Updated: August 25, 2009, 1:56 PM ET

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AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese

Ben Zobrist has 23 home runs, 15 steals and a .965 OPS this season.

Zobrist continues breakout season
It's not surprising that so many people thought they had to sell high on Ben Zobrist at the All-Star break. It was obvious that the guy was no more than a utility player on a three-month hot streak, right? How could someone like that end up hitting cleanup for the defending American League champions and sustain his terrific season?

Well, ask Roy Halladay about Zobrist, after the utility guy took Halladay deep for his 23rd home run Monday. Ask Dustin Nippert, who fell victim to a Zobrist home run and stolen base over the weekend. Ask the all-but-two players in the AL who have a lower OPS than Zobrist. The guy is good, and he's not going away.

Back in July, I ranked Zobrist No. 43 overall for the rest of the season, and since the cumulative rank for the guy ended up on the other side of 100, I clearly was on a Kara-island. But really, did I know? It was a leap of faith, and Zobrist has come through. He did struggle a bit with the power numbers in July, and he's not hitting for average this month, but he has his batting average back up to .293, and is on pace for 31 homers, 92 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and 97 runs after helping beat up Halladay's Blue Jays on Monday.

Zobrist contributed three hits, including a homer and a double, and scored four runs in as many at-bats to help key the win. He now has four home runs, nine RBIs and eight runs scored in the past week, and he's keeping the Rays in the wild-card race. He wasn't the lone hero in a bludgeoning of Halladay, who allowed season worsts of 12 hits and eight runs, but Zobrist continues to be the biggest surprise for the middle of the batting order, which hasn't received much power from Evan Longoria this month (only three home runs) and has seen Carlos Pena struggle to hit his weight since May. Zobrist has consistently delivered the power and batting average, so it's no surprise he's cemented in the cleanup spot in the order.

Ultimately, there was little reason to expect someone like Zobrist, who hadn't hit much the past few seasons and certainly didn't seem to have upside anywhere near this, to hit 30 home runs, even when he was well on his way at the All-Star break. I think at this point, nearly five months into the season, it's time for the naysayers to hop on board the bandwagon. I'll be looking at this second baseman in the top 50 next season.

Previous editions: Aug. 24: Ubaldo for Cy Young? | Aug. 23: Hanson wins again

News, Notes and Box Score Bits
• A nightmare season for the New York Mets continues to get worse, as news broke Monday night that ace hurler Johan Santana not only would miss his Tuesday start, but also could need elbow surgery. It's not believed to be a full-blown Tommy John surgery, one that would eliminate Santana for the next 12 months, but a more minor procedure that would allow the former Cy Young winner and current No. 15 starting pitcher on the ESPN Player Rater to be ready for spring training. Either way, those who own Santana this season might want to start preparing for his absence for the rest of the regular season. The Mets aren't contenders, and there seems to be little reason to push him. Nelson Figueroa is scheduled to make the Tuesday start. Yeah, they're pretty much the same pitcher, right?

• And there's still more negative news coming from Citi Field -- right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who actually was playing well since coming over in a trade from the Atlanta Braves, apparently tore a ligament in his left thumb while making a diving catch in the ninth inning Sunday. Francoeur, hitting .305 in 39 games for New York with six home runs, says he will try to play through the painful injury, but look for a loss of power. Francoeur did have one at-bat after getting hurt, when he hit a screaming line drive up the middle in the ninth inning … for a triple play. Poor Mets.

• Former AL MVP Justin Morneau went hitless in two at-bats and walked in two others in the Twins' 2-1 win over the Orioles. Morneau, who still leads the AL in RBIs with 94 despite missing the past week of games with an inner ear infection, is obviously critical to the Minnesota lineup and fantasy owners. He's the No. 6 first baseman on the Player Rater.

• Philadelphia's Cliff Lee remained unbeaten with his new team since the July trade from the Indians, shutting down the Mets on a pair of unearned runs and lowering his ERA to 0.68. Lee is 5-0 in as many starts for the Phillies; the last pitcher to go 5-0 with an ERA of less than 1.00 in his first five starts with a team was Fernando Valenzuela for the 1981 Dodgers.

• The Red Sox scored six unearned runs off Jose Contreras in the third inning en route to a 12-8 win, as Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew hit home runs, while Dustin Pedroia and Alex Gonzalez contributed three hits each. Pedroia also stole his 17th base and pushed his batting average back above .300. Pedroia's home runs (10) are down from last season, but otherwise, he's having another fine season.

• Royals closer Joakim Soria was summoned for a six-out save, entering with a 6-4 lead against the Indians in the eighth inning, and promptly blew it, allowing a pair of singles and a Luis Valbuena three-run home run. The Indians won the game 10-6. Valbuena wasn't supposed to be a big power option, but the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder now has eight home runs in 249 at-bats, a fine rate for a middle infielder. He also has multiple hits in three of four games.



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Player Spotlight
Hitter of the night
Ryan Howard, Phillies
The first baseman slugged a pair of home runs and knocked in five, giving him four consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs to start his career. Howard has seven home runs and 19 RBIs in his past 10 games, and he's on pace for 45 homers and 138 RBIs. Not bad.
Pitcher of the night
Scott Baker, Twins
Baker essentially has been the only reliable Twins starter for the past month. He shut down the Orioles over seven innings, allowing four hits and one run to earn his 12th win. Baker hasn't lost in 10 starts, and his WHIP is sixth in the AL. Baker has four wins in August; the rest of the Twins' starters have three.
Stat of the night: 6
Jose Contreras did not pitch well Monday, but his season ERA actually fell from 5.14 to 5.09. It's this funny little thing called unearned runs. Contreras became the second pitcher this season to allow seven or more runs this season with only one of them being earned. The other was teammate Bartolo Colon on May 21. Contreras' own error opened the door for a six-run inning against Boston. He ended up permitting four hits, three walks and seven runs, and recorded eight outs.
Notable Transactions
• The Colorado Rockies made it official and signed former AL MVP Jason Giambi to a minor league deal, but those in NL-only fantasy leagues shouldn't get too excited. Giambi can play only first base, but Todd Helton doesn't need to worry about his job. After a few games in the minors, Giambi will get promoted to pinch hit and possibly give Helton a day off occasionally, but there's not much fantasy value in that. Plus, Giambi hit .193 for Oakland this season.

• The Cincinnati Reds placed catcher Ryan Hanigan and outfielder Chris Dickerson on the disabled list Monday night, leaving those who had them active -- like me -- in a weekly league not pleased. Hanigan was hit by a foul ball in the mask Sunday and diagnosed with a concussion. His batting average was at .316 when August began, but regular playing time exposed him, and he hit .143 this month. Dickerson sprained his left ankle during a pickoff attempt in the same Sunday game, continuing his disappointing season. Corky Miller and Darnell McDonald were summoned from Triple-A Louisville to help the rest of the Reds finish a bad season.

Scott Downs is off the DL, and fantasy owners hope the Blue Jays closer is really recovered from his toe injury this time. Downs has been on the DL twice for the ailment. With Jason Frasor suffering from shoulder tendinitis and getting the past week off, it's possible Downs will resume closing rather soon.

Click here for all the latest MLB transactions.
They Said It
Michael (Portland, ME): Smoltz or Pedro?

Matthew Berry: Smoltz. Look, it was the Padres, so let's not get crazy ... but Dave Duncan can work miracles (Pineiro, Lohse, etc) and Smoltz did have a stroing K/BB even WHEN getting rocked in Boston. I believe to an extent
-- Full chat transcript
Tuesday's fantasy chat schedule:
AJ Mass, 11 a.m. ET
Brendan Roberts, 3 p.m. ET
On The Farm
• Diamondbacks future star Justin Upton started in right field and went hitless in three at-bats with an RBI for the Class A Visalia Rawhide of the Advanced California League on Monday, and could be back with the big club by Wednesday. Upton last played for Arizona earlier this month before suffering an oblique injury. The fact that he also stole a base in the game Monday is a good sign.

• Also on the mend is Akinori Iwamura, who went 1-for-5 for Triple-A Durham at Syracuse and is getting closer to returning to the Rays. Iwamura partially tore the ACL in his left knee and has made a quick recovery, but the Rays have someone playing really well at second base already, some guy named Zobrist. Still, having a bat off the bench will help. Iwamura is hitting .286 for the Bulls in eight games, with eight walks and three strikeouts.

John Smoltz is out of the Boston rotation, as is Brad Penny, and Clay Buchholz could be next after he was shelled for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings by the White Sox on Monday. Paul Byrd would be on track to start for Buchholz after the veteran right-hander tossed seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball for Triple-A Pawtucket against Lehigh Valley on Monday. Byrd permitted a John Mayberry Jr. home run and not much else.
Looking Ahead
• Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano comes off the disabled list to face the Washington Nationals, and one would presume the "lazy" Zambrano -- his words, not ours -- will pitch well. Zambrano last pitched Aug. 1 at Florida, leaving early for a back problem. By the way, Garrett Mock hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his past four starts.

Dan Haren has allowed home runs in six consecutive outings and nine overall in that span as his ERA has risen from 1.96 to 2.74, but the Giants should be a nice tonic to stop these problems. Haren's August ERA is 5.88, as the second-half struggles for his career continue.

• Speaking of someone struggling, Jarrod Washburn faces John Lackey in a battle of first-place teams. Washburn has made four starts for the Tigers and owns nary a win, having permitted five or more runs in three of the outings. The Mariners swatted four home runs off him last week. Lackey hasn't been great of late, either; the Indians got six runs off him in 5 1/3 innings last week.

• For more on Tuesday's games, check Daily Notes.