A rather ho-hum kickoff to Major League Baseball's trading season was spiced up by some intriguing weekend debuts. Jay Payton homered in his first two games with Oakland and Preston Wilson went deep in his first at bat with the Nationals. Eric Byrnes stole a base for the Rockies, but the guy who stole the show was Al Leiter, who turned back the clock for a gem on Sunday at Fenway Park. All that and more is covered as The Skinny kicks off the season's second half:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- Lou Piniella has long held the opinion that Carl Crawford doesn't belong in the leadoff spot. The numbers back up that notion. Crawford has walked only 17 times this season and his on-base percentage was a paltry .315 entering play on Sunday. By contrast, Texas leadoff man David Dellucci has a .403 OBP despite an average that is nearly 20 points shy of Crawford's mark. Piniella has experimented with the speedster's position in the order before, but to listen to him talk about Saturday's lineup change, Crawford's days atop the Tampa Bay lineup may be over. Joey Gathright hit first that day with Crawford batting second, a lineup that was repeated on Sunday.
This should be a win-win for both players involved if the skipper sticks with his plan. Gathright gets on base and is one of the fastest players in baseball. He stole 49 bases a year ago and has 36 thefts in 45 tries between Triple-A and the majors this season. In his first game in the leadoff spot, he collected three hits and stole a base. As for Crawford, he seems happy with the move – and he should be. He is just one homer and four RBIs short of career highs in both categories. Gathright will occupy pitchers and open a hole in the right side of the infield – allowing Crawford to concentrate on driving the ball rather than getting on base. He hit only .220 in 12 games from the No. 3 position earlier this season, but got off on the right foot on Saturday with a homer and three RBIs from the two spot. According to the Tampa Tribune, Julio Lugo may bat leadoff against lefties.
- The Skinny passed on Pittsburgh's Zach Duke following his debut on July 2. The reasons: lack of run support and shaky bullpen help. Those factors are still present. The Pirates have scored a grand total of eight runs in his three starts and Jose Mesa let the tying run come to the plate while protecting a three-run lead for Duke on Saturday. Those concerns aside, the rookie made a believer out of this fantasy owner with an eight-pitch sequence in the bottom of the sixth inning on Saturday. Leading 2-0, Duke allowed consecutive singles that put runners on first and third with nobody out. The batter: Derek Lee. With nobody throwing in the Pittsburgh bullpen, the situation had all the makings of a typical rookie blow-up inning.
You can't read a scouting report on Zach Duke without coming across words like poise and composure. The lefty delivered as advertised at Wrigley Field. After falling behind Lee 1-0, Duke painted both corners with back-to-back fastballs, then retired baseball's hottest hitter with a wicked curve in the dirt. Aramis Ramirez was next, and Duke coaxed a double-play grounder out of the slugger after foul balls on his first four deliveries. The numbers are startling. Through three starts, the 22-year old has walked four batters and allowed only five extra-base hits. He'll enter his next start on Thursday with a streak of 17 straight scoreless innings. Now if Mark Cuban could just buy the Bucs as rumored and load the lineup with All-Stars for the 2006 season …
- From a rookie making a name for himself to a 39-year-old just trying to hang on, Al Leiter's 2005 debut with the Yankees was nothing short of miraculous. Exactly one week after pitching his way out of Florida with a miserable outing against the Cubs, Leiter held the Red Sox to one run on three hits in 6.1 dominant innings on Sunday. He struck out eight – his highest total since fanning 11 Atlanta hitters last September. After walking 60 batters in 80 innings with the Marlins, Leiter issued a modest three free passes against Boston.
Every Yankee pennant run of late seems to include a contribution from an unexpected member of the rotation. Last year it was Orlando Hernandez and the year before that Jose Contreras caught fire down the stretch. Could Leiter be the guy this year? He is facing long odds. Even Yankees GM Brian Cashman acknowledged that this was a scrap-heap acquisition. Still, Leiter did hold opponents to a .219 average a year ago and in 2003 he was 7-4 with a 2.15 ERA after the All-Star break. He's not that far removed from being an effective if not dominant starter. There are worse places to resurrect a career than the Yankees rotation – and Leiter clearly has the personality to get by in New York.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Geoff Jenkins, OF, Mil
Last year Jenkins hit .281 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs after the All-Star break. The year before that it was a .342 average in his final 39 games. For his career, the free-swinging slugger hits 24 points higher after the break. From the looks of it, 2005 will be no different. Jenkins hit a two-run double on Sunday to run his hitting streak to 10 games. In that span, he is 17-for-39 with two homers and nine RBIs. Sandwiched in between Carlos Lee and Bill Hall, Jenkins should continue to get plenty of run-producing opportunities.
- Victor Zambrano, SP, NYM
If Omar Minaya and the Mets become buyers on the trade market, Zambrano is likely to be one of the biggest beneficiaries. It's been 13 starts since he has allowed more than three earned runs. In 12 of those outings, the righty allowed one or fewer hits per inning. His record in those starts is just 3-6 – thanks to three shutouts and an average of 2.8 runs of support. Control lapses come with the territory here, but Zambrano's walks per nine innings have gone down considerably since he averaged 6.7 in May. His July average of 2.7 per nine innings is tolerable, particularly when his other splits are factored in.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Delmon Young, OF, TB/Triple-A (ETA – Sept. 1)
Young has been getting a lot of play in this space lately, and for good reason. He was on his way to making a run at the Triple Crown at Double-A Montgomery – a run that was interrupted last week when he was promoted to Triple-A Durham. It took him a few days, but he finally got his first homer at his latest stop on Sunday. Fantasy owners considering burning a waiver claim on the latest castoff should keep in mind that guys like Young and Seattle's Felix Hernandez may be hitting the waiver wires shortly.
- Jered Weaver, SP, LAA/Single-A (ETA – 2006)
Weaver had his best start as a pro on Saturday, striking out 11 in six innings to improve to 3-1 for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. In 26 professional innings, the 22-year-old has 39 strikeouts and just four walks. A top collegiate pitcher at Long Beach State, Weaver is probably more Major League-ready than most pitchers at the Class-A level. The Angels aren't about to rush this prospect, but a promotion to Double-A is likely not far away.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Chad Tracy, 1B, Ari – Tracy hit three homers over the weekend and now has five home runs and nine RBIs in his past 11 games. He hit .420 in June and is right around the .300 mark so far in July.
Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY – Cano had a streak of five straight multi-hit games snapped when he was held to a double in four trips on Sunday. The youngster is batting .351 in July with nine runs scored in 13 games.
David DeJesus, CF, Kan – Since July 1, DeJesus has raised his batting average from .280 to the brink of the .300 mark. Incredibly, he has only two fewer RBIs than the man he replaced in center field, Carlos Beltran.
Oscar Robles, SS/3B, LAD – Robles is sticking in the leadoff spot for now. He was held to one hit on Sunday, but is still hitting a lofty .410 in July. Downside to leading off: he's 0-for-5 attempting steals in 2005.
Ian Snell, RP, Pit – Snell will make his second Major League start on Tuesday. He pitched three shutout innings of relief on Thursday in his most impressive outing since being recalled by the Pirates in late June.
Larry Walker, RF, StL – Walker can still hit. After an injury-plagued few months, he has started July on a tear. He's batting .389 for the month with two homers and nine runs scored in 11 games.
Damian Jackson, 2B, SS, OF, SD – Position flexibility and speed are the keys to Jackson's fantasy value. He can play just about everywhere and has five stolen bases and 14 runs scored in his past 17 games.
Esteban Loaiza, SP, Was – A winner of his past four decisions, Loaiza has a 2.70 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 20 July innings. Like all Washington starters, he excels at home. Opponents are batting just .220 against him at home as opposed to .305 in road games.
Trot Nixon, OF, Bos – Nixon's three-game homer streak was aided by some shoddy outfield play by Yankees rookie Melky Cabrera, but inside-the-park HRs score just the same. Nixon is batting .310 with 10 RBIs through 13 July games.
Grady Sizemore, CF, Cle – Has he hit the wall? After a great June, Sizemore is batting just .176 in July. He drew a walk on Sunday for just the second time this month.
Matt Clement, SP, Bos – It's way too early to hit the panic button, but Clement is showing signs of his old erratic self. Through three July starts his WHIP stands at 1.76 and opponents are hitting .301.
Yahoo! Experts League Update
Fantasyguru's monster bullpen of K-Rod, Turnbow and Ryan has a big week with seven saves and a 0.00 ERA – helping the team sneak past Y! Sports – Funston in the standings … Willie Bloomquist gets scooped up as he extends his hitting streak to 11 games.