Small market mania

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"Expansion is a positive reaction to the universe, while retraction, or cutting back, or pulling off, those are all negative forces. I used to be very negative ...,"-- Mercedes Ruehl as Sheila the Waitress -- The Secret of My Success.

I have no idea why I remember quotes like that. Mind you, I didn't remember it verbatim, but the fact that I can pull that out of my memory should give you an idea of just what I'm capable of. That's right, stat factory in the making, baby. So, as we move into September, and teams expand to their 40-man roster, it would be easy for you to simply panic, particularly when you're wondering about your small market players. It is unfortunate, but you never know which player might sit on any given day, benched simply on the whim of the manager because he decided he liked sushi and happened to have a player called up with that last name of "Fish."

This is baseball, home of superstitions. If you're hanging onto first in your league, then this time can feel chaotic if your studs aren't on contending teams. If you're trying to gain ground, this is your chance to find a rent-a-stud for a month.

Here's what's happening in the cities that major networks often overlook.

(Statistics from the week of 8/25-8/31)

Last week: 4-2 Last 10: 5-5 Overall: 63-74, 3rd AL West

At least the timing is good. Frank Thomas and his strained calf muscle have returned to the DL, and my guess is it's for the season. Thomas is 40, and although he had a mini hot streak, going 8-for-21 recently, his ups and downs, lack of power and consistency, and health spell a serious consideration for retirement. At best he's a 15-20 home run DH these days. At worst, he's an imposing presence at the plate, and that's about all. Thomas' looming retirement simply means a better place for Jack Cust as a full-time DH.

The other big news was the demotion of Carlos Gonzalez, who was in the midst of a 4-for-52 funk, while more regular playing time has seen Rajai Davis hit .347 for the month. So if you're looking for steals and runs, it appears Geren wants to let Davis continue to play. Gonzalez could easily provide an extra bat after Monday, but Ryan Sweeney is healthy and returns to the middle of the order creating a crowded outfield. If Gonzalez doesn't return, it's because he's only 22, and there's no reason to bash his confidence into the ground. With more experienced veterans like Travis Buck and Chris Denorfia awaiting playing time, it's very possible Gonzalez returns next year.

After lasting just 1.2 innings in his last start against the Twins, Dan Meyer's tenure in Oakland has ended, at least temporarily. Meyer will go all the way back to double-A Midland. He'll be replaced by Keith Foulke, as Oakland's staff continues to slide in the rankings. Before the All-Star break the A's had the lowest ERA in baseball. Since the break, and more importantly, the trading deadline, that staff has fallen to 22nd in the League.

UPCOMING SERIES: KAN (9/2-9/4), @BAL (9/5 & 9/6 (DH))

Last week: 1-5 Last 10: 3-7 Overall: 69-67, 1st NL West

The Diamondbacks continued to shore up their bullpen by claiming Wilfredo Ledezma off waivers from the Padres and recalling Max Scherzer. Ledezma is likely to be an extra arm in the bullpen whose value to you now is akin to my own arm. Scherzer, who was sent to triple-A Tucson after a short stint in the majors, is a future strikeout maven, and is expected to be a starter eventually. Scherzer experienced a dead arm this year, so Bob Melvin is likely to use him as a short reliever and possible set-up man only. If he moves into the starting rotation, he can give much needed help in the strikeout category, not to mention WHIP and ERA. His career K:BB ratio in the majors is 33:14, and that's in only 32 innings.

The other news is the return of Justin Upton. He was just starting to emerge from a hitting funk that saw his average fall from the .270s to the .230s when he strained a muscle. Problem is, Upton returns to an outfield that might as well be China. Because he's 20 and the D-backs are in the midst of a pennant race, one that saw them invest in Adam Dunn just past the trade deadline, expect Upton to find himself in a platoon role, thus lessening his value the rest of the year.

UPCOMING SERIES: STL (9/1-9/3), @LAD (9/4-9/6)

Last week: 4-2 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 69-68, 3rd NL East

Kevin Gregg has fought criticism all year long. He's fourth in the NL in saves, but his numbers scare most sabermetric nuts, the way the check-engine light scares an uninformed car owner. Now, it may be that he has a bad knee. Gregg, infamously known for control issues, has walked 34 batters in just under 62 innings. Coming off 32 saves last year, most people awaited Gregg's demotion from the closer position in favor of anyone who would cause fewer heart conditions. The heart condition turned into full-on cardiac arrest this week as a ninth-inning implosion turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-4 loss. This one may have ended any playoff hopes for the Marlins, and although manager Fredi Gonzalez still backs his closer, Gregg now leads the majors with nine blown saves.

With the word coming that he has knee tendonitis and will require time off, Gonzalez will tap Matt Lindstrom, and turn to Arthur Rhodes for left-handed situations. Rhodes has posted better numbers; he has a K/9 of 10.73, and has relinquished only 22 hits in 27 innings. However, that would leave only one lefty at Gonzalez's disposal, so Lindstrom appears to be in line for more opportunities. However, like Gregg, he has control issues. He's handed first base to 23 batters in only 46 innings, and has posted a 1.58 WHIP. He's worth adding for the saves alone if you need them, but he could hurt you elsewhere.

For anyone holding out on Andrew Miller, he was activated Monday, and is likely to pitch out of the bullpen. Miller has the familiar control problem that seems to infect the Florida relief staff (80 K/50 BB in only 100.2 innings). He is a WHIP killer as well. However the lefty's return allows Gonzalez the flexibility to give Rhodes more save opportunities.

UPCOMING SERIES: ATL (9/1-9/3), @STL (9/4-9/6)

Last week: 6-1 Last 10: 8-2 Overall: 52-85, AL East

The season is long, and for those who haven't experienced it, this writer included, 162 games can feel like an eternity if you're not in the race. Jesus Flores, who exploded the first two months of the season, hitting .364 and .340, respectively, with a .277 July, appears to be feeling the fatigue of that long year. He's hitting .181 for August and has a .198 OBP. Catchers are hard to find, though, so it's likely Flores will continue to get playing time, while his pitchers throw less frequently. Manny Acta has said he will expand his bullpen so that some of the younger starters don't overdo it early in their careers. Perhaps this reflects the recent news that Shawn Hill is calling it a year after 12 awkward starts in '08, a 1-5 record, and a 5.83 ERA. He hasn't been the same since his elbow ligament surgery in late '04, which forced him to miss the entire '05 season. Hill is still experiencing elbow pain, and even though an MRI revealed no damage, he'll get another opinion.

After sweeping the Dodgers and Braves, Nationals fans have to be wondering what might have happened if they could have kept even a margin of their team healthy this year. Perhaps the great signs of growth and maturity are coming from Elijah Dukes, who returned from a strained calf to take a walk (of all things) with the bases juiced in the ninth inning to beat the Bravos. Dukes, who projects out to 147 strikeouts in a season of 550-plus at-bats, has been a pretty free swinger. It's as much a symptom of youth as is his impetuous temper. Yet somewhere after his June run-in with Acta during a series with the Pirates, Duke turned the corner and hasn't looked back. In his four games back, he has two home runs and four RBIs, but perhaps no RBI was bigger than Saturday night, where a man often labeled a great future prospect turned into a true hitter.

UPCOMING SERIES: PHI (9/1-9/3), @ATL (9/4-9/7)

Last week: 1-5 Last 10: 2-8 Overall: 63-73, 5th AL East

One of the reasons Francisco Cabrera hasn't been in the running for the closer position was evident on Saturday night, when he yielded two long-balls, then tossed the ball to Dave Trembley, irking his manager. Cabrera has now allowed eight homers in just 27 innings, not mention his 16 walks against 28 strikeouts. With the news that George Sherrill threw from 90 feet and felt good, combined with news that Chris Ray pitched a scoreless inning in Single-A, it appears that Jim Johnson's days as the O's finisher are numbered.

Adam Jones will rejoin the team this week, spelling less playing time for veteran Jay Payton and newcomer Lou Montanez. Since being called up, Montanez has been scorching hot, hitting .347 for the month with one long-ball and six RBIs. He and Melvin Mora have been two of the reasons the Orioles sit atop the majors as the highest-scoring team for August. Now news comes that the Orioles have lost Melvin Mora to a tweaked hamstring. As of this posting he was hitting a league best .393 since the All-Star break. Mora claims it's not serious, but you should monitor the situation, because hamstrings are much like parents--they nag a lot.

Seeing how Kevin Millar is barely hitting above the Adam Dunn line at .240, his 19 home runs aren't keeping the Orioles from auditioning aging Oscar Salazar, who was hitting .316 with 13 home runs and 85 RBIs down in Norfolk in 443 at-bats. He has a pretty good batting eye (.75) and walk rate (nearly nine percent). This may be his last shot to get back in the majors at 30 years of age. Radhames Liz was sent down to make room for Jones' return, but he will return Tuesday to pitch against Boston.

UPCOMING SERIES: @BOS (9/1-9/3), OAK (9/5 & 9/6 (DH))

Week: 0-6 Last 10: 0-10 Overall: 57-79, 6th NL Central

Amid the nightmare that is the Pirates' 7-21 record in August is the Pedro Alvarez story, one that will never be confused for a feel-good movie. Just as the Pirates and their fans felt as if the team was finally pulling itself together and putting money in the right place, they dragged their feet just long enough to cause a real dilemma for their No. 1 pick. The issue is to be decided in an arbitration hearing September 10.

John Russell hasn't been speculating whom he'll bring up this week, at least not to the media. However, it appears that one of the guys brought over in the Xavier Nady deal, Ross Ohlendorf, is among the contenders. The just-turned 26-year old has posted a 4-3 record with a 3.47 ERA in seven starts at triple-A Indianapolis. However, his 1.35 ratio of home runs per nine innings gives you an idea of what he'll face in the big leagues. The best news is that he's walked only eight against 40 strikeouts in 46.2 innings of work. Although he yielded a three-run homer in a 3-1 loss, Tom Gorzelanny's last outing appeared to show improvement. He went seven innings, yielding only four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. With the Pirates offensive woes sinking to new lows, he may be worth monitoring.

In general, if you own any Pirates, Russell's statement that expansion will mean rotation expansion, as well, signifies some problematic choices for you. Paul Maholm owners, I'm speaking to you directly, because Maholm himself has said there's a good chance the five-man rotation won't remain, which could mean less consistency from him.

Doug Mientkiewicz can't keep himself out of the Pirates headlines, but this time it's an official injury. He's listed as day-to-day with a groin and hip flexor problem. He's expected to get less time as the year goes on, with Steven Pearce (OF, 1B) expected to be recalled, and newcomer Andy LaRoche still expected to handle 3B.

UPCOMING SERIES: @CIN (9/2-9/4), @SFO (9/5-9/7)

Last week: 4-3 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 67-71, 2nd AL West

In an obvious declaration that they're out of the race, the Rangers traded away Eddie Guardado after originally naming him the closer for the rest of the year. That leaves Frank Francisco to close, and the former middle reliever's most striking trait so far is that his last name matches a city. He spent a brief spell in the minors, where he posted 16 strikeouts in nine innings as a reliever, but he's a true fly ball pitcher. That has translated in the bigs to three blown saves in the month of August, and in all of them he was victimized by extra bases hits, including two home runs. He has a K/9 of 11.31 and shows good control with a K:BB of 3.05. His ERA is 3.71.

Vicente Padilla is likely headed to the DL with neck issues, and once he goes, Kameron Loe is expected to be recalled. In the meantime, Luis Mendoza was brought up to replace Bill White. At this point, expect Ron Washington to do just about anything but tap his own family to find a starter who can last six innings. In that respect, Matt Harrison has shown some promise. He's gone more than six in two of his last three starts, winning both of those.

Nelson Cruz is the biggest offensive possibility for your team in terms of numbers. Cruz was second among all Triple-A hitters with 38 home runs this year. Problem is, Cruz has infamously belted triple-AAA pitching, while simply losing his belt up at the major league level. He entered much the way he has in the past, doubling and hitting a round-tripper in his first game up, but he hasn't notched one hit since.

UPCOMING SERIES: SEA (9/1-9/3), BOS (9/5-9/7)

Last week: 5-1 Last 10: 7-3 Overall: 84-51,1st AL East

Grant Balfour owners should be starting to look a little like rabid dogs, feeling that frothy feeling at the mouth as Dan Wheeler continues to blow saves. He's blown three in three weeks, and as much as Tampa Bay's offense occasionally bails him out, Balfour has 12 holds, is posting a 1.44 ERA and 64 strikeouts in just under 44 innings. Although Tory Percival is scheduled to be activated during the roster expansion, consider his chances of being the undisputed closer dubious at best. Although there's no doubting the experience Percival brings, bad knees and hamstrings are the downfall of pitchers everywhere. After finding out Kevin Gregg's been pitching with a bad knee, while completely losing his control at times, how can we expect Percival to be anything but chaotic? The rest certainly will have done his arm some good, but he's had two hamstring strains and now cartilage damage in his legs. Joe Maddon will only rest on Percival's experience so long.

The Rays also got Dioner Navarro back this week. After a subpar .227 season last year with nine home runs and 44 RBIs, Navarro has amped his average to .290 and already tied last year's RBI total (his career high, by the way). Even with the injury in April and the week off here, he's going to surpass his career at-bat totals and is likely to surpass his highest number of games played. Perhaps having a strong team around you really does pay off. And keep in mind, keeper folks, and not that I recommend keeping catchers, Navarro will be only 25 next year.

UPCOMING SERIES: NYY (9/2-9/4), @TOR (9/5-9/7)

Last week: 3-3Last 10: 5-5 Overall: 64-74, 3rd in NL West

A more appropriate title for the NL West this year might be the "West That No One Won." As the Dodgers and Diamondbacks try for the second year in a row to lose a division they should have easily put away, the Rockies continue to fight on. With rumors floating that Garret Atkins might be in his last year in Colorado, Atkins has turned it up the last eight games, hitting .285 with two home runs and seven RBI.

But it's not all wine and roses, as veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba's torn meniscus is likely to end his season. Although he hopes to be back, considering he's a catcher, and it's a minimum 2-4 week recovery, it seems highly unlikely. Todd Helton is running and hitting again, but he won't return this year.

Ryan Spilborghs returns finally, having rehabilitated his back to the point where he is strong enough to play. At the time of his injury, Spilborghs was hitting .314 with six home runs and 33 RBIs and a .420 OBP. Thus could return the three-headed monster of Spilborghs, Willy Taveras and Scott Podsednik in center field. Taveras was placed on waivers and claimed, but the Rockies are expected to keep him. Meanwhile, any hopes Cory Sullivan had of returning to the Rockies this year have been dashed. He was removed from the 40-man roster this weekend, signifying he could be simply released.

Last week I mentioned the possibility the Rockies could dig as deep as Double-A to call up highly touted prospect Casey Weathers. This past weekend it was determined Weathers will not make a big league appearance but will instead play in the fall league. The club appears to be keeping Brian Fuentes, who has returned from bereavement leave, for the rest of the season.

UPCOMING SERIES: SFO (9/1-9/3), HOU (9/5-9/7)

Last week: 1-5 Last 10: 2-8 verall: 57-79, 5th AL Central

I never was as down on Gil Meche as some were earlier this year. In fact, in late June I recommended you add him to your lineup, because his trends were all positive. He had a rough outing versus Texas, who tagged him for 14 hits. His remaining games don't necessarily bode well for him. By my tally, he's got six starts left: two against Detroit, two against Cleveland, and one each against Seattle and Minnesota. Cleveland becomes his most favorable matchup. He's struck out 21 in just 22 innings against the Indians, and the Tribe has managed just a .250 average against him. But Seattle and Minnesota are among the toughest teams to strike out in the AL, and Detroit is hitting .280 against him. He might be one to avoid the rest of the way.

The Royals are looking to move Texas Double-A player of the year Kila Ka'aihue onto the 40-man roster for this week's call-ups. In 120 games in the minors this year (combined triple and double-A), Ka'aihue has 36 home runs in just 120 games and a .314 average. In triple-A, the left-hander has torched both left and right-handed pitchers equally, adding 10 home runs, five against each. Better still, his batting eye is 0.96. The Royals have had problems getting the kind of power they wanted from their corner infielders. Alex Gordon has had yet another disappointing campaign, and though Billy Butler has had a much better August (.301), he has a 60-point differential in hitting against lefties versus righties and has provided just seven dingers since his recall in late June. Because of this, I expect Ka'aihue to get ample playing time in September.

UPCOMING SERIES: OAK (9/2-9/4), CLE (9/5-9/7)

Last week: 3-4 Last 10: 4-6 Overall: 77-60, 2nd AL Central

It must have been the fact that Ron Gardenhire watched Jesse Crain and Denny Reyes blow a 3-2 lead to the Angels and induce a split after a 5-3 loss when they could have taken three of four. As a result, the Twins tried to fill the one glaring hole (their bullpen), with veteran lefty closer Eddie Guardado. But it didn't help Monday, as Crain fell apart again in the 11th. This time it was an Adrian Beltre late-inning blast, which in turn ended Minnesota's undefeated status when leading after eight innings. Even with Joe Nathan's blown save last Sunday, and his two-run throwing error Saturday, no one should anticipate him being demoted. Guardado might get a few opportunities on days when Nathan is unavailable. The Twins plan to add relievers Bobby Korecky, Phillip Humber, and Jose Mijares to bolster their bullpen during the playoff run. Korecky's been up before and has struggled with control, although he posted a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. The 26-year-old Humber is 10-8 at Rochester, having pitched just over 136 innings, yielding a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Miljares, who turns 24 in October, has pitched mostly as a reliever, posting a 3-2 record with 38 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 35 innings.

If you own any Twins, know that while the power numbers continue to be unremarkable, the team's hitting with RISP is. The Twins own a league best .314 average with RISP, and with RISP and two out, they're second only to the Orioles with a .277 average. As a team, they have an 83 percent contact rate, among the tops in the majors. They don't draw a lot of walks either, which mean things could turn south quickly.

UPCOMING SERIES: @TOR (9/2-9/4), DET (9/5-9/7)