The Skinny: Bizarro world

Matt Romig
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood?
Skinny: Kerry Wood a closer? The idea is gaining momentum within the Cubs organization, but the move faces a couple of daunting obstacles. First, Wood wasn't warm to the idea when it first came up before spring training. Even if he were to sign off on the plan, Chicago's starting rotation may not be able to survive without him. Carlos Zambrano left Saturday's start with elbow pain and may miss at least one turn. Meanwhile, the Cubs have asked Borowski to spend one more week at Triple-A Iowa. Borowski isn't thrilled with the decision, but management feels his last two rehab outings signaled a step backward. Todd Wellemeyer picked up a save on Friday while Dempster recovered from a bruised wrist.
1st Chair: Mike Wood
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: This is another officially vacant closer's chair. "We don't have a true closer right now," interim manager Bob Schaefer told the team's official website. Burgos had the first shot at it, but the rookie blew up on Wednesday and surrendered a game-winning homer on Friday. Schaefer gave Sisco a chance on Saturday, but when the hard-throwing lefty got into hot water, Wood was brought in to bail him out. The same scenario played out on Sunday, though this time it was Burgos who loaded the bases before Wood saved the day. Schaefer also indicated that Mike MacDougal's stock is rising. He has a shot at regaining the closer's chair, and Affeldt will get a look after his minor league rehab assignment starts.
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Shingo Takatsu, Damaso Marte
Skinny: If manager Ozzie Guillen won't promote Hermanson to the first chair, the Skinny will. Officially, it's still a "closer by gut feeling" situation in Chicago. Guillen refuses to name a closer, instead pointing out that he has four relievers in his bullpen with the stuff to close games. In practice, Hermanson is his guy. He got the call on three straight nights ending May 13. Friday's save – his eighth in eight chances – allowed Hermanson to extend his scoreless innings steak to 18.1. Takatsu recorded the final out in Sunday's 6-2 loss, a sign that he's relegated to mop-up work for now.
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Jason Christiansen, Matt Herges
Skinny: Jim Brower is out. That much we know. "I'll put him back in situations where he's best," manager Felipe Alou told the Sacramento Bee before returning Brower to long relief. Walker, who has been scored upon only once in his past 14 appearances, is next in line. He closed out Houston on back-to-back nights and now has three saves in four chances on the season. Christiansen is holding lefties to a .160 average and could steal a save or two when the situation calls for a southpaw.
1st Chair: Brian Fuentes
2nd Chair: Chin-Hui Tsao
Skinny: The Denver Post reported on Sunday that season-ending shoulder surgery is a very real possibility for Tsao, who was forced to the disabled list with shoulder pain for the second time this season. Tsao, it appears, would prefer to exhaust all other options before sacrificing what's left of 2005. Fuentes hasn't been scored upon since April 24, but this promotion is hardly one to get excited about. Colorado's loss on Sunday was its 10th in 14 games this month and the team has just three saves on the season.
1st Chair: Danny Graves
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: Graves made Cincy fans sweat again on Thursday, allowing the tying runs to reach base before retiring Chase Utley and Jason Michaels to nail down a 7-5 win over Philadelphia. After a miserable start to the month, Graves is slowly beginning to turn things around. Wagner is trying to recover from some struggles of his own. He allowed four earned runs without retiring a batter on May 9 and was touched for an unearned run in Sunday's loss.
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Jim Mecir
Skinny: Guillermo Mota threw about 40 pitches off the mound before Friday's game. He was encouraged by the results, and is reporting that he may return to action in 7-10 days. Until then, Jones will continue to close games. He is 3-for-3 with saves on the line and has eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings since taking over for Mota.
1st Chair: Octavio Dotel
2nd Chair: Huston Street
Skinny: Given their recent struggles, it's hard to imagine a scenario that would result in Dotel staying with the A's beyond the trade deadline. He is in the final year of his contact, and Oakland has been historically unwilling to overpay for a closer. Jason Isringhausen and Keith Foulke were allowed to escape, so one has to assume Dotel will follow. Street has been arguably more effective anyway, so you have to figure Oakland would jump at the chance to move Dotel if the right offer came along.
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Ricky Bottalico
Skinny: The book on Turnbow is that he has great stuff if he could ever harness it. He may have turned that corner. After walking seven batters in April, Milwaukee's closer has yet to issue a free pass in seven May innings. Only a couple of gopher balls have kept him on the hot seat, though the burner is barely on simmer. With three wins and three saves this month, few relievers in all of fantasy can match his current value.
1st Chair: Dan Kolb
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma
Skinny: In what is becoming an all-to-familiar sight for fantasy owners, manager Bobby Cox had to take the ball away from Kolb during Wednesday's loss at Colorado. He retired only one batter before allowing a home run, two singles and an intentional walk. Coors Field is partially to blame, but Atlanta's closer can't fault a stadium for his season WHIP of 1.89.
Off the burner: Braden Looper, Mets; Bob Wickman, Indians

For one weekend at least, several key fantasy performers took the George Costanza approach – doing the exact opposite of what came natural to them. How else can you explain the Randy Johnson pitching six innings without a strikeout? What kind of bizarro world are we playing in when Alex Rios homers twice in three games after clearing the fence once in his first 143 contests? Heck, even Bret Boone and Vernon Wells delivered some key hits. Trying to make sense of it all, the Skinny took in as many games as possible:

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

  • He won't hit 35 homers or factor into the National League MVP race, but John Mabry is looking like a decent fantasy fill-in for those owners dealing with the loss of Scott Rolen. Batting sixth in the potent St. Louis lineup, Mabry is 10-for-21 with seven runs scored and six RBIs in his past seven games. A pace he can maintain? Probably not, but it should be noted that he hit .296 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs a year ago – pretty good production for a guy who appeared in only 87 games. Though he has been used primarily against right-handed pitchers in recent years, he is a career .272 hitter against lefties. That should give manager Tony LaRussa confidence to use him every day if Scott Seabol doesn't pan out as a right-handed option at third base. Seabol had eight homers for Triple-A Memphis before he was recalled.

Mabry isn't the only widely-available option for owners who need to replace Rolen for the 4-6 weeks it will take him to recover from Friday's shoulder surgery. Cincinnati's Felipe Lopez can bring a hot bat and position flexibility to a fantasy roster. He collected three hits on Saturday, his sixth multi-hit effort during a month that has seen him drive in nine runs while scoring 10 of his own. Other options include Pittsburgh's Rob Mackowiak, Houston's Morgan Ensberg and Arizona's Chad Tracy.

  • The Bronx Bombers got well in a hurry against Oakland as they wrapped up their third straight series against American League West opponents. Some eye-popping fantasy numbers emerged from the one-sided, three-game set at McAfee Coliseum. Newly anointed second baseman Robinson Cano is 11-for-17 with five doubles and five RBIs in his past four starts. Tino Martinez left the yard twice on Sunday and now has 10 homers and 22 RBIs in May. Even Kevin Brown managed to crawl back onto the fantasy radar with back-to-back wins, albeit against the light-hitting A's.

The most promising development is the emergence of Cano as a legitimate threat at the bottom of New York's lineup. He showed excellent gap power against the A's and has the speed to create runs for Derek Jeter and Tony Womack at the top of the lineup. He's barely owned in any Yahoo! leagues, and managers can probably play wait-and-see for at least a few more games before giving him a shot. The Skinny will pass on Brown. Oakland ranks last in the league in runs scored and batting average and have made more than a few also-ran starters look like staff aces.

  • Speaking of those A's, they seemed to be immune to any change-of-fortune mojo that was going around the league. Eric Chavez chased Hideki Matsui to the warning track in his first at bat of the series, but was otherwise as anemic as ever in the three-game set. Erubiel Durazo has just one RBI in his past nine games. Scott Hatteberg hasn't plated a baserunner in eight games. The closest thing Oakland has to a hot hitter is Jason Kendall, who was 4-for-10 with two RBIs and three runs scored against the Yanks. The Oakland fan who was arrested for pouring a beer on Jason Giambi on Saturday should use the defense that he was trying to douse himself to stay awake.

Worse, the A's now have four starting pitchers with ERAs above 5.00. Their lone bright spot in the rotation, Rich Harden, went on the DL after leaving Friday's game with a strained oblique. Is there any hope in Oakland? Well, they did get some encouraging news about reigning rookie of the year Bobby Crosby. He's swinging the bat well and appears to be close to beginning a rehab assignment. Keiichi Yabu has been steady out of the bullpen. He'll replace Harden in the rotation while the ace is sidelined. The team also seems to be warming to the idea of recalling first baseman Dan Johnson from Triple-A Sacramento. He hit his seventh homer of the year on Sunday and has 31 RBIs to go with his .308 average. Former Arizona prospect Jack Cust also went deep for Sacramento, his eighth of the season.

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

  • Jose Castillo, 2B, Pit
    Since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, Castillo has not stopped hitting and Pittsburgh has done nothing but pile up wins. His numbers for the month compare favorably with any second baseman not named Roberts. Through Sunday, he was 15-for-42 (.357) with nine runs scored, two homers and seven RBIs in 10 games. Scouts have said Castillo has the potential to hit 20-25 home runs at the big league level and the 24-year-old is just starting to display that kind of pop.
  • Dave Williams, SP, Pit
    No style points for Sunday's win, but it was a win just the same, allowing the lefty to improve to 3-0 in May. Williams' strength is his control. He has walked two or fewer batters in five of his seven starts this year. Lefties are batting just .194 against him and he has a 2.45 ERA in May. If Oliver Perez ever gets his act together, Pittsburgh might just have a formidable pitching rotation to complement an offense that is mysteriously leading the NL in home runs this month.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • B.J. Upton, SS, TB (ETA – July 1)
    AL-only fantasy managers in particular are anxiously awaiting Upton's 2005 ML debut. Tampa Bay's top prospect collected two hits and stole his 11th and 12th bases of the season on Sunday for Triple-A Durham. On the season, both he and teammate Joey Gathright are hitting .294 with on-base percentages of .370 and .379, respectively. The glaring number keeping Upton in the minors is 16. That's his error count at shortstop through 38 games. The club does not want to move him to third base, so until he works out his issues with the leather, he won't be going anywhere.
  • Ervin Santana, SP, LAA (ETA – Called up)
    Getting yanked eight batters into a start is generally not a good thing. That's exactly what happened to Santana on Friday at Double-A Arkansas, but he couldn't have been happier that his manager came out to get him. Angels officials had ordered the move shortly after deciding to recall their top pitching prospect for a start on Tuesday against Cleveland. The hard-throwing righty was 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA in his first seven starts down on the farm. The jump from Double-A to the majors is unusual but not unprecedented. Dontrelle Willis made the same move for Florida in 2003 and the results were favorable.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Alex Rios, OF, Tor – Hitting instructor Mickey Brantley has been trying to coax the power out of Rios' swing. He must be doing something right, as his student finished the weekend 5-for-10 with two homers and two stolen bases.

Coco Crisp, OF, Cle – Crisp extended his hitting streak to 10 games on Sunday. Curiously, though he has four steals and a .408 on-base percentage in May, the Indians have avoided using him at leadoff.

Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cle – In Cleveland's past eight games, Peralta is 11-for-28 with four homers, six runs scored and six RBIs.

Jason Dubois, LF, Chi(N) – He hit 31 homers at Triple-A Iowa last year and has used his bat to wiggle out of a platoon situation in the Cubs outfield. Dubois hit an RBI double on Sunday and has four homers in just 50 at bats on the season.

Ryan Church, OF, Was – Though he was hitless on Sunday, Church remains one of the hottest outfielders in the National League. Through 11 games this month, he is batting .371 with 11 RBIs and four runs scored.

Chris Capuano, SP, Mil – Now 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in May, Capuano has pitched at least seven innings with six strikeouts in three straight starts.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi – Friday's pinch-hit double may have been just what Howard needed to jump-start his season. He earned a start on Sunday and responded with three hits in four trips, including another double.

Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col – Atkins homered on Friday and Sunday, his first two home runs of the season. All five of his RBIs and four of his six runs scored have come in the team's past six games.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atl – While not quite as hot as Tino Martinez, LaRoche is putting together a spectacular May. His home run on Sunday gave him four homers and 17 RBIs for the month.

Mark Redman, SP, Pit – Redman tossed his first career shutout on Saturday. Though he won't pile up strikeouts like teammate Oliver Perez, he is much more reliable at present. Redman has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his eight starts this season.

John Patterson, SP, Was – After a breakthrough April, Patterson has been barely average in May. A rocky start on Sunday raised his WHIP for the month to 1.77. He is winless since April 26.

Chone Figgins, CF, LAA – For a guy who was drafted for his legs, Figgins is doing a lot of standing around of late. He hasn't attempted a steal since May 4 and it's been seven games since a he scored a run.

Mike Sweeney, 1B, KC – Though he is expected back in the Royals lineup on Tuesday, fantasy owners can't help but fear that Sweeney's run of luck is up. He missed his fourth straight game on Sunday with a strained oblique.

Tony Womack, 2B, NYY – Manager Joe Torre is reportedly close to returning Bernie Williams to his normal center-field post. If that happens, the New York Daily News reports, Womack will find himself on the bench after Hideki Matsui is shifted to left.

Mike Lowell, 3B, Fla – Manager Jack McKean sat Lowell on Sunday in what could be a preview of lineups to come. He hinted that it may be "a few days" until Lowell returns, a sign that he may be the first slumping star to actually lose his starting gig.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.378 Batting average recorded by the No. 9 position in the Tampa Bay lineup this season. Incredibly, the Devils Rays are still waiting for their first home run from a cleanup hitter while the No. 9 spot has accounted for 10 long balls.