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Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
4/27/2007 04:12:00 PM

Top sleeper picks; two big debuts

J.J. Hardy
Who figured J.J. Hardy would have more homers than Bill Hall this season?
OK, it's time for you to gloat: While players such as Alex Rodriguez and Jose Reyes should have you in contention this early in the year, it's those sleeper picks and shrewd free-agent pickups that are a big reason why you're really in the running.

So here's a lineup of some this year's biggest surprises -- players taken in the tail end of mixed-league or even single-league drafts. Feel free to add any players who have gotten you out to a fast start.

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Padres: Not a real sleeper, especially in NL-only leagues, but is arguably the best first baseman this season.

2B: Kelly Johnson, Braves: Ian Kinsler deserves mention, but he was highly rated entering the year. Johnson has proved to be an able replacement for Marcus Giles so far.

SS: J.J. Hardy, Brewers: Supposedly the weak offensive link among the young Milwaukee stars, but he has six homers already, three off his career high. Aaron Hill and Khalil Greene are also shining early.

3B: Akinori Iwamura, Devil Rays: Unfortunately, the oblique injury will keep him out 4-6 weeks, but his speed and average were a nice surprise right away. Also, Mike Lowell is showing signs of life again.

OF: Josh Hamilton, Reds: A nice story in spring training has now become one of the top fantasy bargains early on. Sometimes going after the camp curiosity works.

OF: Sammy Sosa, Rangers: Forget the average, Sosa has found the power stroke again. Like Hamilton, taking a late flyer on the camp curiosity worked out.

OF: Kenny Lofton, Rangers: Do you realize he's leading the AL with nine steals entering Friday's games?

C: Russell Martin, Dodgers: Like Gonzalez, not a real sleeper-type, but the fact that he's among the top catchers in all fantasy categories is nice.

SP: Ramon Ortiz, Twins: I'm still not sold on him despite the 3-1 record, 2.48 ERA and 0.86 WHIP mainly because he's burned me before. And the 12 K's in 29 innings does give you pause.

SP: Braden Looper, Cardinals: Seriously, did you think he'd be this good (3-1, 1.91 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) this fast making the transition to the starting rotation? Most people thought it would've been Adam Wainwright with those stats.

SP: Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates: Nearly didn't make the rotation out of spring training, but now he's 3-0 and he pitched seven scoreless innings in his one no-decision.

SP: Shawn Hill, Nationals: John Patterson was the one Washington starter who got any attention, but Hill has allowed only two earned runs in each of his five starts this season.

RP: Al Reyes, Devil Rays: I guess you could see this coming: Out-of-nowhere guy on bad team seizes closer's job early and piles up saves. Another example of how you can wait to get your saves during the year.

Welcome to the show
Two high-profile prospects made their major-league debuts on Thursday with very modest success. In the afternoon Brandon Wood stepped in for the Angels, hitting ninth and starting at third base. He went 0 for 4 with a couple strikeouts. Not the best way to make a debut, and while he could be a mainstay in the infield soon, he could be headed back to the minors next week when Chone Figgins returns.

Later in the day came Phil Hughes' much-awaited debut for the Yankees. Hughes showed some promise, but was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing four runs and seven hits with five strikeouts. He did impress a lot of people, but A.J. Burnett was even better (seven shutout innings, four hits, four walks, five strikeouts) to hand the Yankees their fifth straight loss. Even with the defeat, Hughes still seems to be a better option that Kei Igawa (who was demoted to the bullpen) or Jeff Karstens (who takes Igawa's spot in the rotation), so keep him around. In fact, it might not be the worst thing that Hughes likely wasn't available in many Yahoo! leagues until today.

Other notes:
-- After a great start, Salomon Torres may be in danger of losing his closer's job as he's failed to go a full inning in his last two outings. Josh Grabow got a save bailing out Torres on Thursday, and Matt Capps could be in next.

-- On the other end of the spectrum, Armando Benitez saved all three games of the Giants' sweep of the Dodgers, the latter two without allowing a baserunner, so he's got a nice grip on that job as long as he stays healthy.

-- While Ben Sheets' groin injury doesn't appear serious, yet another oft-injured player, Rocco Baldelli, could miss this weekend's series after suffering a leg contusion on Thursday chasing down a fly ball against the Angels.

-- Speaking of the Angels, Bartolo Colon is finding his groove again, striking out 11 in the aforementioned game. But remember that injury issues will continue to dog him.
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4/26/2007 02:14:00 PM

Everything but the W

Jake Peavy
Jake Peavy struck out nine straight batters at one point, one off the major league record.
In one of my leagues (a very shallow mixed league), my three pitchers Wednesday evening were Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb. Their combined line: 23 innings, 17 hits, five earned runs, four walks, 34 strikeouts, no wins. The last stat is the most telling given how well all three pitched last night.

Once again, the mystery of pitching wins is haunting fantasy owners. Hudson shut out the Marlins for eight innings but allowed three straight hits in the ninth, and Bob Wickman couldn't secure the save as Brian McCann's passed ball allowing the winning run to score. Hudson's counterpart, Scott Olsen, also pitched well after giving up three solo homers in the first two innings -- striking out 10 in his eight innings of work -- en route to a no-decision.

A similar tough-luck situation took place in Arizona as Peavy and Webb were locked in a duel of two of the NL's best pitchers. Webb looked to be on his way to a tough-luck loss, allowing just two runs over eight innings, while Peavy was nearly unhittable, striking out 16, including a stretch of nine straight. The Padres turned the game over to their great 1-2 duo of Scott Linebrink and Trevor Hoffman, which is when the fun started. Linebrink allowed a solo shot to Miguel Montero in the eighth, and then Hoffman blew the save by serving up a two-run, game-winning homer to Stephen Drew.

While it's disappointing to see such a great Peavy performance "wasted," maybe it just balances out a so-so five-run, 10-hit effort in 5 1/3 innings against the D'backs last week that actually led to a win. Of course, you can't count on luck the whole time that your subpar starts lead to wins and your good starts become losses or no-decisions. Peavy isn't the only one to see this either, Daisuke Matsuzaka got a win against the Yankees despite the worst stat line of his early big league career.

Meanwhile, one pitcher who did turn in a great performance and got the win was Jarrod Washburn, who fired a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the A's. Washburn outdueled Joe Blanton, another tough-luck loser, who also went the distance, allowing two runs and six hits.

Chad Durbin also did what Hudson, Peavy and Webb couldn't do -- throwing eight shutout innings and striking out nine White Sox for his first win of the year. Joel Zumaya made things interesting for Durbin in the ninth, allowing two runs, before Todd Jones bailed him out.

Other notes for Thursday:
-- Phil Hughes will start for the Yankees tonight despite Wednesday's rainout. Andy Pettitte will start the series opener against the Red Sox on Friday. Pettitte owners are hoping that Mariano Rivera won't cost the lefty yet another win -- his two blown saves have come at Pettitte's expense.

-- It barely took three weeks for Ben Sheets to get hurt, as he left Wednesday's game against the Cubs with a groin injury. At least he pitched three scoreless innings before leaving, as opposed to Felix Hernandez, who got roughed up before injuring his elbow. The weather was cold and damp in Chicago on Wednesday, which is why the Cubs benched Alfonso Soriano. Ironically, to keep Soriano out of harm's way the Cubs started Cliff Floyd in his place, ever the picture of good health.

-- Angels top prospect Brandon Wood is getting his first taste of the majors with Howie Kendrick injured. However, the trip could be a short one with Chone Figgins expected back next week. Wood and Maicer Izturis will probably see time at both second and third.

-- Joakim Soria got his third save on Wednesday the hard way, getting five outs to beat the Twins. He's fine in save situations, but non-save chances haven't been as kind for Soria. (four scoreless innings in three save chances; 1-1, 4.90 ERA in other outings).
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4/25/2007 04:40:00 PM

Pulling the plug?

Josh Barfield
Josh Barfield's tenure in Cleveland has not gotten off to a good start.
Yesterday I went over some star players who may be on their way to getting past their early-season woes. You should stick with them as long as possible, given how much you invested in them either in auction money or a high draft pick. But what about those potential late-round flyers or possible sleeper picks who have yet to wake up? At what point do you cut ties and move on?

For instance, young Rockies Troy Tulowitzki (.197-0-5 entering Wednesday), Chris Iannetta (.125-0-3) and Willy Taveras have all gotten extended time off in the past couple of days thanks to their very slow starts. Colorado ended up using Jamey Carroll/Clint Barmes, Yorvit Torrealba and Steve Finley to replace them in the lineup.

Other examples: Former Rockies and current Royals first baseman Ryan Shealy is hitting a paltry .102, while much-hyped Alex Gordon is at .143 with two homers. Cleveland’s Josh Barfield is down to.123 after yet another 0-for-4 performance. Arizona’s Stephen Drew is hitting just .222 but has scored 11 runs, while teammate Chris Young is at .211 but is tied for third on the team with 10 RBIs. Texas’s Gerald Laird has just one hit in his last 33 at-bats.

If you’re in an AL- or NL-only or a deeper mixed league, you have to bite the bullet on those guys and hope for the best. You can also make a trade, but obviously their values are so low right now that there’s no way you’re going to get proper compensation, although the stakes are probably different in keeper leagues.

But in many mixed leagues you may be tempted to cut them outright instead of stashing them on the bench (depending on the size of your reserve roster). If you can find decent replacements who look like they can maintain a solid level production long enough to warrant dropping the youngster while he fine-tunes his game, then go ahead and do so, even if it’s the flavor of the month or the forgotten veteran who has one last surge.

Otherwise, with young players like these, you don’t necessarily want to be the one who drops a Gordon or Barfield now and then see him wake up later this summer and put up the big stats you were expecting in the first place. It seems to happen every year that a top rookie gets off to a relatively slow start but by the end of the season has the stats you’d expected in the first place, just not exactly when you want it to happen.

And we may already see early signs of this, as Taveras (not a rookie) returned to the lineup on Wednesday, going 5 for 6 against the Mets, raising his average from .192 to .259. And Mark Teahen, who had been struggling as well, is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak to make his numbers respectable.

Other notes for Wednesday:

-- Both Randy Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang lost their 2007 debuts, although both looked reasonably well for a while before struggling late -- they both have to shake some rust off.

-- Unless you’ve got him really cheap in a keeper league, feel free to cut Mark Prior, who will miss the 2007 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

-- The Blue Jays fear catcher Gregg Zaun has a broken hand, which means Jason Phillips will get more time behind the plate and share duties with Sal Fasano, if you need to fill a second catcher spot in AL-only leagues.

-- Jorge Cantu may have space in the lineup after all, as the Devil Rays intend to use him at first and DH, while Ty Wigginton moves to third in place of Akinori Iwamura, who will miss 4-6 weeks.
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4/24/2007 02:36:00 PM

Ready to wake up

Carlos Delgado
Carlos Delgado finally hit his first homer of the season Monday after going deep 38 times in 2006.
With the weather improving across the country, it looks like offense is starting to pick up again. A handful of slow starters appear ready to get back to normal.

Albert Pujols is definitely the king of this list, as he's finally gotten that average over .200, thanks in part to a couple of three-hit games. The homers are coming slowly, but he did have a big three-run shot on Sunday. It's only a matter of time until he has a run like Alex Rodriguez's.

Another first baseman looking like he might be turning it around is Carlos Delgado, who finally hit his first homer on Monday. While the average is still hovering in the low .200 range, Delgado has 12 RBIs, so he's finding ways to drive in runners, which is more than you can say about David Wright, who has four RBIs (four fewer than backup catcher Ramon Castro).

Andruw Jones is a bit of a disappointment with just three homers, but he's making better contact and has raised his average 72 points in just the last four games (.170 to .242), which includes a double in each.

And Juan Pierre is in the middle of a seven-game hitting streak, with multiple hits in all but one of the contests. Plus, he continues to steal bases, so the two things you want from him are starting to come into focus.

Lost in A-Rod's historic power binge is Jason Giambi's hot streak hitting right behind Rodriguez. Giambi has a 10-game hitting streak and a six-game RBI streak (11 total in that stretch). Early in the season Giambi wasn't hitting much but was drawing nearly a walk a game. He doesn't have to get the free passes right now since he's hitting the ball everywhere. It seems hard to believe that the Yankees have lost four straight with both A-Rod and Giambi killing the ball.

Many fantasy owners are still waiting for Gary Sheffield to turn things around, and maybe his two-hit game against the Angels on Monday is the start of a resurgence. Sheffield is still hitting an anemic .143, although he is drawing walks (14, more than his hits -- 9), so that patience at the plate should lead to more hits. It would be interesting to see if you can buy low on Sheffield.

Other notes for Tuesday:
-- With the Yankees rotation still a mess, they finally called up top prospect Phil Hughes after Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright struggled in the Red Sox series. Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he does have 17 strikeouts in 16 innings and has allowed just 15 total baserunners. Hughes will make his big-league debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays, as the Yankees opted not to start him in the next Red Sox series this weekend.

-- Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez officially landed on the DL but is expected to return on May 4. It was more of a procedural move than anything else since he was expected to miss his next two starts.

-- Akinori Iwamura is the latest player to land on the DL with an oblique injury. Jorge Cantu will return to the team in his place, but he'll have to work to find a spot in the lineup with B.J. Upton locking up second base, and Ty Wigginton possibly going to third for Iwamura.

-- It's not just veterans struggling; a couple of highly touted young infielders are also slumping. The Rockies benched Troy Tulowitzki for the past three games after he hit .193 in his first 57 at-bats, giving Clint Barmes some looks. Cleveland's Josh Barfield is even worse, hitting .132 with just a homer and a steal in 53 at-bats. Give them time to get over their early slumps, but you may need to downgrade your season-long projections for both.
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4/23/2007 04:27:00 PM

Feeling lucky?

Ramon Ortiz
Ramon Ortiz is 3-0 but how long can that last?
As most fantasy owners know, pitching is ridiculously fickle from year to year, month to month, or even start to start. And thus begins the crazy game in most leagues of claiming and dropping pitchers on the waiver wire. While you might be more patient with a slumping hitter, one bad or good start gets the waiver wire buzzing -- often for no good reason other than you want the production now.

And as the early part of this season has shown, you can never be too sure about those marginal pitchers you're taking a chance on (and are popular pickups in the NFBC leagues, according to my colleague Greg Ambrosius). Who knew middling veterans such as Ramon Ortiz, Kyle Lohse and Brett Tomko could still put up ERAs around 2 and WHIPs just about 1, especially while Jeff Weaver is back to his old tricks? Youngsters like Tom Gorzelanny, Chris Sampson and Jason Hirsh have impressed early, but if you decided to take the plunge with Chase Wright, Matt Chico or Rick Vanden Hurk, you're probably not doing as well.

It is strange to see even mixed-leaguers having to dive into the fifth starters on even the worst of teams, but finding the right pitching balance often leads to taking desperate measures. That includes taking those marginal pitchers and cutting bait with guys like Adam Wainwright, Chuck James and Zack Greinke after a bad start and then seeing a good outing sitting on the waiver wire after that.

So which undrafted pitchers have you taken chances on to bolster your staff? Which ones have worked and which ones have posted astronomical ERAs for you?

Notable fantasy developments from the weekend:
-- Alfonso Soriano will move back to left field, and that could mean Felix Pie stays with the Cubs in center. If that happens, you could see a logjam in right with Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton looking for at-bats and diminishing their fantasy value.

-- Eric Gagne got hurt again, injuring his hip during a save attempt on Sunday and landed on the DL on Monday. Akinori Otsuka was back at it again, getting the save after Gagne left. You know the drill with Otsuka and Gagne by now.

-- Speaking of Japanese relievers, Hideki Okajima got a surprise save on Friday when the Red Sox opted to rest Jonathan Papelbon. Okajima pitched all three games of the Yankees series over the weekend and hasn't allowed a run in eight straight outings since giving up a homer on Opening Day to the Royals. He can help AL-only staffs, but don't expect a bunch of saves.

-- Josh Phelps doesn't have a lot of value as a first baseman, but he becomes slightly more interesting at catcher after he finished Sunday's game behind the plate, thanks in part to an injury keeping Jorge Posada from anything more than pinch-hitting. Many leagues allow players to be eligible to be used in a new position during the season after just one game.

-- Nice to see Ryan Howard finally get his second homer of the season. Maybe that brief time off with the knee injury gave him enough rest to get his bat back in order.

-- With Andy Marte going on the DL with a hamstring injury, Casey Blake will get time back at third base and highly touted Ryan Garko getting his shot at first.

-- And it only took three weeks for Rich Harden to go back on the disabled list. He's pitched well this season but is now out with a shoulder injury. If you want to press your luck, Dallas Braden was called up to take Harden's spot in the rotation.
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