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MLB Skinny: Upper Cust

CLOSER HOT SEAT
FLORIDA MARLINS RED HOT
1st Chair: Taylor Tankersley
2nd Chair: Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg
Injured: Henry Owens
Skinny: The Jorge Julio experiment officially ended with his trade to Colorado on Sunday. With Owens on the DL (rotator cuff tendonitis), Tankersley, Lindstrom and even Gregg are in the mix for save opportunities. Tankersley was bombed for four runs in a 0.2-inning blown save on Saturday after rolling off six straight scoreless appearances. He's still the odds-on-favorite to garner the most closer value while Owens is out, but Lindstrom and Gregg are very close behind.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jeremy Accardo
2nd Chair: Casey Janssen, Scott Downs
Skinny: The Blue Jays claim to be going with a closer-by-committee approach now that Jason Frasor has flamed-out as the team's stopper. But don't believe it – Accardo is the one you want. The former Illinois St. closer has been nearly unhittable this season – 16.2 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 18 K – and picked up a seamless save on Saturday, the team's first since April 23rd. Accardo, who hasn't walked a batter in his past eight appearances, should end up taking this job and running with it.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS HOT
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Jon Rauch

Skinny: Cordero expects to be in uniform Monday after spending time on the bereavement list to deal with the death of his grandmother, who had been battling brain cancer. Cordero intimated that his grandmother's health had made it hard to focus, saying about his return to the field, "Hopefully, I'll just be able to be more focused." With Cordero out, Rauch picked up a win and a save over the weekend and has allowed just one hit and no runs in his past seven outings. He's positioned himself as the clear heir to the closer throne should Cordero resume his struggles on the mound.
ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Wickman expects to return from a back tendonitis injury on Tuesday, with Soriano and Gonzalez going 5-for-5 in save opportunities while Big Bob was on the DL. Soriano, a natural born closer whose time has come, picked up four of those saves. In his past 11 outings (11 IP), Soriano has allowed just two hits and no runs. The Braves could ease Wickman back and let Soriano continue to close the door, or they could go right back to Wickman knowing that they are fully insured if he struggles at all. Akinori Otsuka owners understand the need to hold on to Soriano for the time being.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Joakim Soria
2nd Chair: David Riske
Injured: Octavio Dotel
Skinny: After closing out his first five save opportunities of '07, Soria has blown two of his past three. Riske, originally thought to be the most likely closer while Dotel is out, has turned things around in May after late April struggles. Riske, who hasn't allowed a run in six May outings covering six innings, could see end-game action again if Soria continues to struggle.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES WARM
1st Chair: Brett Myers
2nd Chair/Injured: Tom Gordon
Skinny: Myers has taken to relief like a fish to water – he's allowed just one run in his 14.1 IP in relief. He's also three-for-three in save chances while Gordon has been on the DL with rotator cuff inflammation (and now an upper respiratory infection). I own Gordon in one league and I haven't cut him loose yet. But the writing seems to be on the wall in Philly, and it appears Gordon has run into that wall.
The good portion of interleague play kicks off this coming weekend – that being the meetings of natural rivalries: Mets vs. Yankees; Cubs vs. White Sox; Dodgers vs. Angels; Cardinals vs. Tigers; A's vs. Giants; Orioles vs. Nationals; Padres vs. Mariners, er … well, for the most part, this is interleague rivalry week. It may still seem strange to see two teams from opposite leagues squaring off in the regular season, but after seeing the countless pink bats wagging over the shoulders of players on Mother's Day, I think we're all properly prepared for odd things …

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

  • Once upon a time (1997-2001, to be exact) Jack Cust was considered one of the top power prospects in the minors. Known for an incredible batting eye – he's averaged 129 walks in his past two seasons at Triple-A – Cust is also a defensive liability and a strikeout machine – 70 K in 170 career at bats at the major-league level. Because of these deficiencies, he's averaged 119 games at the highest level of the minor leagues for six straight seasons (and five different organizations). Seemingly destined to go the way of Crash Davis, Moneyballer Billy Beane pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire Cust from the Padres on May 3rd. He was in the A's lineup on May 6th, and has proceeded to hit six home runs in his first seven games with his new club, including five in his past four games. Cust has played in the outfield in two of his seven games, filling the DH role the rest of the time. He's still walking and striking out at a high level (6 BB, 11 K), but Beane won't blanch at the strikeout numbers if he can keep hitting for power while drawing walks, especially from the DH spot. From a fantasy perspective, Cust is a poor man's Adam Dunn – meaning that the batting average will ultimately sting, but 30-plus home run power is being offered up if the playing time is there. This latest run has a bit of a Chris Shelton feel to it. Fantasy owners in need of power should try to ride this wave while they can, then look to cut loose at the first sign of trouble.
  • If former Giants prospect Todd Linden hadn't hailed from the area where I now reside, I probably wouldn't have caught wind that Fred Lewis was even playing in the majors until he hit for the cycle on Sunday. As it was, Linden's designation for assignment on Thursday was covered in my local Friday paper, with mention that Lewis was being called up. The No. 7 prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball America, Lewis has gone 7-for-14 with seven RBI and five runs scored in his first three games, the last two from the leadoff spot. A former junior college football player and late-comer to baseball – he opted to play baseball at Southern University (with Rickie Weeks) instead of the gridiron – Lewis is old for a prospect at 26 years. His frame and physical tools have drawn comparisons to former All-Star Eric Davis. His speed, athleticism and ability to draw walks – he's averaged 91 walks per 162 games in his professional career – make him radar-worthy in deeper mixed leagues, and a frequent flyer in NL-only leagues. Said manager Bruce Bochy, "This guy has the chance to be a special player. He's got talent written all over him. He'll be an everyday major leaguer at some point, no question. He's a little behind because he played football, but he'll only get better and better the more games he plays." For now, Bochy plans to play Lewis (he hits lefty) regularly against right-handed hitters until Dave Roberts returns in 4-to-6 weeks.
  • Notable Notes: Felix Hernandez will return from a forearm strain on Tuesday, and he'll be limited to 70 pitches against the Los Angeles AngelsJosh Beckett, who has long battled finger blisters, left Sunday's start after four innings because of torn skin on his right middle finger. "There are two things we have to do," said Beckett. "We have to get it to dry out because you have fresh skin, and then we have to toughen it up. What the timetable is, I'm not sure what we are looking at. Hopefully I can make my next start, but that is a big hopefully." … Travis Hafner is now three starts away from earning first base eligibility. Figure his nine road games for interleague play in June will help him reach the magic five-start number … Ryan Theriot is two starts away from adding third base eligibility to his 2B/SS status.

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

  • Dan Johnson, Oak, 1B
    Tim Lincecum (49 percent owned); Oliver Perez (53 percent owned); Ryan Doumit (33 percent owned); Jeremy Accardo (33 percent owned) – I don't play in leagues where such quality value is so easily attainable. So I'll go a little deeper and point out Johnson (18 percent owned), who is riding a 13-game hitting streak that includes three home runs, 12 RBI and 13 R. Johnson possesses 25-HR power and has an excellent batting eye – 103 BB in 719 career at bats. Johnson tore his labrum in his hip during spring training but opted against surgery, a rarity for this injury. He ended up healing naturally and has hit the ground running since his return in late April. A buzz prospect when he hit 15 HRs in his 109-game rookie season in '05, Johnson regressed mightily in '06 as he struggled with double vision. After extensive offseason vision therapy, Johnson says his double vision is no longer an issue. Fantasy owners in need of some pop from the corner would do themselves a favor to take a flyer on Johnson. He's hot and, at the least, ride the streak while it lasts.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Yovani Gallardo, Mil, SP (ETA – late June)
    Now that Tim Lincecum is in the big leagues, fantasy's best arm on the farm, for my money, is Gallardo, who now has the minor league strikeout lead thanks to Lincecum's call-up. Gallardo has 4 W, a 2.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .174 BAA, 55 K and 14 BB for Triple-A Nashville. He's the top prospect of a deep Milwaukee system, an arm that commands four above-average pitches (running fastball, top-shelf curve, slider and emerging change-up). He also draws strong marks for poise and approach on the mound. Gallardo is ready for the majors, but Milwaukee doesn't have a spot for him at the moment. He's one (Ben Sheets) injury away from getting his shot – in other words, be prepared.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Chris B. Young, Ari, OF – The D-Back rookie concluded the week hitting .522 with two home runs, a stolen base, four RBI and five runs.

Gary Matthews Jr., LAA, OF – Matthews hit four home runs, including two on Sunday against his former Texas squad, and drove in 11 runs this past week.

David Wright, NYM, 3B – While his power is still not where it was expected to be, Wright did hit a HR and batted .375 this week, and pleasantly surprised on the base paths with four steals

Reggie Willits, LAA, OF – The Angels call-up is hitting .378 in May with four stolen bases and nine runs scored.

Kelly Johnson, Atl, 2/O – After hitting five home runs in his first 20 games, Johnson is homerless in his past 16 and just concluded a week in which he hit .167.

Bobby Abreu, NYY, OF – Abreu, who hit .143 this past week has gone 30 straight games without a HR and 17 straight games without a SB.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
"Funston, I admire your work … You are always right on. One thing that bothers me and makes me question your credibility as a "fantasy expert" is your standing in the Yahoo! Experts Leagues. I just checked and you are in last place. My friends have been mocking your performance on our message board. I try to stand up for you but it's getting harder and harder to do so. Do you have any explanation for this poor showing?" – Kyle, Nashville, TN

Well, this is a sample of some of the emails coming through my inbox these days. I have to own up to the fact that my fantasy teams are in pretty serious trouble after a month and a half – I'm no better than eighth in the three Yahoo! experts leagues I'm in (I include the Blog league as an expert league because these guys know what they are doing every bit as much as any traditional expert league membership). In the Blog league and Friends and Family league, power is the major issue. Slow starts by Carlos Delgado, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols have contributed to put me in the hole early. But I still cling to that word, "early." Four and a half months is a long time – long enough to climb back into respectability with hands-on management. Kyle, I appreciate you defending my name. I'm going to work night and day to clear my name amongst your friends. I'm committed to the cause.

As for the Blog league update, I sit in ninth place, roughly 20 points out of second place. Scottsbluff Hubris remains atop the standings, but five other squads are within 10.5 points, so things have become fairly wide open. The hunt for anything resembling saves has dominated the transaction space of late as Eddie Guardado and Byung-Hyun Kim were the latest league additions.

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