With the calendar flipping to August, those competing for their league title can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. You're almost there. It's been a grueling first four months of the season. You've endured the injuries, the lineup shuffles, the poor managerial decisions and the always dangerous MLB trade deadline. You're rounding the bend and about to enter the home stretch and it's imperative that you structure your roster to ensure that you can withstand any potentially devastating occurrences, whether it is something like an injury or a Biogenesis suspension. Depth can be as important as the right choices for your starting roster.
As we've seen with players such as Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez, managers aren't taking any chances with their star players here in the stretch run. Though Gonzalez tried to play through the sprained finger, the Rockies aren't going to risk losing him for longer than they need to and will DL him right now with the hopes of having him healthy for the final month and a half while they try to overcome their 9.5-game hurdle that stands between them and the playoffs. Meanwhile, Cabrera had missed four straight games with an abdominal injury and while he pinch-hit the other day, Jim Leyland is going to play it safe with his leading run producer and keep him out as he sees fit.
For you as a fantasy player, you need to make sure that you're filling those gaps with quality players capable of producing. Obviously you won't see equivalent production, but you need to make the right choices to get as many quality at-bats as you can. Owners in shallow leagues shouldn't have much problem finding a viable replacement, but deeper league owners will have to look a little more carefully and find who is, not only seeing the majority of at-bats, but is also making the most of them.
In looking at ownership percentages on a variety of fantasy web sites, there are still plenty of viable options that most people pass over for reasons that may have been valid at the beginning of the year, but not so much at this point. Take Nate Schierholtz, for example. Often passed over by fantasy owners due to his part-time status most of the time, Schierholtz is playing full-time for the Cubs and is producing rather well for a guy owned in roughly just 40-percent of leagues. He's not going to replace CarGo on your roster, but he's still going to contribute, as evidenced by his .280 average with three home runs and eight RBI over his last 50 at-bats.
Other players you may want to consider for fill-in work include: Neil Walker, Cody Ross, Brandon Moss, Denard Span, Mark Ellis, Mike Moustakas and Michael Saunders.
And don't forget about situations involving Biogenesis suspensions. With 50-game bans coming down on a number of players, their back-ups could be stepping out into the limelight, some of whom are listed below.
Adam Dunn, 1B CHW - Despite 26 home runs, which keeps him on-pace for close to 40 again, Dunn's woeful batting average has kept him off the radar in numerous leagues and lacking in much fantasy appeal for many. But before you let a cursory glance at his stat line dissuade you from using the Big Donkey, take a closer look and see that he has hit safely in seven of his last eight game, batting .375 (12 for 32) with two doubles, two home runs and six RBI in that span. On top of that, since July 2, Dunn is batting .300 with a .490 slugging percentage and .881 OPS in his last 28 games. His batting average has increased from .198 to .226 in that span. He also has four doubles, five home runs and 15 RBI in his last 28 games.
Craig Gentry, OF TEX - With news that Nelson Cruz is officially being handed a 50-game suspension, the Rangers have little choice but to turn to their in-house solution which is Gentry. His track record shows that he is a better hitter than the current .241 average alludes to and he should prove to be a nice cheap option for speed down the stretch. His contact rates are solid and his improved swinging-strike percentage shows that he's swinging through far fewer pitches. It's very likely that he hangs around the bottom of the lineup to start, but should he get on-base near his career-average of .341, he land at the top sooner than later.
Logan Forsythe, 2B SD - Another beneficiary of the Biogenesis fallout, Forsythe should be the guy the Padres turn to at shortstop now that Everth Cabrera has taken a 50-game hit. Though his numbers don't look particularly appealing right now, he had himself a strong June (.284-9-3-11-2) when he worked as a full-time replacement when Cabrera went down with his hamstring injury. He's obviously not your dream fill-in candidate, but in deeper leagues, when the waiver wire is barren, he'll be looking better than having a hole in your lineup.
Colby Rasmus, OF TOR - Could all that potential we've heard so much about finally be in play here? Coming into this season, Rasmus' second-half numbers have been downright awful. Post-break, Rasmus has batted just .209 for his career with a dismal .615 OPS. He's shown little power, poor base-running and has a second-half BABIP that lies a good 40 points below his first-half mark. But all that has seemingly changed this year as Rasmus has produced rather well here in the 17 games since the break. In the second half, so far, he is batting .354 (23-for-65) with a .508 slugging percentage and .881 OPS and has one home run, seven doubles and eight RBI in that span. A .460 BABIP between July and the early part of August are certainly helping, and while that mark may be unsustainable and the average could drop, he still has solid power potential for the stretch run.
Erick Aybar, SS LAA - There are many, myself included, who have considered Aybar to be a huge disappointment this season. He was always a nice cheap middle infield option who was good for 15-20 stolen bases and a decent average. That wasn't the case this season as the first half was a complete disappointment. Minor injuries and struggles at the plate over the first two months of the season took him out of most people's equations and have completely missed the fact that he is batting .317 over 45 games since June 2. Over his last eight games, Aybar is batting .355 (11 for 31) with one triple, two doubles, three RBI, three walks, seven runs and four stolen bases, and should be picked up immediately if you can even just use some depth in the middle infield.
Staying the Course
Bartolo Colon, SP OAK - No suspension for Colon means you can keep him active in your rotation and continue to earn solid production. While many will cite his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal as the root for his success, you can't help but be in awe of a guy who throws his low-90s fastball 85-percent of the time and still manhandles some lineups. With an interleague start against the Reds and then a trip to Toronto, he should be a solid two-start pitcher this week.
Jose Iglesias, SS/3B DET - He may be replacing Jhonny Peralta full-time at short, but the fact remains that Iglesias is there for his glove, not his bat. The only thing that changes for him right now is the number of at-bats he will receive. That doesn't mean you can expect a boost in power or speed.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF MIA - It's been a rough year for the Marlins biggest bat and things don't seem to be getting any easier for the 23-year old slugger. He's currently 1-for-20 over his last six games and while he still has a .221 ISO and .364 on-base percentage, his lack of consistency is keeping his value down, particularly in head to head leagues. Obviously he's not someone you drop, but make sure you have a viable back-up during these down times.
Didi Gregorius, SS ARI - It would appear that Gregorius' bat is finally starting to show its true colors after a hot start to his major league career. People often forget that he was never lauded for his bat, but for his glove work at short. Now that he's been hitting just .202 over his last 37 games, dropping his average from a lofty .322 to .270, we're starting to see a perfect example of how a hot start for a rookie can cloud judgment here in fantasy.
Desmond Jennings, OF TB - This might just be more precautionary than anything as Jennings is dealing with the same type of injury that has finally landed Carlos Gonzalez on the disabled list. He jammed his finger over the weekend and while x-rays revealed that there was no break or fracture, Jennings will have a tough time swinging the bat until the swelling subsides. The Rays are saying that they are hoping to avoid a stint on the disabled list, but it just might be safer to do it now than risk losing him longer down the road.
Josh Johnson, SP TOR - He's gone from must-start to streamer when the match-up is right to possible drop now that his rotation spot might be in jeopardy. He's given up 25 runs over his last four starts (lasting just 16 innings) and Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Johnson will be evaluated each time he pitches, and that the team will look at alternatives if he continues to struggle. Starts at Seattle and against Oakland may help a little, but should he struggle against either, it could be time to say bye-bye.
Derek Jeter, SS NYY - All your hopes and dreams of having your middle infield rescued by The Captain are slowly circling the bowl right now as a Grade-1 calf strain could land the shortstop on the disabled list for a third time this season. He's being evaluated on a day to day basis, but at this point, it just might make sense for the Yankees to shelf him now and hope for the best in a couple of weeks. While they are 9.5 games out of first in the division, they are just 4.5 games out of a wild card spot. Having the Captain healthy for the tail-end of August and all of September is probably more important than worrying about just the week ahead.