Yes, I've been on the road to NFL training camps this past week, but don't think for a minute that I lost track of the comings and goings, highs and lows of the past week in Major League Baseball.
The trading deadline is approaching in fantasy leagues, the phenomenon of acquiring spot starters is occurring at a more rapid pace, and owners are finally severing ties with long-time fantasy heroes whose rebounds won't occur this season.
With the Wild Card races heating up, the returns of Kenny Rogers and Rafael Palmeiro gobbling up headlines, and the arrivals of new stars (Felix Hernandez and Ryan Howard among them), it's time for another edition of Fantasy Baseball This Week .
Whenever you hear the name of Dr. James Andrews, you can't help but immediately think the worst. That was certainly true on Wednesday, when Carl Pavano was informed that he has rotator cuff tendonitis and will miss the next six weeks, effectively ending his season. So, those of you who had held out hope of his return to the rotation can finally let it go.
News broke late Wednesday night that Dr. Andrews will welcome another patient next week. Jim Thome, who had gone 4-for-9 with a home run in a four-game rehab stint in Clearwater, has opted to have season-ending surgery. Thome appeared in just 59 games for the Phillies this season. Take a peek to see if rising star Ryan Howard remains available on the waiver wire in your league.
Another story out of New York is that Yankees hurler Kevin Brown may not return this season from a lumbar strain that has sidelined him since July 24th. His 6.50 ERA and 1.72 WHIP failed to inspire this year, but many owners held out hope for a stretch run return.
The Yankees did receive one bit of good news for their beleaguered rotation (who, might I add, only allowed six runs in a three-game set against the White Sox) in that Jaret Wright may rejoin the staff next week. By all reports, Wright, who has been on the DL since April 24th, has looked sharp in his rehab outings.
Roy Halladay experienced a setback in his quest to return from a broken leg during a simulated game on Wednesday. He relayed that he felt stiffness in his leg and cut the workout short. The Blue Jays had hoped to activate him early next week, but no time table has been set after this news.
Todd Helton was activated from the first DL stint of his career on Wednesday. His strained right calf has healed well enough that the Rockies were willing to ship Ryan Shealy (.333 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 23 games) back to Triple-A Colorado Springs. After a slow start, Helton hit .400 (30-for-75) with a tremendous 1.161 OPS in 21 July games.
Brady Clark left Wednesday's game against Cincinnati with bruised ribs after attempting to break up a double play. He'll be listed as day-to-day and may return to action as early as this weekend.
Chipper Jones underwent another MRI on Tuesday which revealed a sprained right rotator cuff. Though he's able to swing the bat, he's a likely candidate to return to the DL by the weekend as he remains unable to throw.
Moises Alou hasn't seen the field since leaving the August 2nd game against Colorado with soreness and tightness in his right hamstring. The Giants are faced with the prospect of putting him on the DL and want to be cautious about inserting him into a game to avoid a longer stay than necessary.
Staying in San Francisco, Armando Benitez has pitched three simulated games in four days and appears ready to return to the big club in the next 7-10 days. He may make one or two additional minor league appearances prior to his activation.
The Padres lost Adam Eaton to the DL again. After missing six weeks with a strained middle right finger, Eaton returned to the Padres and made two relief appearances before returning to the DL.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Sea: I don't want to get into hyperbole, but this youngster is special. He scattered five hits over eight innings against the Twins on Wednesday night in earning the first of what should be many Major League victories. In 13 innings pitched, he's allowed a single earned run while striking out 10. Keeper City!
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Atl: Despite blasting eight home runs and driving in 22 runs in his first 23 games with the Braves, Francoeur remained available in thousands of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball leagues. On Wednesday, he added another RBI and extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Jose Valverde, RP, Ari: It's possible that the news slipped by, but reports from Arizona have Valverde assuming the closer role in place of Brian Bruney. Brandon Lyon, who raced out to fantasy stardom with 13 saves in the first six weeks of the season, reported no pain after rehab outings this week. He'll look to reclaim the closer role eventually, but Valverde's the man for the time being.
Noah Lowry, SP, SF: An impressive outing against the Astros (seven shutout innings and a win) has owners looking to Lowry for his next start at Florida. Since the All-Star break, he owns a record of 2-2 with an ERA of 1.99, WHIP of 0.92 and has whiffed 34 hitters in 31.2 innings pitched.
Matt Holliday, OF, Col: The Rockies have 10 games left on their current homestand (including Thursday versus Pittsburgh). The Nationals, Brewers and Cubs will visit Coors before the Rockies hit the road. Why do you care? Because Matt Holliday crushes the ball at Coors. He's hitting over .370 at home this year with seven homers and 29 RBIs. Holliday is also in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak, plating the game-winner with a single in the 10th on Wednesday night.
Corey Patterson, OF, ChC: His return to fantasy lineups might be short-lived with his 1-for-7 start since being recalled to the Major Leagues. Fantasy owners are still intrigued by the player who hit 24 homers and stole 32 bases a season ago. He'll be watched closely, as the Cubs face division foes St. Louis and Houston this week.
Felipe Lopez, 2B/SS/3B, Cin: This versatile performer was among the most pleasant surprises of the first half. Since the All-Star break, he's been helpful in the stolen base column (five), but has hit just .198 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Lopez has gone hitless in his past 27 at-bats.
Juan Encarnacion, OF, Fla: Encarnacion has battled pain in his wrist over the past week and made his first appearance in nearly a week in Wednesday's victory over Arizona. Owners in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball leagues ran out of patience and sought other outfield options, including the previously mentioned Matt Holliday, Nick Swisher and Gary Matthews Jr.
Rafael Palmeiro, 1B, Bal: Palmeiro's eligible to return from suspension, but isn't expected to reappear until the O's homestand begins against Toronto. With B.J. Surhoff now on the DL, the timing of the end of his suspension is fortuitous. Thousands upon thousands of fantasy owners have kicked him to the proverbial curb over the past week. If you need 1B help, he did hit .299 with six homers and 19 RBIs in July.
Jose Guillen, OF, Was: The name of Dr. James Andrews appears again in this report. Andrews determined that the slight tear in Guillen's rotator cuff did not require surgery and cleared his return to action. Frank Robinson will likely give Guillen a few more days before re-inserting him into the lineup.
Mike MacDougal, RP, Kan: MacDougal's meltdown in the crazy ninth inning against Cleveland on Tuesday had owners tossing him to the waiver wire. He allowed six hits and seven runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning in that disastrous ninth. Speculation is that KC wants to look at Ambiorix Burgos in this role for the home stretch, but for now, there's a closer available in many leagues.
Mike Lowell, 3B, Fla: Owners are finally cutting Lowell loose after praying for the big turnaround. He hit a solid .322 in July with 14 RBIs, but hit only two home runs (six for the season). Lowell has turned south again in 11 August games, hitting .200 with five RBIs.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Jose Contreras, SP, CWS
Contreras hasn't allowed an earned run in his past two starts spanning 12 innings. The six walks in those starts are somewhat disconcerting, but 10 strikeouts against only eight hits are encouraging. He'll next face the Twins.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Chris Shelton, 1B, Det
Shelton dominated for the first two months after his call-up, but has been absolutely atrocious in August. He's hit a weak .115 in August (3-for-26) with a single homer and three RBIs.
HOT AND COLD
Aaron Small, SP, NYY: There's talk that Small may be headed to the bullpen, despite pitching tremendously in his four starts this season. He's 3-0 with a strong 2.67 ERA and allowed only one earned run in seven innings against the White Sox on Wednesday while striking out seven.
Casey Blake, 3B/OF, Cle: After a horrendous start to the season, Blake is at least putting solid wood on the ball at this time. He's hitting .448 in August (13-for-29) with six extra-base hits.
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B, StL: Grudz has been streaky throughout the year, but those owners looking for help in the middle infield should take a peek to the waiver wire. Grudzielanek is hitting .484 in August (15-for-31) with nine RBIs and an OBP of .515.
Olmedo Saenz, 1B/3B, LAD: The only trouble here is predicting when Saenz will be in the lineup. But, I felt the need to give a nod to his efficiency. He's driven in 50 runs in only 221 at-bats this season and has hit five homers and knocked in 17 since the All-Star game.
Craig Counsell, 2B/SS, Ari: Counsell has returned to the fantasy radar in the past week with three stolen bases and a huge rebound from a positively dismal July (.198 average). Counsell is hitting .429 (12-for-28) to start the month.
Juan Pierre, OF, Fla: Pierre stole five bases and scored six runs this past week, so those are big helps. But his .152 batting average (5-for-33) during this stretch didn't help anybody.
Doug Davis, SP, Mil: Davis hasn't won since June 22nd, going just 0-2 with seven no-decisions in his last nine starts. Davis allowed nine earned runs and walked 11 hitters in his past two outings covering 9.2 innings.
Chone Figgins, 2B/3B/SS/OF, LAA: Figgins has had a rough go of late, with just five hits in his past 27 at-bats. After steady RBI contributions from April-June, he's knocked in just three runs in his past 35 games. Don't worry, I'm not discounting his .330 average and 12 thefts in July.
Runelvys Hernandez, SP, Kan: He'd won three of his past five starts (two no-decisions) before getting obliterated by the A's on Sunday. Hernandez allowed seven earned runs on six hits (two homers) in a single inning pitched. And, while he'd been going well before this start, a 10-game suspension still looms over his head.
Adam Everett, SS, Hou: It's possible Everett is still occupying a middle infield or SS spot in NL-only leagues, but the success of the Astros is not reaching Everett's bat. He's hitting .161 in August (5-for-31) and is mired in a 1-for-23 skid.
Brian Roberts, Bal, 2B
Why he's being dealt: Lost in the big stories of Rafael Palmeiro and the continuing struggles of Sammy Sosa is the slowing of production from the first-half MVP. He's hit safely in eight of his past 10 games with two homers and five RBIs. This streak has buyers coming forward for the stretch run.
What you're getting: Straight up deals for Roberts have returned hurlers Carlos Zambrano, Josh Beckett and Barry Zito. Package deals involving Roberts generally pair him with a pitcher (Tim Hudson, Huston Street, Dustin Hermanson) in exchange for positional elites such as Billy Wagner, Johan Santana or Alfonso Soriano.
What you're getting: Cantu is being packaged with starting pitchers Jason Marquis, Kenny Rogers and Rich Harden in exchange for versatile performers such as Damian Jackson, his teammate Julio Lugo and pitchers like Zito, Brad Lidge or Brandon Webb.
Ichiro Suzuki, Sea, OF
Why he's being dealt: Ichiro is struggling again in August (.211 with one RBI and zero SB) after rebounding nicely in July. Current owners have tired of the yo-yo effect this season and are finding others willing to take him on for the final six weeks.
What you're getting: Suzuki owners have found trading partners willing to deal pitchers straight up. Recent deals have been made for Pedro Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman and Chad Cordero.
Billy Wagner, Phi, RP
Why he's being dealt: The Phillies have begun to use Wagner more in non-save situations. He has recorded just six saves since July 1st. Current owners are frustrated by the lack of opportunities (though he has posted solid ERA and WHIP numbers) and buyers think he'll be able to help down the stretch.
What you're getting: Wagner has been dealt straight up this week for top performers Roy Oswalt, Bobby Abreu and Michael Young. Some Wagner owners have found others willing to pile up talent to return a top reliever. One such deal for Wagner returned Mike Mussina, Bob Wickman and Felix Hernandez. Another returned Miguel Batista and Brian Roberts.
Coors Field Factor:
The Rockies welcome the Nationals for a weekend series and will then play host to the Brewers and Cubs before hitting the road. I'll sneak a peek at the Cubs roster next week, but both Washington and Milwaukee bring rosters full of players with little experience at Coors. Few have played more than a handful of games, but a couple of ex-Rockies are anxious to make their return.
Remember how bummed out owners were when Preston Wilson got dealt from the Rockies? Well, now's the chance to scour the wire to see if he's available for a three-game pickup. Wilson has hit .281 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 42 games at Coors this season.
Another former Rockies slugger will welcome the weekend series. Vinny Castilla has found his stroke of late. OK, he's homered in two of his past three games. Castilla does know how to hit at Coors, where he possesses a lifetime .334 average with 132 home runs and 423 RBIs in 475 games played.
When the Brewers visit, they hope to see Lyle Overbay finally put his mark on Coors. In 32 career at-bats spanning 12 games in the venue, Overbay owns only two doubles and has yet to connect for a homer.
Holliday, Garrett Atkins and Aaron Miles continue their hot-hitting in their home park, all carrying home marks over .340. All three are hitting under .250 on the road, with Atkins and Miles barely keeping their heads above .200.
The lights are down in Arlington for the next week as the Rangers take their act on the road to the Bronx to visit the Yankees, to Cleveland for a mid-week set against the Indians and a weekend set at the Devil Rays. They'll return home on August 23rd to begin a nine-game homestand.
Matchups to watch:
Carlos Zambrano won't quit on his team. "You have to kill me first," Zambrano was quoted after being pulled from last start with a bad back. He'll face the Cardinals and Jason Marquis on Friday, as the Cubs try to rebound from their eight-game losing streak. The Cubs get Marquis at a good time, as he's allowed six earned runs in two straight outings and has lost four straight decisions.
The cross-town White Sox will visit Boston this weekend with lefties Mark Buehrle (13-4, 2.79 ERA) and David Wells (9-5, 4.45 ERA) squaring off in the opener. Wells has been effective in his past six outings, compiling a 3-1 record with two no-decisions. Buehrle has allowed only one earned run in his past two starts spanning 12.2 innings pitched.
There's a great matchup of young hurlers on tap for Friday when Noah Lowry squares off against Dontrelle Willis. After a rough July, Willis is back on track in August, having allowed one earned run in 13 innings pitched (0.69 ERA). Lowry, as mentioned above, rolled at home over Houston in his last start.
Both NL Cy Young front-runners take the hill on Saturday. Chris Carpenter will square off with Jerome Williams in Chicago, while Roger Clemens takes on the Pirates. Carpenter has allowed one earned run in 18 innings of work this year against the Cubs.
Another battle of solid young hurlers occurs in Cleveland on Sunday. Cliff Lee seeks his 13th win when he takes on Scott Kazmir and the Devil Rays. The Indians bailed Lee out in his last outing, when he left after surrendering six earned runs in five innings of work. He's won six of his past seven decisions. Kazmir averages nearly a strikeout per inning of work, but the walks will drive you nuts. He's pitched well in his past five starts, compiling a 3-1 record and working at least six innings in each of those outings.
IT'S A FACT
With those three ugly starts back in April, Curt Schilling's season totals still appear somewhat frightening (5.55 ERA and 1.43 WHIP). Since his arrival in the bullpen on July 14th, Schilling has won three games and saved nine in 16 outings. Only three relievers (Todd Jones, Mariano Rivera and Danys Baez) have saved more games than Schilling during this stretch. He may return to the rotation as early as next week, as Keith Foulke is expected to return from his knee surgery in short order.