MLB Skinny: Ace in the hole

In fantasy, it's better to be proactive than reactive. I say this as I consider Chris Carpenter's ownership rate in Yahoo! leagues – 45 percent. Clearly, many fantasy owners want to see how St. Louis' former ace looks in his return to the Cardinals on Wednesday, which will be his first Major League appearance in nearly 16 months because of Tommy John surgery. I'm assuming some are leery that Carpenter will be able to recapture much of the stuff that made him a 51-game winner for the Cards in the three seasons from '04-'06. I'm also assuming there are some that haven't yet realized that Carpenter is on the brink of a return. Regardless, there's a much slimmer chance that either group will be able to lay their hands on Carpenter if he comes out smoking against Atlanta on Wednesday – there'll no doubt be a fantasy feeding frenzy if that happens. So, for the next 48 hours, owners in more than half of Yahoo! leagues have a wide-open opportunity to take a small gamble – clearing a roster spot – that could pay big-time dividends. You can't figure out how to open up a spot for a guy that has produced a 3.14 ERA and 552 Ks in 651.1 IP in St. Louis? C'mon …

Let's turn our attention to those that have been streaking and slumping since the All-Star break:

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Chris Davis, Tex, 1B
The Rangers' No. 2 prospect, according to Baseball America, heading into '08 has been slow to take root in Yahoo! leagues – just 20 percent owned. That low number is a bit head-scratching if you consider that he made his Texas debut after hitting .333 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs in 77 games split between Double- and Triple-A. And he's hardly slowed down since arriving in Arlington. He's hit .290 with 10 home runs and 20 RBIs in 26 games for the Rangers, and hasn't gone more than three games without a deep shot. With his 33 home runs in 99 total games this season, Davis now has 84 home runs in 297 career games as a pro – that's Ryan Howard-esque. His power is legit, and he gets to display it in one of the most hitter-friendly environments in the league. If you're in need a home run push, regardless of your league size and universe, Davis is as good a help as you can hope to find.

Paul Maholm, Pit, SP
Maholm is on an impressive 11-start streak in which he's 5-1 with a 2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 51 Ks in 78.1 IP. The lefty mix-master, a former top 10 pick out of Mississippi St. in '03, currently sits among the top 10 starters in GB% (51.4%). In addition, July has seen his K rate rise (31 K in 37 IP). Maholm, owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo! leagues, is deserving of at least a two-start roto contract. His only non-quality start in his past eight outings came at Colorado (6 IP, 5 ER) a couple weeks ago.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Wladimir Balentien, Sea, OF (ETA – August)
    Balentien crashed-and-burned in a promotion to Seattle earlier this season – .196, 4 HR in 107 ABs. And he carried his slump with him to Triple-A Tacoma in mid-June after being demoted. But July has seen a resurgence of the power that contributed heavily to his initial call-up. He's hit seven home runs in 21 games for the Raniers this month while maintaining a near 1:1 K-to-BB rate. Balentien has been a prolific whiff king in past years, so the plate recognition improvement is as important as anything. You can expect Balentien to get another turn with the Mariners if the team deals hot commodity Raul Ibanez in the coming days. And when he does finally get another opportunity, he'll warrant only AL-only league consideration initially. But he possesses 30 home run upside and he can run pretty well, which means he should be on everyone's radar.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Jeff Baker, Col, 1/3/O (20 percent owned) – Baker has collected the second-most hits since the All-Star break, going 18-for-37 (.486) with three home runs, seven RBIs and 14 Runs (an MLB post-break high). He's also chipped in a couple steals.

Skip Schumaker, StL, OF (22 percent owned) – Schumaker has been a two-category specialist this season – .303 BA, 62 R. Since the All-star break, he's hitting .370, helping to maintain his July average above .300 (.312), which means he's hit .300 or better in three of four months in '08.

Freddy Sanchez, Pit, 2B (10 percent owned) – A former batting champ and career .297 hitter, Sanchez is finally start to hit like expected, owning a .390 BA since the break. He's hit above .350 in each of his past two Augusts, so it should come as little surprise that he's starting to heat up now.

Melvin Mora, Bal, 3B (26 percent owned) – Although 0-for-7 in his past two games, Mora deserves mention here for a post-break line of .385, 4 HR, 15 RBIs and 7 R. The 15 ribbies are second only to Miguel Cabrera since the All-Star game.

Billy Butler, KC, 1B (9 percent owned) – Brad Evans' beloved donkey has pounded four home runs since the break and is fourth in the league during that span with 14 RBIs.

Fernando Tatis, NYM, OF (3 percent owned) – Among those with at least 25 at bats since the All-Star break, Tatis is third to only Conor Jackson and Ryan Braun in OPS (1.436). Unless the Mets can swing a deal for another outfielder, Tatis should continue to see near-regular action, especially while his bat is sizzling.

Chris Iannetta, Col, C (31 percent owned) – A post-hype sleeper qualifier, Iannetta has posted an OPS of .948 in July, the third month in four this season in which his OPS has been at least that high. Among catchers with at least 100 at bats, Iannetta ranks behind only Ryan Doumit, Brian McCann and Joe Mauer in per game fantasy value at the catcher position.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Col, SP (50 percent owned) – Following Aaron Cook's lead, Jimenez is having success in Colorado with an extreme groundball approach (55.6% GB rate, seventh-best among starters). He's 6-2 in his past eight starts and the July leader in wins (5). In his past 10 starts, he's sporting a 2.07 ERA.

Mike Pelfrey, NYM, SP (53 percent owned) – Pelfrey has won seven straight decisions and holds a 2.57 ERA since his last May start. He's walked just one batter in his past four starts, perhaps putting to bed the one issue that has most likely held him at 50 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues – he issued 41 walks in his first 86.1 IP this season.

Randy Winn, SF, OF – Mentioned prominently in current trade rumors, Winn holds the distinction of having the most at bats (36) since the All-Star break without collecting an extra-base hit. He's hitting just .194 since the layoff.

Mike Lowell, Bos, 3B – Lowell is hitting just .189 since the break with just one extra-base hit. And after collecting six home runs in both May and June, he's left the yard just once in July.

Brian Roberts, Bal, 2B – Roberts is hitting just .175 since the break and has gone a season-high 12 straight games without stealing a base.

Javier Vazquez, ChW, SP – Since June 6th, no pitcher has allowed more earned runs than Vazquez (41). In that span, he's 2-5 with a 6.55 ERA in nine starts.

Jonathan Sanchez, SF, SP – Sanchez hasn't made it past the sixth inning in any of his past four starts. In that span, he's 0-2 with a 8.47 ERA and 12 walks in 17 IP.

Note: The Skinny will be on vacation next Monday but will return the following week.

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