Have you been watching the Tour de France? In each stage of the race, you'll see the vast majority of the upper-echelon cyclists in one huge pack, content to pedal along side-by-side, keeping an eye on each other, making sure that they all finish around the same time so that the overall standings don't change much. However, every so often, you'll get a competitor who decides to make an unexpected break from the pack.
Sometimes, the effort isn't worth it and the cyclist slowly but surely runs out of gas and the gap he had created vanishes completely. Sometimes, the rest of the racers decide to step up their own efforts and sprint to catch up. Sometimes, the tactic works and the one who makes that first move is able to hold on to his lead the rest of the way.
In the American League East race, the Red Sox just made their break from the pack.
On Wednesday, Boston traded two minor leaguers to Pittsburgh for first baseman Adam LaRoche. Then they sent shortstop Julio Lugo to the Cardinals for outfielder Chris Duncan. Now, is there a whole lot of fantasy impact in these deals? Not really. LaRoche will be a role player in Boston, getting the occasional start when Mike Lowell needs a day off.
As for Duncan, he was in the midst of a 1-for-31 slump, but has hit 20 home runs twice in his career. There's some power there that can be exploited in Fenway Park. For now, Duncan will go to Triple-A, but considering that Boston had already designated the overpaid Lugo for assignment, getting a player of Duncan's ability is incredible. Lugo has little fantasy value in his new environs, and might have even less once Khalil Greene returns to the fold. At best, he provides a veteran presence on the Cardinals' bench. (For more on the LaRoche deal, check out Jason Grey's analysis.)
Certainly these moves don't by any means lock up the pennant for the Red Sox. After placing Tim Wakefield on the disabled list, and watching Clay Buchholz struggle mightily to get through four innings Wednesday in a loss to the Rangers, the team has lost five straight and might want to add a pitcher or two to their shopping spree. But what they have done is thrown down the gauntlet and started to make their move.
Now it's up to the Yankees and Rays. Are they content to sit back and watch, assuming they will falter, fade and eventually disappear from the rearview mirror entirely? Will they counter with any moves of their own, perhaps in the form of a Canadian pitcher? Or does Boston have one more gear left in the tank, and is just waiting for the right moment to spring it on the competition?
Something tells us Boston's "yellow jersey" is closer than you might think.
• Who needs Nate McLouth?!? Adam LaRoche? Bah! Pittsburgh's lineup was on fire Wednesday, hitting five home runs, including two from Ryan Doumit, another one from Garrett Jones and a walk-off winner from Brandon Moss. Don't look now, but the Pirates are only 7½ out of first place. Stranger things have happened.
• Kendry Morales doubled to extend his hitting streak to 20 games, but Chone Figgins was the offensive force to be reckoned with Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs in the Angels' come-from-behind win over the Royals. Figgins also stole his 28th base of the season.
• Daric Barton is the fantasy goat for Wednesday, going 0-for-4, and was the only Athletics player not to enjoy the 16-1 crushing of the Twins. Glen Perkins took the loss after allowing eight runs while retiring only three batters. Trevor Cahill, staked to an early 12-0 lead, had an easy time grabbing his sixth victory of the season.
• Adam "Dig Dug" Jones went 4-for-5 with a home run against the Yankees, but it wasn't enough, as the Yankees and A.J. Burnett beat Baltimore 6-4. Jones' blast came off Brian Bruney in the ninth, and when Nick Markakis followed with a shot of his own, it created a save opportunity for Mariano Rivera, which he took care of in all of six pitches.
• The Phillies' 10-game winning streak came to an end, thanks in part to Aramis Ramirez, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Ramirez is now hitting .304 on the season. Ryan Theriot also had a big fantasy day, going 3-for-5 and stealing three bases.
• From Wednesday's Pain Files: Lance Berkman singled for Houston as a pinch hitter but needed to be removed immediately for a pinch runner. Don't expect him to start any time soon. Kansas City's Jose Guillen left his game in the second inning and was hospitalized with "sudden leg pain." Ryan Freel replaced him Wednesday, and might end up getting regular playing time if Guillen's injury proves to be serious. Minnesota's Joe Crede is off to visit Dr. Lewis Yocum on Thursday, after the pain in his right shoulder forced him to miss the past two games.
• "King" Felix Hernandez got a royal gift Wednesday when Russell Branyan homered in the top of the eighth inning -- only the second, and last, Mariners hit of the night -- to give Seattle a 2-1 win over Detroit. Hernandez struck out eight Tigers and allowed only one run on six hits over seven innings, but needed Branyan's two-run shot to improve to 11-3 on the season. Detroit's Armando Galarraga pitched great, allowing only one run and one hit in 7 1/3 innings, but didn't factor into the decision as Bobby Seay relieved Galarraga in the eighth and gave up Branyan's blast.
• Yunel Escobar cranked a three-run shot off Tim Lincecum to help the Braves beat the Giants ace for the first time, 4-2. Lincecum struck out nine Atlanta hitters while getting the hook after only five innings. Jair Jurrjens held the Giants to only three hits over 7 2/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.67 for the season.
• Marco Scutaro hit two home runs and had a career-high four RBIs as Toronto beat Cleveland 10-6 on Wednesday. The Blue Jays had five homers, including solo shots from Aaron Hill, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells. It was the Blue Jays' first five-homer game since July 2006.
• The rumor mill has Josh Willingham's name all over it, and all he did Wednesday was increase his trade value. The Nationals outfielder had four hits against the Mets, including his 13th home run, to help Washington beat New York 3-1. Craig Stammen held the anemic lineup (Cory Sullivan and Angel Berroa? Seriously?) to only four hits over 7 1/3 innings to get the win.
Todd Helton, Rockies
Helton went 3-for-4 with a home run -- his first off a left-handed pitcher this season -- to help lead Colorado to a 4-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. He also hit his 500th career double, becoming the third-fastest player in baseball history to reach that milestone. Only Joe Medwick and Nap Lajoie accomplished the feat in fewer games.
Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
Nolasco struck out 10 Padres in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday, to improve to 5-2 since returning from a brief stint in the minors, and is 7-7 overall. He did walk three hitters, but two of those were of the "intentional yet unintentional" variety to Adrian Gonzalez. "He's the one guy in that lineup that I wasn't going to let beat me," Nolasco said on the Marlins' official Web site. Since the Padres failed to score, I'd say the strategy was more than effective.
Manny Ramirez came off the bench to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, and came through big-time. Manny sent Nick Masset's first pitch into the "Mannywood" seats, sending the Manny Ramirez Bobblehead Night crowd into a frenzy requiring not one, but two curtain calls to calm down. It was the first pinch-hit home run Ramirez has ever hit, and the 21st grand slam of his career, putting him only two behind Lou Gehrig for most all-time.
• Preferring to err on the side of caution, the Nationals have placed rookie pitcher Jordan Zimmermann on the 15-day disabled list after he experienced some discomfort during a side session earlier this week. "It's just a little inflammation, and we're just going to be cautious," Zimmermann told the Washington Examiner. "I'm not really concerned at all. Just give it a little rest here and come back with a rehab start and be ready to go." Collin Balester was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to start instead of Zimmermann on Thursday against St. Louis.
• Colorado's Manny Corpas may not pitch again this season. The Denver Post reports the Rockies reliever will undergo surgery Friday to remove bone chips from his elbow. While it is possible he might be able to return in September, that's the "best-case scenario." The newspaper cites internal sources as saying the team might pursue George Sherrill, Takashi Saito or Chad Qualls to fill Corpas' role as primary set-up man, but for now will use Juan Rincon in the role.
• Brandon Inge told the Detroit Free Press that he has a 75 percent tear in a portion of his left knee and is "excruciating pain." However, he intends to play through the injury, rather than going on the DL, since doctors cannot guarantee him that the pain would go away by resting the knee for two weeks.
• Seattle has recalled Ryan Rowland-Smith to start Friday against the Indians, but don't worry about that news if you own Erik Bedard. Bedard's next start has simply been pushed back a day to Saturday, giving him an extra day of rest now and setting him up for a start against the Rangers on July 30, a day before the trade deadline.
Click here for all of the latest MLB transactions.
Eric Karabell: Yes, I think that has to be something that happens, and soon. I'm not sure Milledge wouldn't have gotten the call anyway, though. Garrett Jones homered again today, he's a monster! Honestly, I don't think he'll hit 30 home runs, but don't you have to take a look at someone in pretty much every league who has hit 9 home runs in what, 16 games? And I like Milledge for fantasy.
-- Full chat transcript
Rob Neyer: Players as a group don't conform to any particular rule, except that their skills lead to a fundamental BABIP. I don't know that Panda's fundamental BABIP is .353, but that doesn't mean it's .300. He's probably an outlier (in a good way).
-- Full chat transcript
Thursday's fantasy chat schedule:
AJ Mass, 11 a.m. ET
Jason Grey, 3 p.m. ET
• Third baseman David Freese continues his rehab efforts with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Wednesday. It's only the second game he's played since hurting his ankle in May. However, he appears to be healthier than Troy Glaus, who was scratched from both ends of a doubleheader for Triple-A Memphis due to back spasms.
• Hitting .361 since July 10, Terry Evans was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake by the Angels to help fill in for an outfield in shambles. At the very least, he should give the team a bat off the bench, something that has been missing for Anaheim of late. Apart from pitching changes, the Angels didn't make a single substitution the entire series against the Royals.
• Cole Hamels is back in our good graces against the Padres, thanks both to his 2-0 record with a 3.38 ERA in his past three outings against San Diego, as well as Kevin Correia's 8.31 ERA versus the Phillies so far in 2009.
• Seattle's Jarrod Washburn has been nothing short of sensational of late, with a 3-0 record and a 0.79 ERA in his past three starts. However, Detroit has been a bit of a bugaboo for Washburn. He has an astronomical 34.71 ERA in his past three starts against the Motor City Kitties.
• Certainly, you have to be impressed with Orlando Cabrera's .382 batting average in July, but CC Sabathia usually gives the Oakland shortstop fits. He's only hitting .138 lifetime against the Yankees ace.
• For more on Thursday's games, check out Daily Notes.