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Fantasy Notes: Free Willy

August 20, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

Perhaps we were a tad premature in our indictment of Willy Aybar earlier this month. Perhaps all he needed was a little RotoRob dissing to get his act together. He’s been on a serious tear the past week and is suddenly looking like a decent AL-only bet. With Evan Longoria out, Aybar is playing everyday again and, man, is he ever responding. After going 2-for-4 Tuesday, including a two-run, tie-breaking double in the eighth, he is now 11-for-27 for the past week, with two doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBI. Get ‘em while they’re hot, baby.

Speaking of hot, are these Rays ever going to crumble or what? After coming from behind Tuesday to beat the Angels, they’ve now won nine of their past 11 games to increase their AL East lead over the BoSox to a comfy four and a half games. They are now tied with the Cubs for the best record in baseball. The best friggin’ record in the game! Sign one of the Apocalype? The fact that Tampa Bay has gone 6-2 vs. the Halos, including 5-0 at home, suggests to me that it can handle the AL powerhouses come playoff time. But there’s still a lot of ball to play, and this next coming stretch will tell us everything we need to know about the 2008 Rays. They are two games into a run where they play 28 out of 31 games against teams that are in playoff contention, and six of those games will be against Boston. Strap yourself in – this is going to be one hell of a ride.

If you’re an Ervin Santana owner and desperately need wins, you must be feeling like sticking your head in the oven today as he was denied a victory for the second straight outing despite a quality start. Your horse retires the first 11 batters and takes a no-hitter into the sixth inning, before surrendering both the no-no and the shutout. Still, he leaves after seven innings with a 2-1 lead having given up just four hits and one run, striking out nine and walking just two. And yet, I don’t see a W beside his name in today’s boxscore. Thanks, Scot Shields (with a great assist from the normally superb Angel gloves). Santana seemed to be leveling off after his great start, recording ERAs of 3.79 in May, 3.86 in June and 4.36 in July. However, in August, one of the top breakouts of 2008 has gone 2-0, 2.95 in his three starts so far. It looks like he’ll finish almost as strong as he started assuming he remains healthy, and that’s fantastic news for Santana owners. Now, about those wins…

As for Shields, he’s been the model of inconsistency this season. We talked about the groove he was on back in June when he sparkled to the tune of a 0.90 ERA. July, however, was a different story, as he got hurt by some long balls and endured a 4.50 ERA for the month. So far this month, he’s been excellent again, going 1.50 despite Tuesday’s hiccup (two walks and three runs – all unearned) in one-third of an inning to drop to 5-4 on the year. Shields has been losing steam in most fantasy leagues, but given his pattern this season, I’d continue to roll the dice with him until September, when he’ll be due for a stinker of a month. Overall, however, there a few better AL options for those seeking holds, a decent amount of wins, nice strikeout rates and an excellent ERA.

Remember that hitting slump that Carlos Pena was in back at the beginning of August? Well, he’s still in it, going just 4-for-23 in the past week. The good news is that all four of those hits have left the park, giving him seven dingers already for the month of August. He’s also walking a ton lately, so those in OBP leagues should take note. Sure, he hasn’t come within a Texas mile of last year’s numbers, especially his percentages, but Pena is now up to 25 homers, and has a good shot at 35 for the season, which is nothing to sneeze at in the post-‘roid era.

He doesn’t see enough action to be fantasy worthy, but we should give a tip of the hat to Darren Oliver, who has done a solid job of transitioning himself into a good situational reliever. With three straight scoreless outings, he’s lowered his August ERA to just over 2.00 and for the year, he’s hovering just over the 3.00 mark. He doesn’t strike out many anymore, but he sure has improved his control from his wild days back in Texas. In a very deep AL-only league, Oliver’s combination of holds, cheap wins with a solid WHIP and ERA makes him someone to consider.

James Shields bent but did not break Tuesday in earning his 11th win of the season. I’m a bit concerned that he’s given up nine hits in three of his four August starts (and 23 hits in 18 IP this month overall), but he hasn’t suffered a serious ripping. After the last time he got roughed up a bit, he went on a roll back in June, so I’m quite confident in Shields’ ability to shake off this stretch. He’s yielding home runs at a slightly higher pace than 2007, and not striking out as many batters as he did last year, and that’s usually a deadly combination, so I do worry about his ability to keep his ERA under 4.00, but so far he’s defying the odds. Will luck continue to shine on him down the stretch?

Despite going hitless in his last two games, Mark Teixeira has been all that for the Halos. Man, is he ever setting himself up for a nice payday this offseason when free agency looms. Before these two games, Tex had hit in nine straight games and was clicking along with an incredible 1085 OPS for the month of August. Overall, he’s batting .354 as an Angel with four homers and 15 RBI over 65 at bats. Remember how he took off after the mid-season deal to Atlanta last season? Apparently, that’s the trick – just deal this dude during the year and watch him explode.

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