It started with Chase Utley coming back Monday after missing just a month with a broken hand. He had a homer in his first game back, so he's starting to get himself back in form. Tadahito Iguchi, who played well in Utley's place, loses a lot of value on the bench, but he did go deep on Monday, almost as a last hurrah.
Alfonso Soriano is also back in the lineup after missing just over three weeks with a quad injury. While he went hitless in his return on Tuesday, you have to get him back in the lineup. Soriano is back hitting leadoff with Ryan Theriot dropping to the No. 2 spot. Meanwhile, Matt Murton loses time in left field.
Joining Utley and Soriano back in the lineup is Ben Sheets, who's been out since mid-July with a finger injury. I guess you expect the annual injury from Sheets, who was a solid 10-4 with a 3.39 ERA before going on the DL. Hopefully there won't be any more hiccups down the stretch. Meanwhile, Sheets takes the rotation spot of Chris Capuano, who hasn't won in 16 starts.
But while those big names are coming back, Mike Mussina is taking a break, at least for one start. After getting bombed in his last three outings, the veteran righty is being replaced rotation for his next start by Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' first-round pick last year. Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain have climbed rapidly through the Yankees system together this season, and now the former USC star gets his chance at the big time. Kennedy, who will be called up when rosters expand on Saturday, is 12-3 over three levels of the minors this season with a combined 1.91 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings. Luckily for Kennedy, he'll draw the Devil Rays in his debut.
Also, after the Dodgers got a win out of David Wells on Sunday, they're now taking a chance on Esteban Loaiza, claiming him off waivers from the A's. Loaiza had been hurt most of the season, but allowed just three runs over 14 1/3 innings in his two starts this season (both against the Blue Jays). He'll be moving to a similar home stadium situation in L.A., so if he's healthy, he might be worth a flyer in NL-only leagues.
Switching over for a couple of football notes … -- One player who might now sneak into the final round of some deeper fantasy leagues is Darren Sproles, who might step in as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup for the first few weeks of the season. Sproles, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, has been running well during the preseason and might have earned a roster spot with Michael Turner struggling with a high ankle sprain. Sproles is still best used as a return man, but now has a little extra value as insurance for Tomlinson.
-- Should Torry Holt's draft value go down? Holt said his recovery from offseason knee surgery is going slower than he expected. However, he has played this preseason, so it's not like he'll be completely out of action. He might be slowed a bit for Week 1, but he finds ways to put up stats.
-- Bengals kicker Shayne Graham has a hip injury suffered in Monday night's game against the Falcons. The team signed Aaron Elling to kick in the final preseason game this week, and there's a chance Graham could miss the season opener. Something to consider if you're still drafting. Graham is a decent option at kicker otherwise given Cincinnati's offense.
-- The Packers' running back situation for Week 1 is still up in the air. Rookie Brandon Jackson is recovering from a concussion and Vernand Morency has been sidelined for most of camp with a knee injury. There's a shot that Noah Herron could be the starter for the opener, although he wouldn't be more than a very late draft pick if you're desperate.
My colleague Brooks Peck already discussed the subject as a hypothetical, which became a reality as the Braves designated closer Bob Wickman for assignment. It’s a stunning move for a contender to cut ties with their closer like this, especially since he hasn’t been downright awful -- although giving up a 12th-inning game-winning homer to the Reds on Thursday apparently was the final straw.
What makes the move even more intriguing is that the Braves don’t have a slam-dunk option at closer to replace him right now. They did have a bunch of options before, but Mike Gonzalez was lost to Tommy John surgery early in the season, Rafael Soriano has been ordinary lately and recent acquisition Octavio Dotel is on the disabled list. As Peck mentioned in his piece, Oscar Villarreal and Peter Moylan may be options to close in the interim if Soriano doesn’t get the job right now. And there’s a good chance Dotel will be given the job whenever he returns from his injury.
For now, Villarreal and Soriano look to be the guys to target now, and then stashing away Dotel just in case. If you’re really desperate, maybe Moylan is an option.
Wickman’s future is obviously up in the air, and depending on where he lands, he might still be a contender for saves. But that’s obviously a big if right now.
Donald Driver left Thursday's game early with a sprained foot.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Now we're getting somewhere with preseason games and other practice news actually affecting draft boards. Let's update some situations where your draft lists might be shaken up:
-- Donald Driver getting carted off the field is definitely not a good sign. Driver sprained his foot in Thursday's game against the Jaguars, although it was originally thought to be an ankle injury. His status, especially for Week 1, is up in the air, so No. 2 wideout Greg Jennings and rookie James Jones (the early favorite for the No. 3 job) move up the charts a little bit.
-- Lance Moore isn't the only under-the-radar Saints receiver to impress this preseason. Veteran David Patten, a bust in Washington, had a touchdown on Thursday. He is one of many players, along with Moore and Terrence Copper, to be in the running for New Orleans' No. 3 wideout slot. There's a lot of depth here, and that doesn't even include first-round pick Robert Meachem, who has yet to find a good spot with the team. While Marques Colston is the No. 1 guy, Devery Henderson can still be challenged for the No. 2 job, and a lot of these other guys could have a good game or two in their future this season. There's a lot of potential late-round sleepers in this bunch.
-- Warrick Dunn's fantasy value is on the rise again after returning from a back injury. While second-year back Jerious Norwood is battling a stomach ailment this week, it's likely given the veteran Dunn the edge again in the Falcons running back race. Dunn will start Monday night's preseason game and play into the third quarter. Head coach Bobby Petrino told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he might get Dunn more looks as a receiver out of the backfield, which would enhance his value even more. The youngster Norwood still has plenty of upside and is hoping to play his way ahead of Dunn, but for now, he may have to be content with a slight increase in carries instead being the primary back.
-- Brodie Croyle looked to be the Chiefs' opening day starter, but after going 5-for-17 for just 45 yards and an interception against the Saints on Thursday, it's a big question mark. Damon Huard didn't play with a leg injury, but that might've helped him instead of hurt him. Either way, you probably don't want any Chiefs quarterback, and the value of veterans like Tony Gonzalez and Eddie Kennison may be down a bit.
It was a strange couple of games this week for the usually reliable Billy Wagner.
To continue on the week of strange baseball occurrences, we now have Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman blowing saves on the same night for only the second time ever (both this season). However, the weird thing is that both of them did it in the same game as the Padres eventually outlasted the Mets in 10 innings.
It was a strange series for both Hoffman and Wagner, but hopefully they were just bumps in the road. Hoffman had save chances in all three games, blowing two and converting one. Hoffman lost Tuesday's game by allowing two runs and four hits and getting just one out. Then he pitched 2/3 of an inning Wednesday to bail out Kevin Cameron, who made a 7-2 rout look way too close in the ninth. Finally, he gave up a run in the ninth on Thursday but got the win when the Padres scored in the 10th.
Wagner gave up the go-ahead run in a 5-5 game on Tuesday, but was bailed out when Hoffman allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth. And then Wagner gave up two runs in the ninth on Thursday to blow the save, but was spared a loss when Hoffman had his issues. Aaron Heilman would eventually pick up the loss, while Heath Bell came in to get the save for the Padres that Hoffman couldn't.
With both teams still in the thick of the race, it's hard to think they'll get much rest in September and let other pitchers pick up more saves. I guess the Mets' best option at this point after Wagner is still the inconsistent Heilman, although Jorge Sosa has pitched well in middle relief. The Padres have a strong bullpen this season, and it's possible Bell might see another chance or two if Hoffman needs the rest.
Other notes heading into the weekend: -- Jonathan Broxton's streak of 96 2/3 innings without allowing a homer ended on Thursday when Tadahito Iguchi went deep in the eighth inning.
-- Albert Pujols' homer streak ended at five games, as the Marlins shut down the Cardinals. However, Josh Willingham had a big game with two homers and six RBIs.
-- The Cubs made an interesting move in picking up Craig Monroe, who had been designated for assignment by the Tigers. Monroe has power, although his average can be somewhat suspect, and probably will see time against left-handed hitters. The potential for some homers off the bench will make him a nice pickup in NL-only leagues as long as you keep your expectations reasonable.
-- The Dodgers will become the latest stop on the David Wells' tour. The veteran lefty likely will start this weekend against the Mets after getting dropped by the Padres earlier this month. I'm not sure how much Boomer still has in him, given he was 5-8 with a 5.54 ERA. In his last four starts before getting cut, Wells allowed 26 runs in just 16 2/3 innings. However, Wells was still moderately effective in pitcher-friendly Petco, going 3-2 with a 3.91 ERA, but 2-6 with a 7.99 ERA and 2.03 WHIP on the road.
-- While Edgar Renteria is back on the DL, there's a good chance Chase Utley could be back with the Phillies this week, which is great news for fantasy owners needing him down the stretch.
-- Not only is Chone Figgins struggling with a wrist injury, Casey Kotchman may miss time this weekend with a finger injury suffered in the Yankees series. Kendry Morales was called up from the minors to spell Kotchman.
Travis Metcalf had a grand slam in the 30-3 rout then followed up with four more RBIs in the second game against the Orioles.
So you thought Garret Anderson's 10-RBI night was amazing. Then comes the Rangers' ridiculous 30-3 whooping of the Orioles in the first game of yesterday's doubleheader. I know some fantasy owners in leagues with daily transactions may have scooped up some Orioles and Rangers because of the doubleheader, but did anyone expect anything like this? Let's take a look at some of the bizarre fantasy implications from this record performance.
-- Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally showed a little stick since joining the Rangers, hitting two homers and driving in seven and scoring five runs. Despite hitting just .219 since being traded, Salty now has exactly the same number of homers (4) and RBIs (12) in 73 at-bats for Texas as he did in 141 at-bats for the Braves.
-- Ramon Vazquez matched Salty with the two homers and seven RBIs, and the two of them were the 8 and 9 hitters in the Rangers order. Vazquez had exactly two homers and seven RBIs combined since May 26.
-- Despite all the runs scored, Michael Young surprisingly had no RBIs. He did have two hits in five at-bats. Nelson Cruz also had no RBIs, the only other part of the lineup to have that honor. Cruz also went 2-for-7. Everyone in the Rangers lineup had a hit and scored a run.
-- Travis Metcalf was called up earlier in the day and hit a grand slam off the bench in the first game. He then drove in four more runs in the nightcap for an eight-RBI day. Welcome back, Travis.
-- Definitely lost in the shuffle was another decent performance from Kason Gabbard, who is now 6-1 overall this season.
-- However, more amusingly, Wes Littleton pitched three scoreless innings for his first save of the season. There are tough saves that players such as Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera get with regularity, and then there are silly saves like one in a 30-3 game.
-- Because it was the first game of a doubleheader, the Orioles did try to conserve their bullpen, which would explain why only four pitchers were used, although this could've been a place for a position player to get an inning in. The reliever hit hardest was veteran Paul Shuey, who gave up nine runs in two innings and saw his ERA balloon from 6.75 to 9.49. But Brian Burres allowed eight runs in 2/3 of an inning, and Rob Bell allowed seven in 1 1/3. Starter Daniel Cabrera had another one of his up-and-down games, allowing a team-low six runs and striking out four in five innings.
While it was a great day if you had just about any Rangers hitter, it was a pretty bad day in terms of injuries to big stars: -- Cole Hamels went on the DL with an elbow strain and will miss at least his next two starts. He was backdated to Aug. 17, so that means he'll probably be activated right around Sept. 1, whether he pitches or not by then is another question.
-- Gary Sheffield is out indefinitely with a nagging shoulder injury, and it's possible he won't be back until at least September as well. The injury does solve the dilemma of playing time for both Marcus Thames and Cameron Maybin.
-- The Padres' Chris Young returned to San Diego to get his ailing back checked out. The NL's ERA leader left Tuesday's start after just five innings may miss his next turn.
-- Edgar Renteria came off the DL on Wednesday, then aggravated the ankle injury that got him there in the first place and had to be replace by Yunel Escobar. So much for the quick return.
But there were some bright spots as well: -- Albert Pujols now has homers in five straight games. He's picking the right time to peak.
-- Brandon Webb's scoreless streak ended in a flash at 42 innings against the Brewers, but he still won his 14th game, giving up just two runs in seven innings.
-- Joba Chamberlain has yet to give up a run since being called up, and he struck out three Angels last night, including making Vladimir Guerrero look bad.
-- There have been plenty of surprising pitchers this season, but what do you make of the Royals' Brian Bannister, who picked up his 10th win of the season. Bannister has five wins in his last seven starts, allowing no more than three runs in any of them.