The Skinny: Ryan's hope

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports

CLOSER HOT SEAT

LOS ANGELES DODGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Steve Schmoll
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: Brad Penny went wire-to-wire Sunday, accentuating the fact that manager Jim Tracy doesn't have a lot of reliable options in the bullpen. Though he had no obvious alternatives to turn to, Tracy had no choice but to demote Yhency Brazoban last week. The team's original replacement for Eric Gagne has an 11.77 ERA and five losses since July 1. At this point, it's pretty much a coin-toss between Schmoll, who allowed five runs Wednesday, and Sanchez, who has battled control problems all season. Of course there's always the complete game option, too.

DETROIT TIGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Chris Dingman, Franklyn German
Skinny: Journeyman Chris Dingman is manager Alan Trammell's new setup man, the Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday. Since joining the Detroit bullpen in July, the 31-year-old righty has held opponents to a .135 batting average while striking out 14 and walking only three in 12 innings. Rodney needed a rest last Monday, and it was Dingman who wound up with the save in extra innings. German entered the same game with the score tied in the ninth inning, so he remains in the picture should Rodney falter.

ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
Skinny: Here we are halfway through the month of August and Atlanta closers have accounted for only one save. Reitsma is partially to blame. He allowed the David Eckstein walk-off grand slam August 7, then two singles and a run three nights later for another blown save. One of the reasons Farnsworth was acquired was as insurance against another late-season collapse for Reitsma, who had a 7.71 ERA after September 1 last season. Farnsworth sat out most of last week after dropping his appeal of the five-game suspension he earned by body-slamming Jeremy Affeldt in July. He reportedly needed the time off to rest a sore back, but he felt fine after a bullpen session Thursday.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon,
Skinny: The Arizona Republic speculates that Lyon will get a chance to close again once he gets a few games under his belt. Seems fair enough given that Lyon successfully converted his last 12 chances before landing on the DL. Still, making the move would require demoting one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Valverde threw a scoreless inning Sunday and has yet to allow a hit in five August games. His ERA since June 1 is 1.56 and he has 43 strikeouts in his past 34.2 innings. Lyon was activated Saturday, so we'll know soon enough.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS RED HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre, Armando Benitez
Skinny: Walker has steadied the ship, just in time to face a challenge from returning closer Armando Benitez. According to MLB.com, Benitez will be activated and should see action in the Cincinnati series that begins Monday. He pitched two scoreless innings with Class-A San Jose and will forgo a trip to Fresno to join the Giants. Don't expect to see him closing games until September, but you can bet that the chair is his once he proves he has fully recovered from his hamstring injury. Walker has made good on his past six chances, allowing a single run on four hits in those games.

CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Kent Mercker, Jason Standridge
Skinny: Standridge allowed a run Sunday, the first blemish on his record since July 6. That isn't likely to prevent manager Jerry Narron from using him in pressure situations. On Tuesday, Narron turned to Standridge in the eighth inning of a one-run game and the righty promptly retired Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to preserve the lead. While his stock is on the rise, Weathers remains Narron's top closer option. The veteran has converted seven straight chances dating back to June 24.

BOSTON RED SOX HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke
Skinny: Foulke threw without incident on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday of last week, the final session lasting 54 pitches. According to the Boston Globe, he still faces a simulated game and a rehab stint before returning to the Boston bullpen. The Red Sox aren't committing to a timetable, but it appears Foulke may be ready to go in 10-15 days. Schilling's week, unfortunately, was not without incident. He allowed four runs in non-save situations and has now served up four gopher balls in his past five appearances.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: Borowski finally has something to show for his consecutive scoreless inning streak. He earned a win Sunday while extending the shutout run to 15.1 innings. Baez followed Borowski to convert his 18th save in his past 19 tries. He remains on the Hot Seat only because Tampa Bay has another serviceable option.

CHICAGO CUBS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Kerry Wood
Skinny: Wood a closer? Not likely. While the Cubs have announced that Wood will not return to the rotation in 2005, they also made it clear that their ace will undergo season-ending surgery once the club is eliminated from postseason contention. Given those circumstances, further disrupting the pitching staff makes little sense. Dempster has been shaky, though. He allowed an unearned run Sunday, meaning a run has scored on his watch in four of five appearances this month.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Bobby Jenks
Skinny: Jenks got a taste of late-inning drama Friday and the results were not favorable. Inserted into a one-run game with a runner on in the eighth inning, Jenks walked Edgar Renteria, and then served up a gopher ball to David Ortiz. He did rebound to strike out Manny Ramirez, but the damage was done. Don't expect a closer change unless Hermanson's back acts up again.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

LOS ANGELES DODGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Steve Schmoll
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: Brad Penny went wire-to-wire Sunday, accentuating the fact that manager Jim Tracy doesn't have a lot of reliable options in the bullpen. Though he had no obvious alternatives to turn to, Tracy had no choice but to demote Yhency Brazoban last week. The team's original replacement for Eric Gagne has an 11.77 ERA and five losses since July 1. At this point, it's pretty much a coin-toss between Schmoll, who allowed five runs Wednesday, and Sanchez, who has battled control problems all season. Of course there's always the complete game option, too.

DETROIT TIGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Chris Dingman, Franklyn German
Skinny: Journeyman Chris Dingman is manager Alan Trammell's new setup man, the Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday. Since joining the Detroit bullpen in July, the 31-year-old righty has held opponents to a .135 batting average while striking out 14 and walking only three in 12 innings. Rodney needed a rest last Monday, and it was Dingman who wound up with the save in extra innings. German entered the same game with the score tied in the ninth inning, so he remains in the picture should Rodney falter.

ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
Skinny: Here we are halfway through the month of August and Atlanta closers have accounted for only one save. Reitsma is partially to blame. He allowed the David Eckstein walk-off grand slam August 7, then two singles and a run three nights later for another blown save. One of the reasons Farnsworth was acquired was as insurance against another late-season collapse for Reitsma, who had a 7.71 ERA after September 1 last season. Farnsworth sat out most of last week after dropping his appeal of the five-game suspension he earned by body-slamming Jeremy Affeldt in July. He reportedly needed the time off to rest a sore back, but he felt fine after a bullpen session Thursday.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon,
Skinny: The Arizona Republic speculates that Lyon will get a chance to close again once he gets a few games under his belt. Seems fair enough given that Lyon successfully converted his last 12 chances before landing on the DL. Still, making the move would require demoting one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Valverde threw a scoreless inning Sunday and has yet to allow a hit in five August games. His ERA since June 1 is 1.56 and he has 43 strikeouts in his past 34.2 innings. Lyon was activated Saturday, so we'll know soon enough.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS RED HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre, Armando Benitez
Skinny: Walker has steadied the ship, just in time to face a challenge from returning closer Armando Benitez. According to MLB.com, Benitez will be activated and should see action in the Cincinnati series that begins Monday. He pitched two scoreless innings with Class-A San Jose and will forgo a trip to Fresno to join the Giants. Don't expect to see him closing games until September, but you can bet that the chair is his once he proves he has fully recovered from his hamstring injury. Walker has made good on his past six chances, allowing a single run on four hits in those games.

CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Kent Mercker, Jason Standridge
Skinny: Standridge allowed a run Sunday, the first blemish on his record since July 6. That isn't likely to prevent manager Jerry Narron from using him in pressure situations. On Tuesday, Narron turned to Standridge in the eighth inning of a one-run game and the righty promptly retired Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to preserve the lead. While his stock is on the rise, Weathers remains Narron's top closer option. The veteran has converted seven straight chances dating back to June 24.

BOSTON RED SOX HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke
Skinny: Foulke threw without incident on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday of last week, the final session lasting 54 pitches. According to the Boston Globe, he still faces a simulated game and a rehab stint before returning to the Boston bullpen. The Red Sox aren't committing to a timetable, but it appears Foulke may be ready to go in 10-15 days. Schilling's week, unfortunately, was not without incident. He allowed four runs in non-save situations and has now served up four gopher balls in his past five appearances.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: Borowski finally has something to show for his consecutive scoreless inning streak. He earned a win Sunday while extending the shutout run to 15.1 innings. Baez followed Borowski to convert his 18th save in his past 19 tries. He remains on the Hot Seat only because Tampa Bay has another serviceable option.

CHICAGO CUBS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Kerry Wood
Skinny: Wood a closer? Not likely. While the Cubs have announced that Wood will not return to the rotation in 2005, they also made it clear that their ace will undergo season-ending surgery once the club is eliminated from postseason contention. Given those circumstances, further disrupting the pitching staff makes little sense. Dempster has been shaky, though. He allowed an unearned run Sunday, meaning a run has scored on his watch in four of five appearances this month.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Bobby Jenks
Skinny: Jenks got a taste of late-inning drama Friday and the results were not favorable. Inserted into a one-run game with a runner on in the eighth inning, Jenks walked Edgar Renteria, and then served up a gopher ball to David Ortiz. He did rebound to strike out Manny Ramirez, but the damage was done. Don't expect a closer change unless Hermanson's back acts up again.

As the movie "The Hunt for Red October" nears its conclusion, Jack Ryan gets a sobering warning from a Navy official. "Your sub commander is going to make it to America all right," he is told. "He's going to die within sight of it." I'm suffering through the fantasy baseball equivalent of this very dilemma. Having slowly rescued myself from a Chavez, Lowell, Nomar, Boone, etc. induced slumber, I now have first-place in sight. However, with only six weeks remaining, I fear a 12-point deficit may be too much to overcome. Not one to go down without a fight, the Skinny kept an eye on the weekend's action:

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

  • Aces Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Dontrelle Willis and Mark Buehrle all took the hill Friday. A kid named Noah Lowry out-shined all but one of them. Lowry pitched into the eighth inning, allowing only four hits and three walks while holding the Marlins scoreless. It was an impressive encore for the 24-year-old lefty, who surrendered only one hit in seven innings his last time out – a cooling off of the red-hot Astros. It's been quite a rebound for Lowry, who saw his season bottom-out on May 17 when he was battered around Coors Field. By the time the dust had settled that day, his record stood at 1-5 with an ERA ballooned to 6.45.

San Francisco hasn't provided much to get excited about since, but Lowry is a guy fantasy owners can embrace. He has a 7-6 record since that start against the Rockies. He has 53 strikeouts in his past 52 innings. His WHIP since July 1 is 1.08. Nothing wrong with any of those numbers, even if his value is dragged down a bit since his team struggles as a whole. You may remember that Lowry was 6-0 with two complete games after August 1 a year ago. If his first two August starts this year are any indication, now might be the right time to buy low in advance of another strong fall finish for Noah.

  • Corey Hart is the type of athlete you generally wind up with when utilizing the create-a-player feature in your typical X-Box video game. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 200 pounds, just the kind of dimensions you might dial up if the sky's the limit. He has a powerful stroke that generated 29 doubles, nine triples and 17 homers at the Triple-A level this season. Just when you think you've got the perfect player, you say what the heck, let's give him some speed. That's right – despite his size, Hart stole 31 bases in 38 tries this season. Too good to be true? Nope. Hart is the real-deal, and he reached the big leagues Sunday when he was called up by Milwaukee.

Hart is only up to spell injured center fielder Brady Clark (ribs), but so far he's making the most of his visit. He hit a three-run homer Sunday for his first major league hit. The powerful 23-year-old, who has been compared to Richie Sexson, was also robbed of a base knock in the fourth inning. Fantasy owners should add this prospect to their watch lists. There's a good chance he'll be ticketed back to the minors when Clark returns, but until then he has a shot at auditioning for a larger role come September when rosters expand. He fits into the Brewers' future plans along with Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and pitching prospect Jose Capellan.

  • Attention fantasy owners: Ryan Howard can hit. As of press time Monday morning, Howard remained available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. This after a week that brought two more homers, including a grand slam, along with news that Jim Thome would undergo season-ending surgery. In a what-are-you-waiting-for gesture, Howard went out and drove in three runs with four hits over the weekend. Still, only a few takers have emerged. With all due respect to Dan Johnson and Tony Clark, Howard is the most valuable free agent out there at his position.

Howard has six homers, 19 RBIs and a .308 average in 24 home games this season. Now would be a good time to enlist his services, as the Phillies begin a seven-game homestead Monday against the Nationals. If he holds to form, that availability percentage will shrink by the day. Remember, this is a guy who has 24 homers and 74 RBIs between Triple-A and the majors this year. He hit 48 bombs at three levels a year ago.

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

  • Brad Eldred, 1B, Pit
    Eldred has a history of struggling early-on at every level he reaches. Things were no different after his most recent promotion. Though he joined the Pirates after homering 10 times in a 10-game span at Triple-A Indianapolis, he promptly hit .174 without an extra-base hit in his first seven games. Then things began to click. He had three doubles on August 3, touching off a streak that has seen him homer three times with 11 RBIs in a 10-game span. He's known as "Big Country" and his game fits the name. He can't run and he'll strike out a lot. He'll also swing hard and when he connects good things happen, like when he blasted a 428-foot, opposite-field homer Thursday.

  • Jae Seo, SP, NYM
    Seo's 4.29 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk was far from awe-inspiring, but one number that does stand out is his 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Seo brought that formula for success with him after his latest promotion, and after two solid starts the Mets might have to reconsider how they'll handle Steve Trachsel's return to the rotation. Check out these numbers from Seo's last two starts: 2-0, 0.59 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 10 strikeout, two walks.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Ryan Shealy, 1B, Col (ETA – Sept. 1)
    This should be a familiar name, as Shealy is fresh off a stint filling in for Todd Helton at the big league level. Helton returned, however, which meant a bus ticket back to Colorado Springs for Shealy. If he's bummed about it, he's not showing it. Shealy homered Sunday, his 21st at the Triple-A level to go along with 72 RBIs and a .334 average. He will most certainly be back when rosters expand, but it will take another injury to Helton for him to match his production from early August.

  • Anthony Reyes, SP, StL (ETA – Sept.1)
    St. Louis' top prospect according to Baseball America, Reyes made his big league debut Tuesday and drew rave reviews. The 23-year-old needed only 76 pitches to cruise through six-plus innings in a win at Milwaukee. Though he was immediately optioned back to Triple-A, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that he's been promised a September call-up. Reyes, who owns an above-average fastball to complement a sharp slider, struck out five in his debut.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Juan Dominguez, SP, Tex – Though he allowed two homers and five earned runs Saturday in his first start of the season, Dominguez impressed Texas enough to earn a spot in the rotation. He struck out 10 Yankee batters and retired 13 of 14 at one point.

Claudio Vargas, SP, Ari – Last week's Bargain Bin pick was strong again Thursday. He pitched seven scoreless innings to improve to 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his past four starts. Also noteworthy: teammate Tony Clark is on another power binge.

Joey Gathright, CF, TB – With a pair of multi-hit games, Gathright raised his August batting average to .364. He's also 5-for-6 stealing bases this month.

Scott Kazmir, SP, TB – A solid need-based add, Kazmir struck out seven on Sunday and now has six or more Ks in five of his past six starts. Since mid-June he is 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA.

Alex Rios, RF, Tor – Finally displaying the type of power teams expect from a corner-outfielder, Rios finished the week with three homers, two stolen bases and a .414 average.

Ryan Doumit, C, Pit – Doumit homered Sunday to improve to .522 with a homer and nine RBIs in eight August games. Upsides: catcher-eligible and owner of a smooth stroke that allowed him to hit .345 in the minors this year.

Tony Graffanino, 2B, Bos – Since joining the Red Sox, Graffanino has hit safely in 15 of 17 games. He's hitting .417 in August with 12 runs scored and nine driven home in nine games.

Willie Bloomquist, 2B, Sea – A stolen base Sunday gave Bloomquist five thefts in his past 11 games. He also has five multi-hit games in that span.

So Taguchi, RF, StL – A similar need-based add, Taguchi stole three bases in a four-game span recently. He also happens to be hitting .422 with 10 RBIs in August.

Victor Diaz, RF, NYM – The unfortunate injury to Mike Cameron created an opportunity for Diaz to return to the Mets. He homered twice Friday, drove in a run Saturday and scored New York's lone run Sunday. He hit .300 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 42 games with Triple-A Norfolk.

Khalil Greene, SS, SD – Greene broke a toe Sunday and will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks.

Ryan Freel, OF/2B, Cin – Freel was held out of the Cincinnati lineup twice over the weekend. He is just 8-for-40 in August and he has yet to attempt a steal after swiping eight bases in each of the previous three months.

Brandon Inge, C, Det – Everybody's fantasy darling through May, Inge is batting just .194 since July 1. Teammate Eric Shelton is also beginning to struggle.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Carlos Silva, Jae Seo and Horacio Ramirez headline the list of starting pitchers who have caught the attention of the assembled experts. Guru tops the 100-move plateau on the season amid rumors that Yahoo! will bolster fourth-quarter earnings by initiating a $1 transaction fee for football.

What to Read Next