Chris Carpenter will make an early return from injury to start for St. Louis against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The Cardinals hope he can stop their September slide and seal a spot in the playoffs. He may also be the missing piece to your fantasy baseball championship.
Fantasy baseball championships hang in the balance of the decisions you make over the next two weeks.
Who you choose to sit and start over the next 16 days will determine if the last six months produce a sweet or sour result.
Do you dance with the ones who took you there or pick up the hot streaker? That answer all depends on your individual circumstances. If you happen to feel the need for a new partner, here are 10 available players you can trust during the most important stretch of fantasy baseball.
Norichika Aoki is taking off during the Milwaukee Brewers' late run at a wild card spot.
Norichika Aoki is not just a sneaky source of steals.
Yes, he has swiped 13 bags since really taking off in August to give him 22 since June. Yes, he is only owned in 32 percent of Yahoo leagues.
But don't pigeonhole Milwaukee's new lead-off hitter as just another one-trick pony.
Aoki provides decent pop for a speedster with eight round trips this season (two this month). He hits for a high average at .289 (.328 this month and .299 in August) and anyone using on base percentage will love his .420 mark in September.
Batting first in a resurgent Brewers lineup also gives him plenty of chances to pile up the counting stats. He has scored 11 runs this month while driving in 10. Strikeouts aren't a problem, either, as Aoki has only 47 in 454 at-bats this season.
If he is still available in your league, change that immediately.
Dewayne Wise will be a big part of Chicago's stretch run. Make him apart of yours.
Dewayne Wise is Chicago's version of Aoki. Both hit at the top of the order, from the left side of the plate and the western shore of Lake Michigan.
The south-side edition hits for a lower average but brings more category juice. Wise has 17 steals and eight home runs in only 177 at-bats this season.
Chicago will platoon him in center field with Alejandro De Aza. Fantasy owners would be wise to only use him against right-handed pitching.
If you can afford to rotate him based on match ups, it would be even wiser to raise his 10 percent ownership percentage.
Everth Cabrera only provides value in one category, but that value could swing your championship match up.
Unlike the wise, A-OK investments mentioned previously, Everth Cabrera actually is just a one-trick pony. This pony just happens to be really, really fast.
Cabrera has 33 steals this season. He recently kicked it into high gear, swiping 14 bags in 25 games since August 16—eight already this month.
Don't discount the value of an all-speed, no-power player. Cabrera types don't help much during the regular season, but they can win fantasy championships during the playoffs.
Balance is no longer required during postseason match-ups. All you have to do is win enough categories to win the week. Punting some categories to ensure you win others is now a viable (and even recommended) strategy.
Cabrera can win you a category all by himself. That can be the difference between a championship and second place. With 11 hits in his last 33 at-bats, he can also help your average while he is hot.
Playing Cabrera isn't right for every team, but his speed may be the missing ingredient to your title run.
Jimmy Rollins (11) and the Phildelphia Phillies found out the hard way that Justin Maxwell and the Houston Astros are still relevant.
Enough with the speed demons. Let's look at Justin Maxwell for those of you in need of power.
Maxwell's silver hammer (any Beatles fans out there?) has banged 16 homers in 271 at-bats this season. He has already made four round trips this month.
And contrary to popular belief, the Houston Astros are still playing baseball. Maxwell's pop has produced eight runs and 11 RBI while hitting cleanup for the worst MLB lineup. Don't mistake Houston for a complete fantasy desert.
Three September stolen bases are a nice bonus. So is Maxwell's teammate Matt Dominguez, who has four homers 65 big league at-bats this season. He is too raw to fully endorse with his own slide, but the hot start makes him an intriguing option for owners in need of power and willing to gamble.
Anthony Rizzo is only owned in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues!? Holy cow!?
I didn't lead with Anthony Rizzo because, frankly, I don't even think he belongs in this slide show at all. His talent is well known and he is thus not a sleeper.
A 50 percent ownership rate in Yahoo leagues, however, says otherwise.
How Rizzo is owned in only half of the leagues on one of the most popular fantasy websites is a complete mystery to me. If that includes your league, stop reading this and go grab him now.
The "prospect" has an OPS of 1.056 this month, a mark that ranks in the Top 10 of all players. He is batting an even .300 with 14 home runs, 37 runs and 43 RBI since his call up in June. He just crushed Pittsburgh with four extra base hits (two home runs), three runs and nine RBI in a three-game series.
All of Chicago's remaining games will be played at Wrigley Field, Coors Field and Chase Field. That's about as hitter friendly as you can get.
John Mayberry has helped spark a surge in Phildelphia. Welcome him into your dugout for a similar effect.
John Mayberry saw a bump in playing time after deadline deals sent Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino to the west coast. He responded with a bump in statistical production that has the Philadelphia Phillies surging back into postseason contention.
Mayberry is hitting .303 with six home runs, 21 RBIs and 21 runs in 42 games since the trade deadline. He boasts a .320 career batting average in the month of September. So far he has at least one hit in all but two games this month.
An 18 percent ownership rate means he is likely still available in your league. Don't let the Phillies be the only team that rides his annual hot streak to stretch run success.
Glen Perkins is taking full advantage of his promotion. Take full advantage of his availability.
It’s amazing that Glen Perkins can remain available in 68 percent of leagues while consistently providing the game’s only limited resource: saves.
Have that many managers completely checked out for fantasy football?
Perkins became Minnesota’s primary closer earlier this month. He has not allowed a run in 14 appearances since August 4. He allowed only two walks and five hits during those 15 innings of work.
Most importantly, he is a perfect 4-of-4 in save opportunities dating back to August 26. Those bullpen decisions combined with microscopic ratios will be extremely valuable to any team hunting a championship.
Focus on grabbing Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin for the stretch run.
A.J. Griffin has nine quality starts in only 11 MLB appearances. You can debate the quality of the stat, but that kind of consistency is coveted in both real life and fantasy.
Griffin (6-0) earned a win in each of his last three starts, improving his record to 6-0. He only gave up two runs in his past 22 innings with one walk and 18 strikeouts.
Upcoming road starts against Detroit and New York give plenty reason for pause. But Griffin already beat the Yankees on July 19 and has also shutout powerful lineups such as Texas and Los Angeles.
Keeping him in the fold for a championship week start against Seattle is the least you should do.
Marco Estrada is a strike out machine for the Milwaukuee Brewers.
Marco Estrada ranks as the eighth-best starting pitcher on Yahoo’s player rater for the past month.
He did give up four runs at Miami during that span, but four other most recent starts were absolute gems. Only one run was allowed over 24.2 innings with 33 strikeouts.
Yes, Estrada has feasted on a soft schedule, but his win over Atlanta (6.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 6 K) is nothing to scoff at. More importantly, the soft slate continues into fantasy championship week. His next two scheduled starts come against Pittsburgh and Houston, two of the league’s worst offenses.
Chris Carpenter's performance last October should give you confidence to trust him this September.
Chris Carpenter will start for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
Yes, trusting your title run to an aging arm returning extremely early from injury with no minor league rehab starts is beyond risky. There are no relevant statistics I can use to calm any uneasiness about this play.
What I can offer you is history. Carpenter is one of those ultra-competitive types that thrive in high leverage situations. His Game 5 performance against Philadelphia last October is just the most recent example of this.
Carpenter is risking his career by coming back this early. I’m no psychologist or mind reader, but it’s not much of a stretch to think he’s only willing to take that risk because he believes he can help the Cardinals' run at another championship.
Let him help your title run, too, starting with his attractive match up against the Cubs.