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Fantasy Notes: Triumphant Return

August 4, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

Way back in April, we warned you that Francisco Liriano might not be the answer to your pitching problems right from the outset of the season, but we certainly didn’t anticipate problems bad enough to have him banished to the minors for more than half the season. Well, as you know, he’s back with the Twins, and unfortunately for any fantasy owners who slept on this situation, Liriano’s six shutout frames has caused him to be picked up in whatever leagues he wasn’t already snapped up in. It was his first MLB win since late-July, 2006, but since going 10-0, 2.67 in his last 11 starts at Triple-A, this is a victory fantasy owners have been anticipating for quite some time. What a fantastic boost this provides Minny, a team that was silent at the trade deadline, but is now back in first place in the AL Central regardless.

We’ve been talking about him since the very first week of the season, so can’t understand why Denard Span isn’t getting more love from AL-only owners. He enjoyed his second straight two-hit performance Sunday to lift his BA to .315, and who couldn’t use a stick like that? As long as Michael Cuddyer remains out with his finger injury (he’s starting a rehab at Triple-A now so could be back later this week), Span looks like a solid play to me, yet so few are jumping on this.

It might be time for owners in deeper AL-only leagues to take a closer look at Brendan Harris. Not considered a power hitter, he’s suddenly flexing some muscles with five doubles and a homer in the last week. Remember that last season with the Rays, he managed 35 doubles and 12 dingers, so Harris, now in his power prime at 27, probably has more pop than you think. And you’ve got to love the positional flexibility he brings to the table. He dealt with some hammy issues earlier in the year, and perhaps that contributed to a woeful May, but Harris hit .294 in July and has carried that into August so far. And despite his throwing error Sunday that got Liriano in trouble briefly, Harris has been excellent defensively, emerging as a fine gloveman at shortstop.

Ben Francisco, somewhat of a flavour of the week back in May, has been sliding since, so it’s just about time to seek better options. He briefly escaped the doghouse last week with a two-homer game, but that failed to spark a rebound, as he’s fanned six times in the past three games since that explosion. He’s gotten much more burn than I ever expected he would this season, and has definitely been productive at times, but it’s time to part ways with Francisco, fantasy owners.

Okay, he hasn’t been great lately, but it’s time we recognized the nice bounce back Canadian hurler Jesse Crain has made this season. He enjoyed a couple of very solid seasons near the back end of the Twin bullpen before last year’s injury-shortened and disastrous season. In 2008, however, Crain has recovered impressively, setting a career high in holds and striking out batters at a higher rate than ever before. While the contract extension the Twins gave Joe Nathan ended any talk that Crain could have a chance for saves, he’s back to where he was before his 2007 injury as a top set-up man. Frankly, I’m surprised Crain doesn’t get more attention in deeper AL-only leagues.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how Carl Crawford could lift his BA in the second half, and so far, he’s proving us prescient, riding an eight-game hitting streak to help put his worst month of the season behind him. On the plus side, Crawford has cut his Ks, and looks to be on his way to edging his previous career high in ribbies, but what you really care about as a fantasy owner is that his steals are down again. Unless he rebounds in a serious way over the final few weeks, I can’t see Crawford being a first round pick in 2009.

Carlos Pena is still scuffling (three for his last 23), but at least when he gets a hit, he’s picking the right time, driving in five runs in the past six games. Hell, Sunday, he won the game with a bases-loaded walk-off walk. Woo hoo! Prior to the season, in our 20 AL Questions heading into 2008 report, we asked if Pena could repeat his 46-homer, 121-RBI output. Our experts were quite confident that he couldn’t, and have been proved correct. He’s on pace for 30 dingers and 90+ RBI – hardly chopped liver – but his .235 BA is bringing you down, no doubt. If you recall, until 2006, Pena struggled badly against southpaws, a trait that made it virtually impossible for him to stick as a major league regular. In the past two seasons, he’d overcome that, but now it’s back. Pena’s .189 mark against lefties this season is a serious regression, and a major impediment for any who thought he had truly broken through.

On a side note, however, given the struggles this year of Crawford and Pena – perhaps the Rays’ two most important bats – who would have imagined they’d be leading the AL East in early August?

Despite a career high in games played, it’s been a very unproductive season for Willy Aybar. He’s still just 25, and it’s nice to see him recover from his substance abuse issue that caused him lose the 2007 season, but with no development shown at the plate this year, I can’t see him ever becoming a major league regular. In fact, I’d say his greatest fantasy contribution this season was getting hurt, an injury that opened the door for uber rookie Evan Longoria.

There’s still a chance – however slim – that new Yankee catcher Ivan Rodriguez is available in your league, but that probably won’t last long. After a couple of quiet first games in New York, Pudge smacked two hits – including a dinger – and drew a walk on Sunday. Back in May, we suggested he was on a downward trajectory, but to his credit, I-Rod has reversed that – certainly not the first time in his career that rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated. He hit .333 in June, and followed that up with a .358 July.

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