As the movie "The Hunt for Red October" nears its conclusion, Jack Ryan gets a sobering warning from a Navy official. "Your sub commander is going to make it to America all right," he is told. "He's going to die within sight of it." I'm suffering through the fantasy baseball equivalent of this very dilemma. Having slowly rescued myself from a Chavez, Lowell, Nomar, Boone, etc. induced slumber, I now have first-place in sight. However, with only six weeks remaining, I fear a 12-point deficit may be too much to overcome. Not one to go down without a fight, the Skinny kept an eye on the weekend's action:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- Aces Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Dontrelle Willis and Mark Buehrle all took the hill Friday. A kid named Noah Lowry out-shined all but one of them. Lowry pitched into the eighth inning, allowing only four hits and three walks while holding the Marlins scoreless. It was an impressive encore for the 24-year-old lefty, who surrendered only one hit in seven innings his last time out – a cooling off of the red-hot Astros. It's been quite a rebound for Lowry, who saw his season bottom-out on May 17 when he was battered around Coors Field. By the time the dust had settled that day, his record stood at 1-5 with an ERA ballooned to 6.45.
San Francisco hasn't provided much to get excited about since, but Lowry is a guy fantasy owners can embrace. He has a 7-6 record since that start against the Rockies. He has 53 strikeouts in his past 52 innings. His WHIP since July 1 is 1.08. Nothing wrong with any of those numbers, even if his value is dragged down a bit since his team struggles as a whole. You may remember that Lowry was 6-0 with two complete games after August 1 a year ago. If his first two August starts this year are any indication, now might be the right time to buy low in advance of another strong fall finish for Noah.
- Corey Hart is the type of athlete you generally wind up with when utilizing the create-a-player feature in your typical X-Box video game. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 200 pounds, just the kind of dimensions you might dial up if the sky's the limit. He has a powerful stroke that generated 29 doubles, nine triples and 17 homers at the Triple-A level this season. Just when you think you've got the perfect player, you say what the heck, let's give him some speed. That's right – despite his size, Hart stole 31 bases in 38 tries this season. Too good to be true? Nope. Hart is the real-deal, and he reached the big leagues Sunday when he was called up by Milwaukee.
Hart is only up to spell injured center fielder Brady Clark (ribs), but so far he's making the most of his visit. He hit a three-run homer Sunday for his first major league hit. The powerful 23-year-old, who has been compared to Richie Sexson, was also robbed of a base knock in the fourth inning. Fantasy owners should add this prospect to their watch lists. There's a good chance he'll be ticketed back to the minors when Clark returns, but until then he has a shot at auditioning for a larger role come September when rosters expand. He fits into the Brewers' future plans along with Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and pitching prospect Jose Capellan.
- Attention fantasy owners: Ryan Howard can hit. As of press time Monday morning, Howard remained available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. This after a week that brought two more homers, including a grand slam, along with news that Jim Thome would undergo season-ending surgery. In a what-are-you-waiting-for gesture, Howard went out and drove in three runs with four hits over the weekend. Still, only a few takers have emerged. With all due respect to Dan Johnson and Tony Clark, Howard is the most valuable free agent out there at his position.
Howard has six homers, 19 RBIs and a .308 average in 24 home games this season. Now would be a good time to enlist his services, as the Phillies begin a seven-game homestead Monday against the Nationals. If he holds to form, that availability percentage will shrink by the day. Remember, this is a guy who has 24 homers and 74 RBIs between Triple-A and the majors this year. He hit 48 bombs at three levels a year ago.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Brad Eldred, 1B, Pit
Eldred has a history of struggling early-on at every level he reaches. Things were no different after his most recent promotion. Though he joined the Pirates after homering 10 times in a 10-game span at Triple-A Indianapolis, he promptly hit .174 without an extra-base hit in his first seven games. Then things began to click. He had three doubles on August 3, touching off a streak that has seen him homer three times with 11 RBIs in a 10-game span. He's known as "Big Country" and his game fits the name. He can't run and he'll strike out a lot. He'll also swing hard and when he connects good things happen, like when he blasted a 428-foot, opposite-field homer Thursday.
- Jae Seo, SP, NYM
Seo's 4.29 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk was far from awe-inspiring, but one number that does stand out is his 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Seo brought that formula for success with him after his latest promotion, and after two solid starts the Mets might have to reconsider how they'll handle Steve Trachsel's return to the rotation. Check out these numbers from Seo's last two starts: 2-0, 0.59 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 10 strikeout, two walks.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Ryan Shealy, 1B, Col (ETA – Sept. 1)
This should be a familiar name, as Shealy is fresh off a stint filling in for Todd Helton at the big league level. Helton returned, however, which meant a bus ticket back to Colorado Springs for Shealy. If he's bummed about it, he's not showing it. Shealy homered Sunday, his 21st at the Triple-A level to go along with 72 RBIs and a .334 average. He will most certainly be back when rosters expand, but it will take another injury to Helton for him to match his production from early August.
- Anthony Reyes, SP, StL (ETA – Sept.1)
St. Louis' top prospect according to Baseball America, Reyes made his big league debut Tuesday and drew rave reviews. The 23-year-old needed only 76 pitches to cruise through six-plus innings in a win at Milwaukee. Though he was immediately optioned back to Triple-A, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that he's been promised a September call-up. Reyes, who owns an above-average fastball to complement a sharp slider, struck out five in his debut.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Juan Dominguez, SP, Tex – Though he allowed two homers and five earned runs Saturday in his first start of the season, Dominguez impressed Texas enough to earn a spot in the rotation. He struck out 10 Yankee batters and retired 13 of 14 at one point.
Claudio Vargas, SP, Ari – Last week's Bargain Bin pick was strong again Thursday. He pitched seven scoreless innings to improve to 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his past four starts. Also noteworthy: teammate Tony Clark is on another power binge.
Joey Gathright, CF, TB – With a pair of multi-hit games, Gathright raised his August batting average to .364. He's also 5-for-6 stealing bases this month.
Scott Kazmir, SP, TB – A solid need-based add, Kazmir struck out seven on Sunday and now has six or more Ks in five of his past six starts. Since mid-June he is 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA.
Alex Rios, RF, Tor – Finally displaying the type of power teams expect from a corner-outfielder, Rios finished the week with three homers, two stolen bases and a .414 average.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pit – Doumit homered Sunday to improve to .522 with a homer and nine RBIs in eight August games. Upsides: catcher-eligible and owner of a smooth stroke that allowed him to hit .345 in the minors this year.
Tony Graffanino, 2B, Bos – Since joining the Red Sox, Graffanino has hit safely in 15 of 17 games. He's hitting .417 in August with 12 runs scored and nine driven home in nine games.
Willie Bloomquist, 2B, Sea – A stolen base Sunday gave Bloomquist five thefts in his past 11 games. He also has five multi-hit games in that span.
So Taguchi, RF, StL – A similar need-based add, Taguchi stole three bases in a four-game span recently. He also happens to be hitting .422 with 10 RBIs in August.
Victor Diaz, RF, NYM – The unfortunate injury to Mike Cameron created an opportunity for Diaz to return to the Mets. He homered twice Friday, drove in a run Saturday and scored New York's lone run Sunday. He hit .300 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 42 games with Triple-A Norfolk.
Khalil Greene, SS, SD – Greene broke a toe Sunday and will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks.
Ryan Freel, OF/2B, Cin – Freel was held out of the Cincinnati lineup twice over the weekend. He is just 8-for-40 in August and he has yet to attempt a steal after swiping eight bases in each of the previous three months.
Brandon Inge, C, Det – Everybody's fantasy darling through May, Inge is batting just .194 since July 1. Teammate Eric Shelton is also beginning to struggle.
Yahoo! Experts League Update
Carlos Silva, Jae Seo and Horacio Ramirez headline the list of starting pitchers who have caught the attention of the assembled experts. Guru tops the 100-move plateau on the season amid rumors that Yahoo! will bolster fourth-quarter earnings by initiating a $1 transaction fee for football.