By James Sargent
In most leagues, the playoffs probably are just starting for you, so here are some players to keep an eye on. If you are in an MLB.com league, I believe the playoffs start in two weeks, so consider these players to be helpers to get you into the playoffs.
Neil Walker: Neil Walker may be one of baseball’s hottest hitters right now. Last week, Walker batted 13-for-27 (.481) with two home runs, five RBIs and eight runs scored. Head-to-head owners deep in the playoffs should make an immediate add for this Pirates infielder. Walker is batting third in the lineup and will get plenty more opportunities to produce.
Hunter Pence: Hunter Pence is quietly enjoying what is shaping up to be a career year, scoring 85 runs with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs with a month to play. Last week, Pence batted .500 with two homers and nine RBIs. With Lance Berkman now on the Yankees, Pence, in my eyes, is the franchise player for the Houston Astros. It will only be a matter of time before Pence becomes a consistent All-Star. For now, start Pence and watch as the Astros continue to play solid baseball.
Ike Davis: The Arizona State slugger is proving to be quite the fantasy stud. Ike Davis belted two home runs, scored five runs and drove in four RBIs last week. The 24-year-old has improved his OPS to .782 and owns a .256-17-61 line on the season. This man will be the Mets’ first baseman for a long time to come and he will only get better. Look for Davis to end his rookie season with a bang.
Albert Pujols: Albert Pujols has just one hit in his last 24 at-bats, and while he won’t blame his recent ankle injury, his manager may disagree, claiming his star is “not 100 percent.” Pujols owners should monitor him daily because once the Cardinals become eliminated, Pujols could rest a little down the stretch when the season appears to be over. It also looks as if Pujols’ chances of winning the Triple Crown are about shot.
Dan Uggla: Although Dan Uggla is having a career season, last week did not bode well for the Florida slugger. Uggla was injured for part of last week and endured through a 1-for-12 slump when he returned. Things will turn around for Uggla, as seen by the .281 batting average, and he will get back to belting out homers and driving people in. He is a must start second baseman if he is on your team.
Raul Ibanez: Raul Ibanez had a sub-par week last week. He recorded four hits and only drove in one RBI. If the Phillies want to make a playoff run, Ibanez needs to bring his veteran leadership to the lineup and produce on a weekly basis. Ibanez in also in the midst of a down year, and if you have better outfielders on your team, start them over Ibanez.
Felix Hernandez: Felix Hernandez is having a great past couple of weeks. He’s allowed only one earned run over the past 45.0 innings – good for a 0.20 ERA. It’s ridiculous he has just 11 wins this season. He also has made 21 consecutive starts in which he has thrown seven or more innings, and he’s thrown shutout ball in four of his last six starts. Last week, Hernandez threw 15 innings giving up no runs and striking out 17. With a couple more wins, Hernandez is definitely in contention for the CY Young award.
J.A. Happ: J.A. Happ has looked stellar since getting traded to the Houston Astros. He has a 3.21 ERA since joining them, and seems to be improving every start. Last week, Happ recorded two wins while throwing 16 innings (one complete game) and striking out 11. Happ could be another starter to be considered in my spot starter role. With the playoffs just starting in fantasy leagues, spot starting could be key in picking up more strikeouts and more wins. Just watch out for your ERA to rise due to the amount of starters you play.
Brandon Lyon: Brandon Lyon now holds the closer duties for the Houston Astros. He has been way more reliable than Matt Lindstrom and he showed it last week. Lyon recorded four saves and didn’t give up a single run while also striking out four. If Lyon is available in your league, pick him up because the Astros have been playing good baseball for about the past month, and he will surely give you some saves during the last couple weeks of the season.
Ryan Dempster: Ryan Dempster had two very poor starts for the Cubs last week. He pitched a combined 7.2 innings and allowed 10 earned runs. Despite the recent rough patch, he remains a strong fantasy option. He has no mechanical problems, but instead of going right after hitters, he is trying to be too proficient. Once he realizes he cannot hit the corner with every pitch, he will be just fine.
James Shields: James Shields struggled against Baltimore giving up six runs in 4.1 innings. Shields has been an average pitcher at best this season, and has not produced like many would have thought. Shields does have 14 wins, but his 4.92 ERA is way to scary to consider as a fantasy option. I would personally drop Shields and seek out a new pitcher on free agency.
Kevin Correia: Kevin Correia was charged with six runs on six hits in 4.1 innings. Over his last three starts, Correia has allowed 20 runs, all earned, on 22 hits and nine walks in a total of 12 innings. That’s a 15.00 earned run average. His ERA at the end of the night was 5.52, or almost a run higher than it was (4.63) before his last three starts, and is the highest in the National League among starting pitchers with enough innings to qualify. San Diego has also been struggling hardcore recently and have not been getting the victories they need to hold their first place lead in the NL West.