Summer came a little late this year in the Midwest, as Chicago is finally getting to be ridiculously humid and the temperature has entered the 90s. To me that means two things: hot blondes in bikinis and my fantasy teams heating up.
Many players are notorious for not swinging their best bats until the weather warms up, and this should give a boost to fantasy teams in search of some offense. Of course many teams play in warm weather year-round, but there are a handful of players who you can expect to pick it up in the remaining months.
Let's get down to business take a look at this week's T.I.P.S.
All statistics through June 22.
Hart of Gold
Throughout his six-year career, Brewers outfielder Corey Hart has been a first-half player. He sports a career .286 average prior to the break, but that number falls to a .261 post-break average. After hitting close to .290 both of the past two seasons before the break, Hart got off to an uncharacteristically cold start in '09. A brutal May (.232 average) saw him hit only two homers and strike out 26 times to only six walks. Hart has shown signs of life lately, smacking three home runs, knocking in six runs, and stealing a base this past week, all while hitting .400. Part of the reason for his early struggles was his 24.7 strikeout percentage, way up from 17.8 percent in 2008. Hart has brought his average up to .263 recently, so an opportunity to buy-low may be evaporating. He is still one of the most complete players in a 5x5 format.
Unbe-Lee-vable hot streak
After a .189 April, the consensus was that Derrek Lee was done. He wasn't even close to the 46-homer slugger that was in the midst of the 2005 MVP race. It was assumed that he still hadn't recovered from a nasty wrist injury that kept him out all but 50 games in 2006. While bits and pieces may be true, Lee proved that there is still a little gas left in the tank with a four-homer, nine-RBI week. He now sits at 11 homers, which puts him on pace for 33 homers. Following that miserable April, Lee went on to hit .313 in May and has hit a scorching .368 in June. In a lineup that is starting to heat up, Lee is looking at a .300-25-90 season. With Aramis Ramirez returning after the All-Star break and Milton Bradley heating up, Lee makes for a great acquisition in all formats.
Padres most reliable starter is...
It's not Jake Peavy. He's hurt. It's not Chris Young. He's on the DL as well. In a surprising turn of events, 28-year-old Kevin Correia has put together a fantastic string of starts. Since lasting only 4.1 innings in a June 1 outing, Correia has four consecutive quality starts and a 3-1 record. In these four starts, he has struck out 20 batters while walking only two. In fact, Correia has seven quality starts in his last nine outings. There's no reason to suspect Correia can't finish the season with 13 wins, 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Those are mixed league acceptable numbers, folks.
Tulo wreaking havoc on the basepaths
For a man who's only succeeded in 52 percent of his attempted steals, one would think that Troy Tulowitzki wouldn't exactly be given the green light on the basepaths. Tulo isn't concerned with past numbers though. The previously struggling Rockies star has stolen six bases in the last month, tops (shared with Derek Jeter) amongst all shortstops. With nine on the season, Tulowitzki has already set a career high (he stole seven bases in 2007) and is on pace for 23 steals.
Endy Chavez injury gives former top prospect second chance
Injured in a game last Friday, Seattle left-fielder Endy Chavez is now out for the season with a knee injury. Since the injury, 24-year-old Wladimir Balentien, has been seeing time in left. All signs point to Balentien getting the first crack at winning the regular job, but there's no hiding his recent struggles. He can't hit a breaking pitch and strikes out far too much (79 Ks in 243 at-bats in 2008). He does have some power, and a homer this past weekend is a good sign. He does have some name value, but it seems that Seattle brass has Balentien on a short leash and may opt for someone like Ronny Cedeno instead. Those in deep keeper leagues or AL-only leagues may want to take a chance on Balentien, but keep expectations modest.
Smoltz set to return
A strain to his right shoulder has sent Daisuke Matsuzaka to the DL and opened up a spot in the rotation for veteran John Smoltz. Smoltz, who signed with Boston in the offseason after 20 years with the Braves, missed the first part of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. The Red Sox are likely to have him on a pitch count and their plethora of pitching options may force them into a six-man rotation. That said, Smoltz hasn't had an ERA over 3.50 since 1994 or a WHIP above 1.20 since 1995. He is 42, and coming off a serious shoulder injury, but he's definitely worth a chance in all formats.
Downs and out
Scott Downs, on the DL with a sprained big toe, can't come back soon enough for Cito Gaston and the Jays. Despite a 2.19 ERA and five wins in relief duty, interim closer Jason Frasor, has a blown save and a loss in three appearances since Downs' departure. With 22 saves in his six-year career, Frasor is the most logical replacement for Downs, but it's also worth throwing in the tidbit that he has 11 blown saves in 33 chances. Those looking for stray saves are better off waiting for Downs return than hoping Frasor can hold onto the job.
Phillies left field in righty-lefty platoon
The Phillies have kept Raul Ibanez's injury status close to the vest, revealing very little information on the severity of the injury. What we do know is that the Phillies are replacing Ibanez with both John Mayberry and Matt Stairs, depending on the matchup. Those in leagues where lineups can be changed daily should take a look at both as short-term options. Both have some power, and Mayberry has a little speed as well. Until Ibanez returns, there are worse options than this platoon, especially considering they get to hit in the explosive Phillies offense.
Indians youngster filling the void
Filling in for the injured Asdrubal Cabrera, 23-year-old Luis Valbuena had his best week in the pros and seems to finally be adjusting to life in the big leagues. He ranked as last week's 15th-best player in mixed leagues, blasting three homers, knocking in seven runs and slapping 10 hits. Valbuena initially struggled after getting called up, hitting .188 with no homers and 1 RBI in 48 at-bats. In 59 June at-bats he's hit .271 with four bombs and nine RBIs. His role is questionable once Cabrera returns, but in the meantime he's two-position eligible (SS/2B) and playing every day. Those in AL-only leagues need to keep an eye on this talent.
Veteran providing stability for Brewers infield
Despite rumors that the Brewers are in search of an answer at second base, Craig Counsell has done the job since Rickie Weeks' season-ending injury. Counsell hit .345 in May, but has since cooled down, hitting only .250 in June. However, he spent the last week hitting .400 with a homer and five RBIs. He has 2B/SS/3B eligibility, so he can play a variety of roles for fantasy teams. There's always the risk that the Brewers take a chance on someone like Alcides Escobar, or make a trade, but Counsell is currently a .300 hitter and that shouldn't change. NL-only and deep mixed leagues could benefit from acquiring the Brewers leadoff man. Considering he's only three percent owned, this shouldn't be too difficult.
Cliff Lee is a Top 10 pitcher
Similar to Matt Cain's past few seasons in San Francisco, Lee owners need to look past the 4-6 record and realize that Lee is in the midst of another spectacular season. Lee had two rough outings to begin the season, but has 12 quality starts in 13 chances since. His ERA has improved in each of the season's first three months and his 74 Ks are more than adequate. The Indians don't give him any run support, so wins are likely to be few and far between. Punting wins for the rest of his production is worth it. If you don't own him, see if his owner is underwhelmed with his six loses.
Drop Francisco Liriano
Owned in 79 percent of leagues, there is no reason to keep holding on to Francisco Liriano. A quick run through his stats should be all it takes to realize he isn't close to the rookie that won 12 games in 2006. His ERA sits at 5.91 and he only has six quality starts in 14 outings. His 1.51 WHIP is a result of 35 walks in 77.2 innings. As a point of reference, in 2006 Liriano had 32 walks in 121 innings. His K/9 rate of 7.88 is the worst of his career and he isn't fooling anyone at the plate, considering opponents are hitting .275 against him. The point is that Joe Blanton is 10 percent owned, has four wins, a 5.28 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7 quality starts and 67 Ks.
Pick up Randy Johnson
Speaking of hard-throwing lefties, Randy Johnson has been mighty good the past month. He's compiled a 3-1 record, struck out 20 batters, and has a 3.03 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. The WHIP has been better than names such as Josh Johnson, Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay and teammates Tim Lincecum and Cain. Despite his age, Johnson is getting stronger and is worthy of an add in 12-team mixed leagues.
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