Many formerly sizzling players are now beginning to fizzle in the summer sun, while unproven commodities thrust into larger roles lead the fantasy playoff charge. We kick off the week with a lap around the Senior Circuit, starting with two unheralded contributors who could help push you over the top.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: Hitting in the two-hole for the surging Rockies, Car-Gon has blasted five homers and carried a .393 average during the past month, making him a name to grab in mixed formats. He's already stolen eight bases this year and has the potential to double that total by season's end.
Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres: He is to the NL what Elvis Andrus is to the AL in '09, although he doesn't have nearly the same ceiling or pedigree. His line of .292/2/12 with 10 steals is extremely useful for a middle infielder, and he is still available on most leagues' waiver wires (currently 6 percent owned in Yahoo leagues). If you've been disappointed by one of the numerous middle-infield busts of '09, give Cabrera a shot.
Rich Harden, SP, Cubs: "Fragile Rich" has really turned it on over the past month, posting four quality starts and an ERA of 2.32 (but unfortunately only one win). His K/9 sits at 10.54 this season, which is elite. Look for more strong outings from him as the Cubs make a push for the postseason.
Pedro Martinez, P, Phillies: He's pitching for the defending world champions now, so the wins should be there. His average fastball velocity was higher than it has been since his '04 season with the BoSox. Pedro will certainly outperform the man he replaced in the Phillies' rotation (Jamie Moyer and his 5.47 ERA) and should do better than the vast majority of free agents in deeper mixed formats.
David Wright, 3B, Mets: Wright has been a bit of a disappointment all year, and being placed on the disabled list after catching a Matt Cain fastball to the head just adds injury to insult. The truth is, he could probably return to the lineup in a few days, but the Mets are being cautious with him following last year's Ryan Church debacle. Wright has too much pride not to come back and finish the season strong, and he should return from the DL just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: A line of .278/4/15 is pretty uninspiring during the past month, but expect Manny to be Manny down the stretch. He is a career .332 hitter in August, .320 in September. He hit 17 homers during the final two months of '08. History suggests another surge is coming.
Rafael Soriano, P, Braves: Forget about the past month (7.71 ERA) and examine the entire body of work on the season (2.55 ERA, 12.23 K/9, 17 saves). Most closers go through a dead-arm period around this point in the year (Mariano Rivera comes to mind), but they usually get things together after some rest. Soriano has a career 1.41 September ERA. He'll come around.
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: He only has two home runs since the All-Star break and boasts an average of .247 during the past month. His average against lefties has dropped to .262 on the season, giving me the impression his early split gains were a fluke. Hawpe is a career .247 hitter in September, right when you need him to perform in the playoffs. His best days of the '09 campaign are behind him.
Hiroki Kuroda, P, Dodgers: His numbers over the past month have been solid (3.15 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, four quality starts), but getting plunked in the head by a line drive does something to mess with a pitcher's psyche (see Chris Young in '08). While I've always been a fan of Kuroda, I'm concerned about his performance the rest of the way. My head tells me to cut ties with him and find another option from a fantasy perspective, but I root for him to prove me wrong.