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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.
6/15/2007 01:16:00 PM

Decisions, decisions

Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings Thursday but has no win to show for it.
AP
There's plenty of talk that when Tom Glavine (295 wins) and Randy Johnson (284) reach 300 wins, we may never see another pitcher hit that mark again. As fantasy owners already know, even the best of starting pitchers don't always help you that category and that the biggest boost may actually come from middle relievers, usually on good teams, picking up vulture wins. In fact, getting any sort of decision (win or loss) is becoming harder for starting pitchers these days.

A handful of games from Thursday seem to illustrate that point nicely. First off, Tim Hudson bounced back from a leg injury in his last start to pitch 7 1/3 brilliant innings against the Twins, allowing no runs, two hits and a walk. While Rafael Soriano finished up the eighth, closer Bob Wickman failed to protect the Braves' 2-0 lead, allowing three runs for a Minnesota 3-2 win. Hudson's owners love the ERA and WHIP stats, but wouldn't a win been a nice way to close it out? He was betrayed by his bullpen even more than the Astros' Roy Oswalt or Chris Sampson earlier this week. Still, even without the win, Hudson needed the good outing after he went 1-3 in his previous four outings before getting injured last week. This is Hudson's fifth no-decision already this season in 15 starts.

While Hudson could've used a win to help his value a little, Jeff Weaver really could've used a victory to salvage anything from his miserable season, especially after he lost his first six starts. Weaver left Thursday's game against the Cubs with a 4-3 lead after allowing three runs and 10 hits over six innings -- an actual "quality start," his first all year. But the Cubs scratched out two runs in the eighth against the Seattle bullpen to get the win and cost Weaver his first victory of the year.

And then there was Homer Bailey and the dread you knew that a no-decision was in the cards for him yesterday. Bailey allowed three runs in his first six innings and headed into the seventh with a 5-3 lead, but somehow stayed in the game. He walked the first two batters, then put the game in the hands of relievers Gary Majewski and Mike Stanton, who then proceeded to blow the game wide open for the Angels. Bailey ended up getting charged with five runs, so his season ERA is a lofty 5.73, thanks in part to iffy managing and a bad bullpen. Watching that game, you knew the roof was going to cave in once Bailey left.

Plus there was a close call, as Ben Sheets owners nearly had a heart attack after Francisco Cordero allowed two runs in the ninth inning to the Tigers in what was a 6-3 game, nearly negating a Sheets victory.

On a similar note, Josh Beckett finally suffered his first loss of the season after getting smacked around by the Rockies. Beckett was able to win his first seven starts, but he was only 2-1 in his last five starts. He left one start early with a finger injury, while the Yankees rallied against the Red Sox bullpen in another. So while he's put up good numbers, he's also been fortunate to pick up decisions in almost every start.

The same goes for John Lackey, who became the majors' first 10-game winner on Wednesday. While Lackey has been one of the best starters this year with a 2.53 ERA, he's been fortunate to get decisions in all 14 of his outings this season. In other words, what you see with the basic stats is what you get with Lackey.

On the flip side of the equation, Kip Wells' record fell to a miserable 2-11 after allowing six runs in 1 1/3 innings to the Royals on Thursday. Honestly, the most notable part about Wells' awful season is that he was able to rack up 11 losses at this point in the season. He has just one no-decision this year, and that came in last Friday's start. It's also a wonder how Wells stays in the rotation, but his 6.93 ERA seems low compared to Weaver's 10.97 mark.

It's a bit of a mixed bag about pitchers getting decisions. Lackey and Beckett aren't necessarily exceptions to the rule. Jeff Suppan (14 starts, 7-7 record), Daisuke Matsuzaka (13 starts, 7-5) and Oliver Perez (12 starts, 6-5), Chien-Ming Wang (10 starts, 6-4 record), Barry Zito (13 starts, 6-6) are among those getting the full extent of their starts.

However, a number of this year's top pitchers so far have been burned by no-decisions, partly because of leaky bullpens, poor run support or just bad luck.

The top three pitchers in ERA heading into today's action (Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny) all have five no-decisions under their belt, and Peavy, in particular, has been cheated out of a couple of wins or else he could've been tied with Lackey.

But there are some more egregious examples than the ones above. Oakland's Chad Gaudin is 6-1 with a 2.85 ERA (but 1.41 WHIP) in 14 starts. His teammate Joe Kennedy has just six decisions (2-4) in 12 starts despite a 3.50 ERA. Tampa Bay's James Shields has been sparkling this year with a 3.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, and while he's undefeated with a 6-0 record, he has seven no-decisions as well. Shields has won his last three starts, however. And Andy Pettitte is wondering how he's just 4-4 in 14 starts despite an ERA under three. Even Jeremy Guthrie, the O's early-season hero, somehow has just four decisions (3-1) in 15 outings (nine starts).

The lesson is clear: don't go crazy trying to chase wins. It should come organically, but obviously plenty of factors that keep pitchers from getting those W's.

Other notes for Friday:
-- Break out the Royals? Alex Gordon is finally starting to show signs of life, hitting homers in consecutive games and racking up eight RBIs in his last four games. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke could help himself get back in the rotation after allowing one run in four innings in relief of the ineffective Scott Elarton as the Royals routed the Cardinals.

-- Adam Everett will be out 4-8 weeks with a broken leg after he collided with Carlos Lee while chasing a popup Thursday. Eric Bruntlett was called up to take his place on the roster and will share time with Mark Loretta at shortstop.

-- Justin Germano continues to pitch well for the Padres, improving to 5-0 with a nice 2.36 ERA after pitching six shutout innings against the Devils Rays on Thursday.

-- I've already mentioned Yovani Gallardo coming up for the Brewers, but it looks like Padres will be calling up a top prospect of their own in third baseman Chase Headley, who's hitting .352 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in Double-A. He'll get some playing time with Kevin Kouzmanoff hurting and Russell Branyan struggling.
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6/14/2007 01:49:00 PM

Anger management

Dan Wheeler
Dan Wheeler was not a happy man after giving up four runs Wednesday and then shoving starter Chris Sampson in the dugout afterward.
AP
Two days, two solid performances from Astros starters, two blown saves from two different relievers. Not the greatest of times if you own any Houston pitchers. Brad Lidge allowed a game-tying homer on Tuesday, spoiling Roy Oswalt's game. So Dan Wheeler comes in Wednesday and allows four runs in 2/3 of inning to spoil a nice game from Chris Sampson, pretty much keeping Lidge in the closer's role despite yet another blown save.

But more interesting than the blown save was the confrontation between Wheeler and Sampson in the dugout after the implosion. Fantasy owners often curse out relievers blowing leads and potential wins for their starting pitchers. However, you rarely see those two parties actually squabble like that in the dugout, although it was mostly Wheeler screaming at Sampson. Just a little more of a dose of reality for your fantasy team.

You can only hope a blowup like that can help Wheeler like it did for Carlos Zambrano after his scuffle with Michael Barrett. However, Barrett found himself in a similar confrontation with Rich Hill earlier this week, and now it appears he'll get some extra rest this week in favor of Koyie Hill, who had two hits Wednesday as the starter.

News and notes for Thursday:
-- B.J. Upton's quad injury lands him on the disabled list, opening up a bit more time for Ty Wigginton at second. Jonny Gomes was recalled to take his place in the roster, and after .302 in the minors, he might find some at-bats at DH.

-- While Brad Penny and John Lackey continued their great seasons for their Southern California teams, there were a couple of surprises Wednesday when Adam Wainwright flirted with a no-hitter against the Royals and Carlos Silva went the distance to shut out the Braves.

-- Chipper Jones is back with the Braves after spending time on the DL with bruised hands. He had three hits on Wednesday, so forget about working his way back at the plate slowly because of the injury.

-- On the other hand, A.J. Burnett will miss his next start with a shoulder injury that forced him out of Tuesday's game. A DL trip isn't likely right now, but just be careful.

-- Watch out for Ian Snell, who struck out seven and went the distance to shut down the Rangers on Wednesday. He's allowed just three earned runs in his last three starts, and he hasn't allowed more than four in any start this season. However, Pittsburgh's struggling offense has kept his record at an OK 6-4.

-- Looks like Yovani Gallardo will be the next highly-touted pitching prospect on his way up as he'll likely replace the injured Chris Capuano in the Brewers rotation.
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6/13/2007 01:39:00 PM

Strikeouts, strikeouts everywhere

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander's previous career high in strikeouts before his no-hitter was eight.
AP
There were many things impressive about Justin Verlander's no-hitter, but the 12 strikeouts really stick out, especially since he never had a double-digit game before Tuesday's gem, and his high this season was just seven.

However, Verlander wasn't the only pitcher racking up plenty of K's on Tuesday night. Verlander wasn't even the top strikeout pitcher that night. That honor went to Kelvim Escobar, who had 14 in just six innings against the Reds. However, he only lasted the six because he threw 116 pitches in that time. Cincinnati touched up the Angels bullpen late to pull out the win.

Two other double-digit strikeout pitchers also came up empty in the win column Tuesday. Scott Kazmir struck out 11 Padres in six innings in his showdown with Greg Maddux, but allowed four runs and wasn't involved in the decision, as the Devil Rays rallied to pull out the victory.

Roy Oswalt was even unluckier as he had 10 K's and allowed three runs in six innings, but Brad Lidge came in and blew the save in his first game back as the Astros' closer. So the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Finally, Cole Hamels retook the major-league lead in strikeouts from Erik Bedard with eight over eight innings to beat the White Sox. Hamels now has 104, Bedard 103. A.J. Burnett is the only other pitcher to crack 100 this season, picking up four on Tuesday night but left after 4 2/3 innings with a strained shoulder. The Blue Jays are optimistic, but Burnett has been worked hard lately, averaging 125.3 pitches a game in his last three outings before Tuesday, and he's never been a bastion of good health in his career.

Other notes:
-- There's a reasonable chance that Freddy Garcia could undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. He's been struggling with injuries since spring training, which would explain his awful numbers this season. Feel free to let him go.

-- Chipper Jones could be ready to return from the DL as early as today from his hand injury. However, rookie Yunel Escobar could still find a place to play in the interim since Edgar Renteria is still sidelined after getting hit on the hand by Ted Lilly on Sunday. Also, John Smoltz appears to be on track to pitch Friday after missing Sunday's start with a sore shoulder.

-- As my colleague Jason Grey mentioned last week, Brian Bannister is looking like a nice pickup for teams in need of pitching help. Bannister has won his last three outings, including pitching seven shutout innings against the Cardinals on Tuesday. He's allowed just two runs in those starts. Always be careful with Royals pitchers, but he's at least worth the risk for now.

-- One big reason for the Yankees' winning streak is the resurgence of Bobby Abreu. He blasted a three-run homer against Brandon Webb on Tuesday, and is hitting .488 (20-for-41) with 12 RBIs since June 1. If you were able to buy low on him, congratulations. Same probably goes for Chien-Ming Wang, who won his third straight game and has allowed just five runs in those outings.

-- Fausto Carmona's winning streak is over at seven, although he allowed just three runs and five hits over seven innings on Tuesday. However, Scott Olsen was even better for the Marlins, shutting out the Indians over seven innings. Carmona is still one of the most pleasant pitching surprises so far this season.
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6/13/2007 11:42:00 AM

All-Stars vs. Fantasy Stars: AL

Magglio Ordonez
Magglio Ordonez leads the AL in hitting, is second in RBIs and fourth in runs scored but fourth in All-Star outfield voting.
AP
Just like I did yesterday with the NL, let's compare the latest results from the AL All-Star balloting and the top-rated fantasy players, at least according to Yahoo! (standard 5x5 roto scoring).

Catcher
Fans leader: Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers
Fantasy leader: Victor Martinez, Indians
Martinez's 12 homers and 54 RBIs can only get him into fifth place among AL catchers, although Jorge Posada could make a case with his .353 average. However, when in doubt, vote for Pudge, who's having a decent but not overwhelming season (.293-6-24).

First Base
Fans leader: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Fantasy leader: Ortiz
Sure, he's a DH, but he's a first for All-Star purposes, and while the power is relatively down (11 homers), everything else checks out.

Second Base
Fans leader: Placido Polanco, Tigers
Fantasy leader: B.J. Upton, Devil Rays
Polanco's .344 average, best among all second basemen, has vaulted him to the top of the list ahead of Robinson Cano, who's been a disappointment. However, Upton, who ranks fifth, is hitting .320 with nine homers and 13 steals.

Shortstop
Fans leader: Derek Jeter, Yankees
Fantasy leader: Jeter
Jeter more than 700,000-vote lead over Carlos Guillen, but the gap between him and guys like Guillen, Jhonny Peralta (12 homers) and Orlando Cabrera (.332) is relatively small. While the top five shortstops are all from the NL, the next six are all from the AL.

Third Base
Fans leader: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Fantasy leader: Rodriguez
Is there really any debate here? The interesting part will be who gets chosen as his backup. Mike Lowell, a distant second in voting, is probably the best candidate.

Outfield
Fans leaders: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels; Manny Ramirez, Red Sox; Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Fantasy leader: Magglio Ordonez, Tigers; Gary Sheffield, Tigers; Grady Sizemore, Indians
Vlad and Ichiro are not too far behind in the rankings, but Manny is still trying to get his groove. However, Ordonez, who's fourth in the balloting, leads the AL in average and is just behind A-Rod as the top fantasy performer this season. Sheffield's awful April cost him early votes but he's played himself among the top producers by leading the league in runs. Recent SI cover subject Sizemore is fifth in votes thanks to his 11 homers and 18 steals. Also of note is Torii Hunter, who is fourth in votes and fifth in outfield rankings.
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6/12/2007 12:18:00 PM

Muddling to milestones

Barry Bonds
Maybe Barry Bonds' fantasy value will rise after hitting his 747th career homer.
John Medina/WireImage.com
You usually don't get extra points when a player reaches a significant career milestone, and for the most part, it's irrelevant in the fantasy world since you likely didn't get all 600 homers, 300 wins on your fantasy team. Plus, given the year-to-year aspect of the game, you're usually just concerned with what happens right now. Those long-time stats just give a player some extra name value at the draft, sometimes inflating their price slightly because you're getting someone "known" even if they're well on the downside of their careers. And right now you can see where you potentially overpaying for a future Hall of Famer can burn you.

Barry Bonds finally hit his 747th career homer Monday night as he went deep for the first time since May 27 and only his second blast since May 8. After blasting eight homers in April, it seemed like Bonds would break Hank Aaron's career mark by now, or at least relatively close to the All-Star break. With eight homers needed to tie and nine to break the mark, now it appears like the record won't come until the end of July or early August; of course, Bonds can still go on a homer tear at any time.

Bonds isn't the only veteran slowly making his way to a milestone. Sammy Sosa entered the season needing 12 homers to reach 600. However, he's been stuck at 598 since May 22 and is hitting just .222 with eight RBIs and 21 strikeouts in that time. It'll be a matter of time before he gets to 600, but given his recent slump, you may be better off having him reach that milestone on another fantasy team. You don't get extra points for career milestones.

Tom Glavine is still stuck at 295 career wins after starting the season 5-1. He's been victimized lately by poor run support as he allowed just seven runs over 20 innings in three starts before Sunday while his Mets scored just three total. On Sunday, the Mets finally scored seven runs, but Glavine was pounded for nine runs and 11 hits in just 4 1/3 innings. Hopefully that's not the start of something worse.

But while Bonds, Sosa and Glavine have slowed down after making a nice push at their milestones, Craig Biggio has taken a sluglike pace to 3,000 hits. He's currently 20 hits away from the mark, but it's taken him this long just to pick up 50 and is batting an anemic .219, including going 3-for-32 (.094) in June. It's assumed that Bonds, Sosa and Glavine will reach their milestones soon enough despite their struggles, but could they all get their before Biggio? Surprisingly, while Biggio is close to the 3,000 mark, he has just one 200-hit season to his credit.

Then there's the glut of those approaching the 500 home-run club. Alex Rodriguez, at 488, seems to be on the fast track to 500, and given his latest surge, he could be close to the mark by the All-Star break. However, he seems to be the only one of the handful of candidates playing well. Frank Thomas (495), Jim Thome (480) and Manny Ramirez (478) have each hit just eight homers this season. Thomas has been slumping all season, while Thome has slowed down after a hot start, while Ramirez is at least heating up at the plate although he's homerless in June. Gary Sheffield (472) has been on a tear of late, although he'd still have a way to go to get to the 500 mark this season.

Of course, not everyone slowed down to their milestones. Trevor Hoffman quickly got to the 500 save plateau by doing what he always does -- get guys out. Of course, his milestone was relatively quiet compared to the others, partly because he's far and away the career leader.

Hopefully the pressure of the milestones aren't going to drag down these stars' fantasy values too much as we go along. The general aging process will slow down even the best of them, although it is unfortunate that a couple of players have cooled down so suddenly after getting very close.


Notes for Tuesday:
-- It's a bad day for starting third basemen in Chicago. Aramis Ramirez went on the DL with a knee injury that kept him out all last weekend. Mark DeRosa will take his place there, giving Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. Ramirez appears that he'll be ready to go when he's eligible late next week.

On the South Side, Joe Crede will undergo back surgery today and will be out at least a couple of months and maybe the rest of the season. Top prospect Josh Fields will get more time at third, but he's hitting like the rest of his White Sox mates since getting called up: .143 (3-for-21) and eight strikeouts. Still, he is the future, and the White Sox seemingly playing themselves out of contention, they might as well give Fields a shot the rest of the way.

-- Staying in Chicago, Carlos Zambrano may be turning things around, especially after his eight-inning, eight-strikeout, no-earned run performance Monday. He also hit a homer. In his two starts since the fight with Michael Barrett, Zambrano has allowed just eight hits and three runs over 14 2/3 innings while striking out 17. Once again, Koyie Hill was behind the plate instead of Barrett on Monday, and you have to wonder if that will be permanent. Zambrano's value is definitely back on the rise.

-- Timing is definitely everything for Paul Byrd. His original start against the Mariners on April 6 was snowed out after pitching 4 2/3 innings of no-hit ball. He got to face Seattle on Monday in one of the makeup games and got drilled, allowing seven runs, 11 hits and three homers over four innings.

-- Eric Milton is done for the season as he'll undergo Tommy John surgery. He's been pretty much a disaster since signing with the Reds, but at least Homer Bailey has at least one pitcher he won't have to worry about losing starts too.

-- Meanwhile, former teammate Randy Wolf is now tied with Cole Hamels for the NL lead with eight wins after quieting the Mets on Monday night. Wolf has allowed more hits (84) than innings (82), but he also has more strikeouts as well (83).
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6/12/2007 11:53:00 AM

All-Stars vs. Fantasy Stars: NL

Russell Martin
Russell Martin, the top fantasy catcher in the NL this season, has taken over the lead in All-Star Game voting.
Charles LeClaire/WireImage.com
Are the fans doing a good job with their All-Star ballots, at least with respect to picking out the top fantasy performers? Let's compare Monday's NL voting update with the top-ranked fantasy players, at least according to the Yahoo! rankings. We'll have the AL update when the new vote totals are released.

Catcher
Fans leader: Russell Martin, Dodgers
Fantasy leader: Martin
It's been a breakout year for Martin, who's hitting around .300 and has 11 steals. He's far and away the best fantasy catcher in the NL, so it's good to see him surge ahead of Paul Lo Duca and Brian McCann.

First Base
Fans leader: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Fantasy leader: Prince Fielder, Brewers
Fielder, the NL's leader in homers, is making a move on the ever-popular Pujols, who's going on a tear himself to compensate for a relatively slow start. It should be an interesting race, and it's a good bet both will get spots.

Second Base
Fans leader: Chase Utley, Phillies
Fantasy leader: Utley
Utley is still the most consistent NL performer at this position, although Brandon Philips and Dan Uggla aren't that far behind in terms of total production, but neither is in the top five. Instead, it's old but declining standbys Jeff Kent and Craig Biggio, plus the injured Rickie Weeks as part of a surge in votes for Brewers. and surprisingly, Jose Valentin.

Shortstop
Fans leader: Jose Reyes, Mets
Fantasy leader: Reyes
While Reyes is running away with the voting (more than a 200,000-vote lead over J.J. Hardy), it's quite a tight race for top shortstop, fantasy-wise with Hanley Ramirez, Hardy, Jimmy Rollins and Edgar Renteria having dynamite seasons. Ramirez isn't in the top five in voting, but the disappointing Rafael Furcal is.

Third Base
Fans leader: David Wright, Mets
Fantasy leader: Miguel Cabrera, Marlins
Wright is starting to heat up with his power, but other than his 13 steals, he's trailing Cabrera in all the major fantasy categories.

Outfield
Fans leaders: Carlos Beltran, Mets; Ken Griffey Jr., Reds; Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
Fantasy leaders: Matt Holliday, Rockies; Eric Byrnes, Diamondbacks; Carlos Lee, Astros
Colorado can still produce hitters, with the rising Holliday, the NL batting leader, the latest example. Holliday is eighth in voting. Lee, always an RBI machine, has continued that pace in Houston and leads the NL by one over Fielder. He's sixth in voting. The do-it-all Byrnes (.319, nine homers, 12 steals) is proving last year wasn't a fluke, but he doesn't rank among the top 15 vote-getters in the outfield.

Beltran has struggled badly after a red-hot April (.224-2-12-4 since May 1), while Soriano has picked up the pace after going homerless in April (.329-10-21). Griffey is tied for third in the NL with 15 homers and had a recent stretch of three straight games with long balls. Their general popularity means a lot of votes, but they're also ranked among the top 12-15 NL outfielders, so no one is an egregiously bad pick.
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6/11/2007 01:45:00 PM

Rumors, rumors everywhere

Jon Heyman looks at a handful of top players on the trading block, like Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne in today’s column. And you can find all sorts of other trade rumors floating around every day. While all that jockeying is definitely interesting and generates lots of clicks, how important is it really for a fantasy owner?

Fantasy owners are making deals every day, so at times, the “real” trade rumors just get in the way of the moves that may or may not happen. If you’re in a mixed league, it’s very possible that most of these potential deals affect fantasy value only marginally -- your guy will continue to hit homers, just in different colors, it may just come at a different rate because of the ballpark.

If you’re in AL- or NL-only league, these rumors could be troubling, especially if one of your big names on your team switches leagues and your stuck scouring the waiver wire for replacements and/or the compensation is some young prospect who won’t help you now (but could be a boon in a keeper league).

But no matter the situation, have you tried to use potential trade information to work out deals in your fantasy league or even formulate draft strategy? In Dunn’s case, for instance, would you try to sell him off in your NL-only league thinking that if the Reds indeed pull the trigger on a deal, he’s probably going to the American League? Or in the case of Gagne, would you try to get Akinori Otsuka thinking that he’ll get saves again if Gagne heads out of town?

If your league uses FAAB money, are you trying to stockpile as much of it as possible waiting for those one or two All-Star-caliber players, or are you content at getting lucky with lesser names, especially if you’re desperate to replace injured stars?

Fantasy trades are usually predicated on what might happen. You sell high on an overachieving player thinking he’ll decline soon or buy low on an underachiever knowing he should rebound. It’s a similar situation when making fantasy trades based on real trades. The big difference is that you’re more dependent on a general manager than the player and/or the manager for something to happen. It’s one thing if your player slumps/gets benched/gets injured after you picked him up or goes off after you shipped him off. That’s the risk you’re willing to take. But how will you feel when you deal away a player rumored to be on the move and he doesn’t and then produces at a high level?
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6/11/2007 11:06:00 AM

Back to normal?

David Wright
David Wright has hit homers in four straight games.
AP
It was just a matter of time before some of this year's highly-rated players turned things around and making sure you're getting the most out of expensive picks. So while April stars like Ian Kinsler are now bringing down some teams, these other guys are making sure your squad is still in contention as the weather heats up:

Gary Sheffield, DH, Tigers: At the end of April, he had just cracked the .200 mark and had only two homers. Since then, he's belted 15 homers and hitting .329, doing exactly what he was expected to do.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: For the second straight year, Soriano had a three-homer game against the Braves, finally pushing him into double-digits for the season. He's belted 10 homers since being shut out in April, and even better is his .432 mark in June.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Like Soriano, Pujols is getting his game in order to prove he was worth a No. 1 pick. He's now flirting with the .300 mark and is up to 15 homers after going deep twice on Sunday. He's been improving steadily, and you know he's due for a really big week or two soon.

David Wright, 3B, Mets: He's hit four homers in four straight games, which means his power now matches his speed (12 homers, 12 steals). He still needs to get that average back up, but at least he's finding his power stroke again after he limped to just six homers after the All-Star break last year.

Bobby Abreu, OF, Yankees: It was a matter of time before Abreu finally hit his stride, and he's getting that way, going 19-for-38 this month as part of a 10-game hitting streak. The power still isn't there, though, as he has just three homers this season, but he's getting himself in position to give A-Rod tons of RBI chances.

Chone Figgins, IF/OF, Angels: I've been taking my lumps with Figgins all season, especially after he had just 12 hits in first 90 at-bats. Then came a three-hit game against the Mariners to end May, and now he's one of the hottest hitters, batting .463 in June with a more important eight steals in his first nine games this month.

Mariano Rivera, P, Yankees: He's still only at seven saves, but with the way the Yankees have been playing lately, Rivera is due for a surge sooner rather than later. He's allowed just two earned runs in his last 16 1/3 innings.

Chien-Ming Wang, P, Yankees: While Roger Clemens is getting all the headlines, Wang is now living up to his end of the bargain, going 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in his last five starts, including a complete game Wednesday.

Randy Johnson, P, Diamondbacks: His early-season injuries seem to be behind him as he's a sparkling 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in his last five starts, including 42 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. The D'backs are still being cautious, though, as Johnson hasn't gone more than six innings in that stretch, and he's only gone seven once this year. He struck out nine Red Sox over six innings on Sunday and won't even need to be in the Bronx for this week's series with the Yankees.

Brad Lidge, P, Astros: He's on his way back to the closer's role after a stellar job as a setup man. Since May, Lidge's ERA is 0.84 with 28 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings and he hasn't been scored upon in his last 10 outings.

Other baseball notes for Monday:
-- Could the Devil Rays have another usable starting pitcher in their midst? Rookie Andrew Sonnanstine struck out 10 Marlins, including six straight, to beat the Marlins for his first big-league win.

-- Jarrod Saltamacchia has stepped nicely while Brian McCann deals with an ankle injury, as he racked up three hits against the Cubs on Sunday night. He's forcing the Braves to find places to use him in the bigs.

-- I guess Mark Teixeira doesn't have the best sense of timing. While there are rumblings of a potential trade in the works, Teixeira landed on the DL with a quad injury, ending his consecutive games streak at 507. Brad Wilkerson, who returned from the DL this weekend after a hamstring injury, will play at first for Texas. Meanwhile, Travis Metcalf, who officially replaced Teixeira on the roster, is back with the team to play third base regularly. He's a usable stopgap in AL-only leagues.

-- Matt Cain deserves much better than a 2-6 record, especially given his 3.31 ERA, including a one-run, eight-strikeout performances in eight innings but his Giants still fell to the A's 2-0.

-- Woe to those owners hoping for Ted Lilly to give them a good performance Sunday night, especially in head-to-head leagues. Lilly struck out the first two batters he faced on Sunday then was ejected after hitting Edgar Renteria in the hand with a pitch, sparking a bench-clearing situation after some testy moments earlier in the weekend. Renteria would leave the game with a hand injury, although apparently not related to the beaning incident.

-- It seems like all closers go through a short blip here and there, and Francisco Cordero is going through that now with two straight blown saves over the weekend in his old stomping ground in Texas. But he's done with the Rangers, so maybe he'll be just fine after that. Claudio Vargas picked up the save in extra innings for Milwaukee on Sunday after the Brewers offense bailed them out.

-- If you're looking for potential closers to stash away, check out the Royals' Zack Greinke, who will be the next in line for saves should something happen to Octavio Dotel once again. Joakim Soria is back after a DL stint, just not in the closer mix.

-- Depending on your league's rules, Pedro Feliz may be catcher-eligible now after spending the end of Saturday's game behind the plate thanks to an injury to Eliezer Alfonzo. That game also saw pitcher Noah Lowry play right field.

-- The two most-anticipated debuts of the weekend both lived up to expectations as Homer Bailey won his major-league debut, allowing two runs and five hits over five innings against the Indians on Friday. He did walk four, however, but a win is a win. The next day Roger Clemens struck out seven over six innings and allowed three runs to beat the Pirates.
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