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For better, for worse


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As the calendar inches closer to June and the temperatures begin to rise, so too do the expectations of fantasy baseball owners for players who were supposed to make significant contributions to their 2010 championship hopes. Among the most daunting tasks nearly every owner must face is how do work around and through injuries.

Injuries are an inseparable part of the game, and a single setback to one cornerstone player can make all the difference in assembling a winning strategy and falling behind the pack. Finding replacement parts for worn or wounded ballplayers is one key element in setting a course toward success. Further, knowing where to look is the first step in what can seem like a 1,000 mile journey.

Some players (for better) are just now returning from injuries and could be major fantasy contributors going forward, while others (for worse) are beginning to raise more questions than they're capable of answering.

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Felipe Lopez, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals. Despite a productive 2009 showing (.310 AVG, .810 OPS), Lopez garnered little interest on the free agent market entering this year. His signing with the Cardinals seemed to go largely unnoticed in fantasy circles. With a modest start to the season, followed by a bout with injury, few gave a second thought to dropping him to the waiver wire, even in deep leagues. However, since returning, Lopez has found himself atop the Cardinals' batting order. While he's not a significant stolen base threat, Lopez has averaged 157 hits over the past three seasons, including 187 in '09. He's riding a modest four-game hitting streak and has driven in at least one run in three consecutive games. Scoring opportunities abound with Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols waiting for their turns at bat.

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays. Still resting on the laurels of his 26 HR season in '08 with Cincinnati, Encarnacion is now with the Blue Jays after being traded for Scott Rolen toward the end of '09. After batting just .219 with one home run in seven April games before going down with an injury, it was easy for fantasy owners to write him off as another lost cause. It appears he's healed, and healed well. Since retuning from the DL on May 18, Encarnacion has hit .333 with six HR and 11 RBIs. Clearly being healthy (and in a potent Blue Jays lineup) is something that suits Encarnacion. While he'll never be a reliable source of batting average, power is definitely something the third baseman brings to the fantasy game.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox. One of only three players to reach the 70-steal plateau over the past decade, Ellsbury really came into his own in '09. A consensus Top Five outfielder on draft day, it was believed that he possessed speed in game-changing proportions ... as long as he stayed healthy. Hitting .333 with two stolen bases on April 11, it appeared as though Ellsbury was going to make another run at a fine, productive fantasy season. That is until he failed to return to action after being diagnosed with cracked ribs. Finally back on the field, things have yet to get rolling for the Boston outfielder. Just 1-for-14 since returning on May 22, now may be time to seek the services of a potential top-20 overall fantasy speedster. Ellsbury owners are undoubtedly frustrated, and his May struggles have done little to ameliorate concerns.

Alfredo Simon, RP, Baltimore Orioles. Fantasy owners who invested heavily in the up-and-coming Orioles roster have been frustrated to no end. Perhaps most frustrating of all has been the revolving door otherwise knows as the Baltimore closer position. Mike Gonzalez was supposed to be the answer to O's closer woes, but injuries prevented him from fulfilling his obligations. A series of short-term "solutions also fell flat before the team landed on Simon, seemingly by accident. While he'd managed to post a 2.92 ERA with six saves in just 12 games, injuries also got the better of Simon, as he found himself on the 15-day DL with an injured hamstring on May 24. This bump in the road may have saved fantasy owners from what was a probable collapse. His peripherals, such as a 5.11 B/9, pointed to an ERA closer to 5.73 (FIP). For Simon (and his owners), things were unlikely to stay their course.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies. Having already missed 30 games with a calf strain early in the season, Rollins owners finally started getting a return on their significant investments when the Philly SS stormed back to the tune of a .341 AVG, 2 HR, 2 SB and 1.096 OPS over 41 at-bats. Alas, his triumphant return would be a short-lived one. After playing just five May games, Rollins returned to the disabled list after aggravating his calf injury. While it's possible that Rollins could return once again and regain his customary All-Star form, the injury risk he now presents fantasy owners is more than a bit worrisome. Owners in weekly change leagues are especially sensitive to the importance of predictable playing time and overall player wellness.

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians. Despite owning a batting average that has fallen each of the past three years, Sizemore also possesses a rare combination of power/speed that filled many fantasy owners with optimism over the possibility of a rebound in '10. Frankly, it seemed a safe bet that Sizemore's injury-plagued '09 may have been the bottom, as evidenced by a .248 batting average and diminished power. Such was not to be the case. This year has been nothing short of a nightmare for Sizemore (and his owners). A .211 batting average with zero home runs are bad signs, and a generous stint on the disabled list with an injured knee that may require season-ending surgery make Sizemore ownable in only the deepest of mixed leagues. Oh, how the mighty have fallen ... and can't get up.