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CLOSER HOT SEAT
DETROIT TIGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Franklyn German
Skinny: Rodney saved 51 games as a minor leaguer and was set to anchor the Detroit bullpen in 2004 before arm trouble wiped out his season. Given that he already earned the job once, it was no surprise when the Tigers handed him closer duties following the Kyle Farnsworth trade. So how is he doing so far? Well, everything was looking great until he allowed a three-run homer on the second pitch he threw Sunday. The blown save – his third of the season – came after he successfully converted his first two post-trade chances. German has struggled since early July and Rodney has appeared in only 19 games since 2003, so expect the Tigers to be patient with their new closer.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
Skinny: Reitsma gave fantasy owners four reasons to hold on to Kyle Farnsworth Sunday. After retiring the last out of the eighth to preserve a one-run lead, Reitsma allowed three singles to start the ninth, and then surrendered a walk-off grand slam to, of all people, David Eckstein. The blown save – his first since June 29 – broke a streak of nine straight successful conversions. In a classic power-against-power matchup earlier in the game, Farnsworth was taken deep by Albert Pujols. Farnsworth has allowed two solo homers in four appearances since joining the Braves.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Greg Aquino, Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Arizona skipper Bob Melvin apparently thinks he's managing the CIA's slow-pitch softball team. "Right now I can't say anything definitive like, 'These are the roles right now,'" Melvin told the Arizona Republic. "I wish I could but I just can't." Huh? Here's what we've learned lately in spite of the gag order: Valverde earned a save Thursday and was set to close if a save situation developed Friday or Saturday. Few relievers can match Valverde's effectiveness since early June. He has a 0.67 ERA with 37 strikeouts and only eight walks since June 15. Aquino and Bruney remain in this cloudy picture, with Lyon set to make at least two more minor league appearances before being activated.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Matt Belisle, Kent Mercker
Skinny: It was a fairly typical week for the Reds. They went 2-4 and manager Jerry Narron continued to drive fantasy owners nuts by splitting save chances between Weathers and Mercker. Weathers had one of his best outings of the season Saturday, shutting the door on Florida by striking out Jeff Conine, Miguel Cabrera and Lenny Harris in order to end the ninth. Three days earlier Weathers entered in the seventh inning and eventually gave way to Mercker, who earned his third save.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre, Armando Benitez
Skinny: Benitez made two incident-free appearances for Class-A San Jose last week. He'll probably make a quick stop at Triple-A Fresno before joining the Giants. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Benitez will return well ahead of the original target date of September 1. When he does come back, manager Felipe Alou says it will be in middle relief. The plan, of course, is to gradually work him back into the closer's chair. Walker's days as a one-category wonder are numbered. He has blown three of his past eight save chances and ranks near the bottom of the closer rankings in ERA and WHIP.
BOSTON RED SOX HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke
Skinny: With nine saves and a WHIP right around 1.00 over the past month; Schilling has outperformed all but a few closers. Still, the Red Sox would love to get him back in the rotation. How soon that happens is largely dependant on how Foulke responds after three bullpen sessions scheduled for this week. According to the Boston Globe, Foulke could rejoin the Red Sox in 2-3 weeks. Coming back is the first hurdle. The next test will be proving he can get hitters out. Assuming he succeeds at both, the Red Sox are now confident that Schilling's ankle can handle a return to the rotation.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara
Skinny: Brazoban needed help getting out of the ninth inning Sunday. Protecting a five-run lead in a non-save situation, he allowed three runs on four hits and a walk before giving way to Steve Schmoll, who earned his third save. Brazoban has been inconsistent at best, but manager Jim Tracy simply doesn't have any other options. Recent call-up Jonathan Broxton has six strikeouts in 3.1 innings, but has been touched for an earned run in three of his four appearances.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: Baez remains on the Hot Seat only because of Borowski's string of 11.1 consecutive scoreless innings. The former Chicago closer has allowed four hits and four walks while striking out three as a member of the Devil Rays. If Baez is worried, he doesn't show it. He earned three saves last week and is 16 for his past 17 in save situations.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, Rick White
Skinny: Brace yourself for this revelation: Mesa might be back as closer in 2006. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both the Pirates and Mesa are interested in having the 39-year-old return for another season. Gonzalez, who begins a minor league rehab assignment this week, remains the team's closer of the future. However, the club is hesitant to hand him the job without any experience. It's not hard to envision a nightmare situation – Mesa opening the season as closer with Gonzalez gradually stealing chances before possibly taking over at season's end.
CHICAGO CUBS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Kerry Wood
Skinny: Dempster has only one blown save since early May, but he did walk four batters in a 41-pitch appearance on August 2. The shaky performance prompted the Chicago Tribune to ask manager Dusty Baker if he would consider using Wood as a closer when Dempster wasn't available. His response was essentially a non-answer, but it was clear that he would entertain the notion if Wood proves he can be effective coming out of the bullpen.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Bobby Jenks
Skinny: In his past seven appearances, Jenks has allowed only one run on nine hits in 11.1 innings – striking out 14 and walking four in the process. Manager Ozzie Guillen is sold on this fireballing youngster. "If something happens to Hermie, you'll see [Jenks] closing games," Guillen recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. Guillen says a lot of things so you have to take this with a grain of salt, but when you consider Hermanson's recent back problems, you have to keep Jenks on the radar.
Last week we finally got a look at Felix Hernandez at the big league level. At least one member of the Yahoo! Sports team drafted him more than five months ago in an experts league, so the debut was anticipated to say the least. So what's left to wait for now? Well there is a four-week stretch run to the playoffs in Yahoo! head-to-head leagues. There's also the major league debut of Delmon Young on the horizon for those of you desperately trying to stay involved while football looms on the horizon. No Young (or B.J. Upton) yet, but there was plenty to track around the majors over the weekend:

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

  • As a fantasy analyst, I spend about three seconds each night scanning the latest New York Yankees box score. What is there to learn really? Their first seven hitters in the lineup are all owned in close to 100 percent of leagues, with only Robinson Cano sitting unclaimed in more than a few dozen leagues. That leaves Tony Womack (worthless), Bernie Williams (see Womack) and baseball's most inconsistent pitching staff to monitor. No thanks. I bring this up because the Yankees are on the outside of the playoff race looking in, yet they remain everybody's fantasy darlings. Baseball's hottest team, meanwhile, isn't getting much rotisserie respect.

The team, of course, is the Oakland Athletics. The sleepers? Where to start? Sunday's leadoff hitter, Mark Ellis, is available in more than 95 percent of leagues despite a .350 average since July 1. First baseman Dan Johnson hit .364 in July, but it took a recent four-game homer streak to catch the attention of roughly 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With Jay Payton, skepticism is justified, but don't tell me that he wouldn't be a hot commodity if he hit six homers with 19 RBIs in 20 games while wearing pinstripes. Need pitching? Joe Blanton (2-0, 0.69 ERA in August), Danny Haren (8-0 since June 1) and Kirk Saarloos (6-2 since June 1) are all widely available. Ellis, Johnson and Blanton have the most long-term value, and their availability will likely shrink as this week's division matchup with the Angels garners national attention. Better check for them now.

  • Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wants to see his team get faster. That's a tall order when you consider that more than one-third of the team's stolen bases landed on the disabled list when Torii Hunter was lost for the season. "I'd like to see some speed out there," Gardenhire recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You'd like to be able to steal bases, (or go) first to third on base hits." So who is left that can steal bases for the Twins? Well, one candidate is Lew Ford, Hunter's replacement in center field. He stole second base Sunday, his third theft in eight games.

Don't forget that Ford stole 20 bases in 2004 while also hitting .299 with 15 homers. Since the trade deadline passed without activity – ensuring that Ford will play out 2005 as the team's starting center fielder – the 28-year-old is 9-for-26 (.346). He has a great shot at making an impact in fantasy leagues, much as he did last year when he scored 20 runs with five stolen bases in 27 August games. Jason Bartlett is also expected to add speed to the Twins lineup. Though he's not a stolen base threat, the rookie did hit .332 at Tripe-A Rochester this selason. He went 2-for-4 Sunday. Though he has struggled at the big league level, Minnesota is expected to stick with him the rest of the way.

  • Fantasy alert: Colorado begins a 14-game homestand Monday. In a normal season, there wouldn't be much for fantasy owners to do in response to a revelation like this. This season, however, several potentially productive Colorado players remain widely available. Let's start with first baseman Ryan Shealy, who is 11-for-31 with a homer and eight RBIs in his past eight games subbing for the injured Todd Helton. He slugged 20 homers in 83 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs this season. Less likely to be available but still worth a look is Matt Holliday. He homered three times in the final three games of the latest Colorado homestand, and then kept it going with two homers and five RBIs on a road trip through San Francisco and Arizona.

Garrett Atkins has cooled off considerably, but he still owns a .362 average at Coors Field with 33 RBIs in 42 games. A longshot to have a big series is catcher J.D. Closser. He's been a disappointment this season, but he did hit a season-high four homers in July and has already gone deep once this month. The mild run of success gives him five homers in his last 55 at bats.

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

  • Joey Gathright, OF, TB
    This isn't a list you want to appear on multiple times. Doing so generally means you've already played yourself off the fantasy radar once. Such is the case with Gathright, who was 11-for-51 with only two stolen bases following his promotion in early July. Why is The Skinny giving him a second chance? Well, four-game stolen base streaks will go along way toward earning forgiveness. Since July 30, Gathright is 10-for-27 with four steals in five tries and six runs scored. The Devil Rays are suddenly competitive, so manager Lou Piniella will likely stick with a lineup that's working.
  • Claudio Vargas, SP, Ari
    Teammate Brad Halsey landed here last week and promptly pitched six strong innings to cool off Houston. This week we turn to Vargas, who recorded his eighth straight quality start Sunday. Since June 25, the big right-hander is 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA. Better yet, he's striking out right around one batter per inning. Only a streak of hard luck has kept him from catching on in Yahoo! leagues. Twice in his past six starts Vargas has pitched at least seven innings and allowed just one run, only to come away with a no-decision.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Anderson Hernandez, 2B, NYM (ETA – Sept.1)
    The headline on the New York Post website reads, "Hernandez riding fast track to Shea." You can say that again. Hernandez stole his 18th base of the season for Triple-A Norfolk Sunday. Not bad, you might say? Look closer – that's 18 steals in 39 games. The 22-year-old also has 26 RBIs and 23 runs scored in those 39 contests. All of that to go along with a .315 average. The Mets aren't rushing the kid, but with the second base position a disaster at the big league level, it would be a surprise not to see Hernandez get a shot later this season.
  • Francisco Liriano, SP, Min (ETA – Sept. 1)
    Alfonso Soriano would be patrolling second base for Minnesota today if the Twins had been willing to part with Liriano at the trade deadline. If that's not praise enough, Baseball America just named him the best pitching prospect in the International League. Why all the fuss? Scouts say he has three big league-ready pitches. All three were on full display Thursday when he struck out 13 in seven one-hit innings for Triple-A Rochester. On the season, he is 6-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a ridiculous 0.74 WHIP. Fantasy owners who missed out on Felix Hernandez should keep an eye out for this 21-year-old lefty when rosters expand in September.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Khalil Greene, SS, SD – Last August, Greene hit .311 with five homers, 16 runs and 16 RBIs. A great buy-low candidate, he has started this month 6-for-22 (.273) with two homers, four runs and seven RBIs in six games.

Ronnie Belliard, 2B, Cle – His 10th home run of the season brought home three runs Sunday, giving the second baseman 15 RBIs in his past 15 games.

Russ Adams, SS, Tor – While teammate Aaron Hill has struggled, Adams has kicked it up a notch. Since July 17, the rookie is batting .379 with 16 runs scored and 10 RBIs in 16 games.

Olmedo Saenz, 1B/3B, LAD – Saenz sat Sunday, and frequent time off is the only thing holding his value down these days. In his past 10 games, Saenz is 14-for-34 with five homers and 16 RBIs.

Chris Duffy, OF, Pit – Hamstring tightness kept Duffy out of action Sunday, putting a temporary hold on a 12-for-24 streak for the rookie outfielder. He has seven runs scored in six August games.

Brad Eldred, 1B, Pit – The man they call Big Country had three doubles Wednesday and hit his first major league homer Friday. The 270-pound slugger homered 10 times in his final 10 minor league games.

Eric Byrnes, OF, Bal – Byrnes has hit in each of his nine games with Baltimore, going 14-for-43 (.326) in the process.

Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Tex – Last week's curiosity is rapidly becoming a phenomenon. Matthews homered Sunday, his seventh in his past 12 starts. He had two or more hits in seven of those 12 games.

Jorge Sosa, SP, Atl – Seven shutout innings led to a no-decision Sunday, thanks to Chris Reitsma's ninth-inning meltdown. Sosa's numbers over his past eight starts: 4-0, 1.81 ERA, 1.37 WHIP.

Jake Westbrook, SP, Cle – Westbrook won his fourth straight start Saturday, tying a season high with eight strikeouts in the process. He has pitched at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs in eight of his past 12 starts.

Jose Guillen, RF, Was – Guillen (shoulder) is expected to skip the team's upcoming series at Houston and there's word he may even miss out on a trip to Coors Field later in the week.

Johnny Estrada, C, Atl – Mired in a 6-for-49 slump, Estrada continues to lose playing time to Brian McCann.

Scott Podsednik, CF, ChW – He's just four for his last 11 on stolen base attempts, which makes his recent struggles at the plate harder to swallow.

Felipe Lopez, SS, Cin – Lopez hasn't homered since July 22 and is currently mired in a 1-for-23 slump.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
What is this, a pending trade? The league's saves leader sends Francisco Rodriguez and Derrick Turnbow to the team that tops the league in wins, getting Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettitte in return. A textbook example of finding the right trading partner and executing a deal.

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