August 21, 2008

Fantasy baseball managers have hit the final stretch of the season, and the baseball gods have responded with a couple of curveballs. MVP candidate Ian Kinsler has gone down with a sports hernia. It appears that he will try to return this season, but fantasy managers must still try to plug the hole at second base until he does. In the rotation, A's ace Justin Duchscherer left his most recent start before finishing the third inning because of a hip injury. Then at the back of the bullpen, Mets fans are in panic as Billy Wagner's sore elbow may force him out of the playoff hunt. Just like in the major leagues, fantasy managers have likely surpassed their trade deadline, which means fantasy managers must resort to slim pickings on the waiver wire. Fortunately, the good people at take your concerns seriously. Here are three players who can help you get by during these difficult times. Can you recognize their names based on the numbers? Time to do your homework, Name That Game!

81 at-bats, 12 runs, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs, 1 SB, .282 AVG

Which second baseman is this?

Geoff Blum, 2B/SS/3B, Houston Astros

The past:

Your prototypical utility man, Blum has played for six teams in his 10-year career. He is best known for his 2005 home run in the 14th inning of Game 3 in the World Series to lift the White Sox to victory over the Astros. As for as his regular season exploits, Blum is rather ordinary. Entering this season, Blum's career high for homeruns was set his second season in the major leagues when he hit 11 for the Expos. Over the past two and a half seasons, Blum played for the San Diego Padres, where he combined for just 14 home runs and a .248 average. The Astros signed Blum this offseason with hopes that he would be a suitable substitute at all of the infield positions.

The future:

At the age of 35, Blum was nowhere near the radar of fantasy managers entering this season. However, when Kaz Matsui began the season on the DL, Blum became the team's starter. In the first half of the season, Blum offered some pop with six home runs, while struggling to reach base with a paltry .213 average. It looked like more of the usual for Blum, who returned to the bench when Matsui regained his health. However, Matsui again got injured, and a second chance was rewarded to Blum. In the second half of the season, Blum is playing at a career best level. He has blasted six home runs with a .282 average in just 81 at-bats. In fact, the veteran has already established a new career high with 12 home runs in just 84 games played. Though Blum is certainly no replacement for the sensational Kinsler, the journeyman is swinging a hot bat and offers some power, making him an attractive replacement in fantasy baseball.

0-0, 4 SV, 8.1 IP, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 0.00 ERA, 0.74 WHIP

Which closer is this?

Jensen Lewis, RP, Cleveland Indians

The past:

Drafted as a starting pitcher out of Vanderbilt University, Lewis found mixed results in the lower levels of the minor leagues in the role. The Indians moved Lewis to the bullpen by his third season, and with a 1.73 ERA between Double and Triple A, Lewis made his major league debut in '07. Lewis continued to dominate as he made 26 appearances during his major league rookie campaign while limiting the opposition to a .234 average, resulting in a 2.15 ERA. It wasn't long before Indians fans began to call the right-hander the closer-of-the-future, a role they expected Lewis to grab as early as '08.

The future:

At the age of 24, Lewis had a fine track record, but little experience. As a result, the Indians went with a proven closer, Joe Borowski, to start the season. After a rough start to the '08 season that had Lewis' ERA at 3.82 on June 3, the Indians demoted the hurler to the minors. Even when Borowski struggled and was later optioned, the Indians again went with experience as Masa Kobayashi earned the first crack at the closer's gig.

On July 4, Lewis returned to the major leagues as a middle reliever, and was immediately hit hard. In fact, the hurler surrendered two runs in four of his first five outings upon his recall, spiking his ERA to 4.89. Nonetheless, with Kobayashi struggling, the Indians became desperate for a closer. On Aug. 8, Lewis was thrust in that role, and he has been perfect on four save opportunities since. With 10.2 consecutive scoreless innings, Lewis is one of the hottest relievers in the game. He should be able to grab another handful of saves before this season is through. The Indians hope they have a long-term fix at the closer's position.

10-8, 121.1 IP, 91 Ks, 17 BB, 3.78 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Which starting pitcher is this?

Kevin Slowey, SP, Minnesota Twins

The past:

A second round pick out of Winthrop, Slowey has taken the fast track to the major leagues. Slowey dominated the minors with a 1.94 ERA in 366.2 innings. In fact, in '07, Slowey dominated Triple A with a 10-5 record and 1.89 ERA in 20 starts. Though he has the ability to strike out the opposition, he is better known for his immaculate control and ability to keep the ball in the yard. At the end of the '07 season, Slowey enjoyed his major league debut by racking up four wins compared to one loss, despite a 4.72 ERA. Slowey was expected to round out the starting rotation for the Twins in '08.

The future:

It was a busy off-season for the Minnesota Twins as they traded away ace Johan Santana and talented young hurler Matt Garza. Nonetheless, Slowey began the season in the minor leagues, where he dominated in his first three starts, allowing just three earned runs in 13 innings. After an ugly season debut in the Mmjors, Slowey enjoyed a strong May and June with a 3.25 ERA to complement an ordinary 5-5 record. Slowey then hit a speed bump in July, as his ERA spiked to 5.63, despite a 2-1 record. Recently, Slowey has reached a peak as his record is a solid 4-2 since the All Star break with a 2.77 ERA.

Slowey has won his past three decisions, while allowing just one earned run in each performance. His best start of the season came on Tuesday against the A's as he struck out a career high 12 batters in seven innings. On the season, Slowey is 10-8 with a 3.78 ERA. Perhaps his greatest achievement this season is his ratio of 91 strikeouts compared to 17 walks through 121.1 innings. The 24-year-old hurler entered the season with hopes of simply making the rotation, by '09, he may be considered an ace. Slowey should be grabbed in all fantasy leagues for the remainder of the '08 season.

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