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Small market mania


Age is a funny thing. Well, maybe not when I put my keys in the fridge and attempt to start my car with the milk, but it is a funny thing. My dad turned 70 this week. You'd never know it. He's just as spry, energetic, and funny as he has been my whole life. That same guy who coached my little league teams, taught me how to hit, and was always up for a catch, still plays some tennis, has become a champion lawn bowler (yes, he discovered this sport in Santa Barbara and it's a lot harder than you think it is -- not bocce, mind you -- lawn bowling), and is occasionally taking guitar lessons.

Sports are one of those arenas where age is a hard thing to measure. Sports media leap on guys who are 35 as hitting a waning point in their career. Of course, I'm sure when the media told Julio Franco that, his insides simply giggled. They knew he was playing another 14 years. Kenny Rogers is still going at 43. Jamie Moyer is 45. Randy Johnson is still firing away at 44, but the young Washington Nationals have seen injury strike them like an epidemic, cutting down scores of men 30 and under. Names like Zimmerman, Milledge, Dukes, Guzman and Cordero.

That's right, age is an indiscriminant arbiter, but with a 162-game season, this is the point where many guys are hurting, no matter who you are. Heck, even my fingers are wearing down from typing so much.

Week: 0-6 Last 10: 1-9 Overall: 53-57, 3rd AL West

Normally, when someone like Frank Thomas returns after a two-month absence, that would be a huge deal for a team. But the A's, who have won all of two games since the All-Star break, ran into a suddenly hot-hitting Royals team this week. Then they collided with one Jason Bay in Boston. While Thomas went 2-for-11 for the series in the DH role, Dallas Braden has been moved into the starting rotation. He came to the team with a 2.84 ERA and 0.99 WHIP for the year in the minors. His transition to the majors has not been nearly as smooth. In 14 starts last year, he posted a 7.31 ERA in 64 innings of work resulting in a 1-8 record. This year, his two starts have yielded better results as he's 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA, but he's been plagued by the long ball again. Nine home runs in 72 innings last year, and two already in 11 innings this year. He's avoidable.

Manager Bob Geren's words that he wouldn't use Huston Street exclusively in the closer's role had to make Street feel like he was hit by an anvil. For fantasy owners, rookie Brad Ziegler's entrance in the majors, already of note, takes on new meaning. Ziegler has pitched 32 straight scoreless innings to begin his career. With Geren singling out Ziegler as a possible occasional closer option, there's no reason not to jump the Ziegler train unless he derails in a hurry. Oakland's patience has run out with Dana Eveland after he failed to last six innings in any of his previous six starts. He was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento and replaced by yet another southpaw, Dan Meyer. Meyer was 10-5 in 122 innings, yielding 113 H, 61 ER, 52 BB, with 109 K. He'll likely make his first start Thursday against the Blue Jays.

UPCOMING SERIES: @TOR (8/4-8/7), @DET (8/8-8/10)

Week: 4-2 Last 10: 7-3 Overall: 57-54, 1st NL West

In my June 28 column, I posed the question of just how much longer Randy Johnson could pitch. Never mind that my bad back fantasizes about getting the same kind of therapy and injections Johnson has received. Apparently Johnson is going for the rest of this season, and maybe more if he can stay healthy. Ironically, in a close game against the Dodgers, he was pulled after six inning and 75 pitches. Maybe Bob Melvin has him on a pitch count, but I still posture that his 0-5, 6.82 ERA in June, although back-related, is a warning. He turns 45 in September and could very well be hurting again, as we move deep into August when owners are going to need him most.

Max Scherzer rumors are floating again that he'll return as a starter this time. However, for this to happen, Scherzer may have to slip Yusmeiro Petit a mickey, because Petit has been efficient as a starter. He's 1-1, yielding only eight hits and four runs in 10 innings. However, he's no Scherzer in terms of K/9, as he's got a miniscule 3.60 to show for his work. When you consider that Scherzer posted 9.58 over more innings, and that Arizona is in a tight division race, I can't see how Scherzer remains at Triple-A much longer. By the way, in Scherzer's last Triple-A outing, he pitched three innings and struck out seven.

UPCOMING SERIES: PIT (8/4-8/6), ATL (8/7-8/10)

Week: 4-3 Last 10: 6-4 Overall: 59-53, 2nd NL East

Yes, when numbers average out at your expense, it kind of sucks. Note my mixed league fantasy team, for example. All my players have cohesively taken a vacation in August. Until Sunday, Ricky Nolasco's last four starts got him two losses and two no-decisions with a 4.87 ERA. He also gave up three home runs during that stint. So yes, things have corrected a bit, raising his overall ERA to just under four. But Sunday, Nolasco spun that on its head with a 13-K effort against Colorado for his first win in nearly a month.

Meanwhile, Anibal Sanchez returned in fine fashion on Thursday, pumping out 5 2/3 innings, striking out four and giving up only two runs. Sanchez had a terrific rookie year in 2006, going 10-3 in 17 starts. Last year was less forgiving, as he was 2-1 when he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder. For his career, he's always been a groundball pitcher with a solid slider. His first start this year was solid, and he has a solid offense behind him, so you might want to stash him on an NL-only bench and see if he performs. If he does return to '06 form, then he should be considered in mixed leagues as well.

Lastly, to make room for Arthur Rhodes, the Marlins designated Robert Andino for assignment. Although Andino hit just .213 this year in 40 games and struck out 23 times, he could be recalled when rosters expand because he's defensively solid and can play multiple positions. There's also 2B Chase Lambin (.313 /10 HR) and 3B Dallas McPherson (Triple-A home run leader with 38) biding their time in Albuquerque.

UPCOMING SERIES: @PHI (8/5-8/7), @NYM (8/8-8/10)

Week: 3-3 Last 10: 3-7 Overall: 41-70, 5th NL East

Emilio Bonifacio has made his debut atop the Nationals lineup and is expected to be there for many years to come. Bonifacio didn't fare so well originally with the Diamondbacks earlier this month, but when you're behind one of the best all-around second basemen in Orlando Hudson, there's not a whole lot you can do, except maybe sabotage Hudson's glove and pray no one notices. Regular playing time is going to help his adjustment to the majors a lot more than platooning, and the release of Felipe Lopez earlier this week signifies he'll get it. He's a steals maven, so if you need speed, watch him. That's his impact on your roster this year. Also, he's only 23, making him keeper fodder to watch.

Elijah Dukes returned from the DL this week and wasted no time jumping right back in where he left off. In his first game back, he was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. His June and July tear of .304/6/18/19 appears to be for real. He also stole seven bases in the stretch. Health is finally returning to this group, so Dukes should immediately be inserted in your lineup.

The Nationals have slowly been developing their pitching, and on July 1, they called up 22-year-old Collin Balester. His debut went smashingly well, as he earned the victory going five strong innings of one-hit baseball against the Marlins. His next three, all losses, saw him victimized for 21 hits and 12 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings. Balester's numbers in Triple-A were average. He posted a 9-3 record and struck out 64 in nearly 79 innings, but he posted a GO/AO ratio of just 1.09 and was victimized by the long ball 14 times. On July 29, Balester's start was better, as he went six innings, yielding only two runs and walking nobody, giving the Nationals a chance to win. His one mistake was a home run to Chase Utley. Balester has size at 6-5, 195, and will probably add some bulk to his frame over time. However, on a team that lacks run support, you should pass, and monitor his growth.

UPCOMING SERIES: @COL (8/4-8/7), @MIL (8/8-8/11)

Week: 4-2 Last 10: 5-5 Overall: 53-57, 5th AL East

So I was wrong with Randy Johnson. But two weeks ago, I pinpointed Jeremy Guthrie as a wins candidate for you because of his numbers and lack of run support. Saturday, Guthrie went the full nine, garnering his second win in as many starts to even his record to 8-8. So naturally, I forgot to slide him back into my pitching rotation.

If you sign onto ESPN's Web site, the picture of Adam Jones is probably not one his mother would love you to see. His eyes are pretty much closed, making one wonder who posted this picture, and what were the other choices. Could they have actually been worse, like with Jones biting the head off a bat or something? Jones got the day off Sunday, because according to the Baltimore Sun, he's battling two sore feet, and was placed on the DL this week. Since his last day off, July 20, Jones hit .272 with two home runs and 9 RBI. Maybe his eyes are closed because he's finally relaxed, as it appears the 23-year-old has turned the corner.

Aubrey Huff was removed from Saturday's game after knocking his head on the runway landing from the dugout to the clubhouse. He was in the lineup Sunday, and Baltimore swept Seattle.

UPCOMING SERIES: @LAA (8/4-8/6), TEX (8/8-810)

Week: 3-3 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 51-60, 5th NL Central

For the Pirates, it's been a story of pitching. Paul Maholm has done it. Nobody else has. Maholm had his first rough outing in his last three starts. Although he was touched up for five earned runs in six innings, he continues to be economical with his pitch count (87 pitches). Of his 18 outs, he had a 10:4 GB/FB ratio, exactly what he wants. But Maholm's biggest problem is his road numbers, though he's improved. He's 2-6 with a 4.85 ERA on the road and 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA at home.

Possible future starter for the Buccos, Jeff Karstens, made one heck of a splash with the Bucs faithful by shutting out the Cubs 3-0 in Wrigley earlier this week. The kid has good stuff -- four pitches, nearly all of them breaking south. So he's likely to induce more groundouts. Sure enough, nine of the 14 outs were by groundball. The discouraging part for fantasy players regarding Karstens is his control. Four walks in six innings -- can anyone say WHIP killer? Had Karstens been with this team with the previous offense, he'd be a consideration in NL Leagues, particularly if you needed wins. But the Bucs offense is likely to stumble a bit, at least until Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche return. I would monitor Karstens' next start to see if his control improves.

Also, the acquisition of Andy LaRoche certainly sends signals that Neil Walker may not be the answer for the Pirates at third base. Walker started as a catcher and could move back there since he's struggled at the third base defensively.

Those of you holding onto Matt Capps should know he's begun pitching again. He threw a simulated game this weekend and is expected to throw a real one early this week. If you're holding Capps, expect the basement-dwelling Pirates to bring him back only when he's ready. They anticipate September.

UPCOMING SERIES: @ARI (8/4-8/6), @PHI (8/8-8/10)

Week: 4-3 Last 10: 7-3 Overall: 58-54, 2nd AL West

If only the Texas Rangers could make the DL some kind of buried treasure -- they'd have a lot of wealth in the name of one Hank Blalock. His bad shoulder has pushed him back to the DL retroactive to July 29. For some reason, Blalock's injury-prone nature seems to be spreading. Milton Bradley is day-to-day with a strained quad, Eric Hurley has shoulder tendinitis, and Michael Young is nursing a broken finger on his right hand.

As if the injury bug isn't bad enough, pitching coach Mark Connor got the ax last week. Not that a ton of fantasy players are flocking to own Rangers pitching, but this could mean a lot of upheaval as they attempt to revamp things. Jon Daniels promoted Andy Hawkins from Triple-A to take over. This may well explain Ron Washington's call for Eddie Guardado to close the game on Sunday night, which gave him his first save. C.J. Wilson has struggled in his last six appearances, with two blown saves and his ERA has risen to 6.02. He also had four straight appearances in July in which he averaged 28 pitches per one inning of relief. Guardado will finally get more opportunities here, and with the Rangers top-ranked offense, expect a lot to come along.

UPCOMING SERIES: NYY (8/4-8/7), @BAL (8/8-8/10)

Week: 5-1 Last 10: 7-3 Overall: 66-44, 1st AL East

Maybe the Rays knew something we didn't. For all of the talk about the Rays needing another bat in their lineup, it turns out they may have to look no further than their own farm system. Rocco Baldelli finished up his rehab assignment in Double-A Montgomery on Friday with a .297 average and three home runs in 13 games. Apparently, he was in the clubhouse Sunday afternoon. Jonny Gomes is hitting .188, and Chris Floyd is hitting .248, with a putrid .167 against left-handers. Certainly if Baldelli can manage Double-A in the field, he can manage being a DH. If his doctors clear him, expect Tampa to play him.

On June 30, Carlos Pena had 12 home runs. He's added seven since, and there's still a good chance he'll come up with 30 before it's all done. I hate to say I told you so. Actually, I don't.

And if you need a source for steals, Jason Bartlett is back from his DL stint, replacing Ben Zobrist. He has 18 for the year already, and assuming the ball he took off the hand Sunday doesn't sideline him again, he'll give you a handful more.