Cockcroft: Thames streaking in Detroit
What's been going on around the American League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 14 AL teams:
Baltimore Orioles: Jay Gibbons will undergo season-ending surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He should be ready for the start of the 2008 season, though at this stage of his career, he'll need a standout spring training to earn another chance at everyday at-bats. With Gibbons sidelined, Aubrey Huff's and Jay Payton's owners have to be pleased; they won't lose the occasional start the remainder of the season. Huff in particular could be a slightly underrated choice the next month-plus, as he's batting .389 (14-for-36) with two homers and six RBIs in 10 games in August, and he has a favorable second-half history. He's a lifetime .301 hitter with a .351 on-base percentage and .519 slugging percentage from Aug. 1 forward in a season. Garrett Olson replaced Brian Burres in the Orioles' rotation on Saturday, allowing four runs in 6 1/3 innings in a losing effort to the Red Sox. The rookie left-hander should get another nine starts or so, and with his talent, could be a useful AL-only or mixed matchups option. He was 9-7 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .208 BAA in 22 starts for Triple-A Norfolk, and has all the makings of a No. 2/3 big league starter a few seasons down the road.
Boston Red Sox: Eric Gagne is off to a rocky start to his Red Sox career, with a 15.75 ERA, 3.00 WHIP and .455 BAA in five games since being traded from the Rangers. In fact, he has been scored upon in four of his five appearances, struggling after going from the closer's role to the eighth inning. Gagne's problems have shaken up a previously stellar Red Sox bullpen, which featured Hideki Okajima pitching the eighth to set up closer Jonathan Papelbon. One has to wonder how long it might be before manager Terry Francona demotes Gagne to an earlier-game role, something that would greatly diminish his fantasy value. The right-hander might once have looked a smart handcuff option to Papelbon with a chance at the occasional save chance on Papelbon's days off, but right now Gagne is looking shaky even in those roles.
New York Yankees: The Joba Chamberlain era began last Tuesday, as the right-hander was promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after making only four recent appearances as a reliever in the minors. They were rather exceptional appearances, though; he pitched nine shutout frames between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, striking out 20 batters with a .161 BAA. Chamberlain tossed two scoreless innings in each of his first two MLB appearances, last Tuesday and then on Friday, combining for six strikeouts and a .083 BAA. With high-90s heat -- he hit 98 on the gun on Friday -- and a devastating slider, Chamberlain appears every bit as talented a reliever as advertised, making him a potential ERA/WHIP helper in larger leagues. He might be returned to the rotation next spring, though, after going 4-2 with a 3.43 ERA and .222 BAA in seven starts at Trenton, 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and .181 BAA in seven starts for Class A Tampa. In either role Chamberlain should have fantasy appeal in the long haul, meaning keeper-league owners in particular should monitor his performance the next month-plus.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Rocco Baldelli, who has been sidelined since May 15 with a hamstring injury, plans to return before season's end, but apparently it won't be as a center fielder. Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Tribune over the weekend that Baldelli will split time between designated hitter and the corner outfield spots once healthy, with B.J. Upton remaining his everyday center fielder. Baldelli might be ready to begin a rehabilitation assignment sometime within the next two weeks, though any games he gets in at the big league level this season should be regarded as good luck. He's quickly developing a reputation as one of the most injury-prone players in baseball. Don't count on him having an easy time spotting in ahead of either left fielder Carl Crawford or right fielder Delmon Young, meaning Baldelli might not get the at-bats needed to make a fantasy impact even if he's able to return before the end of the season.
Toronto Blue Jays: A.J. Burnett returned from the DL on Sunday with a brilliant, 7 1/3-inning, one-run outing to beat the Royals. He needed only 90 pitches in a quality-start effort, though the important thing with a pitcher who has missed as much time as the right-hander has is to monitor his health the next few days. After all, he experienced pain within days after his last start fresh off the DL on June 28, and with his persistent shoulder problems, there's no guarantee he'll be able to avoid the DL the entire remainder of the season. A healthy Burnett should be a useful fantasy option against all but the strongest of offenses -- think Red Sox and Yankees -- but he's about as risky as a pitcher comes. Keep tabs on how he's feeling the next few days, as any problems with the shoulder this week would be a warning sign that he's not truly back to 100 percent.
Chicago White Sox: Bobby Jenks tied a major league record on Sunday by retiring the 41st consecutive batter he faced. It's a streak that began with three outs in a July 17 game at Cleveland, after he absorbed his fifth blown save of the season by allowing a two-run homer, and it dropped his season ERA by more than a run during that span, to 2.92. Jenks is now the No. 2 closer on our Player Rater, and his 2.16 ERA and 10 saves in 17 appearances since the All-Star break help ease the worries about last year's second-half collapse, when he had a 5.72 ERA in 27 appearances. He should remain as good a save candidate as anyone in baseball despite his team's problems this season; that the White Sox have to fight for wins these days actually helps Jenks' chances. Jose Contreras is expected to return to the White Sox's rotation next Friday, stepping in for rookie John Danks, whose workload the team is trying to limit. It's not a good time to gamble on Contreras in fantasy leagues, with the change hurting Danks' value more than it helps the veteran's, but the right-hander does need an opportunity to showcase himself for another team in 2008. He's 1-10 with an 8.87 ERA in his last 12 starts, terrible numbers, and in the best-case scenario might wind up an AL-only matchups type the next month-plus,
Cleveland Indians: Travis Hafner sat out the Indians' three-game weekend series against the Yankees due to an inflamed left knee and mild hamstring strain, a sign of the severity of the injuries considering the importance of the games; the Indians are in the thick of the wild-card race with the Yankees (among others) should they fall short in the AL Central race. The Indians expect the slugger back in time for Tuesday's game, but with him so disappointing statistically to date and now perhaps at less than 100 percent, don't expect a strong finish. Remember, Hafner has had each of his past two seasons cut short due to fluke injuries, and this year's knee problem is less the fluky variety. He might sit out a few games to stay fresh, meaning his current .254 batting average and paces of 25 homers, 98 RBIs and 81 runs scored might wind up his final numbers.
Detroit Tigers: Marcus Thames returned from the DL last Thursday, earning starts in each of the Tigers' four games since being activated. He went 6-for-15 (.400) with two homers and five RBIs in those contests, picking up his hot streak right where he left off. He's now a .316 hitter (24-for-76) with nine homers and 22 RBIs in his last 23 games. Thames earned starts at first base ahead of Sean Casey in the team's two games against left-handers, and in left field ahead of Craig Monroe in the team's two games against right-handers. That could wind up the arrangement the remainder of the year, as Thames against either type of pitcher is better than either Casey or Monroe on his weaker side. Don't be surprised if Thames sneaks in 35 or more starts in the Tigers' final 45 contests, plenty for him to warrant AL-only and larger mixed league consideration. He has averaged one home run per 13.3 at-bats since the start of last season, an exceptional rate for a part-timer.
Kansas City Royals: Leo Nunez appears to have nailed down the Royals' No. 5 starter role, thanks to his 1.12 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and .196 BAA in three starts, two of them coming against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, pretty decent lineups. With his recent hot streak he's quietly warranting AL-only attention, like fellow youngster Brian Bannister, who has a 3.41 ERA through 19 starts this season. Nunez had 1.85/0.82/.172 rates in 11 games (nine starts) between Double-A Wichita and Triple-A Omaha to begin the season, though the Royals have yet to stretch him out much at the big league level, with Nunez averaging only 85.3 pitches in his three turns. He could warrant matchups consideration in larger leagues, though his long-term appeal remains a bit limited.
Minnesota Twins: Jason Kubel is expected to miss considerable time after leaving Saturday's game with a strained right oblique muscle, suffered when he struck out in the second inning. It's not a significant loss for the Twins, as Kubel had only .248/.307/.405 numbers, .246/.300/.414 against right-handers, though the problem is the team lacks the depth needed to fill in for him. Garrett Jones, a .287 hitter with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 103 games for Triple-A Rochester, might be promoted to fill Kubel's roster spot, playing occasionally at designated hitter against right-handers. Jason Tyner and Rondell White stand to benefit most from Kubel's absence, sharing time in left field or with Jones at DH. Neither warrants much more than deep AL-only consideration, though. Tyner is a .275 hitter (19-for-69) with little help in the other categories in 21 games since the All-Star break, while White is a .176 hitter (6-for-34) with only one extra-base hit -- a double -- and nine strikeouts in 10 games since returning from the DL.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Howie Kendrick was cleared to resume full baseball activities on Friday, and he began a rehabilitation assignment by going 1-for-4 for Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday. He was scheduled to then shift to Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday, where he'll remain for the rest of the week until the Angels deem him fully ready to return from a broken left index finger. Remember, the last time Kendrick was sidelined, in late April and early May, he returned with an 8-for-25 (.320), three-homer, 10-RBI performance in a seven-game rehab assignment for Salt Lake, then a 5-for-40 (.125), two-RBI effort in his first 11 games with the Angels. Even if he performs well in the minor leagues this week, expect him to need a week or two to regain his timing at the big league level, meaning he might not be much of a help to fantasy teams until month's end. Kendrick did bat .349 (37-for-106) with two homers, 12 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 26 games before getting hurt, though, so he does have AL-only and larger mixed appeal.
Oakland Athletics: The Athletics will be in the hunt for a new No. 5 starter once that spot comes up again on Friday, as Dallas Braden was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento on Monday. The left-hander allowed eight runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings on Sunday, and was 0-4 with a 6.52 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and .308 BAA in six starts since the All-Star break. With Braden back in the minors, Dan Meyer, a one-time top prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, could be a candidate to step into the rotation. He was 6-2 with a 3.40 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and .247 BAA in 19 starts for Triple-A Sacramento, though his walk rate -- 4.44 per nine innings -- is a bit of a concern. AL-only owners can add Meyer on the chance he'll step into Braden's vacated spot and be a matchups consideration, though he'll likely need time to fully adjust to MLB competition before becoming useful.
Seattle Mariners: Incredibly, Jeff Weaver has been one of the better pitchers in the AL the past three months. He tossed his second shutout of the season on Sunday, beating the White Sox on five hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. That marks Weaver's sixth quality start in his last 10 tries, during which time he has a 3.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and .253 BAA. Of course, sprinkled into the right-hander's hot streak are games against mediocre offenses, like the Athletics, Pirates and White Sox. Against the three teams he faced that average better than five runs per game, Weaver allowed 14 earned runs on 23 hits in 14 2/3 innings, marking him as a perfect matchups type. With the Mariners getting seven more games against the Angels, five against the Indians, three against the Tigers and three against the Yankees, Weaver might not have as many great matchups remaining.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers will split the catching duties evenly between Gerald Laird and Jarrod Saltalamacchia the remainder of the season, in an effort to determine which is the better choice behind the plate for 2008. Saltalamacchia has been a disappointment since his trade from the Atlanta Braves, managing .182/.200/.250 rates with 12 strikeouts in 44 at-bats, though he'd probably be the better bet of the two in the long term, allowing the Rangers to seek a more productive first baseman during the winter. Expect Saltalamacchia to start at first base on days he's not catching, keeping him No. 2-worthy in AL-only and perhaps larger mixed formats, though this development hurts Laird's appeal. He's only a .232/.289/.341 hitter in 96 games this season, and .215/.255/.326 in 39 games since June 15. Those outside of deep AL-only formats can cut him at this point.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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