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Reality Check: Wounded warriors find their way back

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The second half is a time for new beginnings, for stepping out of the four-day break refreshed, renewed and ready to right all the wrongs of the first 3 1/2 months.

Which for some players simply means playing again.

Yes, many of the ones you've been stashing for weeks on end are back, the midseason checkpoint once again serving as a logical return date for anyone suffering an injury of medium severity.

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And most of them have already made their returns known in Fantasy. Jacoby Ellsbury, a consensus first-rounder who played only a week before dislocating his shoulder in mid-April, Matt Kemp, who was far and away the best player in Fantasy before his hamstring troubles began in mid-May, Andre Ethier, his partner in crime who had earned must-start status himself before straining his oblique in late June, Nick Markakis, who was showing more pop when he broke his hand in late May, and Lorenzo Cain, a preseason sleeper who never had a chance to become anything more thanks to a torn hip flexor in early May, all have three-hit games to their credit in the few days since returning. Even Marlins speedster Emilio Bonifacio, a player highly regarded for his versatility, at least has a stolen base to his credit. He was on pace for 80 of those before spraining his thumb in late May -- an injury that ultimately required surgery.

Needless to say, the Fantasy owners who stashed those six are patting themselves on the back today, their patience and foresight rewarded with high-end production (or at least the potential for it) at a time when it's almost impossible to find on the waiver wire.

Then, there's the guy who stashed Lance Berkman.

It's not like it was a bad idea. Berkman was a top-10 first baseman and top-12 outfielder in Fantasy last season, rebounding from an injury-plagued 2010 to produce his usual .300 batting average and 30 home runs. And it's not like his production was lacking when he tore his meniscus in mid-May. By all the data available to us, he's more or less the same player as last year. Still, his situation is different. While all those other six go back to their usual positions to put up, hopefully, their usual numbers, he, uh ... well, perhaps you should hear it from him.

"I shouldn't be playing ahead of any of the guys we have out there," Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the All-Star break.

But ... he's capable of a .300 batting average and 30-plus homers every year. Those players don't just grow on trees, right?

For the Cardinals, they do, and no other player embodies that idea more than Berkman's direct replacement: Allen Craig.

Craig, unheralded in the minors despite hitting .308 with an .888 OPS in parts of seven seasons, hit .315 with 11 homers and a .917 OPS in 200 at-bats as a part-timer last year, following it up in the NLCS and World Series with a .296 batting average, four homers and 1.147 OPS. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that he returned from his own knee surgery this offseason to hit .297 with 13 homers and a .947 OPS in 185 at-bats as a replacement for Berkman.

And if those numbers are no surprise for him, then logically speaking, they're also a realistic expectation for him. And if those numbers are a realistic expectation for him, then how could you justify removing them from the lineup?

You can't. Berkman knows it as well as anyone, which is why he made it easy for the Cardinals by forgoing a rehab assignment, which would have prepared him for an everyday role, and opting instead for the one approach no one ever takes after a two-month absence.

"I'd rather work my way back in at this level," he said.

What does that look like? A spot start here, a pinch-hit appearance there -- in short, a bunch of part-time at-bats.

By his own doing.

It's probably not as unselfish as it sounds. With Craig batting fourth or fifth every day and delivering big hits seemingly every day, Berkman probably saw the writing on the wall and thought, "Why waste time in the minors if I'm destined for spot duty anyway?" Or maybe, hoping for one last shot at the postseason at age 36, he recognizes that the Cardinals probably won't get back in the race without Craig in the lineup.

Again, Berkman is perfectly capable of delivering numbers like the ones he did last year, but at his age, coming off knee surgery and only two years removed from a career-worst season, is that really the most-likely scenario? If in a best case he'll do what Craig is already doing, isn't Craig the better player? That's not always the deciding factor in these situations, especially when the better player is making less money. The coaching staff feels pressure from the front office. The fans and media can't stop asking questions. All in all, it's a mess. Fortunately, Berkman's decision to rehabilitate his knee in the majors gives the Cardinals a built-in excuse.

"I don't think [Berkman] is ready to go out and play nine innings five straight days. Getting Craig at-bats I don't see as a problem," general manager John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

How convenient.

Of course, no one is saying Berkman won't play at all. Spot starts are part of the plan, as we saw Sunday. At times, the Cardinals might even start him alongside Craig, who is also capable of playing left field, right field and, in a pinch, third base. Because the Cardinals have All-Stars at those three positions, though (Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and David Freese), that's hardly an everyday solution.

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No, first base remains the most logical place for Craig to play, which means Berkman will spend a fair amount of time on the bench.

The timeshare isn't an ideal scenario for either player, but I'm sticking to the idea that Craig will be more of a hindrance to Berkman than the other way around. A player like Berkman, who's prone to cold stretches and accustomed to everyday duty, faces an uphill battle with his newfound role. As long as Craig continues to deliver, as he has in every role at every level to this point, the dilemma will quickly fade for the Cardinals.

Perhaps now, amid the hype of his return, is the ideal time to shop Berkman. It's certainly the right time to talk to your league's Craig owner, who's probably fearing the worst.

In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Tyler Colvin, 1B/OF, Rockies: So what if Colvin had another good game? He still doesn't play enough to matter in Fantasy, right? Um, you might want to check that game long again. Between left field, center field, right field and first base, Colvin has started 14 of the team's last 15 games. Kind of puts that .337 batting average and those 10 homers over his last 26 into perspective, right? With Todd Helton now on the DL with a hip injury -- the kind that could be a deathblow for 38-year-old like him -- Colvin should have even more starts coming his way. He homered 20 times in 358 at-bats for the Cubs in 2010, so the power is certainly legit, and considering he's batting .283 with an .833 OPS away from Coors Field and .304 with an .876 OPS against left-handed (i.e. same-handed) pitchers, his numbers aren't warped by ridiculous splits. He's simply a 26-year-old coming into his own in an extremely favorable hitter's environment. Ignore him no more.

James Shields, SP, Rays: If you've played Fantasy long enough, you've seen the high-end players bounce back from slow starts often enough that you pretty much always expect it to happen. But at some point, patience can become as much of an impediment as impatience, and we've about reached that point with Shields. It's not like he's another Adrian Gonzalez, with a track record so pristine that you have to assume he'll fall in line with it eventually. Remember 2010? It's not like he's another Ian Kennedy, with enough good starts mixed in with the bad that you can't help but still trust in the talent. For Shields, the hits just keep going up and up and up, and we've seen it from him before. Apparently, his stuff is on such a tightrope that if his location is less than perfect, he gets pounded. I'm not suggesting you drop a guy whose name carries so much value, but maybe you shop him and take what you can get.

Norichika Aoki, OF, Brewers: Aoki is a fine role player who can make an unexpected contribution in Fantasy from time to time. At least, that's what his ownership percentage of 39 would have you believe. In actuality, he's pushing every-week status in mixed leagues. Since taking over as the Brewers' regular right fielder on May 21 -- a move made possible by Corey Hart's shift to first base, which was made possible by Mat Gamel's season-ending knee injury -- Aoki is the 16th-highest scoring outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues, fueled by a .292 batting average, four homers, 11 steals and .812 OPS during that stretch. No, he doesn't stand out in any one category, but as is often the case for overlooked players, his on-base ability and extra-base pop fills in the gaps to create a complete player. It's basically what Shane Victorino has done all these years. Aoki may not save your team in a Mike Trout sort of way, but chances are he's better than one of the outfielders you're currently starting.

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Indians: Oh, that Jimenez ... always teasing us with his high-end arsenal. No, it's not what it once was, but with an average fastball velocity of 92.4 miles per hour, good for 21st among right-handed starters, it's still more than good enough to get the job done. That is, if he throws strikes with it. For a three-start stretch in June, he looked like he had finally figured that part out, walking just three batters en route to a 2.75 ERA. But in his four starts after that, he allowed four walks, four walks, four walks and one walk.. He maintained a low ERA during that stretch, lulling the less-observant into his trap before springing it Saturday by allowing eight earned runs in 2 1/3 innings ... to go along with four walks. In other words, more of the same for Jimenez, who has mostly been a headache in Fantasy since his near Cy Young 2010. He's OK in the right matchups, but he's a marginal type in mixed leagues.

Casey McGehee, 1B/3B, Pirates: Remember when McGehee was regarded as a top-12 third baseman in Fantasy? Ah, those were the days ... way back in 2011. Yes, it was just last year people were drafting him for that purpose, and understandably so. He was coming off a 23-homer, 104-RBI campaign with the Brewers. A down performance last year confined him to a reserve role and eventually reduced him to signing with the Pirates. But those Pirates have been hitting well lately, and their decision to start McGehee has been a big part of it. McGehee initially got hot as a reserve, batting .304 with six homers and an .891 OPS over his last 29 games, but between the corner infield spots, he has now started eight straight. The Pirates' lack of star power gives them little incentive to sit McGehee, which is all the more reason for you to look into him as at least a stopgap option in Fantasy.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

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Matt Harvey, SP, Mets: As unexpected contenders, the Mets have every incentive to fill out their starting rotation with pitchers who are, you know, good. So with Dillon Gee down for the year with a blood clot in his right shoulder, a top prospect like Harvey is actually in the discussion to take his place. In fact, manager Terry Collins called Harvey's Monday start at Triple-A an audition for the opening with the big club on Saturday. Harvey tends to get overshadowed in the Mets system by ace-in-waiting Zack Wheeler, but he's a high-end prospect in his own right, his mid-90s fastball contributing to more than a strikeout per inning at Triple-A. Though his 1.31 WHIP there suggests he won't be an ace right away, he could make a Jarrod Parker-like impact in the second half.

Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks: Perhaps the Diamondbacks wouldn't even be entertaining the possibility of trading Justin Upton if not for Eaton, who has taken the minor-league world by storm with his .381 batting average between Double- and Triple-A. That's not a misprint. It's actually gotten better since his promotion to Reno, where he's hitting .391 in 327 at-bats. He's not just a one-trick pony either. His keen batting eye (.465 on-base percentage between the two stops) and elite base-stealing ability would make him an ideal leadoff hitter for a contender otherwise lacking one, and he even has some pop, as his .537 slugging percentage shows. Even without an Upton trade, the Diamondbacks have to be looking for an excuse to get Eaton in their lineup. NL-only owners should have him tucked away for that day.

Javier Baez, SS, Cubs: Baez -- the ninth-overall pick in last year's amateur draft -- was held back to start the season, but you'd never know it looking at his numbers. In only 145 at-bats at Class A Peoria, he already has eight homers and 16 steals to go along with a .331 batting average. His bat speed was compared to Gary Sheffield's coming out of high school -- which is about as good as it gets -- and so far, the numbers have only backed it up. At age 19, he's not looking at a September callup or anything, but his talent will move him quickly up the ladder. For Fantasy purposes, he's not far off from the elite duo of Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado among shortstop prospects.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Cubs manager Joe Maddon still believes in Jon Lester
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:22 pm ET) Despite Jon Lester's rough start to his Cubs' career, manager Joe Maddon has not lost faith in the free-agent left hander, per the Chicago Tribune.

Lester suffered the loss to the Padres on Sunday, giving up three earned runs in six innings.

"He's getting better. I think he is getting a little sharper with everything," Maddon said. "He still seemed frustrated on certain pitches today ... [but] I think it was a nice step forward."

Lester (0-2, 6.89 ERA) signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs during the offseason.


Scott Van Slyke doubles twice, homers, three RBI in Dodgers' victory
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:01 pm ET) Dodgers left fielder Scott Van Slyke went 3 for 4 with a two-run homer, two doubles and three RBI in Sunday's win over the Rockies.

The homer was Van Slyke's first of the season.

"Van Slyke's a tough out. And if you give him an extra chance, more times than not it ends up hurting you," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.

Rangers outfielder Jake Smolinski rips first home run of 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Jake Smolinski went 2 for 4 at the plate with a home run in Texas' 11-10 loss to the Mariners Sunday. Smolinski went deep in the third inning when he smacked a 3-1 pitch from James Paxton over the left center field wall, driving in Rougned Odor, his first home run and RBI of the year.

Smolinski is now hitting .143 in 21 at-bats this season.


Jeff Francis, Russell Martin become Blue Jays' first Canadian battery
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(8:34 pm ET) When Jeff Francis entered Sunday's game in the fifth inning and pitched to catcher Russell Martin, it marked the first time in Blue Jays' history that the franchise featured a Canadian battery, reports the Toronto Sun

Francis, who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, was called up by the Blue Jays from Triple-A before Sunday's game. 

Martin is from East York, Ontario.


Mariners outfielder Austin Jackson cracks first home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:31 pm ET) Mariners outfielder Austin Jackson went 3 for 5 at the plate with a home run and two RBI in Seattle's 11-10 win over the Rangers Sunday.

Jackson got going early, taking a 1-2 pitch from Ross Detwiler over the left center field wall to lead things off in the first inning, his first home run of the season.

Then, in the ninth, Jackson singled to left field, bringing home the game-tying run before Nelson Cruz won it later in the inning. Jackson, who picked up his first two RBI of the year, is now hitting .277 in 47 at-bats this season.


Journeyman P Brandon McCarthy may have found home with Dodgers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:20 pm ET) Journeyman pitcher Brandon McCarthy may have finally found a home as the right hander, who signed a $48 million contract with the Dodgers ($6 million signing bonus) during the offseason, is off to a solid start after his strong performance Sunday against the Rockies, reports the Denver Post.

McCarthy is with his sixth MLB team and seems solidified as the Dodgers' fourth starter this year.

"He was a lot better," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said after Sunday's game. "Take a look at his velocity when we faced him last year in Arizona. He was 90-91. Today, he was 95. He's a completely different pitcher."

Rays outfielder Steven Souza continues hitting tear Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:19 pm ET) Rays outfielder Steven Souza continues to be a force at the plate early in the season. Souza ripped his third home run of the year in the first inning off Michael Pineda, scoring David DeJesus. Souza credits his success to making adjustments, reports MLB.com.

"Their game plan today was pretty obvious -- they were going to come at me with breaking balls," Souza said. "And so I made an adjustment.

"He hung that one and I just barreled it up."

Souza is hitting .289 with 10 RBI in 45 at-bats so far this season.


Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz blows saves, tagged with loss Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:10 pm ET) Rangers relief pitcher Neftali Feliz last 1 1/3 innings Sunday and blew a save opportunity in Texas' 11-10 loss to the Mariners. 

Feliz came on in relief in the eighth and allowed a run, charged to Keone Kela to make it 10-9 before finishing off the inning. Then in the ninth, Feliz put two men on when Austin Jackson singled to right field, scoring Brad Miller from second, giving him his first blown save of the year.

Things got worse from there. Feliz then intentionally walked Robinson Cano to load the bases for Nelson Cruz, who singled to left field to end the game.

Feliz, now 0-1, boasts a 6.00 ERA in six innings of work this season.


Mariners' Nelson Cruz rips two homers, walk-off single in win Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:01 pm ET) Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz went 3 for 6 at the plate Sunday with two home runs and the game-winning walk off single in the ninth to lead Seattle to an 11-10 win over the Rangers.

Cruz got things going early with a solo homer in the first over the left center field wall on a 1-0 pitch from Ross Detwiler. Cruz then homered again in the third, again off Detwiler, over the left field wall for a three-run shot, his eighth of the season.

Cruz then came up in the ninth with the game tied at 10 and the bases loaded after Texas intentionally walked Robinson Cano. Cruz ripped a 2-2 pitch to left field, bringing home the winning run.

Cruz is now hitting .354 with 14 RBI in 48 at-bats this season.


Rangers pitcher Ross Detwiler allows five runs, earns no decision
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:57 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Ross Detwiler allowed five runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings of work in Texas' 11-10 loss to the Mariners Sunday. 

Detwiler struggled early and often, allowing two home runs in the first inning to Austin Jackson and Nelson Cruz. Then in the third, Detwiler put two men on for Cruz, who ripped the first pitch he saw over the left field wall for a three-run home run. Detwiler allowed two more hitters to reach base before getting the hook.

Detwiler, still 0-2 on the year, now boasts an 11.68 ERA and will look for his first win of the season Sunday against the Angels.


 
 
 
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