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The Skinny: That's a Wrap

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
PITTSBURGH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Salomon Torres
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Through no fault of his own, Gonzalez has been of very little use to fantasy owners in his first weeks as closer. He did pick up a win on Sept. 18, but has pitched only once since as the Pirates piled up losses with the occasional lopsided win sprinkled in. Torres has been more active, which could mean that the Bucs are holding Gonzalez in reserve for save situations. Remember, there has been no official indoctrination of Gonzo as closer. Torres has a 0.55 ERA and .132 opponents average in September, so he remains a candidate to steal a few chances.
NEW YORK METS RED HOT
1st Chair: Vacant
2nd Chair: Aaron Heilman, Roberto Hernandez, Shingo Takatsu
Skinny: Braden Looper is out – though he did manage to blow a save Wednesday in a set-up role. Manager Willie Randolph has promised to hold open auditions the rest of the way, which should succeed in driving fantasy owners nuts. Did Heilman get the save Sunday because he's the guy? Or was he in there because Hernandez had pitched the previous two nights? Only Randolph knows. Heilman did collect two saves over the weekend and his post-All Star splits are fantastic. You wouldn't think that Hernandez, who turns 41 later this year, factors into the team's future plans, but he did earn a save Saturday after botching a chance the night before. Hernandez has been very hittable lately, so the safest bet here, other than avoiding the situation entirely, is giving Heilman a shot.
BOSTON RED SOX HOT
1st Chair: Mike Timlin
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: A week ago, Timlin still thought he was a "bridge" closer, warming the seat until Keith Foulke reclaimed his role. Now it looks like that bridge will continue through the regular season and into the postseason – and it will continue without a safety net. All signs point to Foulke taking the remainder of the season off to rest his ailing knee. That leaves Timlin in charge of the ninth inning, with the rookie Papelbon his likely successor. Papelbon has two wins and a 1.86 ERA in eight September appearances. Former St. John's closer Craig Hansen made his ML debut last Monday and struck out two of the first three batters he faced. Right now he's auditioning for a spot on the postseason roster, not the closer's chair.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX HOT
1st Chair: Bobby Jenks
2nd Chair: Dustin Hermanson, Damaso Marte
Skinny: Early last week, Guillen named Jenks his closer and said that Marte would close if the situation called for a lefty. That proclamation pretty much left Hermanson – who has no saves and only four appearances since Sept. 7 – out in the dust. Since then Jenks has two blown saves and a loss, which further clouds the picture. For now, Guillen is dealing with the problem by letting his starters go the distance as they have twice in the past four days. According to the Daily Southtown, pitching coach Don Cooper says Hermanson will get a chance to close again. Just when remains a mystery – as the same report speculates that the team is considering resting the righty and his ailing back for the remainder of the season.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Miguel Batista
2nd Chair: Justin Speier, Jason Frasor
Skinny: Batista doesn't talk to the media after games, so it's unlikely he keeps up on the latest fantasy news. That didn't stop him from making a statement Saturday by striking out Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada in succession to close out the Yankees. It was the second straight save conversion for a closer who has come under fire of late for his spotty play. Of the 24 closers with at least 20 saves this season, 20 have better conversion rates than Batista. Though he seems secure this season, the Toronto Star>/i> reports that the Jays may shop for a closer during the offseason. Frasor did get a save last week, but it was on a scheduled day off for Batista.
This is it, folks. The regular season ends Sunday, which of course brings another season of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball to a close. I'm a big fan of postseason awards columns, but I'm equally enamored with blended drinks and fresh air, so The Skinny will be taking a weekend off before shifting gears to hockey. I'd like to thank everyone who climbed on board this season, particularly those of you who took the time to write. Here's one last weekend recap. I'll see you hockey fans in two weeks, and the rest of you at spring training. Good luck.

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

  • Remember when B.J. Ryan was looking like the closer to own in the second half? How about Rafael Palmeiro's quest for 3,000 hits? That happened this year, right? And wasn't it just three months ago that the entire Baltimore rotation – even guys like Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez – had fantasy value? Ok, so Sidney Ponson never had any value, but the point here is this: What a fall it's been for the Baltimore Orioles. The absolute bottom was reached last week, when in a span of a few hours the club told Palmeiro to stay away and star second baseman Brian Roberts suffered an injury so severe he would later say he felt like his arm was going to fall off. Roberts, who had only three homers since the All-Star break after hitting 15 before it, will miss the rest of the season with multiple injuries to his left arm.

Roberts had 27 stolen bases prior to the injury. His replacement, Bernie Castro, already has six. Castro has no pop. In 50 at-bats with the Orioles this season, he has three extra-base hits. At Triple-A Ottawa, he had one homer in 502 at-bats. What he can do – and do well – is get on base, and run. Castro had 41 steals in 47 attempts down on the farm. He's 6-for-7 swiping bags in the majors this year, and he was 13-for-37 at the plate entering play Sunday. Castro was hitless Sunday, but with Roberts' injury the speedy switch-hitter is guaranteed a spot in the lineup down the stretch. Only seven days remain in the season, of course, but in a tightly packed league, 2-3 steals can make a difference, and Castro is as good a bet as any to hit those numbers.

  • If the White Sox hold off Cleveland and win the AL Central, they may well look back on the season's final weeks and realize they were carried into the postseason on the shoulders of … Joe Crede? That's right, Joe Crede. Scott Podsednik suddenly can't steal a base, Carl Everett is batting .169 in September and even Mark Buehrle is feeling the heat – but Crede has been a rock for the South Siders. Remember it was Crede who hit two homers, one a walk-off, in a key win against the Indians last week. Two nights later he went deep again. Two games after that, another homer. Sunday he singled home the game's first run in a 4-1 win against Minnesota. In September, the third baseman has five homers, 11 RBIs and a .417 average.

This is the same guy who managed one RBI in 47 at-bats in August. He hit .103 that month. But Crede is establishing himself as a bit of a Mr. September. Last year he capped a largely unremarkable season by hitting five homers and driving in 15 runs in the season's final full month. In 2003 he jumped the gun by hitting .352 with seven homers in August, but in his rookie year he was true to form, hitting .333 with five homers and 19 RBIs in September. Clearly this is a guy who heats up as the season winds down, and this year is no exception. Crede has hit the Tigers well this season (.361 in 12 games), and the White Sox begin a four-game set at Detroit Monday. He's not quite a top 10 fantasy third baseman, but if your league features a starting corner-infield position, Crede would be a valuable late-season pickup.

  • My nightly ritual before shutting down my laptop includes reviewing every MLB box score and recap and jotting notes down into a notepad file for later review. My primary focus is on prospects or second-tier fantasy players who are likely owned in fewer than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues. By the end of the week the file is a mess, but if a name appears more than once or twice, you have a situation to keep an eye on. This week, the most crowded section of the file was dedicated to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surprised? You shouldn't be. As most fantasy owners know, contending teams trot out the same lineup night after night, and with most of those guys, you know what you're going to get. Joe Torre isn't going to wake up Tuesday morning and say to himself, "you know what, I think I'm going to see what Mike Vento can do in right field today." In the cellar, however, anything goes. Last week the Pirates sent some guy named Tom Gorzelanny to the hill a couple days after J.J. Furmaniak made his season-debut at second base.

Neither player was notepad-worthy, but the Bucs are making some noise at the plate in September. Finally healthy, Craig Wilson homered Thursday, doubled twice Saturday and went deep again Sunday. Remember, this guy was just one homer shy of 30 last season and he hit eight homers in spring training before the injury parade began. He could finish big. Then there's Freddy Sanchez, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games Sunday. During the streak, the second baseman has four homers, eight RBIs and 10 runs scored. He's red-hot, but the power streak is an anomaly. The same can't be said for first baseman Brad Eldred, who is no stranger to power surges. He homered three times in a four-game span to close the week, but was out of the lineup Sunday with a hamstring injury. Finally, there's Ian Snell, who made it to the big leagues even before Zach Duke got the call. Snell pitched eight shutout innings Monday to earn his first ML win, then followed with five effective innings Sunday against the Dodgers. Any number of these guys can fill a short-term need on your roster as an injury fill-in or a replacement for a slumping regular.

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

  • Rod Barajas, C, Tex
    Ask fantasy owners to name the two catcher-eligible players who have topped 20 homers this season and you'll likely hear the names Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada quite frequently. Neither, of course, has surpassed that plateau. Martinez hit his 20th Sunday, but only Jason Varitek and Rod Barajas have 21 on the season. Barajas hit No. 21 Sunday, and it was a back-breaking, three-run blast at Oakland. This month alone, Barajas has seven homers and 15 RBIs. In his past 36 games, the 30-year-old slugger has 12 homers and 29 RBIs.
  • Jose Contreras, SP, ChW
    Without much fanfare, Contreras has won his past seven decisions – pitching at least seven innings in six of those starts and never allowing more than three earned runs. It's been shades of 2003 for Contreras, who that year went 3-0 in September for the Yankees while posting an ERA of 1.51. The numbers are very similar this season, as the righty has posted a 5-0 record with a 1.93 ERA this month. He'll probably only make one more start this season, but it is a favorable matchup at Detroit.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Nelson Cruz, OF, Mil (ETA – Recalled Sept. 17)
    Cruz had a monster season in the Milwaukee system. In 128 games at two levels, he hit 27 homers, drove in 81 runs and stole 19 bases. In the postseason, he hit four more homers and drove in 11 runs to earn MVP honors for the playoffs. The 25-year-old had been working his way up the Oakland system before coming over in a trade last winter. According to MLB.com, teammate Justin Lehr likens Cruz to Vladimir Guerrero – both offensively and defensively. Of course if that was an accurate description, manager Ned Yost would have this kid in the lineup every day. He's getting spot action at best right now, but he's a guy to scan the box scores for in the season's final weeks.
  • Chuck James, SP, Atl (ETA – 2006)
    James is currently on the Braves roster, but let's face it, he won't do anything more significant than warm up an outfielder down the stretch. What he did to earn the promotion, however, is noteworthy. James pitched at three levels this season, going a combined 13-7 with a 2.12 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 161 innings. At 23, he appears poised to make a run at a coveted spot in the Atlanta rotation in 2006.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Was – He went 8-for-12 in a three-game stretch to end the week, and manager Frank Robinson is committed to giving him a long look in the final week.

Shawn Chacon, SP, NYY – Chacon shut out Toronto over eight innings Friday to improve to 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA against the Jays this season. He'll get his next start against a Baltimore team that has lost 10 of 11.

Carlos Pena, 1B, Det – An underappreciated slugger since his recall from the minors, Pena went deep Sunday for his sixth home run of September and fourth in the last nine games. He has 27 RBIs in his last 31 games.

Mark Teahen, 3B, KC – The season numbers are unremarkable, but Teahen is closing strong this season. He entered play Sunday batting .301 in September with three homers and 18 RBIs in 21 games.

Jason Tyner, LF, Min – They're in audition-mode in Minnesota, and one guy making the most of his chance is Tyner. He extended his hitting streak to 11 games Sunday and he got it going on the base paths with two steals in his last four starts.

Matt Cain, SP, SF – Cain has made six major league starts and six times he has pitched at least five innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs. Sunday he conquered Coors Field – allowing only one earned run in six innings before settling for a no-decision. This kid is special.

Scott Baker, SP, Min – The rookie has been solid, and he'll finish the season with starts against Kansas City (he held them to four hits in seven innings on Aug. 29) and Detroit (five hits over seven innings in July).

John Smoltz, SP, Atl – Various reports have Smoltz shutting it down for the rest of the regular season once the Braves clinch. If you're counting on one more dominant start from Smoltz – and with his sore shoulder that's no guarantee even if he goes – you'd better starting looking elsewhere.

Jose Guillen, RF, Was – Manager Frank Robinson told the Washington Times that his preference is to give many of his regulars the rest of the season off. The group included Guillen, Vinny Castilla, Nick Johnson and Jose Vidro.

Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col – In case you missed it, Colorado played its final home game Sunday

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Since I'm taking next week off, I'll take this opportunity to congratulate Brandon Funston on his league championship, a proclamation that is sure to touch off an unprecedented rally from his closest pursuers.