- 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: Brian McCann, who has a bone spur in his left ankle, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this past Friday that offseason surgery is a possibility. He severely sprained the ankle last season and injured it again early this year, and might require a minor arthroscopic procedure. Any such operation wouldn't affect McCann's status for spring training, though it'd make him a bit safer bet for 2008 in the health department. ... Edgar Renteria was activated from the DL this past Friday, and he started each of the Braves' past three games, batting second. There was some concern that he would be limited to pinch-hitting duties playing at less than 100 percent, and his 2-for-11 (.182) performance since returning backs up that idea. Renteria's owners should continue to monitor his progress the next few days, as he might hurt your team more than help it until he gets himself back to full health. Remember, the last time he attempted an early return, on Aug. 22, he re-injured himself in his first plate appearance.
Florida Marlins: Cody Ross has quietly snuck into the everyday center field role for the Marlins, starting each of the team's past seven games there, six of them against right-handers. He had long been a quality platoon mate against left-handers, batting .388 with a .483 on-base percentage and .776 slugging percentage this season, .293/.362/.641 for his career, but his .304/.375/.587 rates against right-handers this year back up the idea of him playing regularly. Ross is batting .400 (12-for-30) with two homers in eight games since joining the starting lineup, and is well worth an NL-only addition. ... Citing his healthy number of innings pitched between the majors and minors this season, the Marlins shut down Rick VandenHurk for the year on Monday. The right-hander tossed 53 2/3 innings for Double-A Carolina, 12 for Triple-A Albuquerque and 81 2/3 for the Marlins this season, for a total of 147 2/3, or 122 2/3 more than he threw in 2006 when he was working his way back from Tommy John surgery. VandenHurk wasn't an effective pitcher in his limited time with the Marlins, but he's a decent prospect with a chance at a career as a No. 3/4 starter. Expect him to begin the 2008 season in Triple-A ball, though.
New York Mets: Carlos Delgado has been sidelined since Sept. 4 with a strained right hip flexor, and Newsday reports he probably won't return until at least next Monday's game at the Nationals. Jeff Conine and Shawn Green have been used in a strict platoon at first base in Delgado's absence, an arrangement that should continue until Delgado's healthy return. That helps boost Lastings Milledge's value; with Green at first base Milledge has been starting every game in right field except those against tough right-handers, such as the Astros' Roy Oswalt this past Sunday. As a near full-timer, Milledge warrants NL-only consideration, and he's especially attractive in leagues that allow daily transactions. He hits left-handers at .327/.377/.551 rates, and should be activated anytime the Mets face a lefty. As for Milledge's future, it'll be interesting to see what the Mets do with him during the winter. He could be a candidate to be traded, but more likely, with the Mets sporting corner outfielders who will each be aged 35 or older next Opening Day (Green and Moises Alou), Milledge could get a chance at an everyday role in the spring.
Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels (strained left elbow) played catch for the third consecutive day Monday, and the Phillies hope he'll be able to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the Phillies hope Hamels will be able to return to make three more starts this season, something that can only happen if he returns to the rotation by Sept. 20. The team's standing in the playoff race will have a lot to do with the left-hander's usage the rest of the year; he'll probably be shut down if the team gets eliminated in the wild-card race (the Phillies were 1 1/2 games back of the Padres entering Tuesday's action). Hamels' keeper owners, though, could rest easier if he's shut down, since that'd mean a longer period of rest to prepare him for a healthy start to 2008.
Washington Nationals: Wily Mo Pena swatted two more home runs on Monday, giving him seven in his first 21 games as a member of the Nationals. He has started 19 of the Nationals' 22 contests since his trade from the Boston Red Sox, each of those in left field, and looks like a strong bet to begin the 2008 season as the starter there as well. Pena is batting .264 (19-for-72) with 13 RBIs for the Nationals, though his 20 strikeouts are a concern. He's an all-or-nothing type with the power to succeed despite calling pitching-friendly RFK Stadium his home, and don't forget, the Nationals move into the new Nationals Park in 2008, meaning the ballpark factor should change. Pena is a useful NL-only and deep-mixed option the rest of this year and a sleeper for 2008, though he'll be prone to slumps and probably be a bit risky in the batting-average category.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: So much for the idea of a six-man rotation. Manager Lou Piniella on Monday mapped out his rotation through Sept. 20 for the Chicago Tribune, and it calls for several instances of pitchers working on three days' rest. Steve Trachsel will pitch Thursday at the Astros on three days' rest, Carlos Zambrano will pitch Friday at the Cardinals and then Sept. 18 against the Reds on three days' rest, and Ted Lilly will pitch Saturday at the Cardinals and then Sept. 19 against the Reds on three days' rest. Sean Marshall will also make a spot start in Saturday's doubleheader at the Cardinals, though it's possible neither he nor Trachsel will make another start after this week. Cubs pitchers do face decent matchups the rest of the season, but working on three days' rest does decrease their chances at standout outings. For example, Trachsel is 1-3 with a 6.04 ERA in five career starts on three days' rest, Lilly lasted only 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits the only time he ever did it and Zambrano has never done it. Temper your expectations.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto has quickly established himself as a player who needs to play regularly in his brief time since being promoted from Triple-A Louisville on Sept. 4. He went 3-for-3 with a home run against the Mets in his first career start on Sept. 5, his first of four consecutive starts during which he hit safely in each game and batted .538 (7-for-13) with two homers and six RBIs overall. Votto, who had appeared in 40 games as a left fielder for Louisville, instead has played strictly first base for the Reds, relegating Scott Hatteberg to a little-used bench role. Expect that arrangement to continue, making Votto a worthy pickup even in deep mixed formats. He finished the Triple-A season batting .294 with 22 homers, 92 RBIs and 17 stolen bases on 133 games, and as a prime candidate for Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 could be a five-category fantasy contributor.
Houston Astros: Wandy Rodriguez, a home sensation who has struggled on the road all season, will miss his scheduled start on Wednesday due to a thumb injury. The Houston Chronicle reports that he has received treatment since Saturday, and that the thumb could explain his struggles this past Friday, when he allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings at the Mets. With that loss Rodriguez is now 2-10 with a 7.31 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 14 road starts this season, compared to 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 14 home starts. Once he returns, keep playing the matchups based on those numbers, and note that the Astros do play 12 of their final 19 games at Minute Maid Park. Troy Patton, who has a 3.55 ERA and 1.11 in two starts and one relief appearance, will step in for Rodriguez on Wednesday. Patton should get a long look for a rotation spot in the spring, and could be an NL-only sleeper if he breaks camp with the team.
Milwaukee Brewers: Claudio Vargas was activated from the DL on Sunday, though he won't immediately be inserted into the rotation. Instead, the right-hander will pitch in middle relief, limiting his fantasy value. Despite the Brewers' problems with their rotation the past couple months, they're content to go with Carlos Villanueva and Yovani Gallardo in their final two spots. Villanueva has pitched effectively in each of his three spot starts this season, and for his career he now has a 3.42 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and .244 BAA in nine starts. He's worth considering based on the matchup in NL-only and deep-mixed formats. Gallardo, meanwhile, has rebounded from back-to-back poor outings to post a 3-1 record and 2.74/1.30/.256 numbers in his last four starts. Still, the worry with the rookie is his workload; he has pitched 162 innings (84 1/3 for the Brewers, 77 2/3 for Triple-A Nashville) this season. Gallardo should be fine to use the rest of the year, but the more innings he accumulates on his arm, the more likely he could disappoint in 2008.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Bay left this past Saturday's game with tendonitis in his right knee, though an MRI Monday revealed no damage. He should be back in the next couple days, though it'd have been convenient to blame his struggles this season on that if it had been his left knee, the one on which he had surgery last winter. Bay has lost 33 points on his batting average and 173 points on his OPS from a year ago this season, an odd development for a player aged 28 and seemingly in his prime. He should be better in 2008, though a return to his All-Star form of 2005-06 would be about his ceiling. ... Ryan Doumit's season is over after he sprained his ankle this past Saturday. With .274/.341/.472 final numbers and catcher eligibility under his belt, Doumit made himself a decent NL-only No. 2 catcher consideration for 2008, though his durability might limit him to a part-time role next year once again. He's seemingly a bit too brittle to handle the everyday catching chores, and not productive enough to man first base or a corner outfield spot.
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Duncan might be out for the season after aggravating what the team described Sunday as a sports hernia, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He returned to St. Louis to be examined and for possible surgery after being in noticeable pain while striking out as a pinch hitter Sunday. Such a development could help explain Duncan's terrible cold spell; he was batting .169 (15-for-89) with one homer and 37 strikeouts in 37 games since Aug. 1. He should be fine for spring training, though he's still too much a platoon type, struggling against left-handers, to be keeper-worthy. ... Mark Mulder returned from shoulder surgery on Sept. 5, getting shelled for six runs on eight hits in four innings of work against the Pirates. He's a long way from recapturing the form that made him a 21-game winner in 2001, or even a 16-game winner in his first season with the Cardinals in 2005, though it's good for fantasy that he made it back to the team this year. That'll make Mulder a more likely bet to be at full health by Opening Day next season, though he'll need a strong spring to be anything more than an NL-only option.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Orlando Hudson underwent season-ending surgery Monday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, suffered this past Wednesday. He should be fine for spring training, not that he's a prime keeper, but should be about as productive a player in 2008 as he was in 2007. With Hudson sidelined, Alberto Callaspo, a .341 hitter in 59 games for Triple-A Tucson, albeit with little power (5 homers) or speed (1 steal), should get the bulk of the at-bats at second base and be a decent NL-only middle-infield fill-in. ... Bob Wickman signed with the D-backs this past Friday, but don't bother with him in fantasy. The D-backs have better late-inning options and he's ineligible for the postseason roster, meaning his role will be primarily to ease some of the strain on the team's younger setup men. ... Edgar Gonzalez becomes the latest to occupy the D-backs' fifth-starter role, and while he'll likely be skipped as off days allow, he might have a bit of NL-only matchups value. Keep in mind he's 5-5 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 13 starts filling in as the D-backs have needed since the beginning of last year.
Colorado Rockies: Willy Taveras is probably done for the season after aggravating his right quadriceps injury this past Saturday. The Rocky Mountain News reports he had an MRI exam on Monday, and the Rockies are comparing it to the one he had after he initially strained the quadriceps on June 29. If Taveras' season is indeed finished, he offered respectable numbers when healthy, with a .320 batting average and 33 stolen bases in 97 games. Unfortunately, with most of his value coming in the steals category, he's not too useful a keeper outside of NL-only formats. ... Kazuo Matsui has been out since Saturday with a strained right hamstring, an injury the News reports will cost him another three or four games. Since most of his value is tied up in the stolen base category, wait to see him back in the lineup for a healthy game or two before you consider activating him. After all, despite his .291 full-season batting average, Matsui is hitting only .269 (47-for-175) with 14 steals and 33 runs scored in 46 games since the All-Star break.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Like Cody Ross with the Marlins, Matt Kemp has slowly emerged as a near-regular of late. He has starts in six straight games in right field, three of them against right-handers, and has 19 starts in the Dodgers' last 25 contests. Again, like Ross, Kemp hits left-handers exceptionally well, with .367/.416/.544 rates against them this year, though he has been productive against right-handers, too, with .323/.350/.523 numbers. Andre Ethier, meanwhile, is only a .289/.360/.465 hitter against right-handers, slightly less productive than Kemp. Don't be surprised if the Dodgers get Kemp into the lineup on a more regular basis to finish the season, particularly if they fall out of the playoff race. After all, with his performance this year, Kemp seems fairly likely to open the 2008 season as an everyday player. He's a strong NL-only keeper consideration.
San Diego Padres: Marcus Giles returned from the DL this past Sunday, going 2-for-3 at Colorado's Coors Field in his first game back. Don't let that outing fool you, though; he's probably going to sit more often in favor of Geoff Blum, a .256/.324/.387 hitter against right-handers, against tough righties the rest of the season. Giles warrants NL-only middle-infield consideration, but like he was last year with the Braves, he has been an incredible disappointment this season. With him turning 30 next May, one has to wonder whether it gets much better than this for Giles. ... The Padres signed Brett Tomko on Sept. 4 for the remainder of the season, adding bullpen depth but also giving them some rotation insurance in case Chris Young's back keeps acting up or they need him to make some spot starts out of the No. 5 hole. Tomko isn't a fantasy factor, especially not with a 5.77 lifetime ERA at Petco Park, but it's not unthinkable he could be an NL-only matchups consideration facing a weak offense in a home game (Pirates, perhaps, next week?).
San Francisco Giants: Noah Lowry's season is probably over due to a strained left elbow. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an MRI exam revealed only a mild strain and no structural damage, ruling out Tommy John surgery, but with the Giants out of the playoff race, they have no reason to push one of their better young starters. Lowry finishes with a career-high 14 wins and a respectable 3.92 ERA, even if his walk rate (5.02 per nine) is disturbingly high. He's not much more than an NL-only or mixed-league matchups option, and should be that yet again in 2008, especially with the Giants unlikely to be much more competitive than they were this season. With Lowry out, Jonathan Sanchez should be assured a spot in the Giants' rotation the remainder of the season.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses the latest National League news, including the players who are out for the year.