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The Skinny: Kazmir, Glaus and more

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CLOSER HOT SEAT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
2nd Chair: Jaime Cerda
Skinny: The Royals have 33 games remaining entering play Monday. Should they maintain their current rate of winning, 11 of those contests should go in the victory column. Roughly 59 percent of their wins have resulted in a save, which means six save chances are hanging in the balance. This is simply a mathematical way to express that while it is nice to see Affeldt back from his rib injury, nothing that happens in the Kansas City bullpen will impact your fantasy league.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Joe Valentine
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Danny Graves felt great Saturday after throwing for the first time since going on the DL. He is scheduled to throw again Monday and is eligible to be activated on Friday. Valentine has two losses since recording a save on Aug. 20, but appears to be manager Dave Miley's guy until Graves returns. He pitched a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation Sunday.
MONTREAL EXPOS RED HOT
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Luis Ayala
Skinny: Manager Frank Robinson allowed Ayala to pitch the ninth for a two-inning save Wednesday rather than turning to Cordero. It was the second time in recent weeks that Ayala got the nod over the team's regular closer. Cordero's August splits are ugly. It's clear he's wearing down a bit as his first full professional season winds down, so don't be surprised to see Ayala get his share of chances down the stretch.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS HOT
1st Chair: Greg Aquino
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: Aquino retired a single batter Saturday to close the door on Cincinnati and match Valverde's club record for consecutive save conversions by a rookie. Since taking over as closer, Aquino has allowed only seven hits in 12 innings while striking out nine. The Arizona Republic reports that Valverde and Aquino will battle for the closer job next year. That leaves Aquino in charge of the ninth inning for the remainder of 2004.
CHICAGO CUBS HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Mike Remlinger, Ryan Dempster
Skinny: Hawkins' job remains secure despite blowing his last two save chances. Chicago's bullpen is a nightmare. Dusty Baker has his hands full just trying to find a set-up man to deliver a game to the ninth. Joe Borowski threw two perfect innings for Triple-A Iowa Friday in a nice bounce-back outing after getting shelled Monday. While he should return to the Chicago bullpen this season, it won't be as closer.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Damaso Marte
Skinny: Takatsu has a 6.30 August ERA despite holding opponents to a .231 average. He hasn't allowed a run in his last four outings, so right now it's only Chicago's recent struggles keeping his fantasy value down. Left-handed hitters are batting just .141 against Marte this year.
SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: J.J. Putz
2nd Chair: George Sherrill
Skinny: Putz allowed his 10th homer in just 54.2 innings Saturday, but managed to close out Kansas City for his fifth save in as many chances since Eddie Guardado was lost for the season. This may be the peak of Putz' fantasy value – the Mariners finish the season with a brutal stretch of 24 straight games against Boston, Anaheim, Oakland and Texas.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES WARM
1st Chair: Tim Worrell
2nd Chair: Felix Rodriguez
Skinny: Billy Wagner resumed throwing Sunday and is scheduled for another mound session Tuesday. A return by September 5 is not out of the question, but if the wild card is any farther out of reach by then, Wagner may just call it a season. Fantasy owners would be wise to hold on to Worrell even if Wagner is activated.
BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Keith Foulke
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: Foulke wasn't needed Saturday or Sunday, so it's still not clear if he's 100 percent after missing Friday's game with a stiff back. Manager Terry Francona told the Boston Herald Saturday that Foulke was coming in if a save situation developed, so right now this is nothing more than something to keep an eye on for fantasy owners.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: B.J. Ryan
Skinny: Julio's job security has returned to pre-trade deadline highs. He recorded five outs Sunday to run his consecutive save streak to 10. Meanwhile, Ryan can't get anyone out. He has three losses in his last six outings and has allowed at least a run in three straight games.
September offers a little something for every fantasy owner. For those of you still in contention, it's nail-biting time as you micro-manage in hopes of squeezing out every last roto point or category win. For the rest of you, September call-ups provide an opportunity to test drive prospects in advance of 2005 drafts. As we inch closer to the fantasy playoffs, The Skinny will try to cater to both groups of managers.

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

  • It might have been too much for Mets fans to take. Newsday reported Sunday that Victor Zambrano may be shut down for the season to let his strained elbow heal. This news broke less than a week after the guy they traded to get Zambrano – 2002 first-round draft pick Scott Kazmir – pitched five shutout innings to win his Major League debut. A solid second start by Kazmir Sunday against Oakland might have sent New York fans to the streets on the heels of 100,000 anti-Bush protesters. Thankfully for New York's finest, it wasn't meant to be.

Kazmir hit 96 mph on the radar gun against Oakland and displayed the same nasty off-speed stuff that kept Seattle off balance in his debut, but he put too many pitches over the heart of the plate and Oakland made him pay. He allowed nine hits and five earned runs and failed to make it out of the fourth inning. Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on the remainder of Kazmir's season. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could be a solid sleeper pick in 2005 drafts.

  • The Skinny was equal parts impressed and frightened by Jeff Francis' Major League debut Wednesday. He struck out the first batter he faced. He retired 10 straight batters against one of the hottest teams in baseball. He struck out eight and walked only one in five innings. Success? Well, there is the matter of the three home run balls he served up. Not exactly what you're looking for when grooming a prospect for life at Coors Field.

Despite the loss, it was an impressive outing. Francis' delivery is similar to that of Pittsburgh ace Oliver Perez. Both get the ball on top of hitters in a hurry and from an angle that will make things difficult on left-handed hitters. Fantasy owners in need of a strikeout boost could do worse than sign Francis and bench him strategically at home when the opponent isn't favorable. We'll see Act II out of Francis Tuesday at San Francisco.

  • Those of you who spent the bulk of last week shuffling tight ends up and down your draft cheat sheet might be interested to hear that Troy Glaus is back in the Anaheim lineup. Not surprisingly, he was the most added position player in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball leagues over the weekend. After nearly four months on the DL, Glaus is like found money for fantasy owners – any return is a bonus. He hit two homers in five games during his Class-A rehab assignment, a sign that it may not take long for him to resume his torrid power pace from early April.

Glaus will DH for the remainder of the season, allowing Chone Figgins (.260, 6 SB in August) to retain his fantasy value. Glaus' return signals another big downgrade for Jeff DaVanon, who was seeing significant time at DH with Tim Salmon hurting. Salmon was placed on the DL Sunday, essentially ending another disappointing fantasy campaign for the slugger.

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

  • Juan Uribe, CWS, 2B – After a miserable two-month stretch during which he hit just .188 in 43 games, Uribe is once again getting it done at the plate. He has 11 hits and eight RBIs in Chicago's last seven games to bring his August totals to .292, 5 HR and 16 RBIs. Uribe hit .335 in the season's first 45 games, so we know he's capable of maintaining this pace. Another middle infielder to watch is Placido Polanco, who through Sunday was batting .330 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in August.
  • Bobby Madritsch, SEA, SP – With just a few lucky breaks, Madritsch could be 4-0 this month. He allowed three runs and struck out eight against Kansas City Saturday, but settled for a no-decision in a game the Mariners would eventually win. Earlier this month, eight innings of five-hit ball were spoiled under similar circumstances. The lefty has a 2.81 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 34 August innings. Be warned, however, Seattle has the toughest schedule in the majors heading down the stretch.

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

  • Clint Barmes, COL, SS (Called up) – Barnes was recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he had 20 stolen bases and 104 runs scored in 125 games. He'll share time at shortstop with Royce Clayton.
  • Freddy Guzman, SD, OF (Settling in) – Guzman has hit safely in 10 of 12 games since his recall from the minor leagues. Baseball America recently rated him the fastest baserunner in Triple-A, and he has three steals in four attempts with San Diego.
  • Cesar Izturis, LA, SS (3 steals/last five games) – One of the season's top fantasy surprises, Izturis has 10 hits and three steals since Aug. 25.
  • Maicer Izturis, MON, SS (Little brother can run, too) – Izturis was batting .338 with 14 steals at Triple-A Edmonton before making his Major League debut last week. He collected three hits and an RBI in his first three starts.
  • David DeJesus, KAN, OF (Green light fading?) – DeJesus was caught stealing for the ninth time Sunday and now has a success rate (5-for-14) that resembles Shaq's free-throw percentage. Otherwise, with a .363 average and 21 runs scored, he's having a breakthrough month.
  • Juan Pierre, FLA, OF (Breakout week) – Pierre won't approach his 2003 stolen base totals, but his Week 21 performance was one to remember. Since Aug. 20, Pierre is 16-for-31 (.516) with eight stolen bases.
  • Luis Terrero, ARI, OF (2 steals/last 4 games) – Terrero had to complete an anger-management program earlier this year after striking a female fan with a thrown bat. He's beginning to channel his aggression appropriately. He has eight hits and two steals in the club's last four games.
  • Craig Biggio, HOU, OF (Sudden burst) – After stealing just one base in his previous 68 games, Biggio suddenly swiped three bases in a four-game span last week. He's hitting just .205 in August, continuing a recent trend of August and September struggles.
  • Brad Wilkerson, MON, OF (A little of everything) – He's not your prototypical leadoff hitter, but you can't argue with the numbers. In 76 games atop the Montreal lineup, Wilkerson has scored 67 runs, hit 20 homers and stolen seven bases.
  • Orlando Hudson, TOR, 2B (Circling the bases) – Hudson has scored 18 runs in Toronto's last 15 games and is hitting .391 in the same span. He's probably been passed around your league a few teams, but he's worth another look.
  • Brian Roberts, BAL, 2B (1-for-August) – Roberts' stolen base draught reached 25 games Sunday. It's a curious slide when you consider that he's batting .343 in August, easily his best month of the year.

PROSPECT WATCH: Intriguing names down on the farm

  • Ryan Howard, PHI, 1B (Triple-A) – ETA: September 1
    Howard added a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored to his minor league resume' Sunday for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. In 29 games since earning a promotion from Double-A, Howard has nine homers and 29 RBIs. The combined minor league totals for this free swinging lefty are rather Thome-like: 46 homers, 131 RBIs, 166 strikeouts. Those strikeout totals and Thome's presence on the Major League roster are the big reasons this 24-year-old is still in the minors. Barring an injury, Howard is likely to get nothing more than spot work when rosters expand in September.
  • Gavin Floyd, PHI, SP (Triple-A) – ETA: September 3
    Not since Brett Myers arrived in 2002 has this much hype surrounded the Major League debut of a Philadelphia pitcher. With Randy Wolf headed to the DL, Floyd will make his first career start on Friday against the Mets. Floyd has breezed through the Philadelphia system after signing as the fourth-overall pick in the 2001 draft. Owner of a fastball in the mid-90s and a classic drop-off-the-table curveball, Floyd posted a 2.57 ERA and 94 strikeouts at Double-A Reading this year. His numbers were less dominant at the Triple-A level (1-3, 4.99), but the 21-year-old impressed team brass enough to get the call.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
1 The number of career RBIs for David Wells after his run-scoring single Sunday in his 100th Major League at-bat. Until Sunday, the phrase, "he helped himself there" could only be heard on the post-game buffet line.