- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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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:
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Edgar Renteria landed on the DL on Friday with a high right ankle sprain he suffered a night earlier. The Braves are unsure how much more time he'll need than the traditional two-week stint, though high ankle sprains can be tricky to gauge. With Renteria out on Thursday, Chipper Jones shifted to shortstop for the final innings of the team's extra-inning affair against the Astros, but Yunel Escobar will shift there on an everyday basis looking forward. The rookie has adapted to big league pitching much better than expected, batting .331 (52-for-157) in his first 48 games. Unfortunately, he hasn't done much in the other categories, but with regular at-bats, and those against left-handed starters probably coming out of the leadoff spot, he could be a useful batting average/runs scored contributor in NL-only and deep mixed leagues. In addition, Jones owners could get the benefit of an occasional emergency appearance at shortstop, helping with position flexibility. He already has one game there for owners in those formats.
Florida Marlins: Most people who followed Josh Johnson's attempts to pitch through pain the past calendar year had to be prepared for what came Friday; he finally succumbed to season-ending Tommy John surgery. Johnson has had a difficult time ever since he experienced pain in his forearm last September. His 2006 season ended early -- on Sept. 12 -- due to the issue, then he experienced discomfort in his biceps during a throwing session in January. He missed all of spring training after being diagnosed with irritation in the ulnar nerve in his elbow, taking until May 30 to make his first game action of the season, in an extended spring training game. Johnson pitched well during his rehabilitation assignment, with a 1.25 ERA and .218 BAA in five starts between Class A Jupiter and Double-A Carolina, but he was nothing but awful when activated by the Marlins, going 0-3 with a 7.47 ERA and .388 BAA in four starts. Johnson's surgery will cost him the remainder of 2007, and the Marlins say all of 2008, too, so the earliest he can be expected to help fantasy teams again is in 2009. Even then, he'll be a risky pick.
New York Mets: Brian Lawrence, last Thursday, became the 10th different starter the Mets have used this season, tossing a respectable five innings against the Brewers, allowing three runs on eight hits to pick up the win. He'll get another turn as the team's fifth starter on Friday, though fantasy owners shouldn't bother with the right-hander, not with Pedro Martinez on the mend. Lawrence did manage an 8-2 record and 3.87 ERA in 12 starts for Triple-A New Orleans, and his 2.11 walks-per-nine innings ratio for his professional career demonstrates his great command, though he's still too much a soft tosser to be trusted. Martinez, meanwhile, is scheduled to make his first minor league rehabilitation appearance for Class A St. Lucie on Wednesday, the first in what should be three or four rehab starts. That should put him on track to take over the No. 5 starter's role from Lawrence in the Aug. 24-30 range, meaning Lawrence might get only three or four more turns, or fewer if the team uses its off days the next two Mondays to push him to the back of the rotation. Martinez could then get six or seven regular-season starts, though fantasy owners shouldn't be too optimistic about his chances. He'll probably be on a limited pitch count initially, and remember, the Mets' ultimate goal is to have him up to full speed for the postseason, not necessarily to be a major factor during the regular season.
Philadelphia Phillies: It turns out the injuries suffered by Shane Victorino and then stand-in Michael Bourn during the team's July 30 game at the Cubs cost the Phillies both their right fielders, as each hit the DL a day later. Victorino, who suffered a strained right calf, might miss only the minimum 15 days, as he resumed taking batting practice on Friday. Bourn, who stood to benefit most from Victorino's absence, suffered a sprained left ankle only an inning after coming on as a replacement, an ailment that could cost him more than the 15-day minimum. Chris Roberson and Jayson Werth, activated from the DL last Wednesday, have been splitting time in right field for now, with neither much of a fantasy option. Victorino owners can hope to have him back by the middle of next week, though Bourn's chances at a notable fantasy impact this year decrease greatly as a result of his DL stint. He might not get the at-bats needed to help until 2008.
Washington Nationals: Expect the Nationals to give rookies Joel Hanrahan, who has recorded back-to-back solid outings to begin his MLB career, and John Lannan, who beat the Reds with a strong effort last Wednesday, an extended look in their rotation as they audition pitchers for 2008 starting roles. Hanrahan was one of the team's dozen-plus rotation candidates back in spring training, after being signed as a minor league free agent out of the Dodgers' organization. Lannan, meanwhile, initially appeared he would hold the label "that guy" for breaking Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's wrist in his MLB debut on July 26. Neither was considered an elite prospect at the time of his promotion from Triple-A Columbus, though each pitched well enough there to have perhaps a bit of NL-only matchups appeal. Hanrahan had a 3.70 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and .226 BAA in 15 starts for Columbus, while Lannan had a 12-3 record and 2.35 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) combined while breezing through Class A Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Columbus. Keep in mind neither will get much run support as a member of the Nationals, but each has a little sleeper potential based on his numbers so far this year.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano is expected to miss two-to-four weeks after suffering a strained right quadriceps during Sunday's game. With him sidelined, Felix Pie, hitting .330 (30-for-91) with six homers in 21 games for Triple-A Iowa since his demotion on July 13, could be summoned. NL-only owners should prepare to nab Pie, though the Cubs will need to use him better this time around if he's to make any sort of an impact; of the Cubs' 34 games during his last stint with the team he appeared in 30, and started only 21 of those. That's not enough for a player to earn the necessary experience to succeed, though if the Cubs do better this time around, Pie could offer modest totals in stolen bases and runs scored, especially if he steps into Soriano's leadoff role. Kerry Wood on Sunday made his first appearance since June 6, 2006, tossing a scoreless frame against the Mets. He'll continue to work in middle relief, though the Cubs will surely monitor his workload closely the remainder of the year. Relieving might wind up Wood's long-term role, perhaps putting him in line for saves eventually. This year, though, with him still working back to full health, expect him to be only a mild help in ERA/WHIP.
Cincinnati Reds: Aaron Harang should return to the Reds' rotation on Wednesday, after throwing a 30-pitch simulated game Saturday without any problems. He hasn't pitched in a game since July 28, when he suffered back spasms after facing only five batters, as he skipped his last turn in the rotation while rehabilitating the injury. Perhaps Harang was affected by tossing 10 innings and 121 pitches in his previous outing on July 23, though in five starts prior to his July 28 turn, he showed no signs of trouble, with a 2.39 ERA and 1.19 WHIP despite averaging 113.6 pitches per outing. It's possible the right-hander might eventually break down from such hefty usage as a member of the Reds -- he has averaged 108.2 pitches per start and nine times thrown 120 or more in an outing since the start of last season -- but don't get too worried about him this season.
Houston Astros: Chris Sampson landed on the DL on Friday with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, a move called more precautionary than as a result of anything severe. With the Astros going nowhere in the playoff race, though, expect the team to play it safe with the right-hander, meaning he might miss more than the two-week minimum. Sampson was actually one of the more underrated NL-only starters the first two-plus months of the season, with a 3.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and .255 BAA in his first 13 games (12 starts), though his numbers slipped to 6.86-1.60-.343 in his last seven starts. In his place, Matt Albers returns to the rotation, not that he's an appealing fantasy option. He's 1-7 with a 6.62 ERA, 1.58 WHIP and .292 BAA in 11 career starts, and with the Astros ranked only 22nd in runs per game (4.53), he'll be an NL-only matchups option at best.
Milwaukee Brewers: Tiring of his recent slump, the Brewers chose to demote Rickie Weeks to Triple-A Nashville last Wednesday, as opposed to putting him back on the DL due to his previous wrist problems. He batted only .156 (14-for-90) with a mere seven extra-base hits, all doubles, and 30 strikeouts in 31 games since coming off the DL on June 18. Watching Weeks hit, it seemed his wrist was probably not 100 percent during that time, though he is 5-for-11 (.455) in his first three games for Nashville. We might not have heard the last of him this season, though owners in mixed or yearly leagues can feel free to drop him at this point. For all his potential, Weeks has done little in parts of four big league seasons to back up his draft position, batting only .245 with a .730 OPS and averaging one strikeout per 3.78 at-bats. Tony Graffanino has five starts in the Brewers' six games since Weeks' demotion, two against right-handers, with Craig Counsell starting the seventh against a righty. Graffanino is the slightly better hitter, and thus far the favorite to earn the at-bats, making him a fringe NL-only middle infield option. Still, expect Counsell to sneak in enough games against right-handers to limit both their values. A report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday noted the Brewers' plans to cap Yovani Gallardo's innings to 175 this season. The right-hander, now 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA and .198 BAA in four starts since replacing Ben Sheets in the rotation, already has 130 2/3 innings this season, 77 2/3 while at Triple-A Nashville, 53 for the Brewers. If he's limited to only 44 1/3 more frames this year, that might mean only six or seven more starts, greatly increasing the chances he'll either be shut down entirely or bumped to the bullpen once Sheets returns. Remember, with the Brewers a potential playoff team, they might be even more apt to limit Gallardo's usage in order to save him for the postseason.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Ian Snell has lost all five of his starts since the All-Star break, posting an 8.31 ERA, 1.85 WHIP and .355 BAA during that span. Some of that should be attributed to a tough schedule; the right-hander had to face the Braves, Rockies, Mets, Phillies and Reds, all of whom rank among the top 14 MLB teams in runs per game this season. More distressing, though, is that Snell's velocity has been down and his command of his curveball hasn't been as sharp. He has allowed seven home runs in 26 innings since the break, compared to nine in 116 2/3 innings before it, which might indicate either a "dead-arm" period, or perhaps something worse. Snell should be closely monitored his next couple turns, though he has hardly been abused the past year-plus; since the start of last season he has pitched 328 2/3 innings, 41st most in that time, has averaged 95.4 pitches per appearance and thrown as many as 110 pitches only twice.
St. Louis Cardinals: Fantasy owners might remember the name Rick Ankiel, but more because back in 2000, he was considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, a superstar in the making. In fact, Baseball America considered him the best prospect that season, after handing the left-hander a No. 2 ranking the year before. Unfortunately, Ankiel would fall prey to a complete departure of his command -- more commonly known as "Steve Blass disease" -- that October, and by 2005, he'd turn his attention entirely toward hitting. Now a right fielder, Ankiel has himself on the verge of a promotion to the Cardinals, batting .271 (103-for-380) with 31 homers and 86 RBIs in 99 games for Triple-A Memphis. Manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the team will promote the pitcher-turned-outfielder before season's end, perhaps before the Sept. 1 40-man roster expansion. This might sound like a publicity stunt, but NL-only owners shouldn't look at it that way. Ankiel, after all, was always a good hitter, batting .250 with two homers in 68 at-bats as a rookie in 2000, .286 with 10 homers in a 41-game stint in rookie ball while working on his command problems in 2001, and .259 with 21 homers in 321 at-bats between Class A Quad City and Double-A Springfield in 2005. If he earns a decent share of at-bats in right field in September, he could be an NL-only sleeper.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: One year and four months. That's all the time Justin Upton needed in the minor leagues to convince the D-backs he was MLB ready. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft got the call last Thursday -- coinciding with Carlos Quentin's DL assignment -- after only 113 games' experience at low Class A ball, 32 at high Class A and 71 at Double-A, the latter two stops both taking place this season. In those 103 combined games between Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile this year, all Upton did was bat .319 with 18 homers, 70 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .961 OPS, earning him the No. 1 spot on Baseball America's recent midseason prospect rankings. He's a high-ceiling, future-MVP type talent, but at age 19, Upton might be a bit overmatched at times at the MLB level. He's 4-for-13 (.308) with only two strikeouts in his first four games, though, and his four hits did come against solid Dodgers right-handers Jonathan Broxton, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny. Upton, even at such a young age, could be a .260s hitter who offers six to eight home runs and stolen bases apiece in an everyday role the next eight weeks, making him a must-add in NL-only, deep mixed and keeper formats. The D-backs also picked up three veterans through the waiver system in the past week: third baseman Jeff Cirillo (from the Minnesota Twins), left-handed pitcher Joe Kennedy (from the Oakland Athletics) and right-handed pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim (from the Marlins). Cirillo's value drops considerably on a team that will likely use him only as a pinch hitter or occasional starter at second base, third base or shortstop against a tough left-hander. Kennedy offers bullpen depth, but as a long reliever, he's not fantasy worthy. As for Kim, his presence is less a boon to his fantasy value than it is a bane to Yusmeiro Petit's. Kim bumped Petit back to Triple-A Tucson on Friday, though it's actually a bad thing that he left the Marlins for an even weaker team in an much more hitter-friendly ballpark.
Colorado Rockies: Rookie right-hander Jason Hirsh returned to the rotation last Thursday, allowing three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Marlins, though he did surrender two home runs in the outing. As he was before landing on the DL with a sprained ankle, Hirsh should be an NL-only matchups consideration, as he did have nine quality-start efforts in 17 tries, with a respectable 1.35 WHIP and .244 BAA during that span. In fact, about the only difference between him and the man he replaced, Rodrigo Lopez, is that Hirsh has the upside to become a future No. 2/3 starter, somewhat like what Jeff Francis has been so far this season, perhaps by 2008. Lopez, incidentally, landed on the DL last Thursday with a torn flexor tendon, perhaps costing him the remainder of the season. Though he's hardly an exciting fantasy option, the veteran right-hander did have eight quality-start efforts in 14 tries, with a 4.42 ERA and 1.31 WHIP overall. Those weren't terrible rates for a Rockies pitcher, and they help demonstrate how Coors Field these days isn't the pitchers' nightmare it was during its first decade of existence.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Things are beginning to improve on the health front in the Dodgers' rotation, as Derek Lowe returned from a groin strain on Saturday, while Brad Penny tossed seven strong innings in his second start back from an abdominal strain a day later. Still, while both veteran right-handers seem fine today, the news on Randy Wolf wasn't as promising. The left-hander had another MRI that revealed no structural damage to his shoulder, though he won't attempt to throw for at least the next two weeks, and it's possible he'll soon be shut down for the season. Wolf won't need surgery, though he has enough inflammation in his shoulder that his owners shouldn't expect him to contribute much, if anything, the remainder of the year. With him sidelined indefinitely, both Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko should remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future, though neither warrants more than NL-only matchups consideration.
San Diego Padres: Milton Bradley left Friday's game with a strained right hamstring, a day-to-day problem that wouldn't be so troublesome if not for his checkered injury history and his missing both of the team's next two weekend contests. He's being monitored on a daily basis, though don't be shocked by a DL stint; he already made three while with the Oakland Athletics earlier in the season and only once in his career did he appear in more than 101 games (2004, 141). Bradley has been red-hot since joining the Padres, batting .360 (27-for-75) with five homers, 15 RBIs and three stolen bases in 21 games, though a fourth DL stint this season would probably thwart his momentum, as it has many times in the past. Scott Hairston, who hit two key home runs in relief of Bradley on Friday, would stand to benefit from a DL stint for the veteran, perhaps earning the bulk of the at-bats in left field against left-handers, as well as some against right-handers. Hairston would only warrant NL-only consideration in that event, though, and mostly due to the whole "rejuvenated-by-change-of-scenery" thing.
San Francisco Giants: We'd be remiss if we didn't discuss Barry Bonds' all-time record setting home run, career blast No. 755 against the Padres on Saturday. His first chance at breaking Hank Aaron's mark was scheduled for Monday night at home against the Nationals, though for fantasy, what's important to note is that he has entirely sat out five of the Giants' 23 games since the All-Star break, and merely pinch hit in another, and batted .185 (10-for-54) while in the lineup. Bonds has proved awfully streaky so far this season, and since May 9 he's only a .245 hitter (45-for-184) with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in 67 games (out of 77 Giants contests). The argument has been made before that Bonds might be helped by lesser pressure once he finally breaks the record, but it's at least as likely that the long, hot summer and constant media attention leading up to this point have worn him down for the season's final two months. Don't count on a significant rebirth. NL-only owners should take a look at Patrick Misch, who went five strong innings allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out eight batters on Saturday while stepping into the rotation spot vacated when Matt Morris was traded to the Pirates. The rookie left-hander won't receive much run support, and he's still only four starts into his shift back to the rotation, which began with a July 22 start for Triple-A Fresno. Still, Misch had the minor league command numbers -- 7.07 strikeouts and 2.18 walks per nine for his career -- to indicate matchups potential. With time, he could be a decent No. 3/4 MLB starter.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses Alfonso Soriano's injury and other news from the National League.