Small Market Mania

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As a child, August meant the last few days of summer. Every moment of freedom away from the classroom was a moment you needed to make the most of. It was the month you returned from overnight camp: a bit tired, a bit wiser, definitely a bit dirtier. Hell, when you're a young kid you understand so little about hygiene, you're willing to forgo showers, because of the gross stuff you might get on your feet -- yet you're in a shower. It's an odd twist of irony -- kids could track in enough mud and dirt to make the showers an intolerable place to get clean in. And I swear I ate peanut butter and jelly more often than should be allowed, because the meals at camp tasted as bad as they looked. When I returned from camp that first year, I spiked a 104 degree fever. Welcome home.

Yes, August. The month where everything begins to turn; (mostly my stomach from eating way too many hot dogs and burgers. Mark my word, the next millionaire is the person who learns how to combine the barbecue grill and something healthy, like a salad). But, all signs point to the preparation for autumn. And the same can be said for baseball. Can Josh Hamilton become the first American League Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967? Will Brandon Webb take home the National League's Cy Young award? More important, for the small market clubs they represent, will they stay in the race after the July 31 trade deadline? Tampa Bay, Texas, Arizona, Florida and Minnesota are making runs at it. Oakland is fading, but don't underestimate that organization's ability to make things exciting.

As the moves go down, lineups will change and new players will emerge. Dealing with these issues will be important toward helping you win your league. So let's get you updated.

Week: 4-2 Last 10: 2-8 Overall: 53-51, 3rd AL West

Brooks Conrad, who was the leading home run hitter for Triple-A Sacramento (he had 21) was promoted this week, as Mark Ellis is dealing with a sore right shoulder. The 28-year-old switch-hitter recorded his first two hits Saturday in a loss to the Rangers. Although Conrad wasn't overwhelming them in the minors with his .242 average, he replaced Donnie Murphy, who was struggling just to reach the Mendoza line.

Eric Patterson, obtained as part of the deal that sent Rich Harden to Chicago, now represents the leadoff man the A's coveted. During his short stay in Sacramento, Patterson hit for a .349AVG, a .414 OBP, with five stolen bases and 12 RBIs in 14 games. In an earlier stint with the Cubs, Patterson swatted a paltry .237 with two swipes. Matt Murton will move down to Sacramento in order to get consistent at-bats and work out his hitting woes. Meanwhile, Patterson, normally an infielder, is expected to transition to the outfield. One has to wonder if Bob Geren didn't request him as he's not the typical prospect someone like Billy Beane would go for, considering Patterson's batting eye (BB/K) is a brutal 0.29 and his contact rate for the minors was a pathetic 0.77. With the A's near the bottom in scoring, Beane's system will no doubt attempt to discipline Patterson's wild eye while utilizing his speed more for defense. Fantasy-wise, monitor him, but it's not worth adding him until the kid learns to take a walk and his role becomes more defined. He could add some steals if they actually give him the green light.

Jack Cust hit his 19th HR of the season, but sans his long ball contributions, Cust is a general drag on most fantasy rosters (including mine) by leading the league in walks and strikeouts. Unless of course, OBP is one of your categories, in which case you start doing some sort of dance, because a .371 OBP from a cleanup hitter is nothing to sneeze at.

UPCOMING SERIES: KAN (7/28-7/31), @BOS (8/1-8/3)

Week: 5-1 Last 10: 6-4 Overall: 53-51, 1st NL WEST

So the Rauch does lie down with the Lyon. Puns like that won't win me any humor contests, but it's true that Brandon Lyon has company, and his last two outings have made it necessary: 1 2/3 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 43.21 ERA, 5.40 WHIP and one blown save. Obviously, the fact that Lyon has blown two recent saves (five total), along with Arizona holding on to the N.L. West lead as tenuously as Indiana Jones hanging onto a collapsing bridge, made bullpen help a must. While Jon Rauch will cut into save opportunities for Lyon, those of us who thought JuanCruz, Tony Pena or Chad Qualls would get occasional shots, will likely have to give up that ghost. Because Lyon can't overpower hitters (28 K in nearly 40 IP), Rauch is my favorite to take over as the closer at some point. I've supported Lyon all year long for the same reason most players have; he had manager Bob Melvin's support. But it doesn't take much in a pennant race for a coach to re-think key choices. At present, Rauch is the eighth inning setup man.

Jamie D'Antona was called up from Tucson with word that Justin Upton's oblique will keep him sidelined for possibly another two weeks. Though he was playing 3B in Triple-A, he's listed as a 1B right now for fantasy. There's no need to move on him now, as Arizona has depth in their infield, and D'Antona's opportunities will be limited.

As for Upton's oblique, it is not getting better, and I am going to be so bold as to say it would not be shocking if this sidelines him for the rest of the season. Upton definitely has had a year of inconsistency, not atypical for such a young rookie, although he appeared to be turning a corner when the injury hit. Oblique injuries tend to be nagging, because they are stressed by every swing of the bat (remember 2007 Manny Ramirez). Upton is too young to take any chances of doing further damage. Since he's only 20, expect Melvin to give him as much time as necessary, especially since they are still winning without him. Even if he doesn't play another inning, his keeper potential is high.

UPCOMING SERIES: @SDG (7/28-7/30), @LAD (7/31-8/3)

Week: 3-4 Last 10: Overall: 55-50, 3rd NL East

If you're Fredi Gonzalez, when the Cubs appear on your schedule, you don't need to shudder. In fact, it's possible you smile, circle the date, and put a big "W" in the spot with confidence. Over the past two seasons, the Marlins are now 8-2 against the Cubbies, who, when healthy, may be the best team in baseball ... on paper.

Sunday brought out Rick VandenHurk, in his second stiff test since returning from the minors. VandenHurk replaces Andrew Miller, who is still ailing with a knee problem. During his time in the minors, VandenHurk worked on controlling his best pitch -- his slider. In his first outing back, VandenHurk pitched five hitless innings and won a 4-0 decision over the Braves. While the Braves aren't a bad team, they appear to be sliding (9-11 in July). The Cubs didn't treat him quite so nicely, pounding him for 8 H and 5 ER in 3 2/3 IP. Maybe the slider still needs a little work.

If you're a Marlins fan, you should be watching Brian Fuentes very carefully. According to ESPN radio, the Marlins are pushing as hard as anyone to add Fuentes and bolster their bullpen. For fantasy owners, this news is probably as good as it can get, other than Fuentes being dealt to the Cardinals. Though Kevin Gregg has sufficed as a closer this year, his 28 walks in 49 innings won't make August exactly a stomach settler to management. Thus, while Fuentes' arrival could be as a lefty specialist, there's also a good chance he would see some save opportunities.

Lastly, Josh Johnson appears to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery: 17 IP, 20 H, 7 ER, 6 BB, 18 K. While his control isn't top notch, the good news is he'll only get better. He'll also benefit from the fact that he doesn't have to pitch a full season. Stamina shouldn't be much of a concern. He's going to get you three categories: ERA, strikeouts and most likely wins.

UPCOMING SERIES: NYM (7/28-7/30), COL (7/30-8/3)

Week: 0-6 Last 10: 2-8 Overall: 38-67, 5th NL East

Goodbye Jon Rauch. Hello, Joel Hanrahan? Hanrahan appears to be the man nominated for closer duty. He's struck out 67 in just 60 innings and holds a 5-3 record. He's got an average G/F ratio of just over 1.0 with a Dominance Ratio of nearly 10.0. Those aren't bad closer numbers, and he would definitely worthy of a pickup in all formats ... except that the Nationals aren't providing save opportunities by the dozen. In fact, the last converted save opportunity was handled by Steven Shell back on July 12. Rauch had garnered his 17th save on July 1. That's an average of more than 10 days between opportunities. Assuming the Nationals get healthy (as they are starting to), you might get 8-10 more saves possibilities.

Don't expect Lastings Milledge to return to the top spot in the batting order. According to the Washington Post, the Nationals believe that Milledge is developing into a middle of the order guy. With Wily Mo Pena out for the rest of year, expect Milledge to be asked to provide more power, keeping the hot-hitting Willie Harris in the leadoff position. Harris has been on a tear, posting a .293 June, followed by a .339 July. However, even with his .441 OBP in July, he's only stolen one base. If Harris, doesn't pick it up, he's not going to have any fantasy value, as he's traditionally a .250 hitter.

Ryan Zimmerman's return is another moment of revelry for Manny Acta. He's a good guy to have for the second half of the season as this is when he usually heats up. He also has decent lineup protection behind him in Austin Kearns. Paul LoDuca is now playing first base in an effort to keep him healthy. This means almost nothing for fantasy owners unless you've acquired all your power in the outfield and at the hot corner. He just doesn't have the pop or skills to make him desireable at that position.

The Nationals picked up 23-year-old Emilio Bonifacio in the deal with Arizona. Bonifacio struggled at the major league level this year, going 2-for-12. But in Triple-A, he showed his potential to the tune of a .302 BA, with 18 2B, five 3B, and 17 SB in 85 games. No doubt he'll be called up when the rosters expand in September, if not earlier. The team has gone as far as announcing him their starter in '09. That means Felipe Lopez owners need to monitor where Lopez ends up, because it won't be with the Nationals after July 31, if they have their way. And Bonifacio becomes someone to examine for keeper potential, considering his blazing speed once he actually makes it to first base.

UPCOMING SERIES: PHI (7/29-7/31), CIN (8/1-8/3)

Week: 2-5 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 49-55, 5th AL East

George Sherrill notched his 30th save of the year, matching the total of the entire '07 Orioles team. However, don't expect that he'll be moved so easily before the trading deadline. ESPN radio reports that no one has yet matched GM Andy McPhail's asking price. Part of the problem is that many of the league's GMs don't envision Sherrill as a closer. So, fantasy owners, pray that Sherrill stays right where he is. Although Sherrill is 30, he's under Baltimore's control for three more years, so there's no rush upstairs to push him out the door without the right offer.

More pitcher news as the Radhames Liz experiment is over. He was 4-3 with a 7.47 ERA, which wasn't good enough to keep the Orioles from calling up Jamie Walker. The news from Adam Loewen this week was sad. The once hot pitching prospect has such bad shoulder problems that his pitching career may be over. If Loewen is to make it back, he'll be "twisting his Ankiel," a phrase I'm coining in all my lackluster originality to describe a pitcher turned hitter.

Word from the Baltimore Sun is that the Orioles could be much busier in August, considering a lot of their one-year contract tenders would clear waivers. Thus, guys like Jay Payton, Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff and Kevin Miller are post non-waiver trade deadline fodder. Most are working under one-year deals and will be gone after the season. With the Orioles having fallen to 12 games out of the race and six games under .500, McPhail has the opportunity to further bolster his pitching staff and find a shortstop for next season, but it will probably occur after July 31.

UPCOMING SERIES: @NYY (7/28-7/30), @SEA (8/1-8/3)

Week: 4-3 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 48-57, 6th NL Central

The Pirates were thought to be pushing hard to get something for Xavier Nady. Whether they did remains to be seen (and only a blind man seems to think it was a great deal, Pirates' fans), and the loss of Nady and Damaso Marte caused ripples throughout. Jason Michaels is the immediate benefactor, though my feeling is he won't stay in the starting lineup long. Opportunity will likely be given to Steven Pearce (.258/.310/.425), who was in the lineup Saturday night. Pearce has struggled this year at Triple-A Indianapolis, with just 11 home runs in 93 games. He was a surprise last year, when he was called up in September and batted .294 with 5 doubles, 13 runs and 6 RBIs in just 23 games.

Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen could also make appearances soon. Walker is hitting .275 with 14 home runs, 22 doubles and 62 RBIs in 98 games with Indianapolis. McCutchen is slapping at a .276 clip with nine home runs and 26 stolen bases.

John Grabow and Tyler Yates will likely share closing duties, with Grabow the leading candidate even though he's a southpaw. Both are roster adds for NL-only as Matt Capps probably won't see action again until September, if at all. John Van Benschoten was demoted Sunday for starter Jeff Davis, who posted a record of 2-0 and 1.95 ERA in his last four outings down in the minors.

If you're looking for a guy to boost your staggeringly low average over the last few months, FreddySanchez is the guy. Though he's had an alarmingly off year, he's dialed in now, and this kid is one of the purest hitters I've ever seen. He's hitting .580 in the last seven games, and in six of them he's had two or more hits. Last year's post All-Star .313 BA, with 22 2Bs and nine HR also tells you that while he's not a power hitter, when he's hitting well, he can go yard. He's a run and average producer for your team. Take note however; he left Sunday's game with back spasms.

SERIES: COL (7/28-7/30), @CHC (8/1-8/3)

Week: 3-3 Last 10: 5-5 Overall: 54-51, 2nd AL West

Eric Hurley was back on Sunday and will take a spot in the rotation opened up by a Kevin Millwood groin pull. However, Hurley was no answer for the Ranger's pitching woes, lasting only two innings and giving up six runs. He's not a solution for your team either.

The Star-Telegram reports that Brandon McCarthy will have to make two 90-pitch starts before he'll be eligible for a major league start again. McCarthy, recovering from inflammation in his pitching arm, was 5-10 in 12 games (10 starts) with a 4.87 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. His 4.24 control rate (BB/9) is high, and command ratio (K/BB) a lackluster 1.23. Unlike Rolaids, McCarthy doesn't spell relief for a Rangers team who won't win their division unless they acquire another strong starter. Aha, a Rolaids joke, somebody stop me ... please. Seriously.

Joaquin Benoit pitched in Triple-A and retired none of the five batters he faced. He's not likely to be rushed back, even with the $2 million dollar investment. Gerald Laird also returned Sunday, which could very well be an audition for a last minute trade. In the interim, Max Ramirez will be demoted to the minors.

Just how ridiculous has Josh Hamilton been? Not only is he batting over .300, with 24 home runs and seven stolen bases, but he is far and away the majors' RBI leader with 103. We're not even in August yet and the closest AL batter to Hamilton's RBI lead is Carlos Quentin with 78. The closest NL hitter is Ryan Howard with 92. He's a legitimate Triple Crown threat for years to come.

Lastly, one of the prospects garnering attention is one of Laird's Triple-A teammates, Nelson Cruz. At 28, Cruz has been in the majors before, except that this year he's second in all of Triple-A with 37 home runs. Considering the offense the Rangers have, and the dearth of pitching, he's a great sell high prospect for this team. The question is, will the Rangers pull the trigger?

UPCOMING SERIES: SEA (7/28-7/31), TOR (8/1-8/3)

Week: 4-3 Last 10: 6-4 Overall: 61-43, 1st AL East

The Rocco Baldelli watch continues for the Rays, who would love to have his bat back in their lineup. Baldelli went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer in Friday's game. He followed it up with a 2-for-3 day Saturday with another home run and was set to play five innings in the field. Baldelli is an investment the Rays want their return on, so keep an eye on him. If he continues to manage his illness and hit well, he'll be brought up sooner rather than later.

The Rays are rumored to be looking for another bat in their lineup as, for some reason, multiple players have hit slumps. B.J. Upton's batting average has dropped 10 points overall after hitting .203 in July. He hasn't hit a home run since June 30. While I was very dubious of both Upton's high rankings early in the year, certainly few expected this kind of low output in power numbers. Clearly the Rays want to upgrade their DH, as Jonny Gomes is hitting just .197 with eight HR. Willy Aybar has also hit the doldrums, batting .143 for the month of July. The Orioles would be a prime trading partner except they're in the same division.

Troy Percival got another save, but yielded another run in his last outing. He still got the save, and sadly I imagine that because of Percival's experience and the amount of respect he commands in the league, he'll remain the closer at the expense of Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler.

UPCOMING SERIES: @TOR (7/28-7/30), DET (8/1-8/3)

Week: 5-1 Last 10: 9-1 Overall: 48-58

It's no secret that the Rockies' starting pitching hasn't helped their cause this year. Perhaps that's why they're shopping for an affordable arm, even if that arm has a HR/9 ratio of over 1.5. Rumor has it that Colorado has been sniffing around the Reds' organization to see if they can bring in Bronson Arroyo. Part of the reason is that Greg Reynolds has an impingement in his shoulder and is stuck in Triple-A. The Denver Post has also reported that the Rockies aren't ready to call it a day in terms of giving up the West: Five straight wins and nine of their last ten have the Rockies six back in an unpredictably poor division. Management doesn't yet see the Rockies out of the race. It's odd that they see Arroyo as a solution though.

In addition, the Rockies aren't willing to part with Brian Fuentes if the price isn't right. The Denver Post reported Friday that General Manager Dan O'Dowd wants a top flight prospect for Fuentes, as well as a secondary player. If they can't get that, they'll take the two compensation picks when Fuentes signs with another team.

One man who is ratcheting up the consistency is Ubaldo Jimenez. For July, he's 4-1, with a 2.04 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. His fastball is hitting 100 M.P.H., and he's had quality starts in each of his last five outings, including a complete game on Wednesday against the Dodgers. If you can get him, this 24-year-old is one of the few on this staff you can believe in.

UPCOMING SERIES: @PIT (7/28-7/30), @FLA (7/31-8/3)

Week: 2-5 Last 10: 4-6Overall: 47-59, 5th AL Central

Jose Guillen reported a "snap" in his groin which could signify time on the DL. With Mark Teahen also hurting, Mitch Maier is likely to see a lot more playing time alongside David DeJesus and Esteban German. Guillen claims to have hurt his groin while coming out of the box in the fifth inning. However, Guillen's hot bat has been cold, as after homering six times in 91 at-bats, Guillen hasn't homered since June 23, another span of 91 at-bats. Perhaps the groin has been hurting longer, as Guillen was quoted as saying that he worries a lot about whether the fans would cut him any slack if he took time off.

It's not a great time for Guillen to be in ill health as rumors have floated that the Royals are interested in Jeff Francoeur, and it's likely that Guillen or Teahen would be discussed, with perhaps a pitcher in tow.

Since the All-Star break, Billy Butler has gone 9-for-32 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Whatever adjustments have been made to his swing, they seem to be bona fide. More importantly, six of those hits have come against right-handed pitching, which Butler had mostly struggled against. For the year, the disparity between left-handers and right-handers for him has been 70 average points (.233/.306). Butler may be coming on, and he's first base eligible too, so he might be worth a flier in your AL-only league.

UPCOMING SERIES: @OAK (7/28-7/30), CHW (8/1-8/3)

Week: 2-4 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 57-47, 2nd AL Central

With such a poor offensive team in terms of power numbers -- second to last in HRs and middle of the pack for SLG and OPS -- how is it these Twins are in the race? Well, perhaps a league-leading .310 average with RISP explains a lot of it. That doesn't bode well for a pennant run, as the law of averages will probably catch up.

Francisco Liriano is expected to be promoted from Triple-A Rochester soon. Prior to his last start Sunday, he was 5-0, with a 0.29 ERA with 40 strikeouts versus five walks, making everyone wonder why the Twins -- team ERA ranked 16th, starters 22nd -- haven't moved on him yet. Livan Hernandez has a 1.60 WHIP, but because he's an "innings eater," there's a better chance he'll continue to start, whereas Kevin Slowey might find himself in long relief.

Youth is a good thing, as one day after crashing into a wall and getting carted off, Carlos Gomez reported that he was doing much better. His status is day-to-day. Ron Gardenhire is hoping Michael Cuddyer will begin a rehabilitation stint soon for his injured thumb, but no timetable was set for his return.

UPCOMING SERIES: CHW (7/28-7/31), CLE (8/1-8/3)