Word came down this week that the Seattle Mariners are pondering demotions for both Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Couple that with Jesus Montero’s one RBI since late May and you have to wonder: How much of a factor in all of this is Safeco Field, a notorious pitchers park which just happens to celebrate the 13th anniversary of its first game on Sunday? The three young Mariners — all first-round picks — are, by most accounts, among the best young hitting prospects in the AL, but this goes beyond them. Check out the home/road splits of the team as a whole and it’s enough to make you avoid any Mariner with a bat in his hands. At Safeco, the M’s are batting a paltry .196 this season (ranking 30th out of 30 MLB teams), with 119 runs scored (again, 30th) and 21 homers (28th best). Get them on the road, however, and the Mariners’ 220 runs are second only to the Yankees while their .256 team AVG and 52 HRs are solidly middle of the pack. And here is an interesting trend to chew on: Since 2007, when the Mariners batted .283 at Safeco, their home AVGs have steadily plunged — from .271 in 2008, to .255, to .235., to .222 and finally our current .196.
-- Of course, we do have to point out that Safeco Field has, in fact, spawned perhaps the two greatest hitters of the fantasy baseball era (at least in the American League) in Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, but those guys don’t come along too often.
n Here is what makes fantasy baseball so intriguing: Who among us on opening day would have guessed that Twins’ Trevor Plouffe would have more home runs at the all-star break than Miguel Cabrera?
-- On history alone, a nice bounce-back candidate in the second half might be Diamondbacks SP Ian Kennedy. In his career, he is 19-20, 4.25 before the break and 18-5, 2.81 after it.
-- In 22-plus innings filling in for injured starter Clay Buchholz, Red Sox righty Aaron Cook, had two strikeouts. That’s not a misprint. TWO! Montero and Chone Figgins of the Mariners in the same game June 29. How does any pitcher survive with such weak stuff? Well, he has walked only two, which helps, as does a 58% ground ball rate.
-- With Allen Craig all but assuring himself, and his fantasy owners, near regular ABs with the Cardinals, don’t be surprised if he cuts into the playing time of both Lance Berkman (just back off the DL), and 3B David Freese.
-- Also wonder what’s going to happen to Pirates’ Drew Sutton when Alex Presley returns from his concussion symptoms, likely next week. The 29-year-old switch-hitter doesn’t have Presley’s speed, power or upside but he does get bat on ball far more often, going 13-for-40 as a fill-in this month.
-- Wondering where Neftali Feliz fits into the Rangers rotation once he returns from the DL later this month. The one-time closer is being stretched out as a starter during his minor-league rehab, but he could return to the bullpen.
-- With Heath Bell not fooling anyone these days, the Marlins are going with a ninth-inning committee that will include Steve Cishek. Another name to keep in mind is Juan Carlos Oviedo who comes off the suspended list on July 22.
With fantasy rating out 5
Missed both 2009 and ’11 with elbow surgeries and, in between, was only mediocre at best. But there will be owners whom he helped win fantasy championships for in the mid-2000s who will gladly give him another chance, just as the Braves are doing, starting Sunday. A nice story, but too big an injury risk to count on long term.
SS/2B, Red Sox
Known more for his glove than his bat, he’s sure made a splash, going 10-for-16 with three SBs after hitting .301 at triple-A. But with Dustin Pedroia now suddenly poised to return next weekend, his stay could be a short one. Ciriaco, however, may still stick around and see some time at SS for Mike Aviles.
Journeyman infielder is on the strong end of a new 1B platoon in Houston, producing a .305 AVG and 3 HRs in 36 ABs since his late-June recall. Can’t see him keeping this up but at least the opportunity is there so he’s worth throwing a couple of bucks down on.
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Goes 3-for-3 on the checklist for pickup consideration: Strong minor-league stats (1.61 ERA); A good strikeout rate at the major-league level (18 Ks in 18.2 IPs in three stints with the O’s), and; Opportunity, with the Baltimore rotation slowly falling apart.
Dustin Pedroia is already out of his thumb cast and taking BP. He might be back by Sunday ... Roy Halladay (back) got through his rehab start just fine on Thursday and is slated to start Tuesday for the Phillies … CC Sabathia (groin) is also expected to start on Tuesday … Carl Crawford needs a few more days in triple-A but is expected to be activated by Monday … Same deal with the Nationals and Drew Storen … Dillon Gee may need season-ending shoulder surgery … John Danks (shoulder) is still likely a month away from a return … Andrelton Simmons is out with a broken finger … Evan Longoria (hamstring) took BP Saturday but isn’t believed to be close to a return ... And a report out of N.Y., says there is a slim chance Mariano Rivera (knee) could return before the season is over.
HOT AND NOT
Hitters, the past two weeks
Neil Walker PIT
.447, 3 HRs, 11 RBIs, 11 runs
Justin Ruggiano MIA
.389, 4 HRs, 4 SBs
Josh Willingham MIN
.250, 6 HRs, 13 RBIs
- - - - - - - -
Mike Napoli TEX
3-for-25, 0 RBIs, 2 runs
Shane Victorino PHIL
4-for-31, 0 runs, 0 SBs
R.A. Dickey, NYM
Vs. the Braves: 8.71 ERA, 4 HRs
Vs. all others: 1.80 ERA, 5 HRs
Normally, I’d have left the woefully inconsistent Bruce Chen reserved this short week. But the splits — day-night ERAs of 3.36-8.74 and home-away ERAs of 3.21-7.11 — just cried out to play the hunch and start him Friday at home, and at night, against the Chisox. Yup. He got pounded for six runs for the third start in a row. Fantasy Rule 8,946: Do NOT overthink!