September 04, 2009

With a month left in the season, it's officially crunch time for your fantasy team. Emotions are running high, every game is critical, and slumps are more damaging than ever. With that in mind, I'm going to dive right in and touch on more players than usual in ... wait for it ... the Lightning Round! After all, what better captures the urgency of times like these than the manufactured tension of a game show? Let's see how many slumping players I can tackle this week. We'll put 1,500 words on the board. And ... go!

All statistics through September 1.

Clint Barmes: A streaky Rockies infielder? I'll wait while you try to wrap your mind around that. OK, Barmes is hitting just .167 in his last 12 contests, and while he typically offsets these slumps with adequate power numbers, he has just one homer. He continues to hit tons of fly balls (54.5 percent over this stretch), which isn't exactly helping his .271 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). Weak contact numbers ensure Barmes will continue to strike out at a high rate. Look for a .250 average and at most four more homers the rest of the way. I'd rather have Ryan Roberts as my middle infielder.

Casey Blake: As the Dodgers flirt with blowing their once-comfortable lead in the NL West, Blake has gone in the tank. In 20 games, he's struck out 22 times in 72 at-bats and is hitting .153. Despite the fact that he's tallied just five RBIs over this stretch, Blake's season metrics are in line with his career norms outside of a slight up-tick in groundballs. More than anything, he's been unlucky with a .170 BABIP during his slump. If you can't afford to wait this out and need corner infield help, look at Matt LaPorta.

Chris Davis:He's baa-aack. He's actually not slumping yet, enjoy it while you can! He's still dead to me.

Rafael Furcal: Blake isn't the only struggling resident of Mannywood, because Furcal has cooled off significantly in recent weeks as well. He's posted a meager .204 average in 13 games with nary a steal. For a player who swiped at least 22 bases in every season from 2000 to 2007, his paltry six thefts this year are a real indictment of his speed. Couple that with a decreased contact rate, and it's hard to see Furcal having much value down the stretch. Go with Everth Cabrera instead.

Aubrey Huff: I hope the Tigers kept their receipt when they acquired Huff from the Orioles, because they should be asking for a refund. In 12 games with the Tigers, Huff has just five hits in 36 at-bats with no homers, four RBIs and three runs. He's also struck out six times, and his strikeout rate is at its highest point since 2001. An increase in groundballs and a healthy decline in his contact rate don't bode well for improvement. Take a chance on Andy Marte instead; it's not like he can be worse.

Brandon Inge: I hope you traded Inge when he was red hot earlier this year, because you wouldn't fetch a bag of Funyuns and an autographed photo of Bea Arthur for him now. In 22 games and 74 at-bats, he's been punched out a staggering 27 times compared to just 12 base hits. He does have four homers, but those provide little value when accompanied by a .156 average. Overall, he's posted .179-5-12 since the break, and with a horrendous contact rate, you can stick a fork in him. Look at backstops like Carlos Ruiz or John Baker instead.

Adam Jones: Jones recently battled back issues, but given his stats lately, he's also fighting the urge to turn his bats into mulch. Over his last 17 contests, Jones is batting .133 with no homers and just one steal, which is not exactly what you'd expect from someone who appeared to be a legit 20-20 candidate. His groundball rate is nearly 70 percent over this stretch, and just two line drives over the same span are evidence that Jones isn't making solid contact. He left Tuesday night's game with an apparent ankle injury, so pick up Will Venable or Matt Diaz instead.

Evan Longoria: After a hot start, who would have guessed that Longoria's two RBIs on Sunday would be his first in 13 games? In fact, the home run he hit Sunday was his first since August 8. Over a 14-game stretch, he's posted a .220 average and a groundball rate well over 50 percent. After going .327-13-55 over the season's first two months, Longo has posted just .232-12-36 since then. He's showing signs of heating up though, which should net you five more homers and 18 RBIs.

Justin Morneau: The former AL MVP has struggled for about a month now with a .186 average since July 28, but his struggles have gotten worse lately. In his last 10 games (which were interrupted by an inner ear issue), Morneau is just 4-for-34 with 10 strikeouts. No cause for alarm, he'll turn it around.

Alex Rios: Rios has been the White Sox worst outfield acquisition since Michael Jordan. In 16 games with the Sox, Rios is hitting .167 with 16 strikeouts. The move to a hitter's park hasn't helped either with just one homer to his credit. Any of the outfielders I mentioned are better options, as is Elijah Dukes. And Emmanuel Lewis. And the lady from the Snuggie commercial. Basically, anyone is better right now.

Geovany Soto: Congrats Cheech (or is he Chong), you're officially losing at-bats to a guy (Koyie Hill) who had to have his fingers re-attached after a run-in with a table saw.

B.J. Upton: In Upton, I may have found someone playing worse than Rios. I'd honestly pay $100 (maybe more) to Ric Flair for just one chop across Upton's chest. I assume the "Whoooo!" will be included at no extra charge.

Francisco Cordero: Given how infrequently the Reds are winning, it's not uncommon for them to forget they even have a closer. After posting a 1.62 ERA in his first 44 appearances, it would appear the lack of meaningful work might be catching up with Cordero. In his last 11 games, he has a 5.40 ERA and has allowed at least one baserunner in all but one outing. The Reds have no one else who could close, but don't expect more than five saves the rest of the way.

Zach Duke: Duke's struggles have continued after a solid start that saw him rack up nine wins and a 3.26 ERA in his first 21 starts. He's gone 1-3 since and has allowed six long balls in five starts. A 5.76 ERA over that stretch is bad, but eight strikeouts in nearly 30 innings is pathetic. He's just not providing any value to your squad, so look at Carl Pavano, who has three quality starts in five outings since joining the Twins. You know you're struggling when Pavano represents a viable replacement.

J.P. Howell: Don't get me wrong, Howell has been a pleasant source of saves with 16 on the season. However, his ERA over his last 12 appearances is 5.11, and he's blown two of seven chances. He's also surrendered a staggering five home runs after allowing just two in his first 49 games. His walk numbers are on the rise as well, and with a myriad of options in the bullpen, the Rays may opt to go another direction down the stretch.

Derek Lowe: I said to bail on Lowe earlier this year, and while he's turned in a few decent outings, he's still been a disappointing 5-5 after a 7-2 start. He's also posted a 7.53 ERA in his last three starts, and his K/9 are the lowest of his career. I'm not saying he can't put up another good start or two, but you're playing with fire at this point.

Gil Meche: Don't let the 2-1 record since his return from the DL fool you; Meche has been flat out awful. He's allowed at least four runs in each of his four starts and has more walks (9) than strikeouts (8) over 21 innings. After giving up six homers over that stretch, he's getting bombed more than former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. Pick up Doug Fister, Ryan Rowland-Smith or Kenshin Kawakami as replacements.

Joakim Soria: Soria gave up just five earned runs in his first 28 appearances and 29.2 innings. In the eight subsequent games, he's been touched for eight earned in 11.2 innings. Included in those beatings are four homers and the fact that Soria has allowed at least one baserunner in seven of those eight contests. He's not going to lose the job, but it's not like the Royals will have many more save chances anyway.

Brandon Webb: Which player did I take early in my pitching-heavy work league whose injury in week one put me in a huge hole, consequently making me want to run him down with the bullpen car? I'll take players who tried to ruin my fantasy baseball season for $200, Alex. Oh wait, wrong game show.

Carlos Zambrano: I realize that two post-DL starts aren't exactly a large sample size, but the fact that "Big Z" has a 12.91 ERA in starts against the Nationals and Mets is disheartening nonetheless. Gatorade coolers: consider this your official warning. The Cubs have been one of this season's biggest disappointments, and they are limping to the finish line. Don't expect more than a couple wins and 30 strikeouts from here on out.

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