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Fantasy Notes: Mauer Power

July 5, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

In case you hadn’t noticed, Joe Mauer is enjoying a fine comeback season after slipping in 2007. He was red hot in June, batting .341 with his first three dingers of the year (right after we bemoaned his lack of pop), 11 doubles and 13 RBI. Heading into action Saturday, Mauer is riding a five-game hit streak, but he has yet to record an extra-base hit in July after finally flexing his muscles last month. While Mauer competes for his second batting title in three years, one disappointing facet of his game for fantasy owners has been his complete lack of speed. While Mauer has swiped 36 bases since 2005, he’s failed to dent the goose egg yet this year, leaving his lofty BA somewhat hollow. Still, as long as he remains at catcher – and off-season talk of a move to third base seems to have quieted – who wouldn’t take a fantasy catcher batting .324?

Don’t look now, but Ryan Howard is heating up. He’s hit in seven straight games, and while just two of those were of the multi-hit variety, it’s good enough to jack his BA up ten points. RyHo is off to a super start in July, promising after he slipped again in June coming off a May in which he showed signs of life with ten homers and 30 RBI. Despite the recent hot streak, Howard is suffering through the worst season of his career, but he appears poised for a second-half turnaround: consider that over the last three years, he’s recorded an OPS of 1087 after the break compared to just 910 before hand. Consider Howard a solid buy-low candidate.

Speaking of stars turning it on, Grady Sizemore, despite his inconsistency, has progressively gotten better as the season has moved along. In June, he hit .281 with nine homers, six steals, eight doubles, 20 runs and 16 RBI. And so far this month, Sizemore has sandwiched a monster game around a pair of 0-fers. Sure, his BA and runs have slipped for the second straight year, but considering he’s leading the AL in home runs, and is on pace for a career high in that department, as well as in steals, you’re probably not complaining. In fact, Sizemore has an excellent shot at joining the exclusive 40-40 club, especially if he can get on base more often in the second half. We talked about Sizemore as an MVP candidate heading into the season, and while the BA and Cleveland’s down year will hold him back, there’s a decent chance he could be the fantasy MVP thanks to the dingers and steals. Right now, he’s definitely playing like a top ten player; jack that BA up in the second half, and he will soar up the list.

Kevin Youkilis has shaken off a mini slump with back-to-back multi-hit games. Although he didn’t quite flash his May power in June, it was a superb month for Youk, as he hit .337 with eight walks. If he can stay healthy, I expect to see him continue this career year. What’s surprising about Youkilis’ season is that as he’s become a more aggressive hitter, drawing walks at his slowest pace ever, his average has soared. Was the Greek God of Walks being too selective?

Why is Chris Burke still a major leaguer? Reduced to a super-sub role (although he’s not playing much), he’s been absolutely unacceptable offensively. He isn’t getting on base, and what little pop he’s flashed in the past is completely gone. Right now, the only thing between him and the unemployment line appears to be his ability to play multiple positions. I don’t care if you play in a 40-team NL-only league – there’s no reason to look at Burke right now.

Once again, I suggest you pick up Adam LaRoche while you can. He’s about to go on one of his patented tears in the second half. You heard it here first.

I wasn’t sold on Dan Haren this year, given his second-half slide in 2007, but man, is he ever selling me now. Although his 8-5 mark this season isn’t exactly screaming Cy Young candidate, take a look at how good his peripherals are. In his last five starts, Haren has been absolutely grooving, with just 23 hits and six runs – five earned – allowed in 33 IP. He’s given up just one homer (none in his last four starts), walked just five and fanned 32. Yet he’s only 2-1 to show over this period thanks to some awful run support. In June, Haren was as tough as any starter in the game, going 3-0, 1.32, with just 25 hits allowed and 36 strikeouts in 41 IP. He has never been this tough to hit in his career (just 95 hits allowed in 117 2/3 IP), is doing a better job of keeping the ball in the park and has been showing impeccable control.

I’d keep a close eye on John Maine if I owned him. He’s enjoying a very strong season, but scuffled a bit in June – especially in his last start when he was tattooed by the Cardinals the day after saying he was fighting through a dead arm period. Maine insists he is not dealing with pain, and will make his scheduled start against the Phillies Saturday. Watch his results closely. I’m tempted to suggest sitting him, but his recent domination in Philly is too tempting to not start him.

Lance Berkman snapped a mini slump Friday with two hits, including a double and RBI single. After his simply ridiculous May (.471, nine homers, six steals, 31 runs), June must have seemed like a slump when he batted “only” .319 with just five homers, 21 RBI, 15 runs and two steals. But what a season for the ages the MVP candidate is having. In 85 games, he’s scored 74 runs with 110 hits, has already surpassed his 2007 totals in doubles and triples, has driven in 69 and set a new career high in steals. He’s batting .355, and if not for Chipper Jones, would have an excellent chance at his first batting title.

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