I'm fighting through a cold, so we might want to stay away from handshakes today. But a midweek Closing Time is chicken soup for the roto-player's soul. Let's have a look around the sandlots, opening with a couple of fish stories.
?�Right-handed batters aren't supposed to hit for power in Safeco Field, but Mike Trout apparently hasn't seen that memo. The baby-faced phenom smacked a couple of homers in Tuesday's win over the Mariners, giving him three taters in his last two games and five in his brief MLB experience (all of 65 at-bats). Trout only has one steal so far but the speed could pop at any time ? keep in mind he swiped 102 bases in 266 minor-league games. It's unusual to expect big things from a 20-year-old right out of the box ? and Trout just turned 20, back on Aug. 7 ? but sometimes you have to throw the rules in the trash and take a shot at upside.
Of course there's one obvious fly in the ointment here: how much is Trout going to play? Manager Mike Scioscia has used Trout sporadically since the kid's return; Tuesday was just his second start in a week (picking on left-handers). The resurgent Peter Bourjos (.907 OPS in second half) is locked into center and Bobby Abreu is the usual DH, with Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter manning the outfield corners. But with the Angels fighting for their playoff lives, I can't imagine how Trout doesn't get a more significant role after what he's showed in his second go-round. It's no time to play the seniority card; the players who are deserving need to be in there.
Trout is unowned in 92 percent of Yahoo! leagues as we go to post, if you feel like tossing the dice. The Angels face two lefty starters later this week (Charlie Furbush on Thursday, Brian Duensing on Saturday), but you get the idea Tuesday's monster game from Trout might lead to some starts against northpaws, too.
Scioscia's difficult decision is an interesting sidebar as the Angels try to keep pennant races alive in 2011. Look around the league, there's almost nothing going on. The Yankees and Red Sox are fighting for a division title, sure, but it has no real affect on the playoff picture; barring a historic collapse, they're both as good as in. Detroit is five games up on the White Sox, Arizona is six in front of the sputtering Giants, the Braves are a Wild-Card lock. If the Angels (3.5 back) can't stay in range of Texas, we might be looking at an ugly final week of the MLB season, with non-contenders in experiment mode and playoff-set teams looking to rest up and get rotations in line.
?�I don't know anyone who saw this coming, but Javier Vazquez is a bankable stud again. He toyed with the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he's done something useful in 13 of his last 14 turns (including three double-digit strikeout games). Vazquez's fastball has been a big part of the resurgence ? an uptick in velocity and better command ? and maybe it just took him a while to get resettled in Florida. I'm giving him set-it-and-forget-it status for the rest of the year. America loves a comeback story.
Mike Stanton supplied the Florida offense, reaching base four times including his 31st homer of the year. He's no worse than a second-round pick in a mixer next year, and you can probably consider him at the end of the first. Everyone knows about Stanton's ridiculous power, and he's quietly rocked a .282/.409/.611 line in the second half, with a nifty spike in walks. He's also willing to make an attempt on the bases, though he's just 5-for-10 in that department. Maybe it's best to stay on the bag and not risk anything, slugger. It would be a blast if the new Marlins Ballpark played nicely with right-handed power, but when Stanton is on his game, the style of the park hardly matters.
?�Henry Sosa's win at San Francisco last week didn't move the needle for me ? I watched every pitch and saw a duck-and-run effort more than anything else. But perhaps Sosa deserves a second look after handling Pittsburgh easily on Tuesday (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K). He's got some hop on his fastball and he was always a strikeout man in the minors (8.1 K/9). The Bucs get another shot at him next week, squaring off Monday in Pittsburgh.
The Astros offense has been plucky in August; with 117 runs, it's in the middle of the pack in the NL. Look to the top of the order if you're considering a pickup: Jordan Schafer has jets in the leadoff spot, Jose Altuve (.313) and J.D. Martinez (.295) haven't looked out of place, and Carlos Lee has resembled a big-league hitter in the second half (more walks than strikeouts, .840 OPS). Brian Bogusevic and Jimmy Paredes have pretty averages for now, though they're both striking out a lot. The time-honored lesson here is simple: we have to stay open-minded with anonymous teams like this, especially at the end of the year. You'll find fantasy value on every MLB roster.
?�Ryan Vogelsong hasn't been on his game lately and that's going to get you beat in San Francisco, because the Giants offense simply cant score. The G-Men have given Vogelsong just three runs over his last three starts, all losses. Then again, with 10 walks against 10 strikeouts over 19.1 innings, maybe the bloom is off the Vogelsong rose; he gave us five mediocre innings against Chicago on Tuesday (7 H, 3 R, 1 HR). You make the call for his home turn against Arizona on Sunday.
?�Peter King thinks he's a baseball expert. Okay, Peter King thinks he's an expert on a lot of things. Consider his Yankees-Red Sox Tweet from Tuesday: "Wouldn't know it by his pitching line, but CC a horse tonight. Great job in the clutch."
Perhaps King is focusing on the 10 hits CC Sabathia allowed, and missing the other elements here: six innings at Fenway, two runs, 10 strikeouts, 129 pitches, a fresh and shiny W at the top. We can appreciate that, Coffee Man. We'll gladly take those numbers for our fake teams, even with the WHIP tax. It's also encouraging to see Sabathia finally beat the Red Sox this year after four earlier losses. It will be interesting to see if the beanballs fly later in this series; four batters were hit at various times Tuesday, including a John Lackey fastball that plunked Francisco Cervelli (likely retribution for Cervilli's homer celebration earlier in the game).
Speed Round: How do the Reds have a losing record with all their talent? Baffles the mind. Okay, it wasn't a shock that Roy Halladay cruised Tuesday (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 9 K) and Bronson Arroyo didn't have a thing, but Dusty Baker has some season-long explaining to do. Raul Ibanez returned to the lineup and had three hits and a homer, snuffing out the John Mayberry buzz. ? Cameron Maybin doesn't have any structural damage in his wrist but you always have to worry about nicked-up players who are on non-contenders at this time of year. Nothing is guaranteed here. ? Andre Ethier is back in the swing of things, ripping six hits and a homer in two games since returning to the LA lineup. He's been dealing with a sore knee. ? It's looking unlikely that Lance Berkman will be traded, in part because he's told the Cardinals that he won't sign with them in the offseason if he's dealt now. ? Carlos Gomez (clavicle) is about a day away from returning to action, which will cost Nyjer Morgan some time here and there. ? Put Tim Stauffer on the roto-restricted list after watching him walk seven men in Chavez Ravine. ? J.D. Drew (shoulder) collected three hits at Triple-A and will soon be back in Boston to annoy us. ? Kevin Gregg blew a lead against the Blue Jays but Toronto's messy bullpen gave the game back in the tenth. What a sad way for the Jays to spoil Brett Lawrie's sixth homer. ? The White Sox bullpen was in lockdown mode, with Chris Sale striking out four men in two innings and Sergio Santos fanning three in the ninth. Adam Dunn hasn't played since Saturday, mercifully. ? The Thursday slate doesn't offer a lot for the streamers. The Phillies offense scares me off a Mike Leake play. You flip the coin on Fausto Carmona (13 percent) against Oakland. Clay Hensley (two percent) hasn't looked comfortable in the Florida rotation. And we certainly can't trust A.J. Burnett anywhere, especially Fenway Park. Let's circle the wagons and wait for better opportunities. ? Your notes and observations are welcome in the comments, as always. I'm off to find some Vitamin-C.
Images courtesy Associated Press