Around the NL: Olsen difficulties, Lincecum heating up
What's been going on around the National League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 16 NL teams:
Atlanta Braves: Rookie Jo-Jo Reyes will get a longer look in the rotation after the Braves decided Thursday to option Kyle Davies to Triple-A Richmond. The right-hander allowed two hits and three walks without recording an out in his most recent start July 16, and in his past seven turns he had a 1-5 record, 7.31 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and .284 BAA. Command has been a real issue for Davies throughout his big league career; he has allowed 4.78 walks per nine innings in his career, significantly up from his 3.20 minor league rate. Fortunately for Davies, he's young enough to get his career back on track -- he's still only 23 -- but at this point he has a lot to prove. Of course, Reyes isn't assured of much more success despite his spot in the Atlanta rotation. His command has been a bit spotty as well, issuing nine walks in 14 2/3 innings and throwing only 137 of 244 pitches (56.1 percent) for strikes in three starts. Reyes has some NL-only appeal, more on a matchups basis, but be prepared for him to face a tough adjustment period.
Florida Marlins: The saga of Scott Olsen's troubling sophomore campaign continues. He was suspended for two games last week for insubordination, stemming from an incident on July 15 after he was relieved in a game against the Nationals. Olsen bounced back from the suspension with seven innings of two-run, four-hit baseball against the Reds on Friday, but then was arrested early the next morning for driving under the influence, resisting an officer with violence and fleeing and eluding police officers. He's still scheduled to make his next start Wednesday, though Olsen's owners have reason to be concerned for his outlook the remainder of the season. Last season, for instance, he had a 3.42 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and .229 BAA in 22 starts after June 1. This year, by comparison, he has 4.86/1.68/.306 numbers in 10 starts since that date. Olsen has the talent to right himself, but with all the distractions he's been facing this year, this might not be the season in which he does it.
New York Mets: Jose Valentin suffered a fractured right tibia after fouling a ball off his leg Friday. He'll miss at least a month and could be out six weeks after being placed on the DL Saturday. That might suggest the Mets will dip into the trade market for a second baseman -- perhaps former Met Ty Wigginton? -- but don't be surprised if general manager Omar Minaya, a shrewd dealer, stands pat with the in-house candidates he has. Ruben Gotay, a .378 hitter (28-for-74) with three homers in 31 games since June 1, should lead a bunch that also includes Marlon Anderson, the former Dodger added to the roster Thursday, Damion Easley, Valentin's stand-in for his last DL stint who is currently on bereavement leave, and Anderson Hernandez, the Mets' former top prospect recalled Saturday. Gotay has started each of the Mets' two games since Valentin got hurt, and that, coupled with his recent hot streak, makes him NL-only worthy. Still, his career track record suggests Gotay could cool at any point; he's a .273 hitter as a professional with weak numbers in power and speed. Assuming the Mets don't trade for a more proven option, look at Valentin's stand-ins more as matchup plays in leagues with daily transactions. For example: Easley's strength in subbing for Valentin last time was hitting left-handers.
Philadelphia Phillies: Kyle Drabek, the Phillies' No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery Wednesday. He'll miss much of 2008 as well, severely impacting his ascent to the majors. Drabek, the son of former big leaguer Doug, had made only 17 starts since turning pro, so don't count on him reaching Philadelphia before 2010. The operation severely lowers his keeper-league appeal. Brett Myers pitched a hitless inning Friday in his first rehabilitation appearance for Class A Clearwater, then threw 1 1/3 innings on Monday, allowing one hit and striking out three. He might be back with the Phillies by midweek, after which point he could make only a couple of appearances in middle relief before returning to the closer's role. Tom Gordon is currently occupying that spot, but with him admittedly pitching with a slight tear in his labrum, a lower-pressure role in a setup capacity would probably be in his best interest.
Washington Nationals: Jason Simontacchi landed on the DL Friday with right elbow tendinitis, further depleting the team's rotation depth. To date, the Nationals have used 11 different starting pitchers, only one of which has more than 13 starts (Matt Chico, 20). Simontacchi's absence clears room for Billy Traber, the former Mets first-rounder who threw four strong innings Friday, to make a couple of more spot starts. He's hardly an attractive fantasy option, though. The Nationals don't provide their starters with enough run support to be consistent winners, and despite the team's pitching-friendly home confines, picking matchups from this bunch is often a crapshoot. For example: Journeyman Tim Redding, freshly installed in the rotation on July 3, has three consecutive quality starts and a 2.92 ERA in four turns overall, despite a 5.04 ERA and 1.52 WHIP for his career. NL-only owners in desperate situations might be forced to pick and choose the occasional matchup from the Nationals' rotation, but be prepared for unpredictability.
Chicago Cubs: Well, that didn't take long. Not even three days after the Cubs promoted Geovany Soto from Triple-A Iowa in an effort to boost the hitting numbers from the catcher spot, the team acquired veteran Jason Kendall from the Oakland Athletics on July 16 in exchange for catcher Rob Bowen and minor league left-hander Jerry Blevins. A Kendall acquisition could be termed an offensive upgrade from what the Cubs had been using, though it's not that much of one; he was batting only .226 with a .542 OPS for the Athletics, after all. In fact, since his trade to Oakland before the 2005 season, Kendall is only a .270 hitter with three homers, which would be weak numbers in a single season. His best assets are his on-base ability and his speed, though neither was a strength for him in Oakland; his on-base percentage was only 35 points higher than his batting average and he had only three steals, on pace to match his career-worst of five. The Cubs have been batting Kendall seventh/eighth thus far, a smart move even if it limits his potential in runs scored, his primary appeal in fantasy lately. The bottom line: Don't open your wallet to land Kendall, and if you did already, don't get too cozy, because he's pretty overrated.
Cincinnati Reds: Top prospect Homer Bailey, a bust for the Reds earlier in the season, suffered a setback in his quest to return to the team when he landed on the DL at Triple-A Louisville Thursday with a strained right groin. Triple-A DL stints last only seven days, but Bailey won't be re-examined for another two weeks, meaning he might miss as many as three minor league starts. Wasn't he initially expected to make only one start at Louisville before returning as the Reds' fifth starter? Unfortunately, Bailey went 0-2 with an 8.00 ERA and .278 BAA in two starts since his demotion, a bit distressing considering he had a 6.99 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and .282 BAA in six starts for the Reds. That the right-hander missed only one start with a similar injury in May is encouraging, but it's possible he'll need two or three turns in Louisville once healthy before being considered for another promotion. Bailey might not be back in Cincinnati until the Sept. 1 roster expansion, making it more likely he won't make a significant fantasy impact before 2008.
Houston Astros: Roy Oswalt left his most recent start Friday with soreness in his upper chest, and he'll miss his next scheduled turn Wednesday as a result. He experienced discomfort in cartilage between his sternum and rib cage while throwing his normal between-starts session Sunday, though a DL stint hasn't been discussed. If Oswalt's issue isn't more serious, he should be able to return to the rotation July 31 against the Braves. Though his ERA (3.80) and WHIP (1.40) represent career worsts, taking out his one dreadful start of the year -- 5 1/3 IP, 10 Hs, 8 ERs on July 14 at the Cubs -- brings those numbers back to 3.44 and 1.37. Don't count on too many wins for Oswalt the rest of the season on a weak Houston team, one unlikely to make the deadline deals necessary for an improvement, but he at least should be able to maintain an ERA near three and a WHIP near 1.25 from this point forward, barring a setback.
Milwaukee Brewers: This time around, rookie Yovani Gallardo might be in the rotation to stay. The right-hander, who had been toiling in relief the past three weeks, returned to the rotation Thursday by throwing six shutout innings of three-hit baseball against the Diamondbacks. He claimed the spot vacated by Ben Sheets, who hit the DL on July 16 with what was later diagnosed as a partial tear of the tissue surrounding the tendon in his right middle finger. Sheets will miss four to six weeks, plenty of time for Gallardo to sneak in five to seven solid starts, which ultimately would make it silly to send him back to the bullpen. Gallardo now has a quality start in all four turns, with a 2.13 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 8.17 K-9 ratio in those games. As with any rookie, he comes with risk, but with his performance thus far, his status in one of baseball's weaker divisions and his raw talent, Gallardo could easily match most anyone outside of the first or second tier of fantasy starters from today forward. Sheets, meanwhile, has now spent time on the DL in each season since 2005, though his 3.49 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 58 starts around those absences indicates they're not affecting his on-field performance much. He could be back in early September, and might be able to provide his owners four to six useful starts down the stretch.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Though the Pirates' acquisition of Cesar Izturis on Thursday is hardly significant for fantasy, it could serve as an indication of the team's desire to trade Jack Wilson. Wilson, who is owed $14.25 million beyond this year, has long been an overrated player, only once batting higher than .273 in a season (2004, .308) or registering an OPS better than .686 (2004, .794). He's a capable defender, but with the team looking to the future, moving Wilson makes sense in order to pave the way for prospect Brian Bixler to take over, perhaps in 2008. Izturis is a more affordable option who could serve as a stopgap the remainder of the season, though he's hardly worthy of a pickup. Bixler, meanwhile, is a .293 hitter with 21 stolen bases and 60 runs scored in 92 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, meaning he might be no more than Wilson plus a handful of stolen bases. Still, that's a useful NL-only player, so if Wilson indeed gets dealt in the next couple of weeks, it'll be an indication Bixler could sneak his way onto some 2008 sleeper lists.
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter is out for the season, and perhaps for much of 2008, after the Cardinals decided he'll need Tommy John surgery. It's his second elbow surgery of the season; he had bone spurs removed from his elbow in May. Such an operation generally costs a pitcher 10-12 months, meaning the most optimistic timetable could have Carpenter back in the rotation immediately following the 2008 All-Star break. Most pitchers need a couple of months' worth of game action to get back to full form, though, meaning the right-hander might not be quite himself until 2009. Mark Mulder has been throwing bullpen sessions for the past month, including three segments of 20-25 pitches in Atlanta on Friday. He has yet to resume facing hitters, and will do so in Florida -- presumably Class A Palm Beach -- once he's ready. Mulder could begin a rehabilitation assignment in the next couple of weeks, with the chance that he might sneak in a handful of starts for the Cardinals before season's end. It's unlikely he'll get close enough to 100 percent coming off rotator cuff surgery to make a fantasy impact this season, but a return during 2007 would provide an opportunity for us to evaluate him for 2008.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson's rehabilitation is progressing; he'll pitch a two-inning simulated game Tuesday, throwing approximately 50 pitches. He threw two bullpen sessions without incident last week, and if all goes well Tuesday, he might next be sent on a minor league rehabilitation assignment. Johnson hasn't yet advanced to the point where he has a timetable for his return to the rotation, but he appears on track for an early-August return. Expect the Diamondbacks to be cautious with him due to his persistent back troubles, though. Chad Tracy was scheduled for an MRI on Monday on his knee, which has limited him to only five starts in the Diamondbacks' 10 games since the All-Star break. He's hitting only .214 (22-for-103) with five homers in 34 games since returning from the DL on June 10, and might require another DL stint to rest the injury. For now, though, expect Tracy to sit against all left-handed starters, and steer clear of him in shallow mixed formats until he heats up.
Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies' No. 6 prospect as judged by Baseball America in the preseason, was shifted into the team's rotation Thursday, replacing struggling spot starter Taylor Buchholz. Buchholz was 1-3 with a 5.98 ERA in eight spot starts for the Rockies, 7-12 with a 6.05 ERA in 27 career starts, though he has been much more effective in a relief role, with a 2.70 ERA in 17 career relief appearances. As a member of the Rockies, Buchholz isn't a smart ERA/WHIP option for NL-only owners, but at least he has a better chance at success. Jimenez, meanwhile, is a bit fortunate to be in the Rockies' rotation. He had a 5.85 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and .279 BAA in 19 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs, under similar circumstances to the ones he'll face at Coors Field. Still, his 4.20 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and .249 BAA in 10 road starts while in Triple-A ball might indicate some NL-only value based on the matchups. He could be a useful third/fourth starter in the long haul, but don't count on much from him this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Once again, closer Takashi Saito is battling health issues, this time tightness in his shoulder. He was scheduled for an MRI on Monday, though the Dodgers maintain the injury isn't serious. Still, with rumors swirling that the Dodgers are in the hunt for Kansas City Royals closer Octavio Dotel, it's possible they're not being forthcoming with information regarding Saito in order to keep Dotel's price tag reasonable. Jonathan Broxton has been standing in for Saito the past couple of days, though he has allowed seven runs (five earned) on eight hits in four innings, blowing one of three save chances, in four appearances in the closer's role this season. Broxton remains the smart handcuff for Saito owners, though keep an eye on the Dotel situation. With his closing experience in Kansas City this season, Dotel might squeak in as the next in line for saves behind Saito should he be dealt to Los Angeles. Still, a healthy Saito would mean Dotel settles for a setup role, so a trade to the Dodgers would significantly diminish his fantasy appeal.
San Diego Padres: Marcus Giles received a three-day "sabbatical" from the lineup Wednesday through Friday, the result of a terrible cold spell that saw him hit .176 (28-for-159) with one homer in a 39-game span May 30-June 21. That slump cost him his leadoff spot when brother Brian returned to the lineup on June 29. Marcus slipped to No. 2 in the order. Then he lost his No. 2 spot Saturday, in his return from a three-day absence, as he dropped to eighth. Giles also sat out Sunday, as manager Bud Black continues to play red-hot Geoff Blum, who is 8-for-15 (.533) in his last five games. It doesn't help Giles' chances that he's merely a .206/.594 hitter in 44 games at Petco Park, nor will he be particularly fantasy-worthy for as long as he remains in the No. 8 hole. At age 29, it's unlikely his problems are due to a decline in skills, but the best-case scenario for Giles has him becoming mixed-league middle-infield worthy with a hot streak of a week or two. Even that could be asking a lot; he has a lot to prove to his owners at this point.
San Francisco Giants: After a difficult June, Tim Lincecum seems to be turning his season around in July. He has a 3-0 record, 1.05 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and .162 BAA in his last five starts -- one of them in June -- numbers that rival those of any pitcher during that span. Most important is his improved command; he has averaged 3.41 walks per nine innings and thrown 331 of 529 pitches (62.6 percent) for strikes in that time. That's an improvement from his 4.33 BB-9 and 61 percent strike rate in his first nine MLB starts, during which time he had a 5.88 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and .232 BAA. Capitalizing on quality matchups can't be used to write off Lincecum's performance, either; he has faced the Padres, Cubs and Brewers during that span, and registered a quality start against each. He's once again an NL-only must-start, and useful in mixed leagues, too. Lincecum could hit the occasional rough spell the next two months, but overall, he has top-25 starter upside.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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