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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.
5/11/2007 04:26:00 PM

Opportunity knocks

Taylor Tankersley
Taylor Tankersley, who got the win in relief on Thursday, may end up getting saves after all.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Many fantasy owners feel robbed by B.J. Ryan's elbow injury and more so by the fact that general manager J.P. Ricciardi covered it up during spring training by saying he had back issues. He seemed to be taking a page from the NHL, which is notorious for lying about injuries. Meanwhile, yet another closer has gone down (although nowhere close to as highly rated in the preseason as Ryan).

This time Henry Owens, who had emerged as Florida's closer after Jorge Julio melted down, is on the DL with a rotator cuff injury. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez wants Julio back in that role, but that could be a major risk. Instead, you'll probably see Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom, Lee Gardner and Julio angling for save chances. Along with the carousel of closer candidates in Toronto, there are plenty of relievers who may be overbid in the next few days.

If you're looking for other pitching possibilities, the Reds may soon call up top prospect Homer Bailey, especially with Eric Milton landing on the DL with an elbow injury. Bailey has a 1.83 ERA this season in Triple A Louisville, although it appears for now that Bobby Livingston will get the first call this weekend. However, Bailey could be up sooner rather than later, joining Phil Hughes and Tim Lincecum as major pitching prospects making the leap early in the season.

Jack Cust hit a couple of homers against the Royals on Thursday, giving him three since returning to the American League. He's definitely an AL-type, DH hitter, and despite the glut of outfielders seemingly populating the A's roster, Cust might have a chance for decent at-bats while Mike Piazza is out. He's been looking for that opportunity for a long time, and even if it's just for a few weeks, Cust might actually be worth something. Teammate Dan Johnson also hit two homers and has a strong grip on the starting first base job, helped by the fact that Nick Swisher is in the outfield with all the injuries on the roster.

After looking like an OK play early in the season in an emerging Devil Rays lineup, Ben Zobrist was sent to the minors after hitting just .159 and drawing zero walks in 63 at-bats. Feel free to cut him if you haven't already, although don't rush to get his replacement, utility man Josh Wilson, who was just 1-for-19 for the Nationals before being waived himself.

If you're looking to roll the dice on some players to fill spots in an NL-only league, you may want to go after Fred Lewis, who was called up by the Giants to replace Dave Roberts, who will miss about six weeks after undergoing elbow surgery. Lewis had seven steals in Triple A Fresno and may end starting for Roberts.

You knew Jose Contreras was going to improve after such a horrible first start of the season. Since that one-inning, seven-earned run debacle on Opening Day, Contreras's ERA is 2.29, which has already lowered his season mark to a passable 3.79.

It is very intriguing that the top three ERAs in the AL belong to Tim Wakefield (1.79), Dan Haren (1.89, but he has six unearned runs under his belt as well) and Gil Meche (2.15). However, Wakefield is only tied for fifth in the majors with John Maine. Brad Penny (1.39), Jason Marquis (1.70), Rich Hill (1.73) and Jake Peavy (1.75) are the top four.

On the other end of the scale, Jeff Weaver is a spectacular 0-6 with a 14.32 ERA, which is only slightly higher than his low mark of the season (13.91). So much for turning things around in pitcher-friendly Safeco after last October's resurgence.

Two quick football notes heading into the weekend:
-- With Ricky Williams testing positive for marijuana, you can pretty much count out any chance of him being a usable fantasy contributor this season. He can reapply for reinstatement in September, but it will be tough for him to make any sort of impact, even late in the year. Ronnie Brown should still get the bulk of the carries for the Dolphins, and who knows what rookie Lorenzo Booker can offer in a backup role.

-- If you're keeping track of backup running backs, Kevan Barlow may be in contention to be the No. 2 guy behind Willie Parker after signing with the Steelers. Barlow, a star at Pitt, was a bust with the Jets last season after the 49ers dealt him away in favor of Frank Gore (good idea). For now, all Barlow can hope for is some spot in the rotation with Najeh Davenport.
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5/10/2007 05:16:00 PM

Reality check?

Jason Marquis
Jason Marquis has won five straight starts, lowering his ERA to 1.70.
As always, pitching is all over the map this year with Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett doing just fine, while everyone is trying to figure out what's up with Carlos Zambrano. But if you've gotten lucky on the waiver wire, you're ahead of the game. However, at some point you have to figure out if these guys are for real or if it's an illusion and thus a time to sell high.

Here are some of the early stars this season that you may have to wonder if they'll keep up the pace.

Jason Marquis, Cubs: A complete game three-hitter against the Pirates on Wednesday was his fifth win in his last five starts. However, the last four have come against the Pirates and Cardinals, who are both struggling offensively. His strikeout rate isn't great, but it's better than in year's past, but even though he'll get more cracks at other iffy NL Central lineups, Marquis seems due for a bad game soon enough.

Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates: The tough-luck loser to Marquis on Wednesday has been solid this year as well, sporting a 4-2 record with a decent 2.72 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He's improved his BB:K ratio from last season, which is helpful. However, be careful about chasing after wins with the offense in front of him. The same could be said about teammate Ian Snell, who came into the season with a slightly high ceiling.

John Maine, Mets: He's still a perfect 5-0 this season, despite allowing three runs and walking six against the Giants on Wednesday. Maine is maturing nicely after a surprisingly decent run with the Mets last year, although just beware that he's already had two six-walk games this season (the two outings in which he hasn't picked up the win). There's no way he keeps up a sub-2.00 ERA, but it could eventually settle in the 3.00 range by season's end. And the Mets offense will help him with run support.

Mark Hendrickson, Dodgers: Filling in for the injured Jason Schmidt, Hendrickson has been solid, although he finally got lit up for five runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings against the Marlins on Tuesday. Even with that performance, he's still sporting a 1.95 ERA, plus a 2-0 record. It's hard to believe he can keep this up, given his very inconsistent career track record (4.85 ERA, 1.43 WHIP). You may want to wait out another start or two, but he could be a great sell-high candidate.

Gil Meche, Royals: We all know about the $55 million contract, but there had to be a reason why he could even command such money. Meche has allowed three or fewer runs in all but one of his starts this season, and he's sporting a decent 14:42 BB:K ratio, which bodes well for the future. Run support and wins could be an issue, but he's definitely not a joke.

Claudio Vargas, Brewers: One reason for Milwaukee's resurgence is Vargas, who is 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA, including allowing just one run in his last three starts over 17 innings. The 37 K's in 34 innings is impressive, although 20 of them came in consecutive starts back in April. He has 15 K's and 11 walks in his last 21 innings, so be careful there.

Chad Gaudin, A's: Surprisingly, he's just 2-1 despite a stellar 2.40 ERA, where he hasn't allowed more than three runs (and allowed just one run in four of his seven starts). The win on Tuesday got him plenty of attention, thanks in part to eight strikeouts. Control was an issue with Gaudin last year as he had more walks than strikeouts (42-36) despite a decent 3.09 ERA, but he seems to have solved it for now, which bodes well.

James Shields, Devil Rays: Scott Kazmir has been good but not necessarily great, while Shields seems to have emerged as the best starter in Tampa Bay (or at least a close No. 2 to Kazmir). He pitched nine shutout innings on Wednesday against the Orioles, but failed to get the win as Baltimore won in extra innings, but he continues to turn things around after a shaky start. He's gone into the eighth inning in his last four starts, which includes 33 K's in 32 1/3 innings. The 10:49 BB:K ratio also is a sign that he'll keep on improving.

Other notes:
-- Forget about B.J. Ryan this year as he underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday. Jason Frasor hasn't seized the closer's job as some might have expected, so feel free to take a chance on Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo if you're looking for saves.

-- The emergence of Josh Hamilton and the versatility of Ryan Freel made it relatively easy to send Edwin Encarnacion to the minors after a bad start (.218-1-14-2). Freel is now being used as the regular third baseman instead of trying to figure out how to get time in the outfield with Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, who hit his 11th homer Thursday afternoon.

-- The Felix Pie experiment is over for now in Chicago as the Cubs' top minor league prospect was sent back to Iowa in favor of fellow outfielder Angel Pagan, who homered Thursday. Pie hit just .224 in his first time around but he could be back soon, depending on the status of the veteran outfielders on the roster. However, Pie's callup might have fired up Alfonso Soriano, who had a single Thursday to extend his hitting streak to 18 games.

-- Jeremy Bonderman might not make Sunday's start with a blister on his middle finger.

-- Surprisingly, Willie Harris has four steals already for the Braves despite joining the team just a couple of weeks ago after the Ryan Langerhans trade. Matt Diaz appears to be the primary left fielder, but Harris will get his looks and NL-only teams will take whatever stolen bases come his way.
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5/09/2007 12:59:00 PM

Turning things around

Jason Varitek
Jason Varitek raised his batting average from .250 to .284 after a 4-for-4 game on Tuesday.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
Sure you might be struggling right now, but always know that most players will run hot and cold during the season. You just hope the hot streaks far outnumber the cold streaks. In the past few days, some disappointments have started to turn things around -- hopefully you can still cash in, either on the waiver wire or via trade.

For instance, Jason Varitek has raised his average nearly 60 points in just the past week, thanks to a five-game hitting streak that included a 4-for-4 outing Tuesday against the Blue Jays that included a homer. Some owners may have given up on him, so he may be available in some leagues, especially for owners needing to replace the injured Mike Piazza or Joe Mauer.

Another banged-up veteran, Jim Edmonds, had his first three-hit outing of the season, ending a six-game hitless streak. That game got him over the Mendoza line, but he still has just one homer this season, so his value is still marginal at this point.

Andruw Jones, who's been the model for inconsistent play this season, ended an 0-for-21 slump on Tuesday with a homer against the Padres. Hopefully there will be more upswings than down ones for Jones, who is probably disappointing his share of fantasy owners with a relatively slow start.

Oddly enough, Alex Rodriguez also had a bounceback night on Tuesday, hitting his first homer since April 23 to beat the Rangers. It was also only his second game since then where he had an RBI (he had three in the 15-11 loss to the Mariners last Friday). However, with such a huge start, he's still running away with the major league lead in homers and RBIs, although head-to-head players have probably been upset.

His former teammate Gary Sheffield has also been on a tear of late, hitting four homers and eight RBIs in his last six games and he's slowly getting his average back into shape, although he's still at .226, five points off his season high. This could be the last time to get him at a cheap price.

Over on the pitching side, Cliff Lee shook off a so-so season debut by hurling a three-hit complete game against the Angels, allowing just one run in the process. Lee can also be a tad inconsistent, but when he's on, he can be a solid fantasy contributor.

There are some interesting pitching matchups to watch this evening, partly for fantasy purposes and partly for just curiosity's sake:

-- First off, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz get to square off in Atlanta with the Padres in town. Smoltz has a 2-1 lead in their career showdowns, but their last meeting as opponents before this season was in 1992.

-- However, while the two of them are a combined age of 80 (Maddux 41, Smoltz 39 but will be 40 next week), the oldest matchup tonight belongs to the Randy Johnson (43)-Jamie Moyer (44) showdown in Arizona. The crafty Moyer has been solid this season, while the Big Unit has struggled since returning from offseason knee surgery. But to go along with the theme of resurgent players, Johnson is soon to make an impact, especially with Ryan Howard out of the lineup.

-- And Daisuke Matsuzaka has first meeting against another Japanese starting pitcher as he faces the Blue Jays' Tomo Ohka. Matsuzaka has been mildly disappointing so far with a 5.45 ERA that's not far off from Ohka's 5.50 mark. However, Matsuzaka is averaging more than a strikeout per inning (39 K's in 38 innings), compared to Ohka's 13 in 36 innings, plus eight homers.
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5/08/2007 01:52:00 PM

Must-see TV?

Ryan Zimmerman
Will the MLB draft draw enough fantasy owners to TV if they knew there would be players like Ryan Zimmerman, who joined the Nationals within months after being a first-round selection?
For the first time ever, the MLB draft will be televised as ESPN2 will provide four hours of coverage next month. The big questions here for fantasy owners is: will you watch it and how relevant is the draft for your team?

The NFL and NBA drafts are sporting institutions on its own, and from a fantasy perspective it's fun to figure out where the new crop of rookies will be taken as the season approaches. For instance, Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson seem to be coveted players already, and there's already a little buzz about how productive Kevin Durant and Greg Oden will be depending on who wins the draft lottery.

Baseball is different in that most of the players drafted won't be in the majors that season, so it's tough to find that instant help off the waiver wire once these players get selected. And even if they do make the majors right away, the production has been marginal at best.

For instance, Andrew Miller, the Tigers' first-round pick last year, pitched 10 innings in September, racking up a 6.10 ERA. In 2005, pitchers Craig Hansen (Red Sox) and Joey Devine (Braves) both saw big-league action months after being drafted but didn't do a whole lot and are now in the minors. However, Ryan Zimmerman did make an impact that same year, hitting .397 with six RBIs in 20 games late in the season.

Of course, those are all exceptions rather than the rule. However, it's not all that surprising to see first-rounders (who will be the focus of the ESPN2 coverage) take a fast track to the majors, so it's good to have those names in the back of your mind when the attention turns to rookies. Those in keeper leagues should pay even closer attention since you'll want to stash away some of these guys cheaply before they hit it big. Although you'll obviously have to check your rules in terms of stashing those players away.

Among last year's draft picks, Tim Lincecum is already up and drew a ton of attention for his major-league debut. His brief stint in the minors validated the crazy stats he put up at the University of Washington, so he was already on a ton of rosters long before he took the mound on Sunday. Another of last year's picks to make it is Mets middle man Joe Smith, a third-round selection, who's been a pleasant surprise.

Go back to just two years ago, and there's already a handful of players in the majors: Zimmerman (fourth overall pick), Alex Gordon (second), Troy Tulowitzki (seventh), Mike Pelfrey (ninth), Matt Garza (25th and should be back from the minors soon), Travis Buck (36th) and Micah Owings (83rd). And a few others like Ryan Braun and Jacoby Ellsbury are not too far behind.

Watching this draft on TV probably will educate fantasy owners even more about players they probably have never seen or read about. With the NFL and NBA drafts, a lot of people already have an idea about many of the top stars having seen them from their college days. Other than the College World Series, college baseball doesn't get nearly the same publicity, so most of us are dealing with a blank slate.

Obviously you can't build up a team with just early-round picks, and there are stories of low-round guys making it big like Mike Piazza or Marcus Giles. And most of the players from Latin America and Asia bypass the draft process altogether, so you still have to look to the minors down the line for those future stars as well.

But now having the draft televised opens the door for some extra fantasy scouting and information. Or, depending on your league mates, you can always play it the other direction and get the veterans cheap while the rest drool over the rookies.

Other notes:
-- The Yankees' Matt DeSalvo was effective in his major-league debut, keeping the pitch count low as he allowed just one run over seven innings. Part of the reason for the low pitch count was zero strikeouts, and while Chien-Ming Wang and a few others have gotten away with it, you'd like to see a little bit in the K department to warrant using him in the future on your fantasy team. At least for now he's kept a spot in the rotation, possibly until Roger Clemens officially rejoins the staff.

-- Joel Zumaya's finger injury is worse than many thought as he ruptured a tendon and will be out three months after surgery. Fernando Rodney will now get many of Zumaya's late-inning chances, which should mean a few vulture wins and the stray save or two when Todd Jones can't go.

-- Ryan Howard won't start this week's series against the Diamondbacks as he nurses knee and quad injuries that could help explain his poor start. Howard did appear as a pinch-hitter in Monday's game, though, and popped out. On the plus side, Freddy Garcia was able to make his start for the Phillies, allowing two runs in six innings but getting a no-decision.

-- Chad Cordero is on the bereavement list, attending to his sick grandmother in California, so Jon Rauch likely would get save chances for the next couple of days.
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5/07/2007 03:40:00 PM

Something old, something new

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens got a little work in after announcing he was returning to the Yankees.
So Roger Clemens will be back in pinstripes after signing a one-year deal. If last year is any indication, the Rocket should make his season debut in early June -- plenty of time to help the Yankees as well as your fantasy team.

In three seasons with Houston, Clemens was 38-18 with a stellar 2.40 ERA, and even though he's going to be 45 in August, the Rocket still seems to be in stellar shape. Returning to the American League may bump up his ERA a bit, but he could still win 13-15 games in a short period of time with a solid Yankees lineup behind him.

While NL-only leagues have to be disappointed (although Andy Pettitte's return to the Bronx probably helped seal Clemens' fate), mixed and AL-only leagues have to be thrilled to have the Rocket back in there. If you stashed him away on your bench, you'll be able to get more than a half-season's worth of production, far better than most waiver-wire fodder out there. But if he's still out there, you might as well go all out to pick him up since you know what you'll get from him.

When Clemens joins the rotation, a bunch of their young starters will be headed back to the minors, although Darrell Rasner pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings on Sunday and Matt DeSalvo will make his major-league debut this evening. A rotation of Clemens, Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang (who was dazzling while flirting with a perfect game on Saturday) and Phil Hughes looks pretty solid. Rasner, DeSalvo and the recovering Jeff Karstens will be back in Scranton, while Kei Igawa was sent to Tampa. And the less said about Carl Pavano, the better.

The Clemens announcement overshadowed a start between two top pitchers who were just a combined 45 years of age as the Giants' highly touted prospect Tim Lincecum faced the Phillies' young lefty Cole Hamels -- to a prime-time audience no less. However, the matchup definitely didn't live up to expectations, at least pitching-wise, but it made for some interesting viewing.

Lincecum did not get off to a good start, allowing a single to Jimmy Rollins and a two-run homer to Shane Victorino (who's been on a stolen-base tear lately) in his first two hitters. However, he rebounded to strike out Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand around a walk to Pat Burrell to get out of the inning. Howard would get his revenge later with a two-run homer in the third. The final line for Lincecum was a bit peculiar: 4 1/3 innings, five runs (four earned), five hits, five walks, five strikeouts.

Heading into the game, he had allowed just seven earned runs in 62 2/3 minor league innings. Here he had four earned runs. The strikeouts, especially two in a row to Utley and Howard after giving up a two-run homer, were solid. However, the five walks are a bit disconcerting, although he had a six-walk game already this season for Fresno. But just like Hughes had a shaky debut for the Yankees, followed by an injury-shortened no-hit bid, Lincecum already shows some promise.

Meanwhile, Hamels shook off some errors to strike out nine over seven innings, although he allowed eight hits and five runs (three earned). Team Hamels with Brett Myers closing things and you've got a formidable 1-2 punch, although bridging that gap is a different story altogether.

While Lincecum was making a very notable debut, the Dodgers brought up top third base prospect Andy LaRoche to start Sunday against the Braves. He went 1-for-4 while the guy he's supposed to be replacing at the hot corner, Wilson Betemit, got a pinch-hit two-run homer to beat the Braves. LaRoche's minor league numbers this year were very ordinary (.235-3-11), but with Betemit struggling (.155-2-9), a change may have been necessary. On the other hand, Betemit has hit homers in consecutive games.

LaRoche could have his share of growing pains early on, especially since he's struggled in the minors this year. But the Dodgers have found success with young players pretty quickly in recent years with players such as Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Andre Ethier, so there's a chance LaRoche can produce soon. NL-only leagues should snatch him up quickly, while he's a wait-and-see player in mixed leagues.

On to the injury front:
-- Joe Mauer joins Mike Piazza as big-name fantasy catchers on the DL thanks to a quad injury that may keep him out longer than the usual 15 days. Mauer has been hitting well again this year, so it's a big blow to both the Twins and his fantasy owners. Veteran Mike Redmond will get most of the at-bats in his place, although there are no meetings with Tom Glavine in the near future (.428 career average). Not the greatest of fill-ins, but depending on your league, there probably isn't a lot out there on the waiver wire.

-- Freddy Garcia's start this evening is in jeopardy after running into a cart in the outfield in San Francisco over the weekend. It's been a weird first season in Philadelphia for Garcia so far, that's for sure.

-- Jake Westbrook officially headed to the DL on Monday, bringing Fausto Carmona back into the Indians rotation after being sent down when Cliff Lee returned. Carmona showed why Cleveland shouldn't have sent him down in the first place, giving up just one run in seven innings against the Orioles.

-- Joel Zumaya is on the DL with a finger injury, giving Fernando Rodney more late-inning chances, but with Todd Jones still cruising along, there won't be a many saves in his future.

-- Bartolo Colon left Sunday's start with a triceps injury, spoiling a solid start in which he allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings to the White Sox. That's not a good sign for a pitcher who missed the start of the season recovering from shoulder issues. Colon has been solid this year, going 3-0 with a 3.46 ERA and just two walks in 26 innings.

Notable stat lines:
-- Victorino probably helped out a bunch of head-to-head teams to victory and likely shook up enough roto standings with a seven stolen-base week, including three straight games with at least two. The Phillies have been running a lot, with youngster Michael Bourn swiping three bases as well.

-- Prince Fielder must want to get in that All-Star discussion I had last week, hitting three homers and seven RBIs against the Pirates over the weekend.

-- Jake Peavy now has three straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts (36 in total) and yet Sunday was his first win in that stretch. Meanwhile, Ben Sheets has 21 strikeouts total in 42 1/3 innings this season, or one fewer than setup man Derrick Turnbow in 13 1/3 innings. Last season, Sheets had 116 strikeouts in just 106 innings. He also had just 11 walks last year, and he's got nine already.
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