Don’t look now, but the calendar is about to turn. August is giving way to September, and the home stretch is in view — both for the Major League Baseball season and our own fantasy campaigns.
Typically, we enter September with a relatively good grasp on which teams are still alive and which have been buried. This is not the case in 2020. We can argue about a handful of teams in one direction or another, but the bulk of the league’s outcomes are still undecided. This should lead to competitive baseball wherever possible, and a continued effort from our fantasy players.
Washington Nationals at Phillies (4), at Braves (4)
The Defending World Champions were an interesting footnote when the season was officially shortened to 60 games. Despite getting hot toward the end of the 2019 season and riding the wave to a World Series Title, the Washington Nationals would not have even made the playoffs due to their poor record in the first 60 games. Now, we’re seeing another slow start from Washington, and it looks like there isn’t enough time to turn it around and make a push.
In fairness, the Nationals had been without Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto for a decent amount of time, and Max Scherzer has battled with his own injury. Washington has eight road games against two division opponents in Week 6, and it’s probably “now-or-never” for a 2020 playoff berth.
Chicago White Sox at Twins (3), at Royals (4)
Arguably the trendiest sleeper playoff pick for 2020, the Chicago White Sox are finally delivering on the promise. The team is a scorching 9-1 in its last ten games, and, as of this writing, they sit only a half-game out of first place.
Chicago will go head-to-head with the team it’s chasing — Minnesota — over the first three games of the week, and then they travel to Kansas City for a four-game set. It’s certainly possible that we are reading about the American League Central-leading White Sox by the time we are preparing for Week 7.
Cleveland Indians at Royals (3), vs. Brewers (3)
If we’re looking at the White Sox as a source for American League Central drama, then we can’t ignore the Cleveland Indians. They currently have an identical record as Chicago, although Cleveland has one fewer game on the schedule for Week 6.
The difference between the Indians and White Sox is that the former had an early-season lead on the division and has since let it slip. Part of the decline is from Minnesota surging into first place, but Cleveland has also been without Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger for weeks after they broke the team’s COVID-19 rules and guidelines.
What’s most interesting about Cleveland is that both pitchers will be targeted heavily before the looming Trade Deadline. While it’s unlikely that either gets moved, we could see a vastly different team in Week 6.
Miami Marlins vs. Blue Jays (2), at Rays (3)
We had already opened our eyes to the Miami Marlins a few weeks ago when they returned from a long layoff and continued to win games. Now, we are at the point where we have to take them seriously.
Miami still holds a winning record and might actually be a “buyer” at this year’s Trade Deadline — if nothing else, the Marlins do have an abundance of trade chips. Even if the Marlins sell a piece or two, the core is winning games.
It has a light schedule in Week 6, but we need to pay attention to what Miami does anyway. We could see some nice value in the Marlins for the remainder of the season.
San Diego Padres at Rockies (1), at Angels (2), at Athletics (3)
The San Diego Padres have appeared multiple times in this column as they continue to play important baseball. They also have one of the more unorthodox schedules in Week 6.
San Diego will play six games over the seven-day span, but they’ll play against three different teams, and all of the games are on the road. The venue swings from hitter-happy Colorado to the relatively neutral Angels’ ballpark, and then it moves to the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland.
The Padres are firmly in the playoff picture thanks to a 7-1 stretch, and we should see the metaphorical gas pedal pushed for the remainder of the season.
Brandon Lowe (1B/2B – TB)
Last week, we led off the “Hitter Notes” section with a writeup on Fernando Tatis Jr. as he cruised to the top of basically every hitting category. This week, Brandon Lowe supplants Tatis as the league leader in Offensive WAR.
Lowe’s rise to the top is blatantly obvious when we look at the numbers. He started hitting for average early in the season, but he had only two home runs through 14 games. Then he exploded.
Lowe had a stretch of six-home runs in nine games, and, even though he slowed down afterward, he continued scoring runs at a torrid pace. In fact, Lowe currently leads the American League in runs scored.
Kyle Lewis (OF – SEA)
While Lowe’s season could be defined as “steady, then streaky,” Kyle Lewis has been nothing but “steady” since Opening Day. His home runs have basically remained spaced out over the 30 games he’s played, and he has at least one hit in all but five. Not surprisingly, Lewis leads the American League in both batting average and on-base percentage, and he is second only to Lowe in Offensive WAR.
Lewis’ emergence was also met with disbelief from many. He was arguably the most likely candidate for regression after the solid start to the season, but he continues to prove otherwise.
Jose Abreu (1B – CWS)
I wrote about Jose Abreu in my most recent “Buy-High, Sell-Low” column, but he has continued to produce even more since the article was published. Abreu is now tied for the league lead in home runs, and he has moved to sixth in Offensive WAR.
Abreu constantly gets overlooked as one of the league’s steadiest producers, but he’s integral to the Chicago White Sox’s success. With the rest of his lineup also delivering, it will be interesting to see if opponents can work around Abreu, or if he will continue to feast in September.
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS – MIA)
In possibly the least surprising news of 2020, Jonathan Villar has now taken the lead in the stolen base race.
Almost all of Villar’s value is derived from stolen bases, where batting average and runs scored can follow and help boost his importance to a fantasy team. His batting average is a little lower than desired, and his runs scored are lagging behind greatly — Miami is still trailing in games played, however, so there is time — but the stolen bases are key. There is no reason why they would suddenly evaporate, so we should see Villar at — or near — the top of the leaderboard for the foreseeable future.
Lucas Giolito (SP – CWS)
Last week’s Weekly Planner highlighted how Kenta Maeda almost threw a no-hitter. This week’s “Pitcher Notes” begin with the reminder that Lucas Giolito did throw a no-hitter. It was a work of art.
It’s hard to imagine that Anderson doesn’t get another turn through the rotation after a debut like that. Obviously, if he can even approximate what we saw in his first start, Anderson would be a tremendous find for the latter half of the fantasy season.
Triston McKenzie (SP – CLE)
If Anderson’s debut was impressive, then Triston McKenzie’s was flat-0ut incredible. McKenzie allowed only two hits through six innings, but the real story was his ten strikeouts. McKenzie had been a highly-touted prospect for quite a while, but striking out ten hitters in a debut is eye-popping. He will get another start — at least — and his first performance helped stabilize a Cleveland Indians rotation that was without the services of Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac.
McKenzie is clearly a must-own in all leagues, although it’s unlikely he’s available in too many at this point.
Max Fried (SP – ATL)
Can you name the two players tied with the best ERA in baseball? Clever you; you read the name of this writeup and can see that one is obviously Max Fried — the other is Shane Bieber.
Fried has been impossible to hit all season. He has allowed more than one earned run only once in his seven starts — his first game of the season, in which he allowed a whopping two. What’s arguably most impressive about Fried is that he’s having this level of success without a high strikeout rate. This is because he is second in the league in soft-hit percentage and third in limiting hard hits.
Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
Gerrit Cole approaching the end of August with an ERA of 3.51 is noteworthy in itself, but the real story is that he suffered his first regular-season loss since May 22 of 2019. That’s a grand total of 29 games.
Cole has been extremely effective with the New York Yankees — the team is still 5-2 in his starts — but his ERA is currently a full run higher than last year’s closing number. He has, however, struck out at least eight batters in each of the last four games, including the loss to Atlanta.
Week 6 Hitter Matchup Ratings
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