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The Skinny: Floyd, Backe and more

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CLOSER HOT SEAT
TORONTO BLUE JAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Justin Speier
2nd Chair: Jason Frasor
Skinny: Chalk one up for the Rookie Wall. Frasor has allowed 17 earned runs in his last 13.2 innings. Vinnie Chulk is equally gassed, having yielded 23 earned in his last 23.2 innings. Both were nearly unhittable through early July, but for now manager John Gibbons is going with a guy who can get batters out. That is Speier, who has two saves in September and owns a 1.50 ERA since August 1.
DETROIT TIGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Esteban Yan
2nd Chair: Jamie Walker
Skinny: With 17 games remaining against teams with losing records (Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Tampa Bay), there is actually value to be found in the Detroit bullpen. Esteban Yan (2.01 ERA since July 1) is the guy for now while Ugueth Urbina deals with the kidnapping of his mother in Venezuela. Even the most competitive fantasy manager has to hope for a quick and peaceful resolution to Urbina's crisis. Walker will be manager Alan Trammell's left-handed option until his closer returns.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Joe Valentine
2nd Chair: Danny Graves
Skinny: Graves returned from the DL Friday and was promptly knocked back out of action by a line drive off his foot. The Cincinnati Post reports that manager Dave Miley said Graves "could be available" during the Houston series that began Monday. They won't rush Graves back, and fantasy owners shouldn't break a sweat digging for Graves' replacement. Cincinnati's tailspin isn't likely to end soon.
MONTREAL EXPOS RED HOT
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Luis Ayala
Skinny: Ayala was last to earn a save, but Cordero still owns the ninth as he battles to remain effective through his first full Major League season. After a miserable August, Cordero has responded by punching out nine batters in 4.1 September innings. His biggest challenge in September will be finding save chances.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS HOT
1st Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
2nd Chair: Jaime Cerda
Skinny: Affeldt struck out Ivan Rodriguez and Dmitri Young to close out Detroit Wednesday in his most impressive outing since returning from the DL. In six games, Affeldt has a win, a save and a blown save. Kansas City faces Detroit and Tampa Bay in a six-day stretch beginning Tuesday, so Affeldt is a decent short-term investment and one who should be available in many leagues.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES HOT
1st Chair: Tim Worrell
2nd Chair: Billy Wagner
Skinny: No – Wagner is not Worrell's new setup man. Manager Larry Bowa told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he brought his injury-prone closer in during the eighth inning Sunday to ensure that capable relievers were available should Wagner suffer a physical setback. Wagner struck out Mike Piazza and retired two more batters. The roles will be reversed next time, much to the dismay of Worrell owners.
SEATTLE MARINERS HOT
1st Chair: J.J. Putz
2nd Chair: George Sherrill
Skinny: Beginning Thursday, Seattle closes the season with 24 straight games against Boston, Oakland, Anaheim and Texas. The spoiler potential may be off the charts, but if you're counting on anyone from the Seattle staff to push your team over the top you're going to find yourself going Kevin Brown on your cubicle wall. Just find a soft panel.
CLEVELAND INDIANS HOT
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: David Riske, Rafael Betancourt
Skinny: Wickman's job was secure while Cleveland remained in the race. Those dreams gone, manager Eric Wedge has every reason to look to the future. But who can he turn to? Riske and Betancourt have each blown seven saves. Bob Howry, surgically repaired arm and all, is not the answer. Another change in 2004 is unlikely – but if Wedge makes a move it will likely be back to Betancourt.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Damaso Marte
Skinny: For all his recent troubles, Takatsu has only one blown save this season in 17 chances. Recently, however, it's been success by circumstance for the reliever known as Mr. Zero. In four of his last six conversions, Takatsu has allowed at least one run. Marte has a 2.60 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 17.1 innings since August 1. Manager Ozzie Guillen has made some curious late-inning moves this season, so Marte remains a threat to steal a save or two down the stretch.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES WARM
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: B.J. Ryan
Skinny: It's hard to say who took Julio's four-walk meltdown Sunday harder – his fantasy owners or Red Sox fans. Either way, it was a curious loss of command for a guy who just two days earlier struck out A-Rod, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada to dispatch the Yankees. Ryan, who looked like a left-handed version of K-Rod for much of the season, has been human of late, allowing runs in half of his last eight outings.
Is anyone still playing fantasy baseball? Was that a starting outfield of Preston Wilson, Magglio Ordonez and Tim Salmon I came across in one of my leagues today? Doesn't anyone relish the role of spoiler anymore? Sure, it doesn't measure up to winning, but there's something to be said for influencing the league championship from the bottom of the standings. Just make sure that when you steal the point that knocks the leader down to second, you let him know you're the one who put him there. On to the weekend that was:

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

  • The curveball was every bit as nasty as advertised. The fastball didn't quite measure up to scouting reports, but after seven masterful innings, who's going to squabble over a few digits on the radar gun? Philadelphia's Gavin Floyd will not save Larry Bowa's job and he probably isn't a fantasy savior this year, but his Major League debut Friday against New York was noteworthy nonetheless. First the numbers: seven innings, four hits, one earned run, two walks, five strikeouts.

Now the reality: Floyd probably faced a tougher lineup in his last start for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Jeff Keppinger? Gerald Williams? Eric Valent? As disgruntled Tribe fans asked before Jake Taylor and Roger Dorn turned things around in Major League, "Who are these guys?" Remember – the Mets have scored two or fewer runs in nine of their last 15 games. Not a bad team to break in against. Floyd, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2001 draft, gets his next start Wednesday at Atlanta.

  • Depending on which play on words you prefer, a young pitcher either has Houston Back(e) in the race or he's carrying them to the playoffs on his Back(e). Your local sports anchor probably doesn't care that Backe, as in Brandon Backe, is pronounced BACK-ee. Heck, you can butcher the name all you want so long as you don't lose sight of some eye-popping numbers. If you toss out one unfortunate outing at Wrigley Field, Backe is 2-0 in three career starts with a 0.45 ERA and a WHIP of 1.05.

Not bad for a converted outfielder who couldn't cut it in the Tampa Bay organization. Is Backe a fluke destined to crash down to earth like Noah Lowry of the Giants? Maybe. He wasn't considered a top prospect entering this year, which is always a red flag. But his Triple-A numbers were solid (6-5, 2.80, 74 Ks in 64.1 IP) and he's already fared well at Minute Made Park (1-1, 3.00 ERA). He also has a fantasy friendly schedule, with starts against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee twice on the horizon.

  • Several injury updates could have a dramatic effect on fantasy leagues. Johnny Damon went on the DL Monday, meaning that 30-plus stolen base guy Dave Roberts once again has fantasy value. He has only one stolen base since joining Boston on August 3. … Edwin Jackson completed his rehab assignment with the Dodgers and will re-join the team later this week. Jackson is 2-0 in three starts this year and merits attention as a spot-starter. … The injury to Kevin Brown gives prospect Brad Halsey another chance to prove he belongs in the majors. Halsey was 11-4 for Triple-A Columbus this year and he looked like a big leaguer in starts against Los Angeles and Boston earlier this year. He'll get his next start Wednesday against Tampa Bay … Finally, Jarrod Washburn returned from the DL Saturday to pitch five strong innings in a win at Cleveland. He has allowed one earned run or fewer in five of his last seven starts.

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

  • Jason Michaels, PHI, OF – Michaels was a teammate of Pat Burrell at the University of Miami, and to a degree he owes some of his recent success to his old college buddy. It was Burrell's injury in early August that allowed Michaels to begin seeing regular at-bats. Since breaking an 0-for-9 skid on August 21, Michaels is batting .362 (21-for-58) with three homers and nine RBIs. Burrell is back now, but that isn't about to force the streaking Michaels out of the lineup. Marlon Byrd has been miserable, so manager Larry Bowa will go with dual Hurricanes in his outfield until one or both cools off.
  • Rodrigo Lopez, BAL, SP – Jon Leiber could get the nod here, but his recent success has come at the expense of the dregs of the American League. Lopez has returned to 2002 form against the class of the junior circuit. His improbable run of success began on August 7 when he held Texas scoreless over 6.2 innings, allowing only two hits and striking out seven. Since then he has road wins at Anaheim and New York as well as quality no-decisions against Texas and Oakland (twice). Not bad for a guy who pitched his way out of the rotation in 2003. He should draw two starts against Toronto and one versus Detroit down the stretch.

SPEED-O-METER: Checking the latest movements on the basepaths

  • Clint Barmes, COL, SS (Still waiting) – Barmes was thrown out Wednesday, so the wait for his first big league steal continues. He does have a homer and five RBIs in six games and he hasn't even played at Coors Field yet.
  • David Wright, NYM, 3B (30/30 preview?)– Mets rookie is 7-for-17 with three homers and three steals in September. He had 22 steals and 18 homers in the minors this year.
  • Scott Podsednik, MIL, OF (Back in gear) – Benched occasionally in August, Podsednik has seven steals and two four-hit games in his last eight contests.
  • Coco Crisp, CLE, OF (Still trying) – Crisp is batting .378 (17-for-45) since August 24. Unfortunately, he's only slightly more successful on the basepaths over the same span (2-for-5). He's been caught 11 times in 27 attempts on the year.
  • Chris Burke, HOU, 2B (Called Up) – Burke began his second stint with Houston on Sept. 2. The former first-round pick was third in the Pacific Coast League with 37 steals this year. He'll sit behind Jeff Kent as long as Houston remains in the playoff chase.
  • Brian Roberts, BAL, 2B (Nothing in the tank?) – Roberts continues to pile up hits – he's batting .364 since Aug. 1 – but suddenly he can't run. He has one steal in the same span and has been nailed in each of his last four attempts.
  • Luis Terrero, ARI, OF (4 steals/last 10 games) – Continues to command attention with 14 hits, two homers and four steals since August 25.
  • Corey Patterson, CHI, OF (Oh no Canada!) – Patterson was 0-for-17 in four games against Montreal through Monday. He has just one steal in Chicago's last 11 games.

PROSPECT WATCH: Intriguing names down on the farm

  • Jeremy Reed, SEA, OF (In the majors) – ETA: Called up September 6
    The Mariners have been well represented here in 2004, which means either their future is bright, or The Skinny is trying to curry favor with his editor, a Seattle native. Whatever the case, Reed is the latest prospect to surface on the M's big league roster. Acquired from Chicago in the Freddy Garcia deal, he hit .305 with 13 stolen bases in 61 games for Triple-A Tacoma. Reed stole 45 bases and hit nearly .375 as the prize of the White Sox organization in 2003. With the futures of Raul Ibanez and Randy Winn up in the air, the club will be well served to give Reed a long look as a long season winds down.
  • Ben Hendrickson, MIL, SP (In the majors) – ETA: Recalled August 30
    Hendrickson struck out seven over six strong innings Saturday to beat Cincinnati and earn his first major league win. That's the good news. The bad news is the rookie is now 1-6 after seven career appearances. Like many young pitchers, however, he appears to have benefited from a return trip to the minors. He was 3-1 for Triple-A Indianapolis in August, including a two-hit shutout on August 20 against Louisville. He finished the year on the farm with an 11-3 record and a 2.02 ERA. He'll get another shot at the Reds in his next start on.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.670 Minor league slugging percentage recorded in 2004 by Dallas McPherson, who was recalled by the Angels Monday. McPherson, who has 90 extra-base hits and 75 singles, would lead the American League with that total (.623 Ramirez).

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