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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fantasy focus: John Smoltz

It might seem odd that a 42-year-old pitcher with zero wins this season is an excellent starting option this week.

Until you read the name: John Smoltz.

The career 210-game winner has yet to record his first victory as a member of the Red Sox, but that should change in Week 14 of the fantasy season.

Smoltz has started twice since being activated from the disabled list, and he's 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA. He left his last start after four innings because of a rain delay, and the Red Sox couldn't hold a 10-1 seventh-inning lead against the Orioles.

The schedule is much more favorable this week. Monday, he will face the Athletics, who rank 29th in the major leagues with a .240 batting average and 24th in runs scored (4.2). Saturday, it's the Royals, who are 25th in batting (.252) and 29th in runs (3.9).

Both starts are at home. The opposing pitchers: Monday, Smoltz will trade outs (or in the Athletics' case, hits) with Oakland's Brett Anderson (4-7, 5.45 ERA). Saturday, it's the 4-8 Gil Meche.

And you thought the Boise State football team had a favorable schedule.

Smoltz is owned in only 32 percent of the leagues on If he's available in your league and you need a third or fourth starter this week, he's an ideal option.

He should also be here to stay.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5, 8.23 ERA) is out with an injured shoulder. As I wrote in Saturday's column for the print and online editions, he likely can't be counted on for more than a month.

All of which makes Smoltz and Brad Penny (6-3, 4.67 ERA) intriguing prospects for the second half of the season. Boston's rotation has two All-Stars (Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield) and a 25-year-old future ace who has won four of his last five decisions (Jon Lester). That leaves two spots in the rotation -- one to Smoltz, who should stay there if healthy, and one to Penny, who, if Dice-K can turn his season around, likely would have the least job security.

With that depth, the Red Sox have no reason -- other than his standing on the salary scale -- to rush Dice-K back.

Penny has given up three runs or fewer in five straight starts and eight of his last nine. He's owned in only 16.3 percent of the ESPN leagues, despite his recent success and his past production (back-to-back 16-win seasons with the Dodgers in 2006 and '07).

Smoltz is the better option for the rest of the season, partly because of his tendency to strike out eight batters per nine innings, even at an age when most of us will be lucky if we can read 90 mph on a Jugs gun.

Closing numbers: Tribe outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has played in 81 games -- half of a big-league season. Multiply Choo's statistics by two and you get: 98 runs scored, 24 homers, 106 RBI, 26 stolen bases, 96 walks, a .301 batting average and an .889 OPS (OK, the latter two numbers didn't need to be multiplied, but you get the point). Depending on how much emphasis you place on steals, Choo is the Indians' best or second-best fantasy player (behind Victor Martinez), and with Grady Sizemore bothered by a bad elbow, there really is no one else in the running.

Coming attraction: Inspired by Wakefield's first real All-Star selection, we'll unveil our first-half fantasy all-stars (minus the incentive clauses).

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