Closing Time: Carlos Marmol regains the ninth

Carlos Marmol is back in the Chicago closing chair, and he has the full endorsement of his manager. Heaven help us all.

Say this for Cubs skipper Dave Sveum — he picked a cushy spot for Marmol to reenter the fray. The Cubs had a three-run lead through eight innings Friday afternoon, and the Red Sox had their 6-7-8 batters scheduled up. Marmol had plenty of wiggle room in this assignment.

Marmol being Marmol, it still turned into Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. He walked one batter, allowed one hit. Third baseman Luis Valbuena botched an infield grounded. The Red Sox quickly had the bases loaded with one out, forcing Sveum to visit the mound and offer some choice words.

In the end, there was jubilation on Waveland Avenue: a sharply hit Dustin Pedroia ground out eventually ended the threat. Marmol threw 18 of 29 pitches for strikes, and he seemed to have reasonable control with his fastball and slider. Don't misunderstand — this is someone who will throw a few wayward pitches in just about every assignment. But it wasn't a bad first step back into fantasy relevance. The Red Sox didn't score, the Cubs secured the win.

The season numbers aren't going to defend Marmol. He's walked more batters than he's struck out (22 and 21, respectively), and his ratio stats are ugly (5.79 ERA, 1.98 WHIP). But the league is still batting just .208 off him — if he can hit the zone most of the time, he should be fine — and the last-place Cubs have built-in motivation to try to get Marmol fixed. It's not like Chicago is dealing with a pennant race; this 22-42 club can accept some ninth-inning mishaps as it tries to get to a better point down the road.

The value of closers is a very context-driven thing. In some leagues, every save has a blood value, no matter the stats attached. In thinner pools, it might not be worth it to chase a ninth-inning option who might torch your ratio stats. You'll have to measure your level of desperation for yourself. Marmol is currently owned in 38 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Gut feel: I think Marmol gets at least 10 saves the rest of the way, though they might be ugly most of the time. This is one of the ultimate "don't watch" closers. But his value will fluctuate greatly from format to format.

After going nine starts without any wins, Ryan Dempster finally came up with a plan that works: don't let the other guys score. He threw seven bagels at the Red Sox (4 H, 2 BB, 3 K), his third consecutive start without surrendering a run. Perfect timing, as the Cubs would like to trade Dempster before he hits free agency this winter. A durable right-hander with a 2.11 ERA and 1.01 WHIP is sure to draw interest; the Yankees and Dodgers have been mentioned in early scuttlebutt. Dempster is a 10-5 man, so he can reject any trade.

Dempster is clearly pitching over his head to this point, but I figure his ERA should be around 3 for the rest of the year anyway, so long as he isn't traded to an American League launching pad. Dempster's preseason value stands as a teaching point; it was clear that his 2011 ERA (4.80) was mostly tied to unlucky elements beyond Dempster's control; his underlying stats were similar in 2010 and 2011. If you're invested here, hope there's something to those Los Angeles rumors (Ted Lilly's rehab is basically at a standstill right now).

The Twins dropped their third straight game Friday, despite the ongoing exploits of Trevor Plouffe. The Midwestern Masher clocked a couple of pitches into the seats (the second one landed in the upper deck), giving him nine homers this month and seven in his last seven games. Plouffe was a waiver-wire nomad a short time ago, but his ownership has shot up to 51 percent in Yahoo! leagues. The four positions of eligibility (second, short, third, outfield) are a nifty selling point.

There's not much new info to offer on the player. You probably know by now that Plouffe was a first-round pick back in 2004 (20th overall), and you probably know that he's shown some pop — and a sketchy batting average — for most of his pro career. This is one of those short-leash pickups that's fun to make, but don't get locked into the story. The midnight bell could strike at any time.

One of the general takeaways from Plouffe is the playability of Target Field. It was a home run graveyard for everyone in 2010, but right-handed batters actually enjoyed a four-percent spike in power last year (while the lefties paid a 28-percent tax). This year, more of the same: it's no shock that Plouffe and Josh Willingham have crushed the ball at home while disappearing on the road; conversely, lefty-swinging Justin Morneau has been the exact opposite (feeble in Minnesota, a thumper everywhere else). Make sure you're seeing this park for what it really is.

• Jason Bay (concussion) is probably headed to the seven-day DL, and with all concussion injuries, no one can be sure when he'll make it back. Bay's expected absence might open up more time for Scott Hairston, though the book on Hairston suggests he's really nothing past a platoon player.

The amino acids split stats do a good job of breaking Hairston down. He has a career .840 OPS against the southpaws, but just .697 against everyone else. It's been more pronounced this year: a .347/.382/.708 line when he holds the platoon advantage (with seven homers), and a whole lot of nothing when he doesn't (.188/.250/.417, two homers).

Hairston did reach the seats Friday against righty Bronson Arroyo, for what it's worth, but the skills are well-established here. This is the type of deep-league flyer that's schedule-dependent. The Mets run into some lefty opponents next week, so keep Hairston in mind down the road (Brian Matusz on Wednesday, Andy Pettitte on Friday, CC Sabathia for Sunday). And if you must add a Mets outfielder in the meantime, sweet-swinging lefty Kirk Nieuwenhuis (three homers in two days, .297 average) should be your target.

Before we leave the Metropolitans, let's offer some nice words about Ike Davis. He's on a snappy 9-for-16 run over the last six games (one homer, two doubles), and more importantly, he's seeing the ball well and making decent contact (six walks, just three strikeouts). Perhaps he's finally over his physical maladies and any confidence issues. If you're in a forgiving mood, head to the free-agent wire: Davis is available in 64 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

There's always an interesting story with Trevor Cahill. He's rattled off three straight wins (including seven sharp innings at Anaheim on Friday) and his ground-ball rate is a zesty 63.5 percent, which goes a long way towards success. His K/BB rate isn't over two but it's closing in on that. He has 20 strikeouts in 23.2 innings this month.

The 3.08 ERA and 1.24 WHIP can't be taken at face value, however; you have to consider the extreme home/road splits in this case. Cahill's a 2.30/1.10 man in his eight road starts, but he's struggled during five Arizona turns (4.50/1.50). He's at home against Seattle next week (okay), then pitches on the road at Atlanta. The roto community remains split on the righty; he's owned in 51 percent of Yahoo! leagues at the moment. Keep skimming, skimmer

Is the light bulb finally going on for Phil Hughes? The enigmatic New York righty has been useful in seven of his last eight starts, fashioning a 3.27 ERA and 49 strikeouts against 13 walks. He's been fortunate to win six of those turns, and the solid ERA comes despite a seven-run nightmare in Anaheim.

Hughes cruised in Washington on Friday (6 IP, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K), making a solid impression on the Nats. "He was spotting his fastball," Ryan Zimmerman observed after the game. "When you throw 94, 95 (mph) and you can put it wherever you want, it's tough. He did a good job of that."Hughes is owned in just 27 percent of Yahoo! leagues; consider adding him before next week's home turn against Atlanta.

Speed Round: The showdown between Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale didn't really materialize, as both pitchers allowed five runs at Chavez Ravine and failed to get into the seventh inning. A Matt Thornton wild pitch wound up delivering the winning Dodgers run in the eighth inning. … The Blue Jays can't get a break with their starting pitchers right now. Drew Hutchinson only threw nine pitches Friday before leaving with an elbow injury. … Matt Moore toyed with the Marlins (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K) and has been useful in four straight starts (his worst outing in that mix still had nine strikeouts). He's at Washington next week, a good draw. … Brandon Belt had a single and double in San Francisco's win at Seattle, with both hits coming against lefty Jason Vargas. Get in if you still can. … John Axford desperately needed a clean save, and he got it in a 1-2-3 inning at Minnesota (two grounders, one fly out). He's worked in three straight games, so a day off is probably in order now. … Carlos Ruiz (oblique) left Friday's game and might need a stint on the DL. We'll see what the club tells us when Ruiz is re-evaluated Saturday. … Manny Ramirez asked for and was granted his release from the Oakland organization. Planet Manny was hitting .302 in 17 games with Triple-A Sacramento, but the power was non-existent (.349 slugging, zero homers). My Ramirez Expectation Level remains parked at zero, where it's been all along.

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