Slumps & Dumps: Keep an eye on fading players

The football season officially got underway last Sunday night, which means two things. First, Matt Millen is about to inspire you. After all, if that clown can assemble the first 0-16 team and still be considered an "expert," then the sky's the limit for the rest of us.

Second, you're entering the danger zone for your fantasy team. It's easy to get caught up in football draft euphoria, but you can't ignore your baseball team down the stretch and leave your lineups stagnant and neglected. You still have to pay attention to who is running out of gas and explore potential replacements.

Jorge Cantu, Marlins -- The acquisition of Nick Johnson seemed to be good news for Cantu's run-producing chances, but over his last 14 games he's hitting just .185 with six RBIs. Over that stretch, his Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) is an ugly .191 although a heightened fly ball rate isn't helping. Overall, Cantu's plate discipline has improved from last year's .277-29-95 campaign, as evidenced by an increased walk rate and decreased Strikeout Percentage. Cantu has suffered through other brief slumps this season, but there's no reason he can't hit .275 with close to 25 RBIs from here on out.

Jermaine Dye, White Sox -- Dye struggled with a calf injury earlier this year, but his next leg injury could be brought on by a disgruntled fantasy owner going Tonya Harding on him. He's batting a paltry .145 in his last 22 contests with just two multi-hit games. During his slump, Dye has been punched out in nearly 20% of his at-bats, and his overall K% is 3.1% higher than last year's mark. His groundball rate has also seen a sharp increase, which is not exactly good news for a 35-year-old guy with bad wheels. Still, the Sox need a lot from Dye down the stretch, and I think he'll respond with close to 10 homers and a .270 average.

David Ortiz, Red Sox -- The list of things that Big Papi does poorly is growing quickly. So far, we've got dieting, hitting and telling the truth. Amidst allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, Ortiz is wilting at the plate with a .161 average over 15 games. His swing rates continue to rise while his contact rates drop, which explains why he's fanned in nearly 25 percent of his at-bats. His home run-to-fly ball rate hit 26.1 percent in 2006 but has fallen each year since to reach its current 10.0 percent mark. While it seems he's due for a correction based on his current .252 BABIP, I don't buy it. His ownership percentage is astounding when compared to his performance. Kyle Blanks won't have a significantly better average, but he'll hit you more homers. Billy Butler has been red hot lately, too.

Luke Scott, Orioles -- The O's have had less good news in the post-Ripken era than an episode of Cheaters, but with 18 bombs before the All-Star Break, Scott seemed destined to set a career high for the second straight season. Since then, he's gone deep just once and is batting .143 over his last 20 games. He's also struck out 21 times in 70 at-bats during that stretch. With most of his success coming against fastballs, it seems that pitchers have adjusted. I still like Scott's chances of setting that new career high by hitting five more bombs, but his average won't be much over .260 and his RBI opportunities will be scarce. Look at other options like Will Venable, Jeff Francoeur or the aforementioned Blanks.

Grady Sizemore, Indians -- Had Sizemore not struggled for most of the year, I'd think his recent woes were a ploy to get himself traded out of town like the rest of the Tribe. A second straight 30-30 season seemed inevitable before the season, but elbow trouble and inconsistency at the plate have made 20-20 a stretch. His BABIP is due for a correction, and he's recently shown signs of life. However, the Indians' season is as meaningful as the lyrics to a Lady Gaga song right now, and there is no reason to insist that Sizemore play through his lingering elbow pain. It should be a matter of time before they shut him down.

B.J. Upton, Rays -- After his postseason power surge last year, Bossman Junior was mentioned along with Sizemore in the 30-30 discussion. At least he got one category taken care of with 35 steals. The power just hasn't been there for Upton, though, and over his last 21 games he is homerless with a .193 average. Much to his dismay, he's been dropped to the bottom of the order, but I'm not sure how a guy with a .310 On-Base Percentage can argue he should be leading off. That would be like taking tips on your golf swing from Charles Barkley. A jump in Upton's fly ball rate shows that he wants to hit those bombs for your fantasy squad, but ultimately it's derailed his batting average. His walk rate has also declined and his first strike percentage is extremely high, both of which will cap his average at .255 the rest of the way with fewer than five homers.

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox -- Tribe fans were beside themselves after failing to land Buchholz in the Victor Martinez deal, but should they feel better since Buchholz is just 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA in five starts? Well, yes and no. His walk numbers have been ugly with 16 free passes in 25.1 innings. However, his ERA is inflated by one subpar outing (seven earned in four innings versus Baltimore). The Sox built a huge lead in that game and Terry Francona was trying to get some innings out of his young right-hander to save the bullpen. Outside of that, his ERA has been a solid 3.58, and his minor league walk numbers suggest that issue will correct itself. With Tim Wakefield on the DL and John Smoltz on the golf course, Buchholz will remain in the rotation and be serviceable down the stretch.

Mark Buehrle, White Sox -- He followed his perfect game by taking another perfecto into the sixth against the Twins, but that game quickly got away from him after he walked the ninth place hitter. Buehrle ended up losing, and in his three post-perfection starts, is 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA. His walk totals are still low, but he has just five strikeouts in 18.1 innings while surrendering 28 hits. While I realize that picking on the President's favorite hurler puts me at risk of a federal investigation, I can't hide the fact that lately Buehrle has been as effective as the Lou Piniella ab workout. I'm not sure when Lou's due date is, but he appears to be in his third trimester. Anyway, Buehrle's season BABIP is due for a correction, which will make it difficult to keep his ERA under 4.00 the rest of the way. He'll still be good for another four wins though, although they'll come with just 30 strikeouts and a 1.35 WHIP.

Brian Fuentes, Angels -- After struggling over the season's first couple months, he's rattled off 19 straight scoreless appearances. Then came a series with the Indians where he failed to retire a batter in back-to-back games while allowing six earned runs. He allowed a solo homer in the following outing before converting consecutive save chances. Fuentes seems to have put his woes behind him, and he should notch about 10 more saves with an ERA under 3.50.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets -- Even if Angel fans aren't buying my take on Fuentes, they have to be breathing a sigh of relief as their former closer does his Armando Benitez impersonation. In fact, K-Rod has just four saves since the end of June. Last Friday's five-run meltdown against the lowly Padres was undoubtedly the low point and marked his second straight blown save. It would have been foolish to bank on a repeat of last year's 62-save magic, but his K/9 is now down for the fifth straight season. Perhaps the biggest issue is a near 10 percent drop in his first strike percentage. Obviously he's not going to turn into Antonio Alfonseca, but those who spent an early pick on him this year have been kicking themselves for weeks.

Ricky Romero, Blue Jays -- Romero began the season off the fantasy radar before bursting onto the scene with a 3.00 ERA and 7-3 record. The fact that he's 3-2 in his last five starts hides some of his struggles, thanks to 22 runs of support in those victories. Over that stretch, his K/9 has dropped slightly, but his BB/9 has shot up from 3.10 to 4.40. This recent drop-off could be a sign of Romero hitting the rookie wall, or it could be the product of his ultra-high strand rate coming back to reality. I think it's a little of both and would rather own Clayton Richard for the stretch run. Barring a continued barrage of run support, Romero's chances of winning more than a couple games the rest of the way are the same as my odds of implementing Flip Cup Fridays at work.

All statistics through August 11.

Which players are crippling your team? E-mail Andy at with your fantasy baseball thoughts, rants, and conundrums.

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