|CLOSER HOT SEAT
|BOSTON RED SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: Schilling's bullpen debut couldn't have gone much worse on Thursday. Tasked with retiring the heart of the Yankees order after nearly three months on the disabled list, Schilling was greeted by a Gary Sheffield missile off the wall in left-center. Alex Rodriguez followed with a two-run blast to center, and suddenly celebration turned to concern for the Boston faithful. Some are already saying he came back too fast and that Timlin is better suited to close games for the Red Sox. That may well be true, but after all he's accomplished for the team, Schilling deserves more than a one-game audition. He has yet to appear in a save situation, and manager Terry Francona will certainly give him that chance before exploring another option.
|CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Matt Belisle, Kent Mercker
Skinny: So much for those reports that Belisle had been named the closer by manager Jerry Narron. The young right-hander pitched in two tight games over the weekend, but he got the call in the eighth on Friday and one inning earlier on Saturday. David Weathers got the save in both games – rebounding from allowing a two-run homer to strike out the final batter in Friday's win. Mercker will still get his share of chances when the situation calls for a lefty. Don't rule out Belisle entirely. He has a 2.55 ERA since June 1 and fellow righty Ryan Wagner is temporarily out of the picture with a bum shoulder.
|ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Valverde pitched two scoreless innings on Sunday to earn his second save of the season. The outing lowered his ERA since mid-June to 0.56. Bruney owners shouldn't panic. He would have gotten the call if the Diamondbacks hadn't scored two in the ninth to stretch their lead to 6-1. The real threat comes from Lyon, who threw 45 pitches on Saturday and isn't far from beginning a minor league rehab assignment. According to the East Valley Tribune, however, manager Bob Melvin isn't expecting to have Lyon back until "sometime in August." When he does return, expect Bruney to remain in the closer's chair until Lyon proves he's 100 percent.
|TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: Baez has converted his past nine save chances, allowing only one run in the process. In the backwards world of fantasy baseball, that may just be bad news for his rotisserie owners. Several teams are scouting Tampa's closer. He has been effective, but if he is moved before the trade deadline, as expected, it will probably be to a contender, where he's likely to be used in a set-up role. Borowski is the most likely replacement if a deal is made. He got two key outs while protecting a one-run lead on Saturday. Signed just a week ago, he is already manager Lou Piniella's primary set-up reliever.
|ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Dan Kolb, Brad Boyer
Skinny: Until he allows a run as a professional, this space will be temporarily renamed the Joey Devine Watch. Now pitching for Double-A Mississippi, Atlanta's first-round draft pick hasn't been scored upon in 11 minor league innings, allowing only four hits along the way. Back in the bigs, Reitsma lowered his July ERA to 1.17 by recording saves in back-to-back games over the weekend. Kolb, meanwhile, has slowly regained the trust of manager Bobby Cox. He pitched the eighth in both wins and has yielded only one run on five hits in his past eight innings.
|PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, Rick White
Skinny: Gonzalez resumed throwing on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Just days earlier, the paper speculated that Gonzalez will not get a chance to close in 2005. Rather, the club simply hopes he can regain his dominant form of 2004. The main obstacle in his way is Mesa. The Bucs would love to trade him, but teams aren't exactly knocking themselves over in an attempt to acquire an aging reliever with a 1.51 WHIP and a .280 opponent's average.
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: Brazoban surrendered Michael Tucker's three-run homer on Sunday. The loss was his second in his past three appearances. There are no challengers on the Dodgers injury-riddled staff. Any threats would arrive via trade, but Los Angeles has no reason to sacrifice prospects to bolster its bullpen down the stretch.
|KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: Affeldt and Burgos will share primary setup duties, the Kansas City Star reported on Friday. Fresh off the disabled list, Burgos already has his fastball humming in the high-90s. He's also working on a slider, one of which was deposited into the bleachers by Craig Monroe in his first game back. MacDougal and Affeldt are both on the block, as the club envisions building its bullpen around Burgos, Andrew Sisco and Leo Nunez.
|DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
2nd Chair: Franklyn German
Skinny: Inexplicably hittable as a member of the Cubs bullpen in 2004, Farnsworth has been dominant in his first season with the Tigers. Since May 11, the hard-throwing righty has three saves and a 0.36 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. Injured closer Troy Percival told the Detroit Free Press that he may retire if the results of an MRI Monday are not favorable.
|SEATTLE MARINERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Eddie Guardado
2nd Chair: J.J. Putz, Jeff Nelson
Skinny: Guardado pitched on Sunday for the first time in a week, and showed a little ring rust. He allowed a run for just the second time in his past 20 outings. Several teams are rumored to be interested in Eddie, and why not? He hasn't blown a save in 20 chances and his WHIP, ERA and opponent's average are all top notch. Nelson has been Guardado's primary setup guy lately and Putz had success as a closer in 2004. Both players stand to gain if Seattle sells off its closer before the deadline.
|NEW YORK METS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez, Danny Graves
Skinny: The Mets still consider themselves buyers, but that could change anytime, the New York Post reported on Friday. Both Looper and Hernandez could get dealt if New York opts to build for 2006. Surprisingly, the more valuable of the two could be Hernandez, who has allowed only one earned run in his past 18 outings. Looper recorded his 21st save on Thursday after limping into the break with a blown save in his final chance of the first half.
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
Skinny: Don't read too much into Hawkins' save on Sunday. He was warming up when the Giants took the lead with two outs in the ninth, so manager Felipe Alou sent him out rather than hurrying Walker into the game. Still, Hawkins is working on a string of six straight scoreless appearances and Walker blew his last chance. Walker's 1.59 WHIP is the worst among relievers with at last 12 saves on the season.
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 valuesChad 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.
, 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.
, 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
, 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.
, 1B, Phi – The Phillies aren't commenting on rumors that Jim Thome
is on the trading block, but they aren't denying it either. Howard homered on Thursday, his third of the month.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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.