You've made it this far, but don't go patting yourself on the back just yet.
Fantasy baseball, like the real life version of the sport on which it's based, is a near-endless journey of a season. The destination, though, is finally within sight; now you just have to see it through to take the title.
Whether you're pushing for first place in a rotisserie league or aiming to win it all in a head-to-head playoff bracket, there are certain strategies to help you reach your goal. Take heed of what's below, and you just might earn that pat on the back after all.
Numbers Over Names
Perhaps the most important—and different—factor at this late stage of the fantasy season is that a player's name doesn't matter as much as his production.
Over the course of a six-month long battle, there's plenty of talk about sample size and regression to the mean when it comes to a player's performance. But much of that goes out the window in September, when the season is condensed to a few short weeks and even a day or two can mean the difference between winning it all and coming up just short.
If you've been relying on a proven veteran who has gone cold or is dealing with injury issues in recent weeks—Jose Reyes and Michael Bourn come to mind—or if you stubbornly have been hanging onto, say, Starlin Castro or Chase Headley based on the hope that just maybe they get their act together, don't feel like you have to start these players—or even keep them on your roster.
While so much of this game is about patience, it's now about production. If a big name isn't getting it done, move on to a player who will.
Most owners pay attention to matchups, both hitter and pitcher kinds, throughout the year, so hopefully, this suggestion isn't a drastic change. It is, however, an aspect that the savvy owner will look to exploit even more down the stretch.
It depends to some extent on whether your league allows for daily or weekly changes, but the more you can do to fill your lineup with players in position to succeed, the better.
Have Dexter Fowler (.316 average at Coors Field) or Ichiro Suzuki (.309 at Yankee Stadium) on your squad? Make sure they're in your lineup when they're at home, but sub them out when they're on the road (.211 and .233 averages, respectively).
Same goes for hitters who are up against a pitcher who throws from the arm side that they have problems doing damage against. If, for instance, Desmond Jennings is facing a right-hander, you might want to consider sitting him and his .659 OPS against them.
Have you been enjoying Ervin Santana's resurgent campaign this year? Sure you have, but that doesn't mean you have to start him this month when he faces off against the Detroit Tigers, owners of the highest-scoring offense in the majors. Save him for use against the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox instead.
It sounds no-duh obvious, but you need to remain on top of your roster. Like, every day.
It's essential to stay involved and alert, particularly in formats that offer owners the ability to make daily adds, drops and substitutions.
If you set your lineup a few days out or even that day, confirm that your players are, you know, playing. The last thing you need at this point is to get lazy.
Don't go leaving in 2013 breakout player Matt Carpenter at second base when the St. Louis Cardinals have their two September off days while Daniel Murphy is sitting on your bench and could be inserted into that 2B spot.
The other factors here are health and rest. In other words, just because a player's team is on the docket doesn't mean he is. A day-to-day injury or even a day of rest could result in an unexpected hole in your lineup.
The five minutes it takes to do a double-check once game times start rolling around is worth it, especially if it prevents some serious agony that could last for hours later.
Real Life Counts
Simple: When in doubt, go with the player who is in the middle of a tight playoff race. He's more likely to be active and looking to make an impact.
Be reasonable, of course. You're not going to sit Adam Dunn in favor of James Loney if you need home runs, and you better not take out Buster Posey for Ryan Hanigan, but you get the idea.
Also, be wary of players on teams who have enormous leads in their divisions, like the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, as they may get more rest to keep them fresh for the playoffs. If you follow the previous point on daily roster maintenance, though, you should have this covered.
In rotisserie-style play, the goal is to get as many points in as many categories as possible. But by now, you should have a pretty good idea of where your team can—and can't—make up ground or stay ahead of the competition.
For example, if you're in first place by 12 in the stolen bases category, then maybe you should give Elvis Andrus a rest and plug in Jed Lowrie at shortstop instead, particularly if you need to pump up your RBI and home run totals.
If, on the other hand, you see that five more saves would allow you to pass three teams—translating to three more points—then it's probably worth rolling the dice on a setup man with a chance at some ninth-inning work (think: Tommy Hunter or Dane De La Rosa) over some so-so starting pitcher.
Know the Opponent
These last two are more for head-to-head formats. In this case, the point is to be aware of the type of team you're about to go up against in the playoffs.
Before you just go ahead and put in your usual starters, take a gander at your opponent's roster to see if there are any areas you can take advantage of.
Maybe your competition lacks a big bopper capable of bashing four or five homers in a week. Well, if you were planning to keep Chris Carter and his 26 homers on your bench like you have the past two weeks, maybe it's worth at least considering him this time around.
Again, it's important to be realistic and logical here—you don't want to go changing things up if it means getting away from the strengths that got you where you are—but you can use the other owner's lineup to help determine yours.
This is the sneakiest of all strategies, but it's also within the bounds of fair play—and highly recommended when appropriate and applicable (i.e., leagues with daily moves).
Over the week that your head-to-head matchup is ongoing, a category or two likely will start to swing in your favor. When that happens, you should do what you can to maintain that lead, as long as it doesn't jeopardize the rest of your roster or compromise your chances going forward.
Let's say it's Friday night, and you're about to go two up in the wins tally for the week. A quick check of your opponent's probable starters shows that he only has three more starts (and whatever reliever outings) on Saturday and Sunday to try to catch you.
That's when you act. Go to the free-agent pool, sort by probable pitchers on Saturday and pick up the one or two arms who have the best matchup. Then, depending on how things are playing out heading into the final day of the showdown, you can rinse and repeat in time for Sunday.
In short, by picking up a player—even one you don't intend to use—you can block your competition from gaining ground on you.
Hey, defense wins championships.