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July 12, 2006

Fantasy Focus

RotoWire Barometer, 7/12/06

by Gus Papadopoulos

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The Week Ahead

  • On Wednesday, ESPN2 airs the Triple-A All-Star game, which is required viewing since absolutely nothing else is going on that night.
  • Once play resumes on Thursday, we've got two huge series in the AL. The A's will visit Boston for four games, while the White Sox head into the Bronx for three with the Yanks.
  • In the senior circuit, the Mets-Cubs series will get lots of exposure. There are two more important clashes, however; the Dodgers head into St. Louis while the Rockies and Reds square off in Cincy, with first place at stake in both the NL West and Central.
  • Remember in the eighties, when you got cable just to see the good NL teams when they played the Braves? We're back to those days, it seems; the underexposed but contending Padres host Atlanta this weekend, with the Friday and Saturday games on TBS.
  • Heads up going into next week: after the White Sox finish in New York, they head to Detroit for a three-game set starting on Tuesday.

Please check our projected starters grid for the latest info on post-break pitching matchups as teams reset their rotations.

Note: all statistics below are through Sunday, July 9, unless otherwise noted.

Rising - AL

Jered Weaver (LA) - In the rotation to stay after the Angels cut brother Jeff loose, and he responded with two wins last week against the M's and A's to take his record to 6-0, 1.12 in six starts.

John Lackey (LA) - Not to be outdone, Lackey pitched a perfect game Friday against the A's, only it won't go down in the books as such because he gave up a leadoff double before retiring 27 straight. Still, he's been hot of late as well, going 3-1, 0.96 in his last five starts, with 34 Ks in 37.2 innings. As a matter of fact, if you throw out his stinker against Seattle on June 10 (eight runs, nine hits in four-plus), Lackey's gone 7-3, 2.07 in 16 starts since April 10.

Juan Rivera (LA) - He's started in each of Los Angeles' last 14 games, hitting .340 (17-for-50) over that stretch; not only that, he had five homers last week on the Seattle-Oakland road trip.

David Ortiz (BOS) - Just your typical 9-for-30 (.300), five-homer, 12 RBI week from the MLB leader in home runs and RBI.

Jon Lester (BOS) - He's gone 4-0, 3.06 in his first six starts for the Sox. If Matt Clement (arm) can't come back, Lester could be Boston's fourth starter in the playoffs, and they'd be all right with that.

Dioner Navarro (TB) - Takes over the everyday catching duties in Tampa Bay after coming over in trade from the Dodgers.

Jae Seo (TB) - Seo also came over in the Navarro deal, and the Rays put him right into the rotation; 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in his first 16 innings for the Rays. Meanwhile, Mark Hendrickson's stats after his first two starts for the Dodgers; 10 runs (six earned), 19 baserunners in 11 innings with just five strikeouts. Not quite Kazmir-for-Zambrano II, but hang on, it's early yet.

Shin-Soo Choo (SEA) - He'll get more playing time in the wake of Jeremy Reed's broken thumb, taking over the non-Willie Bloomquist part of the M's center field platoon. Needs to hit, though; just 1-for-11 in four starts last week.

Aaron Guiel (NY) - Picked up off waivers from the Royals, and he'll get at-bats against righties in right field. So, how is Gary Sheffield's wrist feeling again?

Shaun Marcum (TOR) - He'll move into Toronto's rotation after the break, replacing Ty Taubenheim.

Ross Gload (CHI) - His limited playing time means he's only a factor in deeper AL-only leagues, but still, he's hot: hitting .378 (14-for-37) since May 29.

John Buck (KC) - He'll get most of the at-bats behind the plate for a while with Paul Bako (oblique) on the DL.

Pat Neshek (MIN) - The Twins called up their Triple-A closer last week, and he made his MLB debut on Friday (two scoreless innings, one hit). He certainly won't see high-leverage situations at first, but he's worth a shot in keeper and deeper leagues (1.95 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in 60 innings at Rochester).

Jason Tyner (MIN) - The Twins are expected to call him up from the minors after the break, and he may get semi-regular playing time after the release of Ruben Sierra.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan) - Came off the DL (groin) on Saturday and pitched a gem; two runs (both on solo homers), four hits, one walk, 11 strikeouts in 10 innings. With the win, Matsuzaka now goes to 10-2, 2.03 on the year, with an 0.92 WHIP and a 114-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 102 innings, leading the Pacific League in wins, ERA and strikeouts. If his Japanese club follows through on their plan to offer Matsuzaka to MLB teams this winter via the posting system, the World Baseball Classic MVP is going to become a very rich man in the offseason free agent market. Figure the Yankees and Mariners to be the two most interested bidders. (Imagine a Seattle rotation with both Matsuzaka and Felix Hernandez in a best-of-five first-round playoff series in 2007; who'd want to face them?)

Check Status - AL

Johnny Damon (NY) - He's seen limited duty since Wednesday (pulled stomach muscle), going just 1-for-4 over New York's last five games. The Yanks hope the break gives Damon the rest he needs to get back into action against the White Sox this weekend.

Curt Schilling (BOS) - Had to leave Sunday's game after taking a Jim Thome liner off his elbow in the sixth; he got the next two batters to end the inning, but the elbow swelled up so much he couldn't go out for the seventh. X-rays came back negative, however, and he appears probable for his next scheduled start over the weekend against the A's.

Wily Mo Pena (BOS) - Could come off the DL (wrist) sometime during the weekend series against Oakland.

Milton Bradley (OAK) - Could come off the DL (shoulder) sometime during the weekend series at Boston.

Eric Chavez (OAK) - Playing in pain (forearm tendinitis), and it shows (just 5-for-40, all singles, since June 23); he might have to go on the DL.

Alexis Rios (TOR) - On the DL (staph infection, leg); he still can't walk on his own, and there is no timetable yet for his return.

Kevin Millwood (TEX) - Skipped his scheduled start against the Twins before the break (biceps strain), but expected to return sometime this weekend against Baltimore.

Andy Marte (CLE) - He's hitting .271/.333/.464 at Triple-A Buffalo, and Aaron Boone is stinking it up in Cleveland. No reason why the non-contending Indians shouldn't call up Marte at this point.

Franklin Gutierrez, Casey Blake (CLE) - Blake (oblique) is expected back off the DL after the break, but he won't be returning to right field full time. Instead, Blake will split time at first base as well as right, with Gutierrez (hitting .350, 14-for-40 in his last 12 games, with four homers in his last three starts) remaining in the lineup in right on at least a part-time basis.

Zack Greinke (KC) - Just an FYI in case you're monitoring his comeback--Greinke had to leave his rehab start at Double-A after six innings on Saturday due to tightness in his right shoulder.

Mark Grudzielanek (KC) - Left Saturday's game (tightness, lower back); day-to-day.

Falling - AL

Kenny Rogers (DET) - Last nine starts: a 4.82 ERA and 11 home runs in 56 innings against just 34 strikeouts, despite a 4-1 won-loss mark over that span. His 7-2 start means he'll be over-valued all year, but looking at current trends, we recommend selling, not buying. On an AL All-Star team with Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir and Francisco Liriano (finally) on the roster, Rogers was a most un-deserving choice as the starting pitcher.

Rich Harden (OAK) - Suffered a setback last week (elbow); the A's have shut him down for a while, and surgery (likely season-ending) is still very possible.

Mark Kotsay (OAK) - In a major slump since coming off the DL (back), hitting just .151 (11-for-73, no homers) in his last 18 games.

Troy Glaus (TOR) - Maybe the occasional shortstop thing ain't the best idea; hitting just .174 (16-for-92) with a .592 OPS in his last 25 games, and finished last in the Home Run Derby to boot.

Jeremy Reed (SEA) - On the DL (broken thumb); he's eligible to return in September, but even if Reed's rehab stays on schedule, he may not be brought back if the M's have fallen out of the race by Labor Day.

Jason Varitek (BOS) - Is the Captain wearing down? Hitting just .115 (6-for-52) since June 21.

Shawn Chacon (NY) - Awful of late (0-2, 13.24 over his last five starts); he's pitched his way out of the rotation, and evidently he's ticking off enough people to make the pitching-poor Yanks think about cutting him loose.

Tyler Walker (TB) - Out for the year (elbow, Tommy John surgery), and likely won't be in a high-leverage role when he returns midway through the 2007 season.

Daniel Cabrera (BAL) - Still not flying high: 0-4, 7.07 in his last five starts, with 20 walks (despite 31 strikeouts) in 28 innings.

Luis Matos (BAL) - Designated for assignment, and subsequently released. If you hit .207 with a .609 OPS, that'll happen.

Rising - NL

Takashi Saito (LA) - He'll be the Dodgers' closer the rest of the way now that Eric Gagne's out; hadn't given up a run in 15 consecutive outings until Arizona roughed him up a little on Wednesday, although he still got the save (8-for-8 on the year so far).

Moises Alou (SF) - Back from the DL (hip). He's 5-for-18 with a double and a homer in his first four games.

Eddie Guardado (CIN) - Came over in trade from Seattle, and he'll take over as the closer.

Tom Gorzelanny (PIT) - Called up last week and now in the Pirates' rotation. He's suffering from growing pains, however; 18 baserunners in just nine innings over his first two starts.

Jason Jennings (COL) - Last eight starts (four at home): 4-1, 2.19, 1.22 WHIP, 46 strikeouts in 53 innings, and a big reason the Rockies are contenders for the first time this millennium.

Dave Roberts (SD) - Back from the DL (knee); just 5-for-20 in his first five games, but 4-for-4 in steal attempts, which is why you have him on your roster.

Woody Williams (SD) - Back from the DL (calf) and looked OK in his first two starts against the Giants and Nats.

Pedro Astacio (WAS) - Finally back from the DL (forearm) and won his debut against the Marlins last week before the Padres roughed him up on Saturday.

Jeff Weaver (STL) - Landed on his feet; acquired in trade from the Angels, and he'll make his Cardinals debut on Monday against the Braves.

Jon Lieber (PHI) - Came off the DL (groin) on Friday and got a tough-luck loss against the Pirates (three runs, six baserunners in seven innings).

Mike Pelfrey (NY) - Keeper league alert: made his MLB debut on Saturday and looked OK but not great, holding the Marlins to three runs (two earned) in five innings (10 baserunners, though). Still, he'll stay in the rotation for now, getting a start against the Reds early next week.

Check Status - NL

Carlos Beltran (NY) - May have suffered a minor leg injury late in Tuesday's All-Star Game; while trying to beat out a grounder to third in the ninth, it appeared his back leg scraped first base after stretching to beat the throw. No further word at press time.

Pedro Martinez (NY) - On the DL (hip); could be activated after the weekend series against the Cubs if he's ready.

Jose Reyes (NY) - Had to leave Friday's game (cut his finger sliding head first ... into first base! Aaarrrgggghhh!) Limited to pinch-running on Saturday and Sunday, and had to pull out of the All-Star Game, but could return shortly after the break.

Mark Prior (CHI) - Suffered an oblique strain while taking BP Saturday; no word yet on whether it's minor or major.

Jeff Kent (LA) - He's missed the Dodgers' last six games (oblique strain); the team is hoping Kent can return Thursday against the Cardinals. If he can't, he'll likely go on the DL, perhaps retroactively.

Kenny Lofton (LA) - Sat out both Saturday and Sunday (tight hamstring); day-to-day.

Chipper Jones (ATL) - Trying to play with pain (sore right foot; inflammation, but no ligament tear). He's still bringing the wood (11-for-19 last week after sitting out Monday and Tuesday), so with the help of a cortisone shot (taken after Sunday's game), he'll try to play as long as he can.

John Thomson (ATL) - Left Sunday's game in the third inning (stiffness, right shoulder).

Jorge Sosa, Ken Ray (ATL) - It's still closer d'jour in Atlanta; Sosa had posted three saves in nine days for the Braves, but after blowing the save against the Reds on Thursday, Ray got the ninth-inning call on Saturday and converted.

Omar Vizquel (SF) - Left Sunday's game (tightness, left hamstring); day-to-day.

John Patterson (WAS) - Came back from the DL (forearm strain) on Sunday, but threw 31 pitches in the first inning and was unable to return for the second, so either the injury was re-aggravated or it never really healed to begin with. No further word at press time, but we'd be really surprised if he doesn't miss more time.

Mike Lieberthal (PHI) - Expected to come off the DL (hip) once the Phils come back from the break on Friday against the Giants.

Gabe Gross, Brady Clark (MIL) - Gross has forced his way into a time-share with Clark in center field of late. Gross has been hitting .333 (14-for-42) since June 17, while Clark has hit just .216 (8-for-37) over that same stretch.

Corey Koskie (MIL) - Hasn't played since Wednesday (hit his head on the ground diving for a pop fly, occasional dizziness ever since); still day-to-day.

Ryan Freel (CIN) - Left Sunday's game (unspecified shoulder injury); MRI to come.

Dave Ross (CIN) - Had to leave Friday's game (lower abdominal strain); day-to-day.

Falling - NL

Kerry Wood (CHI) - Likely out for the year (rotator cuff strain, surgery likely but not yet decided), and may well have pitched his last game in a Cubs' uniform. Someone will take a chance on him this winter, however, perhaps as a closer (maybe the Braves?)

Ryan Dempster (CHI) - Shaky of late: 15 runs (11 earned), 25 baserunners in his last 13 games (12.1 innings), good (or bad) for a 8.03 ERA and 2.03 WHIP. Amazing that he's only blown two save attempts (in seven chances) over that stretch.

Greg Maddux (CHI) - Remember when he went 5-0 in April? It hasn't been pretty since: 2-9, 6.43 over his last 13 starts.

Tom Glavine (NY) - Remember when he was 8-2 at the end of May? He's been struggling since; he's 3-0 in his last seven starts, but with a 5.31 ERA, a 1.77 WHIP, and just 19 strikeouts in 39 innings.

Steve Trachsel (NY) - He's gone 6-0 in his last six starts, reducing his ERA in that stretch from 4.67 to ... um, er, it's still at 4.67, as he allowed 20 runs (18 earned) and 62 baserunners in 34.2 innings over that stretch. Gotta love that run support.

Morgan Ensberg (HOU) - Just hasn't been right since missing some time early in June (shoulder), but still getting respect from opposing pitchers. Hitting only .158 (9-for-57) since June 15, with just three doubles and one homer ... but he's taken 24 walks in that stretch.

Todd Coffey (CIN) - Not the closer no' mo' in the land of Skyline Chili after the arrival of Eddie Guardado from Seattle.

Tim Hudson (ATL) - Last five starts: 0-4, 6.98, 1.79 WHIP, just 16 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.

Chris Reitsma (ATL) - He'll have to undergo elbow surgery (either Tommy John or ulnar nerve transposition); either way, he's out for the year.

Sal Fasano (PHI) - On the DL (knee), and now that Mike Lieberthal's coming back, he probably won't be of much fantasy use the rest of the way.

Eric Gagne (LA) - Out for the year (back surgery). And to think I took him in the third round in our RotoWire Magazine mock draft back in November (although Francisco Liriano, snagged in the 11th round, is looking pretty good).

Toby Hall (LA) - He's only started twice in 11 games since coming over from the Devil Rays; he won't see significant playing time unless Russ Martin gets hurt. That means he goes from being a solid regular in AL leagues to a speculative play at best in NL leagues.

Craig Counsell (AZ) - He had been in a deep slump (.143, 8-for-56, .476 OPS) before turning in a good weekend at Colorado (7-for-11). If that loud weekend at Coors turns out to be a fluke, Stephen Drew (hitting .285/.340/.463 at Triple-A) may get the call.

Kip Wells (PIT) - He's gone 0-4, 12.42 with a 2.04 WHIP in his first four starts since coming back from his shoulder injury (just seven strikeouts in 16.2 innings, so he's not missing many bats out there).

Jamey Wright (SF) - Last eight starts: 0-5, 6.70, 1.78 WHIP, just 21 strikeouts in 45 innings. Of those eight starts, one was at Arizona and one was at Colorado ... but three were at home, one was at San Diego, and one was at Shea. We'll see how long it takes the Giants to give Brad Hennessey another shot.

Carlos Martinez (FLA) - On the DL (elbow, Tommy John surgery), and the closer-in-waiting (11 strikeouts but 15 baserunners in 10.1 innings) will be out until late 2007, at least.

Sidney Ponson (STL) - Designated for assignment right after holding Houston to three runs, just one earned, in six innings on Thursday; don't be shocked if the Yankees decide to take a chance on him.

Quinton McCracken (CIN) - Designated for assignment. If you hit .208 with a .584 OPS, eventually, even the McCrackens of the world aren't safe.

The Disclaimer

One of the problems with writing an upgrade/downgrade column for baseball is the very nature of the sport. Nearly every player goes through assorted streaks and slumps, and trying to capitalize from those swings is a dangerous business. Fantasy players run the risk of catching the tail-end of such a swing, just in time to see the opposite take effect after you act. While we will point out such streaks in this column, please keep in mind that we are also looking for role changes, or changes in the player's base skill-sets.

Gus Papadopoulos is a RotoWire Staff Writer. He can be reached here.

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