Corey Hart could lift some fantasy owners to a championship.
Every hit, run, RBI, steal and homer can play a pivotal role in determining who wins your fantasy baseball league’s championship, so owners must carefully select the right matchups this September.
In order to seal the fantasy crown, managers face more pressure than ever to make the right decisions that maximize their chances of living to fight another week during the playoffs.
Of course, optimizing hitting matchups in advance is a tough endeavor. Teams can shift their rotations, and a rain-out can toss everything into disarray.
As playoff time nears, owners can start monitoring daily probable pitchers to consider lefty/righty matchups. Ike Davis is heating up and is now worth using again in fantasy leagues, but benching him against southpaws—against whom he hits .177—is a prudent decision.
Meanwhile, Scott Hairston is making the most of his at-bats against lefties, hitting .313 and slugging .593. In deeper leagues, he’s worth stashing on the bench to shift in your lineup against a left-handed pitcher.
For now, let’s look at the bigger picture and see which teams face off against poor pitching staffs and which players get to tee off against their favorite opponents.
Oh, come on—did you expect another MVP-caliber season from Curtis Granderson?
After conquering his shortcomings against lefties to hit .262 along with 41 homers and 25 steals in 2011, the 31-year-old fell back down to earth this season. He’s hitting .235 and has only recorded eight steals.
The one constant from his time with the New York Yankees is the long ball, which is unfortunate since we have to put up with John Sterling’s ridiculous home-run calls. Granderson has tallied 34 home runs, with 21 at Yankee Stadium.
Fantasy owners can’t complain too much because of the power (along with the bounty of runs and RBI that results from playing with the Yankees), but anyone who spent a first-round selection on Granderson obviously overpaid.
He’s slumping lately, hitting .210 since the All-Star break, but don’t put the star in the doghouse. New York starts the week of September 10—where most leagues begin their postseason—against the Boston Red Sox, who Granderson has crushed to a tune of .357/.471/.690 in 12 games.
Then they embark on a nine-game home stretch, and Granderson utilizes his home park’s minuscule dimensions. They leave home to face weak pitching staffs (Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays) before closing out the season in the Bronx against Boston.
Granderson will rarely approach .300, but his current .235 average is a career-low. Count on something of a grandish finish from the Grandy Man (damn you, Sterling!).
Nelson Cruz is not the conventional head-to-head league star.
The inconsistent, often-injured slugger might provoke owners to bench him following a prolonged slump, only to crack out a multi-homer week that could have won your matchup.
There’s a good chance one of those weeks is coming this month.
Cruz plays 13 of their final 22 games in the compact Arlington Park, where he collects most of his success.
While slugging a measly .402 on the road, Cruz has recorded a .531 slugging percentage at home.
The Texas Rangers square off against the Los Angeles Angels in three of those road games (as well as a series at home). Cruz has tormented the divisional foe, hitting six homers and driving in 15 runs with a 1.10 OPS during 11 games. He’s totaled more long balls (19) against the Angels than any other squad throughout his career.
Although he has managed to stay healthy in 2012, Cruz’s power numbers don’t stack up to his past performances. Look for him to excel this September as a statistical correction to the mean.
Anybody who plays in a league that counts on-base slugging percentage or anything that judges a hitter's true credibility should probably step away from Alexei Ramirez.
For those of us in 5X5 leagues, he’s worth a look.
Usually a decent source of counting numbers at shortstop, Ramirez—who has recorded at least 15 home runs in each of his four seasons in the majors—hit only four home runs through the first four months. That’s not going to cut it for a .270 hitter and average base stealer.
He matched those four long balls in August, and he will receive ample chances to pile up numbers in September since the Chicago White Sox only have one day off during the fantasy playoffs.
The woeful-pitching Twins, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians pop up on Chicago’s schedule in 15 of their final 22 contests, so he can inflict damage of his inferior adversaries.
Available in 33 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Ramirez makes an interesting middle-infield option and a shortstop worth starting in deeper leagues.
Perhaps your team needs a speedy shortstop to stay competitive in the steals category.
In that case, Alcides Escobar is the man for you.
The Royals speedster has swiped 27 bases, which rates second among active shortstops behind Jose Reyes.
Kansas City faces the three worst teams in the AL—Los Angeles, Cleveland and Detroit—in terms of stolen bases allowed.
Escobar has run rampant lately, swiping 10 bases in August. The 25-year-old has never brought much more than steals to the table, but he’s batting .293 this year.
Looking at his .344 BABIP, that mark is probably unsustainable, but there’s no denying his speed. His services are more beneficial to a roto squad, but he might help a head-to-head squad bursting with power at all other positions.
Most fantasy owners are skeptical about trusting Delmon Young.
Honestly, I’m skeptical of anyone who actually does depend on him.
Considering all the hype surrounding Young when he was selected with the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft, his career has to be considered a colossal letdown. It’s time to put those expectations of stardom aside—his drafting occurred so long ago that his first squad was still named the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
When it comes to major league outfielders, Young is one of many. He’s average. Hitting .275 with 15-20 home runs won’t blow anyone away.
Like most other decent outfielders, he’s a solid plug-in for owners looking to find a hot bat. Over the past couple months, Young is heating up.
Following a five-homer July, Young hit .313/.350/.521 in August with four more blasts to raise his season total to 17. The odds of maintaining that production stray in his favor considering he can feast on subpar AL Central pitching.
Last season, Young rewarded his owners with six homers and 20 RBI in September. He might catch fire again at the most opportune time.
Corey Hart is one of baseball’s most under-appreciated power hitters.
For three consecutive years, the outfielder has blasted at least 25 home runs and is in the midst of topping a .500 slugging percentage again.
That consistent production makes him a trustworthy option, especially in head-to-head leagues that favor sluggers.
He won’t hit .300, and the days where he swipes 20 bases are gone, but a reliable power bat can still be a major asset for fantasy owners this September.
Since the All-Star break, Hart is hitting .315 with 10 homers, 34 RBI and a .905 OPS. Through the last two Septembers, Hart has belted 12 round-trippers for the Milwaukee Brewers, who face some favorable opponents.
In the final weeks of the season, the Brew Crew face the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros and then travel to the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Insert Hart into your lineup with confidence come playoff time.
Hart isn't the only Milwaukee outfielder to use during the fantasy playoffs.
Take a chance on Carlos Gomez riding out his breakout campaign through the season’s end.
Blessed with ferocious speed, the 26-year-old has struggled to stay locked into regular playing time due to his inability to get on base.
The center fielder has notched a .293 on-base percentage throughout his six-year career. Even during his best year, the mark is only .303.
He has, however, secured a spot in the Brewers’ outfield due to his glove and an increase in power. Gomez has tallied a career-high 15 home runs—nine after the All-Star break—and a .473 slugging percentage.
With regular playing time, Gomez has registered 30 steals in 35 opportunities. If he finds ways to reach base, Gomez should receive plenty of opportunities to run often. The Pirates and Washington Nationals are the league’s bottom two clubs in caught-stealing percentage, the Astros don’t rank far ahead at 24 and the San Diego Padres have surrendered a league-high 127 steals.
Gomez's repertoire suits a rotisserie league, but owners looking for a spark plug should play Gomez and hope he stays en fuego for another month.
Owned in only 41 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Wilin Rosario is tied for second among catchers with 23 home runs.
The rookie just finished a scorching August, hitting .304/.367/.667 with seven homers and 17 RBI. So why is he available in more than half of Yahoo! leagues?
Good question, imaginary voice in my head.
Unfortunately, the Colorado Rockies only play 10 games in Coors Field during the final four weeks. On the bright side, they only have one day off from this point forward.
As a catcher, Rosario surely won’t play all those games, but Colorado should keep him in the batting order more often than not while the 23-year-old continues to rake.
If you own a slumping catcher, consider swapping him with Rosario during the championship hunt.
The Chicago Clubs close out the 2012 season at Coors Field, at Chase Field and against the Astros—the NL’s second-worst pitching club behind Colorado.
Somebody can strike during the favorable final week and help fantasy owners secure their championship matchup, but there aren't too many Cubs who can capitalize.
Starlin Castro should produce a solid September, but most owners have had no choice but to stick with the talented shortstop due to the position’s scarcity. That recommendation likely wouldn't help anyone.
Anthony Rizzo—who faded away following a dazzling return to the show—may have another run left in him this season.
After crushing the competition with a .330/.375/.567 line and seven home runs during July, Rizzo looked mediocre in August. A first baseman batting .252 with two dingers and 11 RBI isn't exactly a valuable fantasy asset.
Rizzo is more than capable of catching a second wind before the clock strikes midnight on the year. Don’t give up on the rookie yet, or you could miss out on another monstrous hot streak.
Chipper Jones is calling it quits after 18 seasons, but the 40-year-old is not fading gently into the good night.
During his final season, Jones is hitting .302/.381/.500 in 89 games. As the future Hall of Famer looks to carry the Atlanta Braves to his final postseason appearance, Jones could help out his fantasy owners during his swan song.
Jones usually rises to the occasion against NL East competition. Against both the Nationals and Miami Marlins, Jones has hit a career .299 with a .505 slugging percentage.
Fittingly, Jones will face the New York Mets one more time. Jones has tormented the Mets throughout his career so much that he named his son Shea in honor of the old stadium where he notoriously crushed them.
And while Jones is renowned for decimating the Mets, he has fared even better against the Philadelphia Phillies—hitting .332/.442/.599 with 48 homers over his career.
Look for Jones to cap off an illustrious career with a grand finale.