Updated: September 2, 2008, 12:11 PM ET

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AP Photo/Morry Gash

Ben Sheets was winning his showdown with Johan Santana when he left after five innings.

Brittle Sheets leaves game early

A day after the amazing CC Sabathia did or didn't toss a no-hitter (although you can't argue against the fact that he went the distance yet again for the Milwaukee Brewers), that other "ace" for the current NL wild-card leaders threw only 54 pitches.

Ben Sheets, who, unlike Sabathia, is not the most durable pitcher around, was pulled after five pristine innings against the New York Mets on Monday with "very, very slight" tightness in his left groin. We can debate what not one, but two "verys" means to groin pain, but it probably doesn't feel very good, and removing Sheets from the game seems the wise move. Had a starting pitcher with a track record of avoiding annual DL stints left after 54 pitches, we wouldn't make a big deal about it. Sheets, of course, is not that pitcher.

According to the 30-year-old right-hander, who had allowed only two hits and a walk in those five innings and had retired 10 straight Mets when he was pinch hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning, the groin began to tighten when he warmed up for the third inning. "It started to loosen up, but [manager] Ned [Yost] thought that was enough," Sheets said. "I think it's gonna be fine. I really think I'll be OK. I'll just pay a little more attention to it, hopefully move forward."

Fantasy owners surely that hope all will be well and that the precaution was worth it, because Sheets is the No. 12-ranked starting pitcher on ESPN's Player Rater and is the top 50 among all pitchers. Monday's start was Sheets' 27th of the season, already quite an accomplishment for someone who averaged 21 starts from 2005 to 2007. The previous year that Sheets made more starts than this season was 2004, when he started 34 times. Sheets won't rack up that many starts this season, but if you had given most fantasy owners the number 27 as the over/under for his starts this season, how many people would have taken the over? Even if Sheets doesn't pitch again, no Sheets owner can complain about the results. It is likely, though, that the Brewers won't risk Sheets' health because they have an apparent commanding 5½-game wild-card lead and little chance of catching the Cubs for the NL Central.

Sheets is not the only brittle playoff-bound starting pitcher who will be treated with the utmost caution this month; the Cubs are giving Rich Harden a few extra days off this week, and it's doubtful he'll stick to an exact schedule the next four weeks.

Then again, there is a major difference between the Brewers and the Cubs. Can the Brewers afford to be without Sheets for more than a start or two? When Sheets left the game Monday, the Brewers led 1-0, Sheets had faced 17 Mets and only three reached base. But in the next four innings against the beleaguered Milwaukee bullpen, led by punching bag Eric Gagne, 22 Mets came to the plate, and nearly half reached base safely. Six Brewers relievers allowed seven hits and four walks, with four earned runs, in those four innings. Sheets had outdueled Johan Santana, but neither got the decision. The Cubs have a better bullpen than the Brewers, which could explain why Sabathia is averaging an incredible eight innings per start for the NL team.

Sheets isn't doing that, but at this point, after what fantasy owners saw Monday, just making another four or five good starts the rest of September surely will suffice.

Past editions: 9/1: Zambrano scratched | 8/31: Gregg out indefinitely | 8/30: Stairs to Philly

Box Score Bits

The Mets picked up a game in the standings and really owe a big chunk of this NL East lead to Carlos Delgado, who has more home runs and RBIs since June 27 than any other NL player since. Delgado's two-run homer off Eric Gagne was his 31st this season. And you thought he was done! … Gagne, however, is done, apparently. Only Ned Yost can answer why he was protecting the one-run lead in the eighth inning. Delgado's home run was the 10th Gagne has allowed, and his ERA rose to 6.81. Incredibly, Gagne remains owned in 26.6 percent of ESPN standard leagues. I'm guessing many of those teams are planning for 2009, or fantasy football season. … The Yankees also won, as Alex Rodriguez knocked in four runs and Justin Verlander didn't get out of the second inning. Verlander has had an interesting run of late, having allowed 13 runs in his past two outings but no earned runs in his two prior starts. Doesn't sound too safe to me. … Still want to use Sidney Ponson? Given an 11-2 lead, he still didn't register the win. … The Marlins won in the ninth inning, so we're still not entirely sure who will get the next save chance, but Matt Lindstrom earned the win, and he's one of the most-added players in ESPN leagues. Kevin Gregg, by contrast, is one of the most-dropped. … Speaking of closers, Mike Gonzalez walked the bases loaded and gave up the game-winning sacrifice fly to John Baker. Gonzo remains the closer, but Triple-A Richmond saves guy Jorge Julio (remember him?) was promoted Monday. Wow, what a bullpen! … New Braves leadoff hitter Josh Anderson singled three times and stole a base, and there's no reason why he can't steal a lot more this month. He'll play a lot, after all. … All hail Cleveland's first 20-game winner in 34 years! Cliff Lee is making this season look ridiculously easy. He's 20-2 after shutting out the division-leading White Sox on five singles without issuing a walk. Lee, unlike NL Cy Young and 20-win hopeful Brandon Webb, is showing no signs of slowing down. … Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew became the first in Chase Field history to hit for the cycle, and overall he had five hits. Drew is 10-for-17 in the first four games of this current homestand, and his season batting average is .289. … New double-play partner David Eckstein batted second, right after Drew, and delivered two singles and the go-ahead RBI. If you owned Augie Ojeda, look elsewhere. … Need some cheap speed? Did you know Cardinals shortstop Cesar Izturis has 19 stolen bases after swiping a pair of bags Monday? … Following in the recent footsteps of Dan Haren and Webb, Randy Johnson was torched for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, including four home runs. Giving up No. 30 to Albert Pujols is one thing, but to Yadier Molina, Joe Mather and Felipe Lopez? Not good at all. … Brandon Lyon earned his 26th save, but it was interesting to see Jon Rauch, supposedly next in line but struggling a bit, hurling in the sixth inning. Rauch didn't fare well, and he was ejected to boot. … Gotta love Willy Taveras of the Rockies. He reached base twice but stole three bases. Taveras has 65 steals. The next-best total in baseball is Jose Reyes with 46. The Rockies are back in the NL West race, but if that changes, Taveras could lose playing time to prospect Dexter Fowler, no matter how much he runs. … Jonathan Sanchez came off the DL and allowed three hits in seven strong innings, but the Rockies got three runs off him. … Few fantasy owners would give Jorge De La Rosa much thought, but the Colorado southpaw had a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 August innings, and began September by allowing four singles and no runs to the Giants in seven innings. … Roy Oswalt blanked the powerful Cubs on four singles, and Jose Valverde finished up the shutout. Oswalt has gone at least eight innings in three of his past four starts, and this onetime fantasy ace has won seven of eight decisions. … Washington's Tim Redding didn't allow a hit to the Phillies into the fifth inning, but his pitch count was high. He left after 5 2/3 innings and 106 pitches but won. He's won two straight, but doesn't come recommended. … Matt Stairs got his first start for Philly, ostensibly in place of struggling Pat Burrell. This shouldn't be a trend. Burrell came in and drew a bases-loaded walk. … Paul Byrd won his third consecutive start for the Red Sox. The Red Sox have scored 26 runs in those three games. … Baltimore's Adam Jones returned after a monthlong DL stint and homered off Byrd in the first inning, his only hit of the day. … Adrian Beltre homered twice Sunday and kept hitting the next day, adding another homer and the cycle among his five hits and five runs scored. … Beltre and Drew are the first players to hit for the cycle in the same day since Sept. 17, 1920, when Bobby Veach of the Tigers and George Burns of the Giants did the trick.


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Standing Out

HERE'S JOHNNY
Johnny Damon, Yankees
After yet another solid August, when he hit .304 with four homers, 11 RBIs and 10 steals, Damon opened up September by going 3-for-4 with a homer, three runs and two walks.

RUFFLED FEATHERS
Garrett Olson, Orioles
It's hard to believe he has a winning record (8-7) despite a 6.53 ERA. Olson was rocked again Monday, allowing six runs, six hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings. Olson hasn't earned a win since Aug. 1 and is 0-2 with an 11.81 ERA in his past four outings.
News and Notes

Be careful of umpires! Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran suffered a bruise behind his right knee in the eighth inning when he slid into not Brewers catcher Jason Kendall, but rather home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano. Beltran left the game and is day to day. … More Mets: Closer Billy Wagner threw off a mound Monday, and the team will wait to see how his balky left elbow feels before deciding the next move. In the meantime, Luis Ayala has been pretty good with his new team, notching four saves. … Arizona right fielder Justin Upton left the game early when a pickoff attempt hit him in the head. Upton said he was dizzy, but he shouldn't miss any time. … Texas catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia left Monday's tilt in the fifth inning with right elbow soreness. Replacement Taylor Teagarden, promoted earlier in the day, whacked a three-run home run in his first at-bat. Saltalamacchia better not be out long, or he'll lose playing time to the better prospect. … On the one hand, the last-place Padres called up interesting lefty prospect Wade LeBlanc to make some September starts. On the other hand, 35-year-old Shawn Estes was activated from the DL to join the same rotation. Though the Estes call-up makes no sense, the Padres don't have many prospects who need rotation spots, either. … With Jeff Kent on the DL and undergoing knee surgery, the Dodgers called up Chin-lung Hu, but it's expected that Blake DeWitt will man second base for now. In other Dodgers news, Andruw Jones is back with the big club, but from a fantasy aspect, there's little reason to get excited. … Big Bartolo Colon threw six strong innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, lowering his ERA to 2.27 in 31 2/3 innings, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona could opt to use Colon in a doubleheader on Sept. 13.
They Wrote It

"If [Daisuke] Matsuzaka doesn't lose another game and winds up winning 20, he'll have done something truly historic … but his chances of winning the Cy Young Award will still hover somewhere between slim and none. Why? Because Cliff Lee may also do something truly historic. And even if he doesn't, Matsuzaka's going to finish the season with roughly 170 innings. So even if he wins 20 he'll win the award only if Lee and Roy Halladay both lose most of their September starts … and even then, he would probably finish behind record-setting Francisco Rodriguez."

-- Rob Neyer Blog


"If I had a [NL MVP] ballot this year, these are the names that would be at the top, as of today: No. 1, Albert Pujols; No. 2, CC Sabathia; No. 3, Jose Reyes."

-- Buster Olney Blog

Transactions

• The Cardinals activated Chris Carpenter off the DL by the Cardinals, but fantasy owners should view this move with skepticism. Carpenter is not heading to the rotation, at least for now. The Cardinals have Chris Perez closing, so Carpenter appears to have little value. Look for him to start Opening Day in 2009, though, so keeper leaguers shouldn't be worried. The Cardinals are falling further out of the race, so Carpenter could be shut down early.

• Sept. 1 is a big day for minor leaguers, as it's the day major league rosters expand. Quite a few players whom fantasy owners were hoping would deliver nice numbers this season will get another chance. For some, it'll be their first chance. Astros catcher J.R. Towles didn't hit in previous shots with the big club, but he does have power, and he showed that power with Houston last September. The White Sox finally brought up speedster Jerry Owens, and he could steal some bases as a pinch runner. The Padres will let Matt Antonelli play second base regularly, and they even dumped Tadahito Iguchi to drive the point home. Antonelli singled and batted eighth Monday against the Dodgers. Don't dwell on his poor minor league season. Finally, the Brewers brought up third baseman Mat Gamel, and he could make the biggest fantasy impact of the call-ups if he sees enough playing time. Bill Hall struck out in his three at-bats Monday, and he hit .186 in August with one home run. Gamel, a lefty slugger who played a week at Triple-A Nashville, can contribute right away.

• The Rays plan to activate Troy Percival off the DL Tuesday, and early indications are that he will slot right into the closer role. Dan Wheeler did little wrong in August, saving six games in eight chances. Percival's has a propensity for injury, so Wheeler could earn more save opportunities at any time.

On the Farm

Shaun Marcum made his second start for Triple-A Syracuse, allowing one run in six innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Marcum was erratic for the Blue Jays after coming off the DL in August, but he has fanned 15 hitters in 13 innings in two starts for the Chiefs. Marcum should be back with the Blue Jays soon, and he still can help fantasy owners.

• Indians outfield prospect Trevor Crowe led off Monday's game for Triple-A Buffalo with a home run, his seventh of the season, and later singled and doubled. The Tribe likely will take a look at Crowe this month, probably in left field. Travis Hafner batted cleanup, and he singled in three at-bats. By the way, Rochester won the game, and former Reds closer Danny Graves earned the victory. He's no threat to Joe Nathan for saves, um, ever.

• Omaha Royals catcher Brayan Pena went 5-for-6, with two doubles, a homer and four runs scored in a 13-8 win over Iowa. Pena has been playing left field, and the switch-hitter has 26 walks and 17 strikeouts in 234 at-bats, a harbinger of nice things to come. Remember the name of this former Braves prospect, though for fantasy, he'll be more valuable behind the plate long-term.