third base – tough times, indeed, for Mr. Lugo. And tough times for his owners in the 76 percent of Yahoo! leagues in which his services are still being retained … Tampa Bay's super-utilityman B.J. Upton homered for Triple-A Durham Sunday night. He's expected to play three games with Durham as part of a rehab assignment (quad). He's expected back with Tampa Bay mid-week … Toronto ace A.J. Burnett is on the DL for a sore shoulder and is scheduled to meet with fantasy grim reaper Dr. James Andrews to determine the extent of his shoulder woes … My favorite speedster, Reggie Willits, sat the weekend series with Baltimore because of continued soreness as a result of a wall collision on Wednesday. He's expected back on Tuesday … Texas 2B Ian Kinsler is dealing with a sprained foot. He missed the weekend series against Boston and is likely to land on the DL … From the Yahoo! MLB Rumors page, the latest scuttlebutt has Ty Wigginton and Paul Konerko on the Yankees' radar screen, while rumors of Mark Teixeira to the Dodgers for prospects have started to surface … Kansas City's Mark Teahen picked up a couple games at first base over the weekend and is now just one start from having 1B-eligibility added to his current 3B/OF designation. Atlanta rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also just one start shy of 1B-eligibility

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

  • Adam LaRoche, Pit, 1B
    LaRoche is a traditional April slug (.184 career BA), so his slow start to his Pittsburgh career was to be expected. But, as a player who has hit .289 for his career in the second half, including .323 with 19 HRs in '06, fantasy owners should be anticipating the right moment to jump in on LaRoche. And, it seems, that moment is now. The 42 percent-owned Pirate first baseman has gone 9-for-17 (.529) with 5 RBI, 3 R and 6 XBH (2 HR) in his past four games. And, while he's been striking out at a prolific rate this season, he's fanned just twice in his past six games. The interesting thing about LaRoche is that he's hitting over .300 against lefties but barely above .200 against righties. For his career, he has hit nearly 20 points better versus right-handers (.269 to .251). LaRoche hit righties at a .297 clip last season and you would expect that a vast improvement in that split is forthcoming. If you need a power boost, now is the time to get in on LaRoche.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Joey Votto, Cin, 1B (ETA – end of July)
    Cincinnati fired manager Jerry Narron on Sunday in a move that, if you've followed Narron's lineup whims, probably came down a little later than it should have. Pete Mackanin will now inherit the reins of MLB's worst team, at least according to the standings. With the trading deadline looming at the end of the month, the Reds might look to deal sluggers Adam Dunn and/or Ken Griffey Jr., which would likely open the door for Votto to get a call-up. The lefty Votto is currently hitting Triple-A pitching to the tune of .314 with 10 HR, 46 RBI and 8 SB in 79 games at Louisville. He went .319, with 22 HR and 24 SB at Double-A Chattanooga last season to earn the No. 3 prospect ranking among Reds according to Baseball America coming into this season. Votto draws walks, can hit with power to all fields and does a good job on the base paths despite average speed. It's hard to imagine the Reds standing pat in their current state, so be prepared to witness Votto's arrival in the next 3-4 weeks, if not sooner.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Shannon Stewart, Oak, OF – Stewart led the Majors with 16 hits this past week, four more than runner-ups Chone Figgins, Mike Fontenot and Ryan Braun. Three of his hits left the yard and he even went old school, stealing a base. He now has 7 SB, the most he's had since stealing 14 bases in '02.

Marlon Byrd, Tex, OF – Byrd closed out June ranked seventh in hits for the month (39), good for a .398 batting average.

Melvin Mora, Bal, 3B – Mora's 6 HR in June was his most in a month since September of '05. And his .319 BA was his highest clip since May of last season.

Jason Bartlett, Min, SS – In his past 8 games, Bartlett is hitting .313 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R and 7 SB. His 10 SB in June was third-best in the league.

Jeff Weaver, Sea, SP – In one of the most unexpected turnarounds of the season, Weaver has brought has ERA down from 14.32 to 6.75 in the past month. In his past five starts, he's 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.

Marcus Giles, SG, 2B – Giles went .143 this past week with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R and 0 SB. He has just 1 HR and 1 SB in his past 31 games.

Joe Mauer, Min, C – Last year's AL batting champ hit just .179 this past week.

Ryan Howard, Phi, 1B – While he did hit three home runs, Howard batted just .167 this past week and tied Jim Thome (who has also struggled of late) for the league-lead with 14 strike outs.

Adrian Gonzalez, SD, 1B – Gonzalez continues to slump while dealing with a sore foot. The Padres first baseman was just 2-for-23 this past week with 0 HR, 0 RBI and 2 R. He's gone without a HR and RBI in 10 straight games.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
I've failed to make up any ground in the Blog League this past week – the Aerosmith lyrics, "Same old story, same old song and dance" is playing in my head as I write. I made a couple failed attempts to trade Jose Reyes for power – I'll continue to explore that avenue. And if Felix Hernandez doesn't start turning things around, I'm worried that he plays close enough to where I live that I might consider taking matters into my own hands. As I count the days until Mark Teixeira's return from a strained quad (sometime soon after the All-Star break), here's the latest pickups across the league the past few days: Orlando Hernandez, Manny Corpas, Mark DeRosa, Jack Cust, Tadahito Iguchi, Jason Varitek and Chad Billingsley.

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