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MLB Skinny: Windy City Wonders

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney
Skinny: Jones came off the DL after Detroit's Thursday game and proceeded to step right in and close two of the Tigers' three wins over the weekend. Rodney, who was a rock-star fill-in while Jones was out, got the save Saturday as manager Jim Leyland held back from using Jones on back-to-back nights. That could be his plan for the short-term, but given that Jones was used right away as a closer despite the fact that Rodney has yet to allow a run in his nine outings is a clear indication that this job is all Jones' once he's back to full strength. Those with Rodney may want to keep him around until you see Jones close two nights in a row.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Armando Benitez
2nd Chair: Tim Worrell
Skinny: Friday Benitez blew his first save chance since coming off the DL, but he was sent back out to close the door on Saturday and, while he allowed a hit and a walk, he managed to hold Colorado scoreless to earn his first save of '06. Worrell held down the fort as the closer while Benitez was out, converting his first six save chances. But he blew a save Thursday and has allowed a combined seven runs and three home runs in his past 1.1 innings pitched. It's safe to assume that the ninth-inning call will once again be going to Benitez on a regular basis.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS WARM
1st Chair: Dan Miceli
2nd Chair: Chad Orvella
Skinny: Orvella was recalled from the minors after ironing out his issues with taking too long to get the ball to the plate. In his first two outings since being called back up, however, he came into tight situations and allowed back-breaking hits that led to losses. Meanwhile, Miceli has saved four of his five opportunities and hasn't allowed a hit in his past three outings (2.2 IP). For the time being, he appears safe.
TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: Francisco Cordero
2nd Chair: Antonio Alfonseca, Akinori Otsuka
Skinny: Cordero is just 3-for-6 in save opportunities, and he has allowed seven runs in his past 2.1 IP. There has been some talk that the closer has relied too much on his slider instead of his high-octane fastball, but Cordero and his pitching coach don't agree, citing that he's been throwing about 60 percent fastballs, which is where they want him to be. Despite his struggles, manager Buck Showalter says that Cordero is still unquestionably his closer. Alfonseca could get the nod at some point of Cordero continues to go south, and Otsuka has experience closing in Japan and for the Japanese National Team in the WBC.
SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: Eddie Guardado
2nd Chair: J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Guardado, who has walked 15 batters or less in each of the past three seasons, walked four batters in the ninth inning of what was a 3-3 tie against Texas on Thursday. He took the loss by forcing the winning run across the plate. He's allowed a combined 14 hits/walks in his 5.2 IP and has given up seven earned runs. Manager Mike Hargrove has yet to reveal a lack of confidence in his veteran, but that hasn't stopped many from speculating on whether Putz or Soriano would get the next shot.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Kiko Calero
Skinny: Street is hoping to return Tuesday from a strained pectoral problem that has kept him out five straight days. Calero, who hasn't allowed a run in his eight outings (6.2 IP) picked up the only save while Street has been out, setting down the Angels on Friday with two Ks, no hits and a walk.
BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jonathan Papelbon
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: More evidence that Papelbon is a natural fit in the closer role is the fact that he is now sporting a Mohawk. He's still perfect in the role – 8-for-8 – and he's yet to allow a run in 11.1 IP. Foulke's stuff, meanwhile, has been getting rave reviews, and he holds a 3.55 ERA and has 10 Ks to just two walks in a set-up role.
David Ortiz dropped down a bunt single on Sunday. It was just his second bunt hit of his career. It goes to show you how unpredictable baseball can be sometimes. Now, if Roy Oswalt loses to Cincinnati this Friday – he's 15-0 in 19 career starts against the Reds – the Skinny is going to have to start analyzing the cold weather systems amassing in hell. Until then, here's a temperature read on what happened on the diamond over the weekend:

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

  • Nomar Garciaparra has missed 199 games in his past two-plus seasons. Before Friday, Derrek Lee had missed just 20 games in his previous six seasons combined. Yet, there Garciaparra was on Saturday making his Dodgers debut (2-for-4) while Lee sat his second of what will be many games because of a fractured wrist. Lee is expected to be out for at least two months, and Todd Walker is the Cubs' current stop-gap at first base while the slugger rehabs. Following the injury, there were immediate trade rumors involving the Cubs and first basemen Mike Sweeney and Tony Clark, but Walker's hot bat has cooled that buzz. Walker, who is hitting .408, went 2-for-7 with three walks and three RBIs at first base over the weekend. Of course, Walker feels a deal for Lee's replacement is completely unnecessary. "What was a problem at the beginning is now an asset," said the spin doctor, Walker. "We had three second basemen and now we can put me at first and Jerry (Hairston) and Neifi (Perez) at second. It saves us from having to make a trade. I don't think we need to make any moves. We can patch it up in-house pretty good." As of Sunday, Walker was still available in 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With second base eligibility, he's a must pickup while hitting behind Juan Pierre and in front of Aramis Ramirez in Lee's vacated No. 3 hole.

Meanwhile, Garciaparra had a double, a single and scored a run in his first game off the DL for a rib cage strain. He batted fifth and played error-free for nine innings at his new position, first base. He was held out Sunday as Los Angeles manager Grady Little says the plan is to go easy on Garciaparra for the first week. He was expected back in the lineup on Monday, but will likely again see another day off in the next few days. Highly-regarded prospect James Loney was sent back to the minors to make room for Garciaparra on the roster. Once Garciaparra settles into a daily routine, fantasy owners will want to move him into their lineup, as well. You don't want to waste his healthy at bats on your pine – after all, these healthy opportunities have been few and far between the past couple years.

  • Chicago is home to two of the hottest pitchers in baseball. On Sunday, Cubs veteran control artist Greg Maddux moved to 4-0 with seven shutout innings against St. Louis, the first time he has won his first four decisions in his 19-year major league career. For the White Sox, a Sunday victory against Minnesota moved Jose Contreras to 3-0 – he is now 11-0 in his past 12 regular-season starts. Both pitchers lead their respective leagues in ERA – Maddux at 0.99 and Contreras at 1.55, a couple points ahead of Curt Schilling. You know it's going good for Maddux when the subject of the mental mind control he has over umpires resurfaces. Said Cardinals second baseman Aaron Miles about Maddux's outing this weekend: "It's tough if the umpire is giving him what he wants. He knows how to run with it better than anybody else." As for Contreras, there was little doubt in catcher A.J. Pierzynski's mind as to the means of his success: "He definitely has the best stuff on the staff," Pierzynski said. "He's special in that he can throw from different arm angles and can throw three different pitches from those arm angles. It makes him tough … Last year is over, but he's throwing the ball now as well as he has since coming here."
  • Notable injuries: Todd Helton landed in the hospital and on the DL this weekend for a stomach ailment. While he was released from the hospital on Monday, it is not yet known what his condition is. Crohn's disease, kidney stones and inflammation of the digestive tract are some of the possibilities with similar symptoms … Atlanta is expecting a huge talent infusion in the next day or two as some of its stars get healthy. Chipper Jones (knee) plans to be in the lineup Tuesday when he becomes eligible to come off the DL. SS Edgar Renteria still felt a little tightness in his side as he was taking some test swings on Saturday. He was hoping to return Sunday, but it now looks like Monday could mark his return to action. And 2B Marcus Giles, who has been dealing with a finger injury, is also targeting Monday's Milwaukee series as his return, as well … Boston manager Terry Francona recently indicated that OF Coco Crisp (fractured finger) is likely to return mid-May … Baltimore 2B Brian Roberts sat Sunday because of a hip flexor strain. An off-day Monday for the Orioles gives him two days of rest, and he's expected back in the lineup Tuesday … Chicago's Kerry Wood has thrown in simulated situations and is expected to make an appearance for the Cubs' Arizona Rookie League squad this week. He could return within a couple weeks. And Mark Prior, who has been long-tossing, is still on target to return sometime in May, as well … With the tightness behind his knee subsiding, Ken Griffey Jr. is expected to return on Friday when he is eligible to come off the DL … Carlos Beltran has just three official at bats in the past eight games, appearing in just two of them. He's been bothered by a sore hamstring. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and at least some have speculated that manager Willie Randolph is frustrated that Beltran has not returned to the lineup. Beltran defended his situation saying, "If I was close to 100 percent, I'd be on the field. It's still tight. It's no good for me to go out and play. That's how I feel. When I try to run full speed, it doesn't feel good. I don't feel 100-percent ready to get on the field." … San Diego's Chris Young has been experiencing thumb numbness, and he was forced out of Saturday's game with the problem. He said his thumb gets cold and feels like it was in a freezer. Manager Bruce Bochy said, "Pitchers apply pressure to the ball with their thumb on every pitch. If he has no feeling in his thumb, there is a problem." He'll have an MRI Monday to try to determine the cause.

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

  • Brandon Phillips, Cin, 2B
    Formerly the can't-miss return that Cleveland took from Montreal in the Bartolo Colon deal, Phillips burned out for the Indians while Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee, also part of the deal, developed into the team's key additions. Phillips was ultimately released by the Indians, and he landed in Cincinnati where he just concluded a week in which he went 14-for-31 (.452) with four doubles, three homers and 17 RBIs – the most RBIs in a week by a Cincy player since Ray Knight in '79. Phillips still doesn't show much patience at the plate – he has yet to walk in 43 at bats this season. He defended himself by saying, "Well, you know, they were throwing me some pitches I could hit. I just went up there swinging. I took some pitches, but when I saw a ball that I can hit, I swung. That's just me. I'll take a three-run homer over a walk." The Reds designated Tony Womack for assignment on Monday, meaning that Philips should continue to see plenty of time at second base.
  • Edwin Encarnacion, Cin, 3B
    Encarnacion, available in roughly 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of Monday, has a team-high 18 RBIs. One of the Reds' well-regarded young players, Encarnacion created a stir with a .352 spring that included six home runs and a team-high 20 RBIs. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he has walked 11 times while fanning just nine times. He'll need to cut down on his errors to satisfy management, but those looking for a third baseman with some pop and upside should go ahead and take the gamble.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Felix Pie, ChC, OF (ETA – mid-May)
    When Lee went down, there was some thought that the Cubs' top prospect, Pie, could get a call-up from Triple-A Iowa, especially after his hot start there. But GM Jim Hendry put an end to that speculation saying, "When Felix comes here, you want him to play a decent amount of time in the outfield. You can't just pull a name out of the hat and say, 'Let's put this guy at first and Felix in the outfield." So Pie will remain at Iowa until a regular outfield spot opens up. Rookie Matt Murton is just 2-for-22 in his past seven games with seven strikeouts and one walk. Pie is hitting .309 with a home run, 16 RBIs and four steals in his first 17 games with Iowa. If Murton continues to struggle, an organizational swap of the two players would make sense.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Morgan Ensberg, Hou, 3B – Ensberg had a white-light, out-of-body experience this past week, clubbing six home runs. He has nine home runs in his past nine games.

Craig Biggio, Hou, 2B – Biggio lead the league with 16 hits this past week, garnering three-plus hits in five of six games.

Josh Barfield, SD, 2B – Barfield has taken to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, hitting .394 since moving there. In addition to his hot week at the plate, he also stole three bases.

Miguel Tejada, Bal, SS – Tejada's still going strong, batting .536 this past week, which included the only three hits for the Orioles against Randy Johnson on Sunday. He also had the only hit off closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth when Johnson left after eight innings.

Kevin Mench Tex,, OF – Mench blamed small shoes for his early hitting woes. Fit with larger kicks, Mench hit .381 this past week with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Taylor Buchholz, Hou, SP – Buchholz fell an out short of a complete game shutout on Sunday, holding Pittsburgh scoreless for 8.2 IP. He gave up just two hits and two runs over six innings in his previous outing – a no-decision against Milwaukee.

John Koronka, Tex, SP – Koronka moved to 3-0 on Sunday with a victory over Tampa Bay (8 IP, 3 ER, 8 K).

Dave Bush, Mil, SP – Bush had a complete-game shutout against Cincy on Saturday, striking out nine batters. He's registered a quality start in three of his four outings.

Jose Reyes, NYM, SS – Mired in a 4-for-29 slump, Reyes was given the day off on Sunday.

Casey Kotchman, LAA, 1B – Kotchman hit just .120 this past week (3-for-25) and there is increasing speculation that Kendry Morales could get the call to take his place if things don't turn around soon.

Jerome Williams, ChC, SP – You know things are bad for Williams when he gets replaced by a pitcher who was sporting an ERA above 6.00 at Triple-A (Angel Guzman).

Preston Wilson, Hou, OF – In going just 2-for-22 in his past five games, Wilson struck out 14 times.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Despite moving to within striking distance of second place this past weekend, I took a major hit to the roster with the Derrek Lee injury. I'll be leaning on the returns of Nomar Garciaparra, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. to pick up the slack. RotoWire_Liss continues to run unopposed at the top of the league behind the huge efforts of Albert Pujols, Curt Schilling and Jose Contreras, to name a few. Recent pickups include Dave Bush, Brandon Phillips, Jeff Suppan and Chad Orvella.