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The Skinny: Pickering, Kearns and more

CLOSER HOT SEAT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
2nd Chair: Jaime Cerda
Skinny: Jeremy Affeldt finally returned from the DL on Sunday and pitched a scoreless ninth inning of a 10-2 win versus Texas. Affeldt who owns a 3.00 ERA and has closed out eight of 10 opportunities in relief, will re-assume his closer role, but won't likely pitch on back-to-back nights for a while. Jaime Cerda, who picked up Kansas City's last save on August 11 is likely to be called upon on those rare second-night occasions.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Joe Valentine
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner, Gabe White
Skinny: Valentine gets the 1st chair nod by virtue of earning the team's first save since Danny Graves hit the DL. Valentine throws gas and had 36 saves at Double-A in '02, but sported just a 5.05 ERA at Triple-A this season. His hold on the closer role is tenuous at best and the hot-handed Wagner – 0 ER in past 7 outings – seems a better option for those fantasy owners looking to scavenge saves.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Greg Aquino
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: While Aquino is 6-for-6 in saves and has held opponents to a .211 BA, his closer role is threatened by the impending return of Jose Valverde from the DL. Valverde picked up a save on Thursday at Triple-A Tucson and is expected to join the team soon.
MONTREAL EXPOS HOT
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Luis Ayala
Skinny: Cordero has allowed eight earned runs in his past seven innings, but picked up a save on Friday. So far, he's blown just two of his 15 save opportunities. Ayala blew his only save chance of the month on August 15 and will remain in the set-up role so long as Cordero keeps converting when it counts.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Jason Christiansen
Skinny: Since blowing a save last Monday versus Montreal, Hermanson has responded with three consecutive scoreless outings, including a save against the Mets on Sunday. Hermanson has closed out five of six chances and has solidified his role for now.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Damaso Marte
Skinny: Takatsu has a 13.49 ERA in his past four save chances. Luckily, though, he converted three of those tries. While he hasn't seen another opportunity since, he does appear back on track with two perfect outings.
CHICAGO CUBS WARM
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Mike Remlinger, Ryan Dempster
Skinny: Hawkins's streak of eight consecutive save conversions came to an end on Saturday as Houston touched him for three hits, a walk and two runs (one earned). Cubs GM Jim Hendry said the team was no longer looking for a closer for the stretch run, making Hawkins the clear-cut man for the job, despite his recent misstep.
SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: J.J. Putz
2nd Chair: George Sherrill
Skinny: With a save on Sunday, Putz is a perfect 3-for-3 in August. He's likely to be a rollercoaster ride for fantasy owners, however, as the rookie has allowed nine home runs in just 52.2 IP. The M's have used Putz exclusively as the stopper since Eddie Guardado was lost for the season with an arm injury, so there is no use in putting any other M's reliever on the radar, especially given the few save opportunities this team is likely to have the rest of the way.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Tim Worrell
2nd Chair: Felix Rodriguez
Skinny: It was a fruitful weekend for Worrell owners as the Phillies' temp closer closed out all three games in a sweep of Milwaukee. He'd blown his previous two attempts, so his weekend was needed to put him back in good closer standing. Worrell looks like he, and he alone, will keep the closer seat warm until Wagner's return in early September.
Skinny regular Matt Romig has been bringing you the inside dirt for weeks now. But he is out of action this week. The rumor that the source of said dirt was the bill of his cap and that he has been ejected for this edition of The Skinny is unsubstantiated.

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

  • 1998 was the year of Viagra. It was also the debut season of Baltimore power-hitting prospect Calvin Pickering. Let's just say that Pickering's career didn't exactly follow the meteoric rise of that little blue diamond-shaped pill. But after a two-year big league hiatus, Pickering is back in the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals. Pickering spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he slammed 35 home runs in just 299 at-bats. In his '04 debut on Sunday, Pickering went yard twice, tallying 6 RBIs in the process. Pickering, still just 27 years old, owns a .300-plus career minor league batting average and has shown an ability to draw walks. Those fantasy owners starved for power could do worse than to roll the dice on Pickering's comeback attempt.
  • The bloom is off the rose for Pittsburgh SS Jack Wilson. The source of many double takes among fantasy owners when he hit .332 with 8 HR and 35 RBIs in the first half, Wilson has but one home run and a .238 average since. In fact, he has gone more than 100 at bats since his last long ball and does not have an extra-base hit (just five hits total) in his past 34 at bats. To say that it is time for fantasy owners to cut bait is an understatement. At this point, rookies Khalil Greene and B.J. Upton would be more prudent options at shortstop.
  • If everyone has their 15 minutes of fame, then it's officially the 16th minute for New York Yankees SP Esteban Loaiza. Last season's fantasy darling (21 wins, 2.90 ERA, 207 K) has a 6.25 ERA since the break, with opponents hitting him at a .313 clip. And that trade to New York hasn't come close to being the boon that fantasy owners were expecting. In pinstripes, Loaiza owns a 6.17 ERA and zero wins in four starts. At this point, the Yankees can't even trade him to Texas, whose current rotation boasts four starters with an ERA north of 4.50. Like Wilson, it is time for owners to start formulating an exit plan for Loaiza, if they haven't already.
  • Fantasy FYI: Cincinnati OF Austin Kearns returns from injury on Tuesday. He was hitting .338 during his Triple-A stint in Louisville. He's expected to start in right field. While he has been every bit as injury-prone as teammate Ken Griffey the past couple of seasons, Kearns possesses 25-HR, .300-BA potential and merits fantasy attention when healthy.

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

  • Carlos Pena, DET, 1B – Has the light bulb finally clicked on for Pena? One of baseball's more hyped prospects when he debuted with the Texas Rangers in '01, Pena never showed the plate discipline and power that his minor league numbers promised. Until now. He's hitting .328 in August with 5 HR and 12 RBIs. And his 14:15 BB-to-K ratio for the month is a vast improvement on his 33:88 ratio prior to August. Pena faces Kansas City – he owns a .346 BA this season against the Royals – seven times in the next 17 games
  • Gil Meche, SEA, SP – Apparently a minor-league stint was just what Meche needed. Before his June demotion, Meche was 1-5 with a 7.06 ERA. But since his recall at the end of July, he is 3-0 with a 3.48 ERA and an outstanding 3:27 BB-to-K ratio in 33.2 IP. Meche flashed his considerable talents in '03, winning 15 games for the M's. And it looks like he has rediscovered the form that made him a steady fixture in the M's rotation a season ago.

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

  • Torii Hunter, MIN, OF (7 steals in August) – A sore neck kept Hunter out of action Friday but it did not prevent him from burning up the bases upon his return. He swiped a base on Saturday and Sunday, giving him four in his past five games.
  • Freddy Guzman, SD, OF (1 steal/first five games) – Guzman posted totals of 69, 90 and 48 steals in his past three seasons on the farm. He made his ML debut last Tuesday and stole his first base the following day.
  • Corey Patterson, CHI, OF (Still doing it all) – Patterson's double-threat skills are moving into Bobby Abreu and Carlos Beltran territory. He has a league-leading 11 steals in August to go with six home runs.
  • David DeJesus, KAN, OF (At least he's trying) – DeJesus has 3 SBs this month, but has been thrown out five times. Fantasy owners have to appreciate the effort, not to mention his .358 BA in August.
  • Johnny Damon, BOS, OF (0 steals/last 26 games) – More disconcerting for fantasy owners than his 0-for-3 in steal attempts in August is the fact that he hasn't even tried to run in his past 11 games.
  • Mike Cameron, NYM, OF (6 steals in August) – Cameron has 6 SB and 6 HR for the month but took a day off on Sunday after getting just one hit in his previous 13 ABs.
  • Ryan Freel, CIN, 3B (5 steals/last 11 games) – In addition to his five steals this month, Freel is also hitting .327.
  • Jimmy Rollins, PHI, SS (2 steals/last 2 games) – Rollins is giving himself SB opps, drawing 12 BBs in past 12 games. The result is 3 steals and 12 runs in that span.
  • Steve Finley, LA, OF (0 SB attempts with LA) – Apparently the Dodgers didn't trade for Finley's speed. He had 8 steals with Arizona, but no attempts in LA. He is, however, hitting .365 in Dodger blue.

PROSPECT WATCH: Intriguing names down on the farm

  • Dallas McPherson, 3B (Triple-A) – ETA: September 1
    With injuries to Troy Glaus and now Robb Quinlan, Anaheim has been given ample reason to give McPherson his first major league opportunity. But the Angels aren't biting. Despite 38 HRs and a BA of .300-plus between Double-A and Triple-A, McPherson remains at Salt Lake. Manager Mike Scioscia was quoted in the LA Times as saying, "Dallas is going to be here when he's ready for that challenge and the opportunity presents itself." Huh? One has to wonder how two injured third basemen and 38 minor league home runs doesn't add up to opportunity and readiness. Regardless, September 1 roster expansion is looming and one has to figure Anaheim's hand will then be forced.
  • Scott Kazmir, TB, SP – ETA: Currently in major leagues
    Monday, Kazmir makes his major league debut against the Seattle Mariners. The lefty was the prize the Devil Rays extracted from the New York Mets in the trade that sent Victor Zambrano to the Big Apple. The 20-year old owns a 2.50 ERA and 104 K's in 101 IP on the farm this season. Considered one of the games' top pitching prospects, Kazmir has 283 strikeouts in 228 career minor league innings and has dominated at every level of competition he's faced.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.398 Ichiro Suzuki's batting average since May 1. He's now on pace for 262 hits, which would break the major league mark of 257 set by George Sisler in 1920.

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