July 20, 2010

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I made it. After a couple of 20-hour drives with two kids, a dog and a cat, two weeks of sleeping in a small bed with my seven-year-old son attempting to insert his toes into my nostrils, and 14 days of scouring empty cupboards for meals (what do old people eat anyway?), my "vacation" is finally over. When you live in Florida, vacations frequently consist of visiting family that has chosen to remain in the cornfield known as the Midwest.

Having moved away from the Midwest more than 12 years ago, I've forgotten what life is like in the country. Do you realize that some people still use dial-up connections for the Internet? My own grandmother doesn't even have the Internet. Gasp! Checking scores on my cell phone was to be my only salvation ... I thought. You know those maps of coverage areas we see on TV? Well I guess the blue areas don't reach where my family lives. Forget about 3G, I was lucky if I could even make a call. I felt like I was in a two-week long episode of Green Acres.

While I was enjoying my vacation, baseball took a little hiatus of its own. With the All-Star break splitting the season into two halves, many fantasy owners are taking the moment to eye the stats and make second-half runs. Don't be so quick to trust the numbers just yet. Even after half a season, there are players who have had their numbers dulled by a terrible start. Identifying the All-Stars of the second half is all that matters now. One way to do that is to take a look at recent performances and target players who have turned it around, but haven't been recognized by the fantasy crowd just yet. Here's a look at a handful of players that could help fantasy teams make that push for the pennant successful. All stats are for the previous 28 days.

Rickie Weeks' full-season numbers don't look bad, but he's been especially hot over the last month. In the last 28 days, he's hit .326 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. The speed hasn't followed along, but Weeks is matching the top middle infield options in every other category.

After hot starts, fantasy owners have been quick to give up on Chase Headley and Scott Podsednik. Both are back to their early sizzling ways and can probably be had on the cheap. Headley has hit .329 over the last month and continued to be a sneaky source of steals. His three steals in the last 28 games boosts his season total to 12. He's marginally useful in typical mixed leagues, but can play a huge role in deeper leagues. Meanwhile, Podsednik has hit .360, which lifts his full season average back over .300. He's also running at every opportunity despite mixed results. Neither player gets much fantasy respect, but both have something to offer.

No one talks about him, but Cliff Pennington is making himself fantasy relevant with his recent performance. He's hitting .412 in his last 63 at-bats and his six stolen bases during that span gives him 14 on the season. His major league high is seven, but Pennington has stolen as many as 31 bags in the minors. He's not much for the long ball, but Pennington will be a quiet source of speed and average heading into the second half.

It also might be time to jump back on the Ian Kinsler bandwagon. His overall numbers are a far cry from what fantasy owners were expecting, but in the last month he's started to resemble the second-round pick many had him tabbed to be. He's hit .372 with three HRs, 15 RBIs, and three SBs over his last 86 at-bats. As always, keep an eye on his health, but struggling fantasy squads can't ask for a player with more upside at a shallow position.

We talked about Gordon Beckham last week, but I don't think people realize that he's been playing well for a while now. Over his last 63 at-bats he's hit .349 with three homers and 11 RBIs. His 4-for-4 game Sunday is going to draw attention, but his poor season totals still make him an ideal buy-low target. He will be a top performer at his position going forward.

Vicente Padilla has never been called a fantasy ace, but he's thrown like one recently. He's produced a 1.30 ERA and 0.75 WHIP over his last five starts and has even tossed in 28 Ks over those 34-plus innings. It might be time to take him more seriously. Trading a bigger name for Padilla and getting a major upgrade elsewhere could make a huge impact on the standings with a large chunk of the season remaining.

Bronson Arroyo has been a fantasy punching bag for much of the industry, but it looks like he's on the way to replicating last year's amazing second half numbers (six wins, 2.25 ERA). He's won four of his last five starts while posting a 2.38 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. The strikeouts have dried up, but Arroyo can be huge the rest of the way if he even comes close to what he did last year.

The Cubs have been devoid of fantasy value for much of the season, but they have two starting pitchers who are quietly producing. Over the last month, Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny have done what Carlos Zambrano couldn't. Gorzelanny has posted a 2.39 ERA and struck out almost a batter an inning. Wells has looked more like last year's version with a 2.92 ERA and quality starts in four of his last five outings. With the Cubs offense finally showing signs of life, both pitchers could offer solid value at the end of your fantasy rotation.

Another pitcher who has gone unnoticed is Wandy Rodriguez. He was absolutely brutal for the first three months of the season, but has turned it around in his last four starts. How does a 3-1 record with a 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 25 Ks in 26 innings strike you? The Astros offense may limit the wins, but we're still talking about a pitcher who was a No. 2 fantasy starter just last year. Forget the first three months and worry about the next three. Wandy is weady to help.

Next week we'll start tossing in a little pigskin with our horsehide and take an early look at some bargains on the football side; all while wondering if Brett Favre will return (duh).

* All statistics current as of July 18.

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Doug Anderson is the Executive Editor at RotoExperts.com. Look for Man in a Box every Tuesday and catch him on The Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8 ET. Wanna climb in the box and talk baseball? E-mail Doug at rotodaddy@rotoexperts.com.

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