The All-Star break is finally here, and while I suggest taking some time off to mentally prepare for the second half, I'll quickly share my Top 10 guys to target for the second half.
All statistics through July 13.
1. Josh Hamilton -- Nothing wrong with hitting in the middle of a prodigious Rangers lineup. Apparently healthy.2. Roy Oswalt -- see Suggestions below.3. Alfonso Soriano -- can't get much worse. Hitting sixth in the lineup should take some pressure off and increase RBI opportunities.4. Brad Lidge -- 3.86 ERA in July. Plenty of save opportunities to come.5. Russell Martin - .343 July average.6. Stephen Drew - .333 July average. Post-break average of .326 in '08.7. Ryan Doumit -- hitting catchers are few and far between.8. A.J. Burnett -- 2.10 ERA in June. 2.70 ERA in July. Getting it together.9. Jose Valverde -- 15:3 K/BB ratio since return from the DL.10. Aubrey Huff -- Career .302 second-half hitter.
Bourn to run
Michael Bourn wasn't alive when Bruce Springsteen penned Born to Run in 1975, but 34 years later we can safely say the Bourn has brought new meaning to the Boss' classic. Considered a one-stat Charlie, Bourn has solidified his game and become a fantasy force in the first-half of 2009. His 32 stolen bases were to be expected, but the 26-year-old Houston native is approaching his career highs only 87 games into the season. His most noticeable improvement has been the dramatic increase in his average. Last season, Bourn struggled to the tune of a .229 average with a .288 OBP. Not what you are looking for in your lead-off man. The easy way out would be to blame it on his BABIP, but at .291 the blame falls squarely on Bourn's inability to draw a walk or hit the ball with any sort of pop. This year, Bourn is walking at a higher rate (10.3 BB%), hitting more line drives (up nearly seven percent from last year) and his BABIP is at .358. He's upped his average every month of the season, so Bourn is playing with a consistency never seen before. I'd expect his average to drop slightly, but he's on pace to finish with 60 steals, 178 hits and 107 runs. Even if he drops to the .275 range, he's still one of the top overall steals threats in all of fantasy.
Think Josh Willingham is happy to know he doesn't have Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes looking over his shoulder? J-Will is entering the break coming off his most productive week of the season. The week's No. 15 overall player, Willingham hit .400 with three jacks, six RBI, six runs and a stolen base added for good measure. The stolen base accounted for 33 percent of his season total, so there's no reason to be optimistic there, but his power is for real. He's surpassed 15 homers for three straight seasons. His HR/FB percentage is 18.8, which is higher than his 2006 rate of 15.9 percent when he launched 26 long balls. There's a chance he gets traded near the deadline, but as long as he dons a Nationals uniform and plays regularly, Willingham has mixed-league talent and the opportunity to help fantasy teams looking for some cheap outfield muscle.
Would you rather...
Since everyone loves a good game, let's play one right now. It's a simple game. Simply, who would you rather have? The contestants...
Player A: 6 wins, 72 K, 2.96 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 12 quality startsPlayer B: 9 wins, 65 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 11 quality starts
The wins are nice from Player B, but Player A has better stats in the remaining four categories. Now, what if I dropped a doozy and told you Player A was 49 percent owned while Player B was nearly universally owned at 83 percent? Well, that's right folks. Player B is White Sox Mr. Consistent, Mark Buerhle, who is having a great season in his own right. Player A is Jarrod Washburn. The 34-year-old Washburn is having one of his best seasons to-date, and is seemingly getting stronger, evident by his dominant last week. The lefty started twice, notched two wins (including a complete game, shut out) and let up one run in 16 innings pitched. He only had six strikeouts combined, but he is clearly offering a low ERA and WHIP for fantasy teams. If you are in one of the 51 percent of the leagues where he is available, snatch him up and benefit from his fantasy goodness.
Broken wrist for Reds phenom
In what has become a bad Grey's Anatomy episode, the Reds got some more bad injury news when Jay Bruce was diagnosed with a fractured right wrist. His timetable for return is uncertain, but you can bet it's near the six weeks that Walt Jocketty estimates. Chris Dickerson will continue to see regular time, but Jonny Gomes will see the largest jump in PT. Gomes did surprise with 20 homers in 2005 and 2006 for Tampa Bay, so there is some power in that bat of his. Both Dickerson and Gomes make for solid adds in NL-only leagues, with Dickerson providing the speed and Gomes contributing the pop.
Any Angels in the outfield
With the news that both Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero will be out for the next three-to-four weeks, and Juan Rivera is nursing a tight hamstring, the all-but-forgotten Gary Matthews Jr. gets a chance to prove that a $50 million dollar bench player is a luxury, not an obstacle. Matthews started off with a bang, including a two-for-four performance with two RBI and a stolen base on Saturday. At only one percent owned, Matthews has the all-around skill set to be an immediate pickup in mixed leagues. From the start he will bat in the middle of a depleted Angels lineup that is in desperate need of a run producer.
Cards rotation back to normal
Kyle Lohse's return from the disabled list wasn't exactly promising, giving up four runs in five innings on Sunday to the Cubs, but a bit of rust was expected after spending over a month on the DL. Lohse won 15 games a year ago and finished with a 3.78 ERA, a career best. The Cardinals are in the race for a division title and Lohse's contributions will be key. Expect an ERA in the upper 3.00's and five-to-six strikeouts per outing. He's only 29 percent owned in mixed leagues, so there's time to monitor his progress for a few more starts. In NL-only leagues he should be added immediately.
Pirates not missing Morgan
When Nyjer Morgan was traded to the Nationals, it opened up an outfield spot for 28-year-old Garrett Jones. Jones has been on a tear recently, homering in three straight games leading up to the break and firmly establishing his presence in the middle of the Bucs lineup. Despite his 6'4'', 245-pound frame, Jones has never hit more than 23 home runs in any of his four minor league seasons. Still, he's mashing balls (five homers in 42 at-bats) and even has three stolen bases. At four-percent owned, Jones hasn't hit the radar of the fantasy faithful yet, but he soon will. First base and outfield eligible, Jones is the type of free agent add that can pay high dividends in the second half.
Tigers DH heads into break on a tear
Like Jones, Marcus Thames is also only four-percent owned. The 32-year-old is also destroying baseballs at about the same pace as the Pirates rookie. Thames enters the break coming off a week where he was the 22nd-ranked player, batting .348 with three homers and eight RBI. With only nine homers and 22 RBI on the year, this was easily Thames ' most productive stretch of the season. He capped it off with a 4-for-4 performance on Sunday. Thames has a history of hitting homers (25 last year, 26 in 2006), but it hasn't translated to RBI where he's never topped 60 in any season. Carlos Guillen is returning shortly, so Thames regular playing time should be jeopardized. Unlike Jones, don't get too caught up in Thames mini hot streak.
Juan Uribe locking down the hot corner
Uribe's error on Friday night cost Jonathan Sanchez a perfect game, but his bat helped the Giants cruise to a big lead. Uribe, who has eligibility at third, second and short, is a prime target for those who have a middle/corner infield position. Uribe is hitting .342 in July, upping his season average to .301. Similar to Cristian Guzman, Uribe will hit for a high average, score a decent amount of runs, and contribute homers/RBI at a minimal level. Still, having a .300 average in the infield is a valuable commodity and those in head-to-head leagues can benefit from his weekly averages.
Buy low on Roy Oswalt
The opportunity to buy low may be disappearing quickly as Oswalt has been solid for almost two months now. A shaky May (5.34 ERA) saw Oswalt enter June with a 4.62 ERA and only one victory on the season. Since then, he's gone 4-2 with a quality start in six of eight outings and 48 Ks in 57 innings. Last season, Oswalt entered the break with a 4.56 ERA, only to produce a 2.24 second-half ERA. Over the course of his career, Oswalt has a second-half ERA that is half-a-run better than his first half. Expect a big second half from the Astros ace.
Rafael Soriano is the Braves reliever you want
Bobby Cox has long been known for playing the hot hand when it comes to his relievers. Good thing for Soriano, who has been shutting down opponents while Mike Gonzalez has been inconsistent. Soriano has a 1.48 ERA, even more impressive considering he's kept it under 1.54 every month this season. Although his ERA sits at 3.00 in July, he's racked up six consecutive saves and has struck out at least one batter in all but one of those six appearances. For the month he has nine Ks to only two walks. At 12 saves he's already topped a career high, but you can expect him to finish closer to 30 when all is said and done.
Enjoy the break
Fantasy baseball is a grind. No doubt. Especially for those in daily leagues. If you are like me, you check your team 30 times a day and constantly think about what moves you can make to better your squad. I'll admit, I'm not going to check my team once the next few days. I'll sit down and watch the All Star game, but this time also serves as a mental break from my fantasy teams. With over two months of baseball left, the stretch run is about to begin. Enjoy the break, but when baseball resumes its time to really get down to business.
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