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The Skinny: Closer concerns

CLOSER HOT SEAT
CHICAGO WHITE SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Dustin Hermanson
Skinny: Things got very interesting in Chicago's bullpen this past week. In that time, Hermanson recorded two saves and Takatsu appeared in just one of the team's past five games. So Hermanson is the closer now, right? Not so fast. During Saturday's masterpiece performance by starter Mark Buehrle, Takatsu was the only reliever warming up in the ninth inning of what would likely have been a save situation had Buehrle been pulled. Hermanson had closed the game out the night before when Takatsu was touched up for a two-run single and a walk. After the game, manager Ozzie Guillen talked to Takatsu: "I talked to him and [told him] not to lose his confidence, that I believed in him. I hope he believes what I said. Right now he's still the closer for the White Sox." But Hermanson has yet to allow a run this season while Takatsu's ERA sits at 11.57. So, clearly, this job is wide open.
COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Chin-Hui Tsao
2nd Chair: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Tsao recorded his first save of the season on Saturday, albeit a rocky one. He entered the game in the ninth against San Francisco with a 5-2 lead. He would surrender three hits and a two-run homer to Michael Tucker, but he was able to escape with the lead intact (5-4). Manager Clint Hurdle is not ready to use him on back-to-back nights just yet, so it is likely you'll see Fuentes used in spot duty. Byung-Hyun Kim was considered to be a candidate for occasional stopper work, but he was victimized by a seventh-inning Tucker grand slam on Sunday that turned a 5-3 lead into a 7-5 deficit. Kim was soundly booed by the Colorado crowd who has witnessed 10 walks from Kim in 8.1 IP. It should be noted that Fuentes was being held for the ninth inning of Sunday's game had the lead held up.
CHICAGO CUBS HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Chad Fox, Michael Wuertz
Skinny: Since blowing a save chance on April 8th versus Milwaukee, Hawkins has allowed just one hit in four innings. Included in those four appearances was back-to-back saves during the weekend at Pittsburgh. For now, Hawkins is off the hot seat, but the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday that the Cubs will reassess their closer situation by June if Hawkins hasn't clearly established himself as a go-to guy. The story suggests that Wuertz, who has 36 K's in 35.2 career innings, could figure into the mix of possible replacements.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS HOT
1st Chair: Mike Adams
2nd Chair: Derrick Turnbow
Skinny: It's hard to gauge the temperature of Milwaukee's closer role when the key players have combined for one save opportunity – Adams recorded the team's only save on April 8th. Adams did allow a game-winning solo homer to St. Louis' Scott Rolen on Sunday, but it was a non-save situation and it was Adams' first run allowed in four innings pitched this season. For now, Adams is still atop the Brewers' closer depth chart, but Turnbow has been solid and would likely see chances if/when Adams falters.
NEW YORK METS HOT
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Mike DeJean, Ugueth Urbina?
Skinny: After a disastrous blown save in the season opener, Looper managed to settle into a groove and allowed just one run in his next five innings, spanning four outings. But on Saturday, he gave up a run in the ninth inning to allow the Florida Marlins to tie the score at 3-3. While the Mets would score a run in the bottom of the inning to give Looper the victory, it was the second time this season that Looper has blown a save situation that would have given Pedro Martinez a win. Meanwhile, Ugueth Urbina has started to round into form after a rough start, fanning all four batters he faced on Sunday. Trade rumors involving Urbina to the Mets could resurface if the Looper rollercoaster continues.
CLEVELAND INDIANS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Bobby Howry, David Riske
Skinny: Since allowing four earned runs in a third of an inning of work in his '05 debut, Wickman has responded with four saves in four consecutive chances, allowing just three hits and one run in four innings during that span. That recent successful body of work should be enough to extricate him from the frying pan for the time being. It should be noted that Wickman is now 17-for-19 since returning to the closer role after the All-Star break in '04.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS WARM
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Luis Ayala
Skinny: Cordero has recorded two saves (in two chances) and has completed four scoreless outings since blowing a save opportunity on April 9th. His ERA now sits at a stellar 1.17. Meanwhile, Ayala has allowed seven hits and four runs in his past 3.2 IP. It would seem that Cordero has gained a significant amount of job security in the past week.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Brandon Lyon
2nd Chair: Brian Bruney
Skinny: Because he pitched last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Lyon was given a night off on Wednesday in a save situation. That allowed us to get a handle on who might step up should Lyon fall on hard times or injury down the road. Bruney was the recipient of Wednesday's opportunity, and he closed out Colorado with relative ease. Given that Lyon has yet to allow a run in six games, the Bruney development has little meaning at this time. File it away in the back of your mind for now.
Another dream golf vacation for Skinny regular Matt Romig means another spot start for myself in this space. I come in bitter for getting trounced in my fantasy basketball final and for the fact that the current production of my all-too-many fantasy baseball teams leaves me little hope that I'll be in sniffing range of a baseball league championship come September. But it is a long season, and many titles were won with a methodical, one-day-at-a-time approach. With that in mind, let's take a look at the factors that should be currently weighing on fantasy owner's minds:

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

  • In talks of statistical hot beds, Balitmore hitters and Florida pitchers should top the list. It can be argued that three of the current top 10 most productive fantasy pitchers wear Marlins uniforms (Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis). The team leads the majors by more than a run in ERA (1.61) and no starter has an ERA above Al Leiter's 2.55 mark. While Beckett, Willis and Burnett are almost completely spoken for in the fantasy realm, Leiter can still be had in a fair share of leagues. He makes for a good pickup, but more importantly, fantasy owners should think twice before starting their hitters against Florida's pitching, especially when the Marlins are at home. The team has a 1.36 ERA at pitching-friendly Dolphins Stadium. Think of this as the bizarro Colorado effect.

In Baltimore, the Orioles swept the vaunted New York Yankees during the weekend, giving them five wins in six games against the Bronx Bombers. Brian Roberts continues his torrid pace in the leadoff role and remains fantasy's best player to date, with five home runs, six stolen bases, 15 runs scored, 14 RBI and a .449 BA. While these are numbers he can't sustain, the fact that Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Sammy Sosa follow closely behind him means that he is likely to be picked up any time he reaches base safely. Roberts is second in the majors in Runs and tied for first in Steals. Those are two categories that he can continue to be a major player in. Baltimore is second in the league in team OPS behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. And they have the manpower to keep the pace. This bodes well for starter Rodrigo Lopez, who has enjoyed nearly six runs of support in his three starts.

  • Oakland reliever Huston Street continues to push closer Octavio Dotel nearer to those inevitable trade rumors. The team's closer of the future has been dominating in the present. The 21-year old has 11 K's in his first 7.1 innings pitched, and is sporting a 1.23 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that his stellar work has earned him a more prominent role in the team's bullpen, and he has pitched with a one-run lead in two of his past three outings.
  • The Los Angeles Daily News reported over the weekend that closer Eric Gagne is likely at least a month away from returning. Most fantasy owners had drafted Gagne on the assumption of a mid-April return, not mid-May. This just adds extra value to Yhency Brazoban, who has two saves filling in for Gagne despite a 6.23 ERA. The way the Dodgers have been playing (MLB-leading nine wins), another month in the closer role could afford Brazoban another 10-12 save opportunities, give or take. If you stole Brazoban from a Gagne owner prior to your draft, it is a good time to explore what that owner is willing to give up for a month's worth of Brazoban.

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

  • Shea Hillenbrand, Tor, 1B
    Hillenbrand and April go together like peanut butter and jelly. Hillenbrand has hit above .336 in four of five career Aprils, including .429 this season. He tends to slowly fade until he's of little use by August. But there are plenty of productive at bats for fantasy owners before then. Hillenbrand is currently tied for the MLB lead in Runs with 16. He's a streaky player, but certainly worth a pickup now while he's on a roll.
  • John Patterson, Was SP
    Patterson was an April darling last season only to fall victim to a groin injury that sidelined him for two months. He returned in June and never could recapture the success of his first month. However, he did manage a strikeout per inning, which is a number that always piques the interest of fantasy owners. Patterson is off to another fast start in '05, with two earned runs allowed in 14 IP. And the enticing strikeouts have continued to flow (12). Patterson can be had for a song right now in fantasy leagues, as he is barely owned. But a strikeout an inning starter is rarified air, and another good start will likely see his availability dry up. He's a former blue-chip prospect, so continued success wouldn't be that shocking of a development.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Julio Lugo, TB, SS – Three stolen bases in the past week lands him in a tie for the major league lead with 6.

Victor Diaz, NYM, OF – Thanks to some hot hitting (.321 BA), Diaz has seen increased playing time. He has appeared in six straight games and has seven runs, six walks, two steals and a home run to show for it.

Rafael Furcal, Atl, SS – While the batting average is still at an unpalatable .208, he did manage two stolen bases and three home runs in the past week.

David Ross, Pit, C – Ross earned NL-only attention with three home runs in his past six games. His batting average now sits at .308.

Vinny Castilla, Was, 3B – He continues to defy conventional wisdom that he was doomed for leaving Colorado. The Nats third baseman is hitting .429 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 11 games.

Gustavo Chacin, Tor, SP – Raised his season mark to 3-0 with a win versus Texas on Saturday. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Brett Myers, Phi, SP – Here's a starter I like much more than Chacin. Myers has the talent, and he owns a 0.44 ERA and 0.79 WHIP after three starts (20.1 IP).

Tony Womack, NYY, 2B – Womack was gunned down in his only SB attempt of the week, and his average has fallen to .220.

Junior Spivey, Mil, 2B – Following a hot start, Spivey has just three hits in his past 22 AB's and he has been thrown out in his past two SB attempts.

Jose Reyes, NYM, SS – Reyes is just 4-for-26 in his past six games. at least he has two steals in that span.

Richard Hidalgo, Tex, OF – Hidalgo has gone seven games without an RBI or HR. He has just two hits in 29 AB's during that span.

Vernon Wells, Tor, OF – A return to '03 form was the hope for Wells, but '05 has seen little promise of that. Wells is 2-for-23 in his past six games and now holds a .192 BA.

John Lackey, LAA, SP – Lackey allowed 10 ER in two starts (10.1 IP) this past week.

Gavin Floyd, Phi, SP – Floyd allowed eight runs in 3.1 IP on Friday. He now is expected to move to the bullpen as Vicente Padilla returns from injury.

Khalil Greene, SD, SS – Greene is out at least a month after breaking his ring finger on Friday. Geoff Blum and Jesse Garcia will split SS duties until he returns.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
9.33 Combined ERA of Oliver Perez, Javier Vazquez and Barry Zito, all of whom were among the top 25 starters drafted in Yahoo! default leagues. Pity the poor soul that has all three of them.